The Strain Danny Boy Is Perhaps The Best Known Irish Song Of All But The Sentimental Words Have Nothing To Do With Ireland

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Danny Boy is perhaps the best known Irish song of all. But the sentimental words have nothing to do with Ireland

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posted by Paul Townsend alias brizzle born and bred on Thursday 3rd of August 2017 03:21:42 AM

Danny Boy is perhaps the best known Irish song of all. But the sentimental words have nothing to do with Ireland. It has since become a generally accepted (although still potentially blasphemous) fact that the lyrics of "Danny Boy" are in no way related to Ireland. Not only are the famed lyrics not Irish but they were not even written by an Irishman, and no matter how vehemently the Irish claim authorship of the song, the fact remains that "Danny Boy" was written by, of all people, a Somerset lawyer. "Danny Boy" is one of the most popular songs in the entire Irish music repertoire, and it has been recorded hundreds of times. Set to the tune of the traditional song "Londonderry Air," the lyrics were actually written by an Englishman, Frederick Weatherly, who apparently never set foot in Ireland. Nevertheless, it became a favourite among Irish recording artists (and drunken revelers on St. Patrick's Day) and gained particular favour among Irish-Americans and Irish-Canadians. They were in fact penned in about 1910 by a Portishead lawyer named Fred E. Weatherley, who had never been to Ireland.. And ever since he wrote the two-verse song, there has been a worldwide debate as to whether there is a dark significance and inner meaning to his words. "The mystery of the words seems to centre around his son, called Danny, who was killed in the First World War. Danny Boy, for which he wrote words to an Irish tune, which had allegedly been written by the Sidhe (Irish fairies). The story of the words starts in the Gold Rush in Colorado (USA) where a lady overheard some miners playing the tune. It is quite likely these men came originally from Ireland. She sent the tune to her brother in law, Fred Weatherly in Somerset. By an extraordinary piece of good fortune Fred Weatherly had already written a song called 'Danny Boy' in 1910 and it only required a few alterations to make it fit the beautiful melody he received from America. Weatherly modified the lyrics of "Danny Boy" to fit the rhyme and meter of "Londonderry Air". Weatherly gave the song to the vocalist Elsie Griffin, who made it one of the most popular songs in the new century; and, in 1915, Ernestine Schumann-Heink produced the first recording of "Danny Boy". Jane Ross of Limavady is credited with collecting the melody of "Londonderry Air" in the mid-19th century from a musician she encountered. The age and origin of the title have been greatly debated. Some critics believe the melody does not sound that old. It was later discovered that the tune was a distorted version of the song Aislean an Oigfear {The Young Man’s Dream} which has been traced back by Denis Hempson to at least mid 17th Century. Other sources say the composition was linked to the 17th Century blind harpist Rory Dall O’Cahan. The tune has had over 100 different song lyrics attached to it. It is sometimes called “Air from County Derry”. "Oh, Danny boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling From glen to glen, and down the mountain side. The summer's gone, and all the roses falling, It's you, it's 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, It's I'll be here in sunshine or in shadow, Oh, Danny boy, oh Danny boy, I love you so! But when ye come, and all the flowers are dying, If I am dead, as dead I well may be, You'll come and find the place where I am lying, And kneel and say an Ave there for me. And I shall hear, though 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!" “One of the mysteries has always been is how this Englishman, who'd never been to Ireland, very upper crust, British, could write something that immediately took off for the Irish,” said Anthony Mann, Weatherly’s great-grandson. “Fred wrote so many songs that he never knew which one was going to be a go-er. It was like launching a series of pigeons really.” Actually, at first “Danny Boy” didn't fly. The words were right but the tune was wrong, which is where Weatherly’s sister-in-law, Margaret Weatherly, comes in. Margaret Weatherly was an Irish immigrant who sailed to America with Fred Weatherly’s brother in search of silver in Colorado. It was on a trip back to England in 1912 that Margaret Weatherly introduced Fred Weatherly to the ancient Irish melody, “The Londonderry Aire.” Fred Weatherly fused that haunting melody with his heavy-hearted words and something magical happened. “Danny Boy” became a hit. “He meant for it to be popular, he meant for it to be universal,” said music journalist Andrew Mueller. “There’s a very careful avoidance of specifics.” Mueller told CBS News’ Charlie D’Agata that world events were about to lend the song a terrible resonance. “One hesitates to call the first World War a stroke of luck, but I think for any work of art to endure it needs a stroke of luck and his lyrics for “Danny Boy” were published in 1913, a year before millions of people were finding themselves having to say goodbye to people who they hoped against hope that they might one day see again,” he said. The theme of longing also struck a chord with many Irish emigrants who headed to America to escape the famine back home. Through the decades, the song became woven into the cultural fabric of the U.S. and beyond, often as a final farewell. Elvis said he thought “Danny Boy” was written by angels and asked for it to be played at his funeral. Its melody could be heard at President