April 6

Who is Danny Boy? Why Are The Pipes Calling?

Oh, Danny Boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling.

Anyone who plays Irish music must be ready to field countless requests for this song, particularly around St. Patrick’s Day. There is no doubt about its popularity with those who know little about traditional Irish music, and even with the older generation of Irish-Americans.

Who is Danny Boy? Why Are The Pipes Calling? 1

“Londonderry Air”

“Danny Boy” is a popular ballad. Many people associate the song with Ireland, even though lyricist Frederic Weatherly was a British lawyer. The connection came when his Irish-born sister-in-law sent him a copy of the tune “Londonderry Air” in 1913. Upon receiving it, Weatherly modified his lyrics to fit the meter of the tune.

“Londonderry Air” was discovered by Jane Ross in 1851 when she heard a traveling fiddler playing on the street of Limavady, Ireland. Ross asked if she could notate the music for her friend in Dublin who was trying to preserve the ancient music of Ireland. A video on the history of the song states, “Sadly Ross did not note the fiddler’s name, and he may forever remain anonymous.”

Throughout the years “Danny Boy” has been considered an unofficial anthem by Irish Americans and Irish Canadians.

It became popular for funerals and memorial services. However, it’s not an official part of the ceremony. In fact, the song was banned from funeral masses by some churches. A retired Irish American police officer, Charlie McKenna, from Rhode Island said, “I want ‘Danny Boy’ sung at my funeral mass, and if it isn’t, I’m going to get up and walk out.”

Danny Boy became particularly popular in the United States, where they were recorded by a number of popular country singers including Roy Orbison, Glen Campbell, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Ray Price, Conway Twitty, and many more.

Below is the soulful rendition of Eva Cassidy for the song “Danny Boy”. Enjoy watching fella!

Lyric interpretations

Many Irish people have a love/hate relationship with the popular song “Danny Boy.” The opening lyrics are sure to draw a few voices of dissent from the crowd if a singer takes it upon themselves to belt out one of the most overplayed songs in the history of overplayed songs and yet, the same dissenters will willingly join in if the mood strikes and they’re feeling particularly homesick.

There are many theories behind the lyrics of “Danny Boy” with everybody making their own of the song’s true meaning. Some popular theories include a parent wishing their son to return to them before they die. A parent sending a message to a son at war or immigrating. One theory even believes the words are those of a desolate gay lover.

No matter the origins or the meaning, “Danny Boy” has still become the song of the Irish.  Irish people worldwide identified with its words and associating it with our country’s struggle for independence.

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Danny Boy, Eva Cassidy, Irish Ballad

  • An Irish friend of mine said many Irish people hated this song because it was used to recruit English forces to fight against Irish forces.

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