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Danny Boy

Good Essays
“Oh, Danny Boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling”1 leaves not a single Irish eye dry once the melody has begun to play. Despite the fact that “Danny Boy” was written in 1910 by the English lawyer, Frederick Edward Weatherly, this folk ballad has become one of Ireland’s most treasured songs. The song’s longevity is due not only to the haunting melody, but also to the expertly penned lyrics which express the longing for a loved one gone away. These lyrics have been morphed and changed to fit each generation, starting from those who remember losing loved ones in the Irish Diaspora to present day family members of lost and beloved IRA soldiers.
Though “Danny Boy” is as familiar to the Irish as their orange, green, and white flag, most people do not know the origins of the popular song. The tune so loved has no original owner. Instead, in a truly Irish fashion, it was originally played by traveling musicians throughout the Irish countryside. Instead of one composer, it is possible that the tune had multiple owners who continually refined and revised the tune. Traveling musicians would occasionally get together in order to trade music techniques and songs2, and it is in multiple gatherings like these that the tune to “Danny Boy” known as “Londonderry Air” is said to have been composed. The O’Cahan clan likes to claim that their own Rory Dall O’Cahan3 composed “Londonderry Air” but the tune was not written down until 1855 by Dr. George Patrie4.
Patrie is said to have fallen in love with the tune after hearing it played by an expert harpist5. It is not difficult to understand how Patrie would fall so in love with “Londonderry Air” that he would wish to write the music down for others to enjoy. The beauty with this tune lies in its ...

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...of a race, and reflects feelings and tastes that are common rather than personal…while at every moment of history, it exists not in one form but in many”30. The emotions carried with “Danny Boy” are much more typical of a folk song, but it differs from this definition as well because it is known that Frederick Weatherly composed the lyrics. However, because “Londonderry Air” has had multiple artists work on it before being written down, the definition still holds true31. Despite the different descriptions used to try and classify this song, one part of the definition of folk music rings especially true: throughout its history this song’s meaning changed with each major change the Irish experienced, leaving the song just a little different with each passing generation. These differences in view can also be contributed to the form and structure of Weatherly’s lyrics.
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