Kennedy’s funeral. At Princess Diana's church service, the words were different, but the haunting melody of “The Londonderry Aire,” the same. And after the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, the strains of “Danny Boy” rose from the memorial services of so many Irish-American police and firefighters who were among the victims. It's not just the notion of loss, but of someday being reunited, that's one of the reasons “Danny Boy” has never gone away. Somerset born and bred Weatherly was born and brought up in Portishead, Somerset, the eldest son in the large family of Frederick Weatherly (1820–1910), a medical doctor, and his wife, Julia Maria, née Ford (1823–98). His birth was registered in the Bedminster district of Bristol in the fourth quarter of 1848 and the 1851 census shows the family living at 7 Wood Hill, Portishead. He was educated at Hereford Cathedral School from 1859 to 1867, and won a scholarship to Brasenose College, Oxford in 1867. Although not as well known as many 20th century song writers, Weatherley, born in Portishead, Somerset, was perhaps the prolific lyricist of all time - writing the words to more than 1,000 published songs. Danny Boy remains his most famous, but he also wrote the words to the perennial Roses are Blooming in Picardy. He plucked the Roses of Picardy, serenaded Danny Boy, stormed the walls of the Holy City and created the image of the Zummerset zider yokel~ His name was Fred Weatherly, he was one of the most prolific and popular songwriters ever and he was born in Portishead 153 years ago. Weatherly was a barrister who knew both Dickens and Gladstone and who managed to write 1,500 songs, many of which remain classics. He was the son of a country doctor, whose patients included survivors from the Battle of Trafalgar. As a boy he watched a funeral ship bearing he body of Lord Raglan, Commander-in-Chief in the Crimean War, passing up the Channel to Bristol and burial at Badminton. His mother came from Clifton Wood, Bristol, and was a gifted musician and singer who loved ballads and storytelling. Fred went to Hereford Cathedral School and wrote his first song at the age of 17. But it was a trip to see the Great Exhibition when he was just three that inspired one of his most famous songs, Up From Somerset, with its rousing chorus: ‘Oh we’m come up from Zummerset, where the cider apples grow.’ It did more than anything to give West Country folk a lasting Wurzel image. He became a private tutor after university and his pupils included the King of Siam. He was actually invited to Siam to become tutor to the Crown Prince which, as has been pointed out on many occasions, might have led to the Rogers and Hammerstein musical The King and I being called ‘The King and Fred’ instead! But his songs were becoming well known in fact Beatrix Potter’s first published book illustrations were for Weatherly’s A Happy Pair. A frustrated love affair in Portishead inspired songs like The Girl I Love in Somerset and The Valley by the Sea, while the pier master at Portishead was serenaded in Captain Dando. His first wife was Anna Maria (Minnie) Hardwick, daughter of Worle surgeon John Hardwick, and they had one son and two daughters. Minnie died in 1920 and Fred married Miriam Bryan in 1923, at the age of seventy. At the age of 39 he decided to change the course of his life and became a barrister and a pupil of Charles Dickens’s son. He collaborated with the Italian composer Paolo Tosti on a series of romantic ballads and the pair serenaded Queen Victoria at her Diamond Jubilee party. He also translated Italian operas into English for Covent Garden. But it was what he called his Songs of the People that gained him the nickname of The People’s Laureate. He returned to Bristol in 1893 and lived in Whiteladies Road before moving to Edward Street, Bath, in 1910 for its more convenient rail connection. It was during these years that some of his most enduring songs were written. In 1902, he turned out God Speed for the opening of Avonmouth Docks and, in 1914, he teamed up with Ivor Novello to write a stirring recruitment number called Bravo Bristol. As well as writing 'Danny Boy' Fred, a busy lawyer, managed to compose somewhere in the region of 1,500 songs during his lifetime including 'The Holy City' and 'Roses of Picardy'. And there was Roses of Picardy, which touched the hearts of wartime listeners, and The Holy City, with its rousing chorus ‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem, lift up your gates and sing.’ In 1923, he wrote his first opera and decided that the gramophone and wireless would never catch on. It was one of his rare mistakes. Two years later, he was elected a life member of Bristol Savages, a club for artists, musicians and writers, and his portrait still hangs in the Wigwam, their Park Row HQ. He performed in Portishead on occasions and the town library still has programmes for a 1926 concert of ‘Songs Old and New’ and a 1928 ‘Songs and Reminiscences’ evening. He died at his home, Bathwick Lodge, Bath, after a short illness on 7 September 1929, at the age of 80. At his funeral in Bath Abbey, the Londonderry Air, to which he had written the well-known words, was played as a voluntary. He was buried at Smallcombe Cemetery. A plaque unveiled by Dame Clara Butt commemorates him at 10 Edward St in Bath. Proceeds form a Weatherly memorial concert endowed a bed in the Bath Royal Mineral Water Hospital. It is estimated Fred wrote 3,000 lyrics of which 1,500 were published. ‘These songs are popular because people love to sing them’ he once said. ‘The heart of the people is still simple and healthy and sound.’ Here’s one of his classic songs that helped persuade local boys to go and fight the fiendish Hun.

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