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Spoke
06-09-2000, 06:10 PM
What do the lyrics to "Danny Boy" (a/k/a Londonderry Air) mean? For reference, here are the lyrics:

O Danny boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling
From glen to glen and down the mountainside
The summer's gone and all the roses 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 if 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, your tread above me
And all my grave shall warmer, sweeter be
For you will bend and tell me that you love me
And I will sleep in peace until you come to me.


I had always assumed that the song was being sung by a father (or possibly a mother) to a son who was going away to war. (I assumed the line which says "the pipes are calling" is a reference to the use of bagpipes in wartime, and that the son is being called away to war while the parent remains behind.)

Does anyone know if this interpretation is correct?

MovieMogul
06-09-2000, 06:37 PM
This might help:

http://www.standingstones.com/dannyboy.html

Duck Duck Goose
06-09-2000, 11:53 PM
The link was interesting but it didn't address the issue of what the words mean--it's all about the tune, and where it came from.

Spoke, I think you may just have to chalk it up to being a serious "art song", meant to be performed with great sentimentality in a parlour after dinner, to a rapt audience. "Art songs" don't always have a plot where you can say, "Okay, boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back".

I would suppose that the reference to "pipes" means Irish bagpipes, which are a folk instrument viewed with great affection by the sort of people who sing this song to each other after dinner, in the parlour.

But there's nothing in the song that specifically addresses itself to war either way, and that's what makes it so universally popular. It's a generic song, it can mean anything. The singer could be a mother saying goodbye to her son, a sweetheart saying goodbye to her fellow, it could be anything.

AFAIK, the song doesn't specifically have anything to do with a war, although I suppose that it may have certain connotations for certain people who sing it to each other in a certain time and place. AFAIK, it's not like some "secret code" song.

AFAIK, the Irish bagpipes were never used in wartime, not the way the Scottish pipes were. They have a different, softer sound, more suitable for dancing, not quite as martial (or as noisy).

Does this help?

P.S. One of my all-time favorite P.G. Wodehouse stories involves a take-off on "Danny Boy", called "Jeeves and the Song of Songs". Everybody within the sound of my voice should find it and read it.

rowrrbazzle
06-09-2000, 11:59 PM
From spoke-:

I had always assumed that the song was being sung by a father (or possibly a mother) to a son who was going away to war. (I assumed the line which says "the pipes are calling" is a reference to the use of bagpipes in wartime, and that the son is being called away to war while the parent remains behind.)

Does anyone know if this interpretation is correct?

The "mother" alternative is pretty much how Charlotte Church introduced the song on a recent A&E special.

DAVEW0071
06-10-2000, 05:12 PM
I always assumed the song was a father talking to his son about being the boy being called to war. Don't know about Irish bagpipes being used as a call to arms, but the line "'Tis you must go and I, 'tis I must bide" I took to be the father's way of saying, "I've already been to war, I'm too old to fight. You're the one being conscripted now, so don't go out and get yourself killed. There will always be a welcome home for you." And "the summer's gone and all the roses falling" could be a poetic references to the father's advanced years, being in the autumn of his life.

This is all mere speculation on my part, of course.

dougie_monty
06-10-2000, 06:18 PM
I took six years of singing classes as El Camino College in Torrance, CA. In a Singer as Actor class, I had to do research for "Eily Dear," the male singer's counterpart for "Danny Boy." In a volume furnished by a friend of mine, a retired reference librarian from Redondo Beach, I found that Eily (or Danny) was staying behind on the Ould Sod while the other was sailing for America--as was common in the middle of the 19th Century because of famines and other serious problems burdening Ireland. In other words, in "Eily Dear," Danny is on the deck of the ship, singing to Eily, on the dock. In "Danny Boy" it's the other way around.

mangeorge
06-11-2000, 02:48 AM
Here's one scholarly opinion;
http://www.standingstones.com/dannyboy.html
The site claims that the song ain't even Irish.
Oh, well.
Still a beautiful ditty, is it not?
Peace,
mangeorge

Spoke
06-12-2000, 11:53 AM
dougie_monty--

That's interesting. I've never heard of any "Eily Dear" counterpart. Do you have the lyrics, by any chance? Is it possible that the "Eily Dear" counterpart post-dates the original "Danny Boy"?

