Who doesn’t love the old Irish tune Danny Boy? The most visceral rendition I’ve heard was actually live – I was privileged to be able to see renowned Irish flutist Sir James Galway play the classic with the Wichita Symphony Orchestra way back in high school. Galway brought the house down.
I’m always interested to learn of the relationships between lyrics and tunes; I’ve also written on Good King Winceslas and It is Well With My Soul. Wikipedia reports that the lyrics for Danny Boy were written by James Duffy, an immigrant to Philadelphia from England/Ireland in the early 1910s. Frederic Weatherly set them to the tune Londonderry Air, which is now often conflated with Danny Boy itself, though the tune has been used for other purposes as well. Danny Boy has been thought of as a love song, and a funeral song, and a song of pining for one’s young son. Perhaps its ambiguity is what gives the tune its universal appeal.
In the song’s 100 years gracing the world, it has been sung and played by hundreds of artists. It resonates with many, and it has become a symbol of Irish culture. This morning I’ve been listening to various renditions. I’ve seen a young boy sing in beautiful soprano on the show Britain’s Got Talent, an unnamed “Celtic” woman, Sinead O’Connor doing an a capella version, and a couple of others. Despite the lyrics being the basis of the song’s name, the loveliest version I found this morning is Eric Clapton working his acoustic guitar. Whether you call it Londonderry Air or Danny Boy, enjoy:
Here in a little while I’m going to try to pick it out on the violin. Wish me luck, and have a happy St. Patrick’s Day!
Thanks for reading.