Chicagoans share history of 'Danny Boy'

March 17, 2008 4:17:45 PM PDT
If you have ever celebrated st. Patrick's Day even a little bit over the years, you have heard the song "Danny Boy" many, many times. It's a song that combines a wonderful melody with tear jerking lyrics.

At the Irish American Heritage Center on North Knox on this St. Patrick's Day it's not surprising to hear this almost perfect combination of melody and lyrics.

"Oh Danny Boy/the pipes, the pipes are calling/From glen to glen and down the mountain side," the song goes.

Chicagoan Cathy Cowan was accompanied by a group called Blackwater Monday. They were playing a melody that goes back to Derry in Ireland a long time ago.

"The best we know is it was collected at the Belfast harp festival in 1792 from an old harper named Denis Hempser. He was 97 at the time and that's the origin of the tune," said Noel Rice, Irish musician.

That's when, for the first time, the melody to Derry Air was first written down and saved forever.

And then there are those lyrics. "Oh Danny boy/The pipes, the pipes are calling/You must go and I must bide."

What's the story behind them, who wrote them and when?

Even though the melody is definitely Irish, the lyrics are not. They were penned in about 1910 by poet Edward Weatherley.

"He was an Englishman. He was a good writer and had written many good songs but this was his best," Rice said.

But despite what many people say, it's not about a father or mother singing to a son going off to war. Songwriter Weatherley said it was just about loneliness and loss of loved ones.


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