Yeah
06-12-2000, 12:20 PM
Well, if it WERE Irish it would be more likely to be about leaving home to emigrate than about going to war since the Irish never really "went to war" but hundreds of thousands did have to leave their homes and their country to escape what the English were doing to them.

TomH
06-12-2000, 12:51 PM
the Irish never really "went to war"

Depends what you mean. Plenty of Irishmen served in the British Army until independence, including the First World War.

Apollyon
06-12-2000, 09:27 PM
Don't know about Irish bagpipes being used as a call to arms...

I've been looking for an actual reference to the highland pipes being used to muster troops -- and while I haven't found a direct cite, I did find this note about an early pice of bagpipe music:

Piobaireachd Dhomhnuill Dubh
This call to arms was composed around the time of the Battle of Inverlochy in 1431. This tune is also known as "Lochiel's March". The Chief of the Cameron's was MacDhomhnuill Dubh or son of Black Donald.

...and also that, "Pipes have reportedly been heard at distances over six miles,and under favorable conditions at ten miles, which would make them useful for gathering people in the rough and craggy highlands.

PS: Wouldn't the use of the word glen also suggest Scotland?

TomH
06-13-2000, 08:01 AM
The use of "glen" might suggest Scotland, but the author of the song was English, although the tune is a traditional Irish one. In other words, trying to place some genuine "Irish" construction on the words is completely futile.

In general, it would be interesting to consider how many of the things which are considered traditionally "Irish" are in fact Engliush, how many of the things that are considered traditionally "English" are in fact Welsh, and so on. But that's another thread.

(FWIW, the Highland Regiments used bagpipes in battle as recently as the First World War.)

Northern Piper
06-13-2000, 08:15 AM
on the issue of Irish pipes, there are at least two different types.

the classic Irish pipes are the Uillean (sp?), which are meant for indoor use at dances. They are much softer than the Scottish pipes. I think they were used for part of the soundtrack for Braveheart. They're the pipes that the Chieftains use.

there are also Irish pipes for outdoor use. They look pretty much like the Scottish pipes, but only have 2 drones (the pipes that stick up from the bag), instead of 3 like the Scottish pipes.

The most recent use of the Scottish pipes in battle that I've read about was D-Day - some of the landing craft were delayed by engine trouble, and the piper from a Highland Regiment (can't remember if it was Brit or Canadian) played his pipes on the landing craft to encourage the troops.

Spoke
06-13-2000, 10:11 AM
Thanks for all the replies, everyone.

Reading through the posts, I still think the song is about a young man going to war. If there is dissent on this, does anyone have an alternative interpretation of "the pipes, the pipes are calling?" What else could that line mean?

I also agree that the "'Tis you, 'tis you must go and I must bide" line seems to be a father saying to his son that the son will have to fight because the father is too old.

I realize the lyrics were written by an Englishman. Fair enough. That still begs the question of what he intended the song to mean.

Dinsdale
06-13-2000, 10:13 AM
I always thought it was London Derriere.

mangeorge
06-13-2000, 08:42 PM
I agree with spoke. It's just a song after all, not a historical document. A poem needn't be historically or even gramatically correct. Nor does it need to be written from life experience.
But it is kinda fun to talk about it.
Peace,
mangeorge

PunditLisa
06-14-2000, 08:18 AM
Mother or father? I've always thought it was Danny's lover, possibly even his wife, saying goodbye as the lad went off to war....

