Danny Boy, A Song With Many Meanings

With St. Patrick’s Day approaching I thought it would be a good idea to take a look at some of our favorite Irish Songs.

3 Leaf Clover--Luck of the Irish

The ballad, Danny Boy, is one of the first songs that come to mind when speaking of Irish Songs. The words were written by Frederick Weatherly, a lawyer and lyricist. Weatherly was an Englishman and wrote thousands of songs and had at least fifteen hundred of them published. He was so well known and respected that composers vied to get their hands on his lyrics. He was not only well known for his lyrics, but also for his law career. He did not become a lawyer until he was thirty-nine years of age and often appeared for the defense.

Danny Boy was originally written in 1910 to a different tune then the one we know today. The story goes that his American sister-in-law sent him the tune we know today. Margaret, his sister-in-law, heard the tune from Irish immigrants in the Colorado gold mines. Upon hearing it she immediately thought of Fred and his numerous lyrics. She asked for a copy of the music and sent it on to her brother-in-law. Frederick Weatherly set the words of Danny Boy to the tune known as Londonderry Air in 1913, with just a few minor changes in the lyrics.

The tune we know as Londonderry Air was first published in an 1855 collection titled “Ancient Music of Ireland.” Jane Ross is said to have heard a local fiddler playing the tune and wrote it out. When she sent the melody to George Petrie for the publication of the aforementioned book. The song had no title, but believing it was associated with the Irish County of Derry or Londonderry, was given the title Londonderry Air.

Leaving an Irish Home

The age and origin of the title have been greatly debated. Some critics believe the melody does not sound that old. It was later discovered that the tune was a distorted version of the song Aislean an Oigfear {The Young Man’s Dream} which has been traced back by Denis Hempson to at least mid 17th Century. Other sources say the composition was linked to the 17th Century blind harpist Rory Dall O’Cahan. The tune has had over 100 different song lyrics attached to it. It is sometimes called “Air from County Derry”.

The original version of Danny Boy had four verses, but two more were later added and most recordings have six verses performed. The tune was popularized in vaudeville and soon became a favorite. The first recording was made in 1915 by Ernestine Schumann-Heink. Vocalist Elsie Griffin also made it a popular song. In 1918 one publisher published the song with the title of Eily Dear, stating men should sing it to Eily Dear instead of Danny Boy.

Danny Boy has become the unofficial signature song and anthem of Ireland. Ironically it was written by an Englishman, who is believed to have never set foot in Ireland.

Irish Seaside

There are various meanings, but no one knows for sure the true meaning Weatherly had in writing the song. Some of the most common meanings to the lyrics are:
–a parent sending a son off to war {the 3rd stanza gives credence to this belief}
–A mother/father saying goodbye to a son
–A girl saying goodbye to her sweetheart
–Young men immigrating and leaving their mother behind in their homeland {Eily Dear gives reference to this belief}

Danny Boy

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 roses falling
‘Tis you, ’tis 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
‘Tis I’ll be there in sunshine or in shadow
Oh Danny boy, oh Danny boy, I love you so.

And when you come, and all the flowers are dying
If I am dead, as dead I well may be
You’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 all my grave will warmer, sweeter be
For you will bend and tell me that you love me
And I shall sleep in peace until you come to me.

I’ll simply sleep in peace until you come to me.
And I shall rest in peace until you come to me.
Oh, Danny Boy, Oh, Danny Boy, I love you so.

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