Ever heard of the traditional Irish song Danny Boy and wondered what it means? Find out more about the roots of this song and how it’s played an important part in Irish history.
While Danny Boy is known by some as an old Irish tune resembling the newer You Raise Me Up sung by Josh Groban, its roots are way more profound than just being a beautiful tune. This beloved Irish ballad has long been the song of enduring power, aiming to move and uplift.
The song has existed for over a century. Even today, the music retains its essence as it is beautiful and brings out deep emotions and feelings about being proud to be Irish.
Interesting facts about ‘Danny Boy’
When was ‘Danny Boy’ written?
The lyrics to the song were written by Frederic E. Weatherly, an English lawyer, in 1910. The lyrics came before the iconic melody, which came to him from his family.
The lawyer’s Irish-born sister-in-law was the one who sent him the Londonderry Air tune years after he had finished writing the lyrics. Upon hearing the melody, the lawyer changed his lyrics to fit them.
This was the birth of the iconic Irish ballad made popular today, with moving lyrics sung over an angelic tune.
Origin of the ‘Londonderry Air’ tune
While many theories remain about its melody, Londonderry Air, the most popular belief was that it originated in 1851. That year, Jane Ross picked the tune from an unnamed fiddler in Limavady, Ireland.
Ross asked if she could transcribe the music for a friend in Dublin who tries to preserve Ireland’s ancient music. The fiddler agreed, but his name has been lost for all eternity, with none knowing where it came from until today.
Meaning of ‘Danny Boy’
Many personal meanings have been ascribed to Danny Boy, with countless opera singers and choirs performing it. Many people have also requested that the song be sung at their funerals.
However, the song has various meanings, with people still debating its true essence. Some interpretations suggest it’s a message from a parent to a son, hoping they would return from war.
As an even deeper meaning, some ascribe it to how members of the Irish diaspora had to be displaced from their own companies, resulting in their cries echoing as they want to return home. Home, in this sense, not only describes a place, but for some, could also mean a person or persons.
Despite different meanings for the song, some people would agree that the song’s essence is about loss, departure, and even death. Despite this, its beauty still captivates, giving a reminder of the beauty of life.
The song’s journey
While the song was initially written by the lawyer, with the tune coming from an unknown fidler, it was later republished in 1913 upon a collaboration with Weatherly and Alfred Perceval Graves.
The song has become one of the most popular and beloved Irish songs, even making its way to America and sung by famous artists like Mario Lanza, Bing Crosby, and more. Danny Boy has also cemented itself in Irish folk and tradition, with many musicians playing the song and giving it different renditions.
While the song’s lyrics have had a substantial impact on the world, due to the power of its tune, it has inspired other songs, which some say sound remarkably similar to this Irish song.
‘Danny Boy’ and ‘You Raise Me Up’
Addressing the elephant in the room, many people have pointed out similarities between Danny Boy and You Raise Me Up. However, the U.S. court dismissed how the song was stolen from another Icelandic song called Söknuður.
You Raise Me Up was made famous by Josh Groban, but the Irish-Norwegian band Secret Garden wrote it. Josh Groban and Westlife covered the song in the mid-2000s, gaining widespread popularity.
The song was said to be stolen from Söknuður, written by Johann Helgason in 1977, with analysts working for Helgason and the Icelandic collecting society STEF concluding that the song was 97 percent alike.
However, the defendants also agreed that the song had common elements stemming from what was described as a “public domain folk song,” which was Danny Boy. In this case, the judge concluded that when removing the elements similar to Danny Boy, both songs weren’t the same.
With the touching tune of Danny Boy and its lyrics left for interpretation, it remains one of the most powerful Irish ballads today. Despite the name of the fiddler who had come up with the tune being lost forever, the melody remains, showing the beauty of Ireland.
The song has dramatically influenced many newer popular songs, but some prefer the original version despite that. People have repeatedly given their meanings to the music, making it as personal as possible.