Sunday, February 2, 2014

Danny Boy - The Unofficial "Irish Anthem"

DERRY AIR. AKA and see "Londonderry Air," “Maidin i mBe’arra,” "Danny Boy," “Drimoleague Fair,” “The Young Man’s Dream.”

Irish, Air (4/4 time). G Major. Standard. One part.

One of the most famous Irish airs, known popularly as the tune for the song "Danny Boy" by Fred F. Weatherly (1848-1929), an Englishman, a lawyer, and author of the words of about 1500 songs including "The Holy City", also known as "Jerusalem.” The melody has also been the vehicle for A.P. Graves' "Loves Wishes" (in Irish Songs and Ballads, 1882), Katherine Tynan's "Would God I were the tender apple blossom," and Terry Sullivan's "Acushla Mine."

The melody was published for the first time in George Petrie’s collection (1855), obtained from Miss Jane Ross of Limavady, County Derry, a collector who heard the air from a street musician. It is sometimes ascribed, apparently without substantiation, to the ancient chief harper of the chieftain Hugh O'Neill, the famous Rory dall O' Cahan. Pervious to the “Danny Boy” publication the song was known in Ireland, in English, as “My Love Nell.” The late 19th century collector Dr. Joyce claimed the original song was Irish, and that the first line translates as:


Would God I were a little apple
Or one of the small daisies
Or a rose in the garden
Where thou art accustomed to walk alone;
In hope that thou wouldst pluck from me
Some wee little branch
Which thous wouldst hold in my right hand
Or in the breast of they robe   (Loesberg, Folksongs and Ballads Popular in Ireland, vol. 2, 1980).


The name Derry is Gaelic in origin and means an oak-wood. In England the generic name for this tune and its variations is “Dives and Lazarus.” Roche Collection, 1982; vol. 1, pg. 16, No. 30. Gael-Linn CEF 104, Matt Cranitch – “Eistigh Seal” Green Linnet SIF‑107, Eugene O'Donnell ‑ "The Foggy Dew" (1988). RCA 5798-2-RC, "James Galway and the Chieftains in Ireland" (1986).

Danny Boy is one of over 100 songs composed to the same tune. The author was an English barrister, Frederic Edward Weatherly (1848-1929), who was also a songwriter and radio entertainer. In 1910 he wrote the words and music for an unsuccessful song he called Danny Boy. In 1912 his sister-in-law in America sent him a tune called the Londonderry Air which he had never heard before. He immediately noticed that the melody was perfectly fitted to his Danny Boy lyrics, and published a revised version of the song in 1913. As far as is known, Weatherly never set foot in Ireland. His most commercially successful ballad was 'Roses of Picardy' which became one of the great popular songs of the Great War, and it made its writer a small fortune.

"Danny Boy" was originally said to be intended as a message from a woman to a man, and Weatherly provided the alternative "Eily dear" for male singers in his 1918 authorized lyrics. However, the song is actually sung by men as much as, or possibly more than, women. The song has been interpreted by some listeners as a message from a parent to a son going off to war or leaving as part of the Irish Diaspora.

The song is widely considered an Irish anthem, although Weatherly was an Englishman. Nonetheless, "Danny Boy" is considered by many as the unofficial anthem of the Irish Diaspora. These were the days when emigrants were given a “wake” before they left as their family and friends never expected to see them again. Hence the poignancy of the final verse with the returned emigrant before his mother’s grave who implores the returning son to sing an Ave. The song requires a wide vocal range to carry it off and many don’t a fact noted in this wonderful piece by John Sheahan of the Dubliners made by his niece Shona McMillan.

LYRICS OF DANNY BOY (Note; There are numerous variations)

Oh Danny boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling
From glen to glen, and down the mountain side
The summer's gone, and all the leaves are falling
T'is you, T'is you must go and I must bide.
But come ye back when summer's in the meadow
Or when the valley's hushed and white with snow
t'is I'll be there in sunshine or in shadow
Oh Danny boy, oh Danny boy, I love you so.

And when ye come, and all the flow'rs are dying
If I am dead, as dead I well may be
ye'll come and find the place where I am lying
And kneel and say an "Ave" there for me.
And I shall hear, tho' soft you tread above me
And oh, my grave shall warmer, sweeter be
For ye will bend and tell me that you love me
And I shall sleep in peace until you come to me.

Well, given these lyrics and the flow of drink in Irish Bars around the world (Same Ireland, different country!) sometimes folk get over sentimental when in their cups, a fact wonderfully parodied by none other than the Muppets!

Irish Dance Traditions

Dancing in the Middle Ages (England) Irish dance dates back to its origins in Europe in the 11th and 12th centuries and became closely ...