McCall, Patrick Joseph (1861–1919), songwriter and poet, was born 6 March 1861 in Dublin, the only surviving son among three children of John McCall and his wife Eliza Mary (née Newport) of Rathangan, Co. Wexford. His father John McCall (1822–1902), publican and writer, was born 16 August 1822 in Clonmore, Co. Carlow. His maternal uncle, Laurence Doyle, was a blacksmith who made pikes in 1798. The family was strongly nationalist. John was educated locally and was an excellent scholar. His father died when he was 14; three years later (December 1839) he moved to Dublin, where he lived the rest of his life. After working with his cousin Mortimer Byrne, who owned two grocery stores in Wexford St. and Lower Camden St., he went into employment (1845) with the brothers Connick, grocers and wine merchants of Inn's Quay and North King St. Leaving them after six years, he managed the stores of D. Brady at Mecklenburgh St. and Montgomery St., before finally setting up on his own at 25 Patrick St., where he ran a very successful public house, grocery, and vintner store, which he passed on to his son.
As early as 1842 John McCall published work in the Dublin Journal of Temperance, Science, and Literature, and from 1848 he was a regular contributor of sketches to the Lady's and Farmer's Almanack under the pen name ‘Scrutator’. His early work was light, amusing, and fictional, but he soon discovered a bent for research. His Antiquities and history of Cluain Mor-Maedhoc, now Clonmore in the county of Carlow (1862) was admired by professional historians and archaeologists for its diligent research into an obscure location. However, his main interest was in literary figures. The editor and biographer John Crone (qv) called him ‘the greatest source of information on nineteenth-century literature and journalism in Dublin that I ever met’ (IBL, iii (1912), 129) and it is as editor and historian of almanacs that he is best remembered. He edited the Lady's and Farmer's Almanack (1861–76), Old Moore's Almanack (1875–1902) and Nugent's Almanack (1886–98) and was highly regarded. In an effort to promote the work of those writers and poets who contributed to the almanacs, he wrote short biographies of a number of them for the Irish Emerald between 1892 and 1898. He was particularly interested in James Clarence Mangan (qv), and published serially in Young Ireland (1882) a long article on the poet, which was issued as a pamphlet, The life of James Clarence Mangan (1883). Between 1876 and 1883 he wrote a valuable manuscript history of Irish almanacs, detailing their editors, publishers, and contributors, which extended to some 780 pages and was bound in two quarto volumes. It was not published but the manuscript is in the NLI. Edward Evans, contributor to the Irish Builder, wrote a Historical and bibliographical account of almanacks . . . published in Ireland . . . (1897), which drew heavily on McCall's work, without acknowledgement.
In his youth John McCall was active in the repeal movement, and he later worked for the Irish National League. He was elected as a poor law guardian in the South Dublin union as a representative of the Wood Quay ward (1880–1902), in the nationalist interest. His social conscience was strong: he was a member (1867–1902) of the board of the Sick and Indigent Roomkeepers’ Society and wrote the society's history, and was active in the St Vincent de Paul Society. He died 18 January 1902 in Dublin; his wife, Eliza, (whom he married in 1859) had died twelve years earlier.
Patrick McCall was educated at the CBS, Synge St., St Joseph's Monastery, Harold's Cross, and the Catholic University School, Leeson St., and spent many holidays in Rathangan, Co. Wexford, where he absorbed the history, stories, and traditions he later used in his songs and essays. He went into his father's bar and grocery business at 25 Patrick St., where he worked to his retirement in 1918. Wednesday nights were ‘open house’ nights, when poets and writers gathered in the rooms ‘above the shop’. The premises became known as Poet's Hall and were frequented by Douglas Hyde (qv) and other Gaelic Leaguers. McCall became a minor figure in the Irish literary revival, one of a group of young writers to whom Fr Matthew Russell (qv) of the Irish Monthly acted as mentor. His first three poems were published in the Pan-Celtic Society publication Lays and lyrics (1889?). This society, established (1888) in Dublin by W. B. Yeats (qv), was short-lived, and was replaced by the National Literary Society, inaugurated 16 August 1892 in the Rotunda, Dublin, with Hyde as president, McCall as honorary secretary, and many of the country's leading writers and nationalists as members.
