I really enjoy singing folk songs as they offer a wealth of beautiful melodies, which are a joy to sing. Their stories can vary from first love to lost loves, and at times even reveal some local gossip, (although historical now) to induce a chuckle.  I find that the charming melodies can be enjoyed by any listener despite their musical preferences or musical ability. I think this is quite remarkable and something to be celebrated.

The origin of most folk songs is hard to identify because when they were composed, for the most part, it would be off the cuff and in reaction to a moment of inspiration under the influence of great joy, grief, or affection. Their hearts would sing out tender melodies, which would be shared amongst friends, and then these simple melodies would be repeated on different instruments, in different venues by different artists until it became a recognised tune within the community.

The melody of “O Danny Boy” uses one of Ireland’s more popular national tunes called “Londonderry Air”.  The name given to the tune suggests it may have originated in County Derry in Northern Ireland. The age of the tune is unknown, but like all the songs of the people, it has been handed down through the generations. Over the years it has inspired many settings of songs and often different words were linked to the beautiful melody. This could be because of the oral tradition of folk music, where the music is learned through hearing rather than reading. This can affect the preservation of the tune because new variants appear as they are shared and sung in communities. We are lucky that this tender melody was written down and recorded for future generations to share and enjoy. It is generally believed that the first written recording was made by Jane Ross (1810-79), who lived in Limavady in County Londonderry. It would appear that she was an instrumentalist rather than a singer as neither the words nor title appears with the music. In 1855, an arrangement of Londonderry Air for piano was published by George Petrie in his collection of ancient Music of Ireland.

“Of all the national tunes which have been rescued from oblivion … none has achieved such striking popularity as the old Irish tune known as the “Londonderry Air.”

(Henry Coleman, “The Londonderry Air”, Musical Times, 99 (1918), 349-50)

In 1913, Frederic Weatherly (an English lawyer, author, and lyricist) wrote an arrangement for voice and piano and titled the song “Danny Boy”. After its publication, war broke out the following year, and English opera singer Elsie Griffin popularised the song amongst British troops in France. In the following decades, Danny Boy was recorded many times and played on gramophones in people’s homes and listened to in radio broadcasts. It was featured in a Hollywood film, Because of Him. It is a beloved song, whose words and melody express the endurance of love and how it can transcend through time.

Danny Boy

O Danny boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling
From glen to glen, and down the mountainside.
The summer’s gone and all the flow’rs are falling
Tis you, tis you must go, and I must bide.

But come ye back when summer’s in the meadow
Or when the valley’s hushed and white with snow.
Tis I’ll be here in sunshine or in shadow
O Danny boy, O Danny boy I love you so.

But when ye come and all the flow’rs are dying
If I am dead as dead I well maybe,
You’ll come and find the place where I am lying,
And kneel and say an Ave there for me.

And I shall hear tho’ soft you tread above me
And all my grave will warmer, sweeter be,
For you will bend and tell me that you love me,
And I shall sleep in peace until you come to me.

89 thoughts on “Danny Boy

    1. Thank you Patricia, I think the song has a special connection with many people. I like to sing it quietly too in close settings but on the balcony it needed to project to be heard in the flats in the far distance.
      Best wishes
      Charlotte

  1. A beautiful voice presenting a beautiful song. Everything flowed effortlessly from you, from George and from the balcony. I can only imagine the joy of being there to hear it LIVE! Thank you for sharing. <3

    1. Thank you Annette I’m so glad you enjoyed our video. I enjoyed singing the song in a bar in Glasgow just jamming along with a Scottish band who were free styling. Brings back happy memories.
      Best wishes
      Charlotte

    1. I was asked to sing the song once at a wedding and I said, “but it’s so sad” it was a family favourite and was more about people getting together after being apart so that made me happy.
      Best wishes
      Charlotte

      1. Yes we are thank you, we test for covid a couple of times per week because we work in a school and we stay sensible. I hope that you are keeping well too.

  2. An emotional song that needs careful handling if it is not to fall into the trap of banality through over exposure. It’s popularity among the Irish-Americans puts it as risk of coming over more ‘Oirish’ than Irish, if you get the distinction. Then again, we all know a young singer who knows how to avoid that… Superb atmospheric photo at the top of the blog, may i also say.

    1. My brother took the photograph in Greenwich. I haven’t got the funds to spend on specialist photo sessions at the moment so I talked him into it. It is quite challenging to sing a very popular song because everyone has their own favourite versions from a special memory, or some know all the words so no slips allowed 😊.
      Best wishes
      Charlotte

    1. The castle is in Scotland not Ireland. It is Eilean Donan in the Western Highlands. Beautiful place near three lochs.
      Best wishes
      Charlotte

      1. Thanks!!!! You know, one year, for a fancy dress party, I made myself a kilt with a real Scottish tartan that I found at the bottom of a huge fabric shop ….. the colors were the same as the tartan in the photo with your face.

    1. Thank you Trent. It was in our 75th VE Day concert on the 10th May last year a beautiful hot day.
      Best wishes
      Charlotte

      1. I played and danced with a folk group from the Canary Islands when I lived in Spain. You really learn a lot about a culture through their folk music and dances.

