Danny Boy: The Legend of the Beloved Irish Ballad by Malachy McCourtThe first and only time I had an opportunity to perform Danny Boy was in the basement of a Catholic church for a group of seniors who were celebrating St. Patricks Day and wanted a touch of Irish in the program. At the exact moment I arrived at the line, And I shall hear, though soft you tread above me, there was a thunderous stampede heard overhead: the school had just released its students for the day.
Which has (or perhaps should have) almost nothing to do with this review, although that hilarious juxtaposition of lyrics and sound kept many eyes from misting up, which they normally would have given the powerful emotions often conjured by a performance of Danny Boy, something Malachay McCourt, in his lovely little book, mentions repeatedly.
Who wrote the lyrics? Where did the Londonderry Air originate (alright, it came from Londonderry but from whose pen (or possibly, in this case, from whose pipes or whose fiddle)? Who is speaking/singing and what is her/his relationship to Danny?
No spoilers here, and McCourt doesnt necessarily provide a concrete answer to all these questions, but he does lay out enough information, both legendary and factual, to make this a very informative read for lovers of the song. McCourts writing is sometimes humorous, often beautiful, and always informative as can be seen from a summarizing paragraph towards the books end:
While Danny Boy will always be touted as an Irish ballad, it was truly the product of many different worlds meshing together. Let it be the tune of a blind, Irish fiddler drifting across the sea, reaching an English barrister who would finally marry words and melody to create a song capable of describing, at least in part, the contents of the human heart. The song depicts the human condition, about the unknown and the black cloud of finality that accompanies it. The message is available to all those who want to hear it. Danny Boy has a profound effect on people from all corners of the world, a trait it shares with the truest of any work of art.
The real story behind Danny Boy, the beloved Irish ballad
Few people are aware, however, of the true origins of Ireland's infamous and unofficial national anthem, such as the fact that it's not even a completely Irish song. Who is Danny? Why are the pipes calling? And why did Catholic dioceses ban the beloved ballad's use during funerals? It has since become a generally accepted although still potentially blasphemous fact that the lyrics of "Danny Boy" are in no way related to Ireland. Not only are the famed lyrics not Irish but they were not even written by an Irishman, and no matter how vehemently the Irish claim authorship of the song, the fact remains that "Danny Boy" was written by, of all people, a British lawyer, McCourt writes.
"Danny Boy" is a ballad set to a traditional Irish melody. English songwriter Frederic Weatherly wrote the lyrics in Bath, Somerset, England in The lyrics .
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A popular symbol of Irish culture, Danny Boy is a ballad with an ancient Irish melody. Is it the most famous Irish song and lyrics?
WRTI looks at the origins of this beautiful ballad, its mysteries, and why it is sung to convey deeply felt emotion and love during times of mourning. His publisher Boosey accepted his marriage of words to tune; paired, words and melody achieved a success that neither could have reached on their own. Mystery surrounds the origins of the tune itself. Some say a Celtic harpist played it as early as the s. Others say it originated in the Scottish Highlands.