Oh, Danny Boy,
The pipes, the pipes are calling
From glen to glen and down the mountain side ….
But come ye back to summers in the meadow ….
This impassioned Danny Boy song I loved to sing often in my younger days. However, I had not questioned how the song originated, as I have presumed that it was one of the indigenous/traditional songs that had existed for a long, long time in Ireland. Recently I found a surprising story with a twist, which I want to share with you tonight.
In 1851, Jane Ross, a Londonderry woman, while listening to a traveling fiddler named Blind Jimmy McCurry, heard a beautiful ballad, noted it down in a hurry. Jane was known as a keen Irish folk song collector. She submitted the tune to Dr. George Petrie, an artist and musician in Dublin and it was then registered and published as “Londonderry Air”. It was said many lyricists tried to make a song to match up to it, but none stood out.
At the turn of the 20th century, an unimaginable thing happened. Margaret Weathery in Colorado, US, happened to hear this Londonderry song played by an Irish immigrant band and sent it to her husband ’s brother Frederic in Somerset, UK. The US Gold Rush to the West attracted immigrants, including the Irish, so the songs spread across the new continent.
Danny Boy wasn’t born without a flash of wit. Frederic Weathery was a lawyer, as well as a songwriter. As a matter of fact, he composed his version of Danny Boy but it never became popular. He placed the title Danny Boy to the song that came from the U.S. and it hit big with the arrival of the Irish tenor singer John McCormack.