dougie_monty
06-19-2000, 01:32 PM
I stand by my documentation. It was furnished by a (retired) reference librarian, from Redondo Beach, CA; someone I would consider an expert on music.
The lyrics I sang to "Eily Dear" (I used a musical arrangement composed about 1981 by Fred Weatherly):
I
Oh Eily Dear, the pipes, the pipes are calling;
From glen to glen, and down the moutainside;
The summer's gone, and all the roses falling,
It's I, It's I must go and you must bide.
But I'll be back when summer's in the meadow,
Or when the valley's hushed and white with snow;
And you'll be here, is sunlight or in shadow;
Oh Eily Dear, Oh Eily Dear I love you so.
II
Some day may be, when all the flow'rs are dying;
And I am dead, as dead I well may be;
Then you will see the place where I am lying,
Then you will say an Ave there for me.
And I shall hear, though soft you tread above me,
And all my grave will warmer, sweeter be;
Then you will bend and tell me that you love me,
And I will sleep in peace until you come to me.
Maybe it's because I am Irish; it's hard even to key in the lyrics here without starting to tear up. :(

dougie_monty
06-19-2000, 01:34 PM
Excuse me--that should be 1918, not 1981. :o

William Boy
05-07-2011, 09:43 AM
I think the phrase " Danny Boy" is a metaphor of "life".

Malacandra
05-07-2011, 10:21 AM
And I will hear, though soft you tread above me,
And I will lurch, and rise like April rains:
Eleven years have passed, so say you love me,
And you and I alike will go in search of braaiiinnnssss...

md2000
05-07-2011, 10:28 AM
I kind of doubt it's about going off to war, if it's happening when "The summer's gone and all the roses falling"? Late fall when the plants are dying is a pretty odd time to be mustering troops for battle in pre-industrial northern Europe.

Of course, Mr. Dan is coming back someday, winter or summer, so he's probably going on an extended journey. Is it possible that the sound of bagpipes is just elevator music for the highland/eirie-land ambience? Sound carries now that the leaves are gone, and all that...

(I always thought this was a Highlands song. Did not know until now it was specifically Irish. Musta been the bagpipes reference that confused me...)

Loach
05-07-2011, 12:07 PM
PBS documentary (http://www.amazon.com/Danny-Boy-Sunshine-Eric-Clapton/dp/B0002T87FO). Haven't seen it in a while but it stated that the song was about young men emigrating and leaving their mother's behind.

ElvisL1ves
05-07-2011, 12:16 PM
I'm sure that apostrophe was simply misplaced. ;)

Manda JO
05-07-2011, 12:26 PM
I always read it about lovers parting for an extended period of time, with the woman singing, but it could be about parents/children. It really doesn't matter: it's just about how uncertain this world is, and how whenever two people part for an extended period of time, they can't be entirely sure they will see each other again.

Loach
05-07-2011, 12:50 PM
I'm sure that apostrophe was simply misplaced. ;)

They really like their mothers (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ibBFIr_e6W8).

Colibri
05-07-2011, 12:52 PM
Moving to Cafe Society from GQ.

Posters should note that this thread is nearly as old as the song itself.

Colibri
General Questions Moderator

Gestalt
05-07-2011, 01:01 PM
For all the people who think that the singer is a female (mother, lover of "Danny Boy") . . . isn't the song traditionally sung by a man?

Ludovic
05-07-2011, 01:32 PM
I always thought it was London Derriere.

PBS documentary (http://www.amazon.com/Danny-Boy-Sunshine-Eric-Clapton/dp/B0002T87FO). Haven't seen it in a while but it stated that the song was about young men emigrating and leaving their mother's behind.

I'm sure that apostrophe was simply misplaced. ;)No, I think they're on to something :)

jayjay
05-07-2011, 02:17 PM
And I will hear, though soft you tread above me,
And I will lurch, and rise like April rains:
Eleven years have passed, so say you love me,
And you and I alike will go in search of braaiiinnnssss...

Oh, bravo!

