Danny Boy

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The most popular "Irish" ballad of all time?  Certainly popular, but only vaguely Irish and clearly misunderstood.  "Danny Boy" must certainly rank among the most discussed, misunderstood, and misapplied songs of all time.  Recently I picked up a small book while waiting in line to part with my worldly wealth at the checkout of a large bookstore.  The book in question was about "Danny Boy" and featured a number of striking pictures of the Emerald Isle and even a "version" of the song in Gaelic.  What the author failed to understand is that Gaelic has little, if anything, to do with the song.  He also failed to mention the single most important message of the piece (more on this later).

To begin with, "Danny Boy" was composed unsuccessfully (words and music) by an English Lawyer named Frederic Edward Weatherly.  It seems that Weatherly was among the most prolific of songwriters, having literally thousands of compositions to his credit--most of them thoroughly forgettable.  As far as anyone knows, Weatherly never visited Ireland.

After his composition failed to catch on, Weatherly recast the words to a tune that had been in circulation for many years, "Londonderry Air."  Its first appearance in print was 1855, but is said by many to have been composed long before.  Its immediate antecedent appears to be a piece entitled, "Aisling an Ógfhir," or "The Young Man's Dream," which was collected by one Edward Bunting (1773-1843), who had it from Denis Hempson (1697-1807), the very last traditional performer on the Irish harp.  Hempson was thoughtful enough to live to the age of 110, which allowed Bunting to collect much of his material.

"The Young Man's Dream" appears in Bunting's 1840 anthology of traditional Irish harp music.  The music you're listening to is the tune Bunting collected, as performed by Michael Robinson.

Please start the player to hear "Aisling an Ógfhir"
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There has been some discussion that a still older version of the tune can be found in Scotland some fifty years earlier than Bunting's version.  In any event, the relatively modern version of "Londonderry Air" can be heard by clicking the player below.  The words to "Danny Boy" follow.

By the way, the item missed by almost everyone who analyzes or write about this song is that the subject of "Danny Boy" is a dog.



Danny Boy (1913)
Frederick Edward Weatherly (1848-1929)

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.

Please start the player to hear "Danny Boy".
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Think You Should Complain About "Danny Boy?"  Click Here.


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Revised: Tuesday, September 07, 2004 03:34:13 AM