Editorial In Defense of 'Danny Boy'
THERE are few Irish Americans out there who have at some point not been drawn into an argument about "Danny Boy," a/k/a "The Londonderry Air." Usually it's at 3 a.m. in the morning, after a screeching rendition of the Irish American anthem after a few pints too many. Some curse it to hell and wish it were permanently barred. Others can't get enough of it.
The furor over the song has reached new heights this St. Patrick's Day after it was banned by a New York publican because he claimed it was too sentimental and more suitable for a funeral, a story that got picked up all over the world.
We disagree with the ban. The old song has a magnificent history that involves many of the great epochal events of Irish history.
The tune was first collected in 1851 by Jane Ross of Limavady, Co. Derry. She heard it from a blind piper named Jimmy McCurry.
It is said to have originally come from a tune named "O Cahan's Lament" which bemoaned the fact that Ross's ancestors had taken their land in the plantation of Ulster in 1609.
A blind fiddler, Denis O'Hampsey, had taken O Cahan's lament and made it his own during his lifetime. In 1792, as a very old man, he had been approached by the great folklorist and song collector Edward Bunting and asked to play the tune for him.
Bunting published the air in his 1796 songbook of lost Irish songs.
The air immediately became very popular, but despite efforts by some of the finest lyricists in Britain and Ireland to pen words to match it they never succeeded.
That was until the American sister-in-law of an English songwriter, Margaret Weatherly, heard the air as played by Irish gold miners, emigrants from the Limavady area playing it in Ouray, Colorado in 1912. She immediately sent the tune to her brother, Frederick Weatherly, a well-known songwriter and lawyer in London.
By coincidence, Weatherly had been seeking music for lyrics of a song he had written called "Danny Boy," and thus a legend was created. Soon the song became an anthem for Irish everywhere.
Weatherly wanted it that way. In his autobiography Piano and Gown (1926) he expressed the hope that "Sinn Feiners and Ulstermen alike" would sing his song.
That has certainly proven to be the case. "Danny Boy" was used as Northern Ireland's anthem when they took part in the British Commonwealth games, for instance, and no Irish American get together is complete without a rendition.
It went far beyond its Irish provenance, however. Soon after it appeared it became the American Idol of its day.
"Of all the national tunes which have been rescued from oblivion ... none has achieved such striking popularity as the old Irish tune known as the 'Londonderry Air' ... this very beautiful tune seems to be taking such an extraordinary hold upon the people." So said Henry Coleman in the Musical Times.
So "Danny Boy" has a noble history and lineage. It is not some Vaudeville tune like so many Irish American tunes, pressed into service to feed the romantic notions of misty eyed emigrants.
The original air dates back to the Plantation of Ulster, takes in the great emigration after the Famine and even includes a plea from its lyricist that Irishmen of all stripes, Sinn Fein and Ulstermen, would warm to it.
- Gay teacher fired from Catholic school after...
- Nelson Mandela was against IRA decommissioning.
- Racist incidents in Ireland up by 85 percent...
- Nelson Mandela once considered a terrorist...
- Unionists regret US envoy Haass’ call for...
- Hollywood star Gabriel Byrne brands new Pope...
- Bill O’Reilly slams Nelson Mandela as an...
- Top ten negative terms used to describe Irish...
- Irish students told “No Irish Need Apply”...
- Irish radio presenter suspended after anti-Isra
He seems to have a strange effect on these womenPhoto shows Irish revolutionaries three years before Easter Rising
It is very unlikely that McDiarmada, Pearse,Ceannt, and Markevievick would Never have supported Partition or pretended that the Southern Irish state iScandal as Rory McIlroy’s former lover Holly bares all in saucy photo shoot
Why not??American widow left out of will of suicide husband who killed their daughter
Some men loose faith in themselves & their manliness & blame anyone & everyone else especially their wives--he probably had a delusion or