While the Londonderry Air, aka "Danny Boy", is surely one of the most famous Irish tunes in history, it surprised many when it was used as the national anthem for Northern Ireland at the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games. We examine why this came about.

This week Bethany Firth and Daniel Wiffen won gold and silver medals at the Commonwealth Games, in Birmingham. The pair, representing Northern Ireland, beamed on stage having received their medals as "Danny Boy" was played as their national anthem. Many found this strange but here is the reason why.

Northern Ireland is officially a constituent country of the United Kingdom. Ordinarily, the British national anthem "God Save the Queen" is used in Northern Ireland. However, as during the Commonwealth Games, all the constituent countries of the UK are represented an alternative must be found, hence the use of "Danny Boy".

The most wonderful moment at Commonwealth Games 😊 Londonderry Air aka Danny Boy played as anthem for Northern Ireland 🇮🇪 pic.twitter.com/K9ZWe7LGqj

— Davidoff (@davidftracey) August 3, 2022

The origins of the "Danny Boy" tune

"Danny Boy" is an Ulster-connected song, also known as the “Londonderry Air.”

The original air is believed by some to date back to Rory Dall O'Cahan, an Irish harpist who lived in Scotland in the late 17th century, while the lyrics as we know and love them today were penned by a British barrister and prolific songwriter, Frederick Edward Weatherly.

Weatherly’s sister-in-law, an Irish immigrant, first heard the air while visiting a silver mining camp in Colorado. She overheard Irish miners singing the tune.

She sent the air back to her brother-in-law who combined it with the lyrics he had written and the rest is history.

"Danny Boy" lyrics

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 here in sunshine or in shadow 

Oh Danny boy, oh Danny boy, I love you so

But when he 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 warm and sweeter be 

For you will bend and tell me that you love me 

And I shall sleep in peace until you come to me.

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