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One night in 1829, John Woodcock Graves sat in his parlor with John Peel, a farmer, horse dealer, and foxhunter whose hounds were highly celebrated by the local sheep farmers. From the adjoining room, Graves overheard his son's granny singing an ancient Irish melody to the child. Graves took that old melody and wrote a new set of lyrics to honor his friend, John Peel.
"I sang it to poor Peel," Graves wrote, "who smiled through a stream of tears which fell down his manly cheeks, and I well remember saying to him in a joking style, ‘By Jove, Peel, you’ll be sung when we’re both run to earth!’"
Forty years later, William Metcalfe, Choirmaster of Carlisle Cathedral, heard the song at a banquet. He set down the tune in musical notation for the first time together with Graves’ words, composed a piano accompaniment, and had it performed locally. He went on to London with his choir and on May 22, 1869 performed the song at the dinner of the Cumberland Benevolent Society from whence it spread quickly over the English-speaking world, propelling John Peel into the most famous foxhunter of all time.