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Danny Boy by Traditional

Album: Songs Of Old IrelandReleased: 1913
  • Originally set to the tune of the Ancient melody "The Londonderry Air," this song has been rumored to have been written about a father singing to his son, who apparently was named Danny. The song was based on a story about an Irish father whose son was eventually going off to war in Ireland.
  • Many of the traditional versions have only 4 verses, but the most recognized version, and the most common one for Ireland, has six verses in total. (thanks, Annabelle - Eugene, OR, for above 2)
  • Some of the many artists who recorded this include Judy Garland, Bing Crosby, Johnny Cash, Patti LaBelle, Glen Miller and Elvis Presley.
  • Tradition links the composition of the piece to a seventeenth century blind harpist, Rory Dall O'Cahan. In 1851, Jane Ross, of Limavady, Co Londonderry, wrote down the music after hearing it played by an itinerant fiddler. The "Londonderry Air" became popular with the Irish diaspora, especially in America, and in 1910, Frederick Edward Weatherly, an English lawyer, who is thought never to have set foot in Ireland, wrote the words.

    According to the book Sunshine and in Shadow: The Family Story of Danny Boy written by Weatherly's great grandson Anthony Mann, after Weatherly penned the lyrics, he struggled to find the right melody for the song. Eventually Weatherly's sister-in-law, Margaret Enright, an Irish American known as Jess, introduced the tune he was looking for when she sung "Londonderry Air" to the lyricist while visiting his home in 1912. Weatherly shaped the lyrics to the tune and published "Danny Boy" soon after. However, Frederic never acknowledged Jess's contribution, which caused a major division in the family. Mann explained to The Irish Times: "Jess, who resented for the rest of her life the fact that Fred had taken this melody and made it his own, went on (with Eddie) to die in poverty while Fred enjoyed both fame and wealth."
  • Prudish Victorians, concerned that "Londonderry Air" bore too close a resemblance to the phrase "London derrière," preferred to refer to it by the title "An Air From County Derry."
  • If you don't like this song or are just sick of it, you're not the only one. When we asked Matt Kelly of the Dropkick Murphys about his favorite Irish songs, he replied: "I love 'Come Out Ye Black and Tans,' 'At The Rising of the Moon' is a great tune, and 'My Brother Sylveste' is a great song. Those are some of the bigger ones. You know, if I never heard 'Oh, Danny Boy' or 'Smile Again,' it would be just fine."
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Comments: 18

I was a vocal major in music school. One of my audition songs was "Would God I Were a Tender Burnished Apple" which was sung to the same tune as "Danny Boy"Jim - Morgantown, Wv
Tommy Fleming singing on De Dannan's Hiberian Rhapsody CD is breathtaking. He's the consummate Irish tenor for me, especially in his De Dannan days.Annie - La, Ca
I've heard this song since I was a little girl, my father loved our Irish background. Some of my other favorite Irish tunes are "Irish Lullaby", "Finnegan's Wake", "Cockles and Muscles", and "You'll Take the High Road and I'll Take the Low Road".Emily - Around Chicago, Il
I am going to look for R. Orbison's version now.
But! Jackie Wilson's has been my all time favorite of one of my all time greatest songs.
Brady - Niagara Falls, Ny
i'm sorry but those of you who think that Roy Orbison's version is the best are just plain wrong.i'm 53 & half irish & have been listening to Danny Boy all my life & by far & away the best version is John McDermott's. such a beautiful voice & such a wonderful production(Piano,Harp & String Quartet)-to coin a phrase,it's simply the bestKevin - Birmingham, England
Johnny Cash does a great version of this on his "The Man Comes Around" album.The pipe organ in the song is just superb.Mark - Byrdstown, Tn
My favourite version of this song, by far, is the version by Shane MacGowan and the Popes. He may not have a great voice, but he's got soul! Also, someone was mentioning John McDermott and his recording of "And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda"... I also prefer the version by the Pogues, with Shane singing again.Ian - Toronto, Canada
A great cover version of this beautiful Irish ballad "Danny Boy" was sung by Slim Whitman, the first American country singer to play the London Palidum in 1956. Great song, great version!Bob - Comox, B.c., Canada
I haven't heard the other versions, but I love Johhny Cash's performance.Jon - Oakridge, Or
I am a tenor and of Irish heritage, so everyone assumes I know this song and I really don't. I was once pressed into singing it at a party where someone was playing piano. I basically knew the tune, but hadn't a clue about the words, so my girlfriend stood next to me and whispered them in my ear, line by line, so I could sing them. It was hilarious, but also a very special moment for me. Plus, I nailed the high note at the end, which I really wasn't sure of. So it's a great memory for me.Dennis - Anchorage, Ak
A ringing "YES" to John McDermott.

I have a cd with both his accompanied and a cappella versions of "Danny Boy." From my post below, it's obvious I prefer Roy Orbison's version, but McDermott is a tremendous baritone with a huge range (up to near tenor), and his recording of "And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda" is another highly placed member of my "Top 40 Personal Favorite Songs" set (#13).

I have been anti-war since I was 15 in 1968. Everyone I know in the movement who has heard "Matilda" thinks it is as chilling and overpowering an anti-war song as they've ever heard. No less than Joan Baez called it the greatest anti-war song she'd ever heard, and regardless of what you think of Joan Baez, you can imagine what a strong statement that is.

BUT....

