Oh Danny Boy also known as Londonderry Air

One of the most associated songs with St. Patrick's Day is Danny Boy.

Many people love this song, but to some people this song is depressing and overdone. In fact, there's a pub in New York City that is holding a pre-St. Patrick's Day karaoke night, and the bartender is paying its patrons in Guinness NOT to sing Danny Boy.

Danny Boy is also known by another title, Londonderry Air. The fact that it's known by 2 different names speaks to the interesting history of this tune. Its history is also very complicated. If you are intensely interested in learning more about the history of the tune than Michael Robinson's Danny By-the Mystery Solved! looks to be a good site, as does Jim Hunter's The Origin of Danny Boy.

Based on what I read on Michael Robinson's site, Danny Boy refers to the lyrics. The lyrics were written by an English lawyer named Frederic Edward Weatherly in 1910. He wrote the lyrics that we know today, but they were set to a different melody. He called it Danny Boy, but the lyrics weren't successful with this melody. He never set foot in Ireland, nor did he probably have any interest in Irish tunes. So it took a letter from America to give him a melody for his lyrics.

In 1912 his sister-in-law sent him a melody called Londonderry Air. His lyrics matched with this new song, and, voila, Danny Boy was born.

Jim Hunter spends more time on his site talking about where the tune itself came from. According to his site, the melody shows up in 1851 when Jane Ross bought it from a blind fiddler named Jimmy McCurry who was playing at the docks of in the County of Londonderry, Ireland.

According to Wikipedia, the song was first recorded in 1913 by Ernestine Schumann-Heink, a German opera singer. But it seems that we can thank English opera singer Elsie Griffin for making it so popular. Weatherly gave it to her sometime after 1913 and she went onto perform for the troops in France during World War I. Although I didn't read this anywhere, I think it's safe to assume that in the midst of World War I, soldiers far from home, would take to such a moving tune:

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 flowers are dying
'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 here in sunshine or in shadow
Oh Danny boy, oh Danny boy, I love you so.

And if you come, when all the flowers are dying
And 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 dreams will warm and sweeter be
If you'll not fail to tell me that you love me
I'll simply sleep in peace until you come to me.

I'll simply sleep in peace until you come to me.

Some sites claim Danny Boy is thought of as an anthem for Ireland, that it was supposed to be a song that brought everyone together during a very tumultuous time in Ireland's history. But than other site's say the song is rarely played in Ireland, and that they aren't as obsessed with the tune as Americans seem to be. Anyone out there care to comment on that??

Wikipedia has a very comprehensive listing of all the people who have recorded it, as well as its use in movies and television. Like I said initially, a lot of people love this song, including me, so there are tons of recordings of it on youtube. I tried to pick out what I thought were the best ones:

We'll start with something light, the Muppet version:

Next is Michael Eskin playing it on the Uilleann Pipes, the toughest small pipes to learn I've heard:

Here's a beautiful duet by Cliff Richard and Helmut Lotti. Richard is an English musician and Lotti hails from Belgium.

Country Western singer Ray Price sings it here:

The punk rock group Darkbuster puts their unique spin on it here:

Finally, a young British singing sensation by the name of Declan Galbraith gives a beautiful rendition:

I know there are lots and lots of other singers who have covered this song, Elvis Presley and Bing Crosby to name a few. I don't really have a favorite version, but please leave a comment if you do.

As for myself, I have run through this tune a few times on my practice chanter but I've never taken the time to memorize and learn it on my pipes. This is probably due to the fact that my band is a primarily Scottish based, and once a year, in the weeks leading up to St. Patrick's Day a few of the pipers who know this tune start practicing it. I will probably learn it sometime as I'm sure it's one of the requested tunes that pipers get. In the meantime, I'll just enjoy getting a breather and listening to it on St. Patrick's Day.

Pipe on!

1 comment:

kammler said...

The Muppet’s version of “Oh, Danny Boy” is my all time favorite.

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