  3. I enjoyed watching your video again, a beautiful and warm performance. Thanks, Charlotte!

    1. Thank you for listening and your lovely message 🙂.
      Best wishes
      Charlotte

    1. I love the way Scots Traditional singers sing this too, I learnt quite a number of Scottish folk songs too whilst up in Glasgow.
      All my best wishes
      Charlotte

  4. The folk song traditions of Ireland and England/Scotland/Wales have some of the most haunting and moving melodies. I can lose myself in recordings of them. I particularly enjoy Vaughan Williams’ and Percy Grainger’s orchestral and band arrangements. Your performance of Danny Boy is beautiful. Thanks again for sharing your talents.

    1. Thank you John, I was going to do a Vaughan Williams concert then lockdown happened. I love folk songs too.
      Best wishes
      Charlotte

  5. I love Danny boy Charlotte & George.
    It reminds me of my friend Hilary. Every time I hear you singing it I have goose pimples.
    Lovely post again, especially the balcony rendition.😘😘

    1. I’m glad it brings back happy memories. I’m hoping the weather is good this bank holiday weekend.
      All my best wishes
      Charlotte 🥰

  6. Wow. What an interesting background to the song we know as Danny Boy. Thank you for this post. I had chills reading the lyrics of Danny Boy again. A simple story compellingly told.

    1. Thank you Cynthia 😊. I’m happy you enjoyed the story and music.
      Best wishes Charlotte

    1. Thank you Derrick, I’ll tell George I’ve been very lucky to spend so much time with him this past year.
      Best wishes
      Charlotte

    1. It is sad so many people must have gone off to war and returned to find loved ones have passed.
      Best wishes
      Charlotte

  7. Shivering!!!!
    Oh Charlotte no one sings Danny Boy like you!
    Awhile back you had a post about singing for a group of men..old soldiers or legionnaires?
    I believe you sang Danny Boy and a Vera Lynn song.. Some Sunny Day.
    I shivered then, I shiver now!
    Thank you for the wonderful history!
    Resa xo

    1. Well remembered Resa yes I did a remembrance concert with the Tideswell Male Voice choir and they had a voice over actor tell the stories of the men from the village who went off to fight never to return and the impact on the little village in the Peaks.
      I hope your pencils have arrived safely.
      Best wishes
      Charlotte

      1. Just a note to let you know that I sent you an email, with a drawing of Lala! The character is coming along nicely.

      2. Im so glad you got your pencils I responded to your e-mail 🥰

    1. Thank you Gill, I miss my little concerts this past year.
      Hope you and Terry are both doing well.
      Best wishes
      Charlotte

    1. Thank you Christine. The lyrics are so sad, the thought of some young man going off to war and coming back and his beloved mother passing away ☹️.
      Best wishes
      Charlotte

    1. Thank you Andrea, it is very difficult to sing this song at funerals because everyone gets so upset listening to the lyrics.
      Best wishes
      Charlotte

    1. Thank you for listening. I’ve had a lovely week my family came to visit London for the first time since last August and I’ve got my jab booked for next week so fingers crossed that goes ok. I have a couple of friends that have been poorly afterwards.
      Best wishes
      Charlotte

      1. Always a pleasure to listen to you guys. Amnd I am very glad you could see your folks (as “Murricans” say). almost a year. Also glad you are scheduled soon. Don’t worry about how you will feel. Most likely nothing. Everyone reacts differently. Take a Panadol or whatever your Doctor recommends immediately after and you should be fine.
        Best, too.
        B.

    1. Thank you Alex. We had friends down from Leeds yesterday, it was blistering hot and sunny in Leeds, London an absolute washout and we had a boat trip booked! Fab time had by all though.
      Best wishes
      Charlotte

      1. The e-mail from February Alex? I replied to that one but I haven’t seen one since, tell me the date and I’ll check again.

    1. Thank you very much Alan. Are you in Italy? – It is a beautiful Country that I love to visit and language that I love to sing in.
      Best wishes
      Charlotte

      1. No Charlotte, I am not in Italy, but Italy is in me. My father emigrated to America around the 1930’s and married my mom in 1940. He came from a small mountain town named Settefrati. In the Frosinone region. Translated as the town of the seven brothers. Brothers in the sense of Catholic Brothers.
        My father would have loved to hear his native songs in your voice. “Come Back to Sorrento” was one of his favorites. I learned to play it on the piano as he sang.
        -Alan

      2. What a lovely memory. I love Trentino, Rome, Florence, and Venice are the main areas I’ve been and I also used to do competitions there but sometimes even if you win they hold off giving you the prize if you don’t score over 97% and it’s a high cost to cover.

  8. Thanks for sharing a wonderful song with us, Charlotte. It’s one of my all time faves, and I’m nowhere near Ireland. Thanks for providing the informative background and development of the song. And wow, a high A you reached and so comfortably. 🙂

    1. Thank you Arti, during the lockdown I’ve had some fabulous opportunities to have lessons with teachers online that normally wouldn’t be teaching because they’re full time performers, such a fabulous experience. I’ve a couple of concerts booked this month so fingers crossed they go well and the weather is good.
      Best wishes
      Charlotte

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