Even if you're not anti-war in general, any sane person has to agree that World War I and the Battle of Gallipoli--which are the horrific focuses of "And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda"--were madness. Trust me, you don't have to be Joan Baez to be emotionally slain by this recording, and if you get the cd with the long version on it ("Battlefields of Green"), you get both the accompanied version and the a cappella version of "Danny Boy" as well. You also get the true story of a Christmas truce which occurred spontaneously between British and German troops in 1915 and 1916, during which they threw down their weapons, shared candies and cigarettes, played soccer, etc.

A word of caution: If you buy this cd, DO NOT LISTEN to "And the Band Played Waltzing Matlida" for the first time while you are driving a car. The vast majority of people I've known who really listened to it started crying and were emotionally overwhelmed the first time they heard it. It is a beautiful song, beautifully arranged and sung, graphically describing unspeakable carnage and its aftereffects.

You will never forget it.

Jim, Arcata, CA
Jim - Arcata, Ca
John McDermott singing Danny Boy a cappella is one of the most moving and beautiful renditions of this song that I have ever heard. John is an enormously talented and gifted singer in his own right, but he is also one of the Irish Tenors. Check him out at johnmcdermott.com.Laura - Brewster, Ma
Used in the Coen Brother's movie "Miller's Crossing" during the attempted murder of the mob boss Leo (Albert Finney) and his ultra-cool retaliation. Worth the price of rental just for this scene. One of the most amazing film sequences in terms of editing, violence and cinematography, but what makes the scene is the anonymous Irish tenor's "Danny Boy."Craig - Madison, Wi
Danny Boy is one of over 100 songs composed to the same tune. The author was an English lawyer, Frederic Edward Weatherly (1848-1929), who was also a songwriter and radio entertainer. In 1910 he wrote the words and music for an unsuccessful song he called Danny Boy. In 1912 his sister-in-law in America sent him a tune called the Londonderry Air which he had never heard before. He immediately noticed that the melody was perfectly fitted to his Danny Boy lyrics, and published a revised version of the song in 1913. As far as is known, Weatherly never set foot in Ireland.Cengiz - Istanbul, Turkey
Eva Cassidy also did a lovely version on her album 'Imagine'. What a lovely song though, how sad "I shall sleep in peace until you come to me"Catherine - London, England
OH...MY...GOD...I had to sing this song for a choir concert. I now hate this song.Mike - Arvada, Co
Dear Janetlee:

I recently spent thousands of hours playing various songs over and over and over again, to figure out the precise order of my 40 favorite recordings of all time. After listening to the resulting three cd's about 100 times (lol), I realized I'd gotten a few songs wrong and moved them up or down, sometimes several spots.

But on both my original "Top 40" list and my updated one, the #5 song was the same: Roy Orbison's recording of "Danny Boy," a recording very few people have, and almost no people have except on well-worn vinyl. I bought the cassette tape when it was out briefly after Roy's death, and recorded it onto cd's. My god, what a majestic, emotionally overpowering song.

Anyway, I'm writing to ask you something: You singled out Roy's version and one other as the particularly great recordings of this timeless song. I want to know how many of those verses Roy added. I mean, I've never heard anyone else do a version of "Danny Boy" which is anywhere near as long (5:55), and Roy's version deletes the last chorus.

So, how many of those verses did Roy write, and how many are part of the original but are never recorded by anyone? I know that until Nat King Cole became, as he said, "the 1,000th person to record" Hoagy Carmichael's "Stardust," nobody or almost nobody sang the wonderful first verse. Cole did, and soon others finally starting recording it as part of the song, too. In fact, Sinatra recorded a version which consisted ONLY of the obscure first verse.

My mother, who loved "Stardust" the same way I love "Hey Jude" (#1), a song as popular to her generation as "Hey Jude" was to mine, had never heard the first verse of "Stardust" (!!) until I played Cole's version of the song for her. She looked disoriented listening to it, but came to agree it made the song much better--quite a statement, in that it was already her favorite song of all time, lol. The last time I saw her, as life slipped from her body due to cancer, we listened to Cole's version together and wept.

I am aching to know precisely what Roy did and did not do to this famous song. Did he add some poignant, tear-wrenching verses to Weatherby's song, or are Roy's additional verses actually part of Weatherby's song which, like the first verse of "Stardust," have gone long overlooked?

Any info you have on this would be very much appreciated. As you might suppose from a person who has well over 1,000 cd's and considers a recording his #5 favorite, I really, really love Roy's version of this song. I actually like "Crying" even better (#2), but a lot of people are just flat blown-away by that recording (Roy's personal favorite of all his songs). Tragically few people have heard his rendition of "Danny Boy."

I am reluctant to put this information here, since I am an attorney, but if anyone wants a free cd of Roy's "Danny Boy"--and will send me an e-mail stating "under penalty of perjury" that he/she will not sell it for commercial profit, I will send him/her a copy. Once you know what the song is about--a boy's going off to war, and his moribund father's plea that he make it back alive, even if the father is gone--Roy's version will just kill you emotionally. It's right there with "Crying," "It's Over" and anything else he ever wrote in that regard, and those familiar with Roy's music know how emotionally overpowering it could be. (Springsteen said that after hearing "It's Over" in his adolescence, he swore he was never going near another girl.)

Jim F.
hippielawyer@sbcglobal.net
Jim - Arcata, Ca
There have been many, many versions of this lovely song. However, if you want to hear the prettiest ones, listen to the versions by Roy Orbison and Nana Mouskouri. very sweet and tender...Janetlee - Panama City, Fl