McCall was assiduous in his duties, negotiating the lease of rooms in South Frederick St. for the society, and in June 1893 putting forward a motion censuring the handling of the libraries subcommittee by Yeats. This induced a vexed Yeats to refer to him as ‘an obscure young man’ (Yeats, Letters, 317) but eighteen months later he described McCall's publication Irish nóinins (1894), a book of comic and sentimental poems, some translated from Irish, as ‘wholly interesting and partly charming’ (ibid., 408). The verses also received favourable notices in United Ireland and in the Irish Monthly, which referred to their ‘music and merriment, and perfect innocence withal’ (Ir. Monthly, xxii, 661). McCall published four other books of songs and poems: Songs of Erin (1899), Pulse of the bards (1904), The harp at home (1904), and Irish fireside songs (1906), giving a total of over 200 poems, recitations, and translations from the Gaelic published in his lifetime. Some of them first appeared in The Nation, Young Ireland, Shamrock, and United Ireland under his own name and the pseudonyms ‘Cavallus’ – a Latinised version of his surname – and ‘Droighneen Don’.
Like his father, McCall was interested in local history. He succeeded him as editor of Old Moore's Almanack and wrote a number of papers on the Liberties and on his mother's home county. The ritual mime play known as ‘mumming’, practised in the barony of Bargy, was the subject of one of his first papers, delivered to the Irish Literary Society 10 May 1894, and he wrote a book of stories, The Fenian nights entertainments (1897), in the local Bargy dialect. The area around his public house provided material for three papers of local history: ‘In the shadow of St Patrick's’ (1894), ‘In the shadow of Christ Church’ (1899), and ‘Zozimus’, about the blind balladeer, Michael Moran (qv), published posthumously by Dublin Historical Record, viii, no. 4 (1945).
A fine musician, McCall played the violin, piano, and church organ and was able to transcribe the music used to accompany the mummers’ dance, so saving it for posterity. On visits to Rathangan he encouraged the setting up of branches of the Gaelic League in the village and the neighbouring village of Duncormick. In 1894, with the cooperation of Charles Villiers Stanford (qv) and Alfred Percival Graves (qv) a committee was formed from representatives of the National Literary Society, the Gaelic League, and the musical profession to organise a national music festival, which became famous as Feis Ceoil. Annie Patterson (qv) and McCall were the first honorary secretaries. In the early years of Feis Ceoil, McCall acted as adjudicator for the Irish ballad-singing competition, donating a silver trophy which is still competed for. His collaboration with Arthur Darley resulted in the publication of the Feis Ceoil collection of Irish airs (1914), in which eighty-five old Irish airs were published for the first time and thereby preserved. Many of McCall's own songs and poems were elaborated from fragments of older ballads and set to airs from this collection. He was also a generous subscriber and supporter of Feis Ceoil in its first and financially constrained years.
His career was similar to his father's – not just as publican and writer, but as holder of public office. On 17 June 1896 he was elected to the Dublin city council as representative of Wood Quay ward. He took office in February 1897, served fifteen years, and was for a short time a colleague of his father. This was a cause of friendly rivalry between them – John McCall thought the corporation stringent on the poor, while his son thought the board of guardians squandered ratepayers’ money.
McCall is best remembered today as a songwriter. D. J. O'Donoghue (qv) called him the best of the young moderns and Colm Ó Lochlainn (qv) noted that his songs were close to the heart of rural Ireland. McCall has the distinction of having written three of the best-known and most enduring Irish ballads, one of them (‘Follow me up to Carlow’) about his father's county and the other two (‘Kelly, the boy from Killanne’ and ‘Boolavogue’) about his mother's. Both Wexford ballads commemorated 1798, and show the influence of Fr Patrick F. Kavanagh's (qv) A popular history of the rebellion of 1798 (1870). The air of ‘Boolavogue’ varied until Gerald Crofts (1889–1934) sang it to the air ‘Youghal harbour’ and made such an impression that people referred to that tune as ‘Boolavogue’. Recently McCall has also been credited with authorship of the ballad ‘Henry Joy McCracken’, formerly attributed to T. P. Canning.
McCall died at his home, ‘Westpoint’, Sutton, Co. Dublin, on his birthday, 6 March 1919, and was buried in Glasnevin cemetery. A large crowd attended his funeral and his coffin was draped in the national colours. He was survived by his wife Margaret, elder daughter of James Walter Furlong of Old Bawn Villa, Tallaght, whom he had married (3 October 1900) at Westland Row church; she was a sister of the nationalist poet Alice Furlong (qv). There were no children. McCall's papers are in the collection of Micheál Kehoe (1899–1977), former president of the GAA, privately held by his son, Fr Lory Kehoe, PP, Gorey, Co. Wexford.