A Dodgy Dude
05-07-2011, 03:35 PM
The rarely heard third verse follows the "going off to war" idea:

But should I live, and should you die for Ireland,
Let not your dying thoughts be all of me,
But breathe a prayer to God for our dear sireland,
That He will hear, and He will set her free.

And I will take your place and pike, my dearest,
And strike a blow, though weak that blow may be.
To help the cause to which your heart was nearest,
And you will rest in peace until I come for thee.

Chronos
05-07-2011, 04:56 PM
Is that third verse part of the original song, or a later addition? It certainly makes it pretty clearly about war, but it also doesn't really seem to fit with the original (even if the original is also about war).

Peter Morris
05-07-2011, 05:25 PM
For all the people who think that the singer is a female (mother, lover of "Danny Boy") . . . isn't the song traditionally sung by a man?

So's is House Of The Rising Sun, but there's no doubt it's about a woman.

kaylasdad99
05-07-2011, 10:04 PM
I always thought it was London Derriere.Benny Hill shout-out caught.

Miller
05-07-2011, 10:20 PM
I always figured the pipe in the song refers to a fife, not a bagpipe. That would put a stronger military spin on it.

don't ask
05-07-2011, 10:39 PM
Many of the questions in this thread are answered in Malachy McCourt's Danny Boy: The Legend of the Beloved Irish Ballad (http://www.amazon.com/Danny-Boy-Legend-Beloved-Ballad/dp/0451208064/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1304821044&sr=1-1).

Originally written by Weatherly in 1910 to another tune and a hit in 1913 in it's current form. Presumably then Eily Dear of 1918 is Weatherley's attempt to suck more from Danny's marrow.

All the militaristic verses are subsequent add-ons.

General opinion amongst students of the song is that it is about emigration but it doesn't really matter.

Munch
05-08-2011, 10:19 AM
I feel I need to post the greatest rendition of Danny Boy ever recorded (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OCbuRA_D3KU).

A Dodgy Dude
05-08-2011, 12:36 PM
Is that third verse part of the original song, or a later addition? It certainly makes it pretty clearly about war, but it also doesn't really seem to fit with the original (even if the original is also about war).

I don't know for sure but I get the feeling it's a later addition.

Sinead O'Connor sings the first half of the third verse here in a lovely a capella version of the song:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kSjvLG7IJAI

Irishman
05-08-2011, 03:03 PM
And I will hear, though soft you tread above me,
And I will lurch, and rise like April rains:
Eleven years have passed, so say you love me,
And you and I alike will go in search of braaiiinnnssss...

Most zombie jokes are tired and weak. But this was pretty good. Kudos.

handsomeharry
05-08-2011, 06:46 PM
And you and I alike will go in search of braaiiinnnssss...

Sure'n, this line always brings a tear to me eye.

Best wishes,
hh

Sycorax
05-09-2011, 12:34 AM
I'm not of Irish descent, and St. Patrick's day means naught to me, because (1) I'm Protestant and wear orange on St. Patrick's Day, and (2) "Danny Boy" is one of the saddest songs ever. Recently, I read (can't remember where) that someone (a restauranteer/bar tender?) was trying to introduce a more uplifting song for the occasion. I'd go along with that, but being a snotty WASP, I doubt it would make a difference to me.

running coach
05-09-2011, 12:38 AM
I feel I need to post the greatest rendition of Danny Boy ever recorded (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OCbuRA_D3KU).

Why did I know this would be the Muppets? :D

Sheer genius.

movingfinger
05-09-2011, 03:04 AM
Thanks to Miller's Crossing the song now reminds me of a guy walking though the woods and expecting to have his head blown off.

An Gadaí
05-09-2011, 10:21 AM
This song was maudlin corny muzak to me until I heard Johnny Cash's rendition.

brossa
05-09-2011, 04:30 PM
Thanks to Miller's Crossing the song now reminds me of a guy walking though the woods and expecting to have his head blown off.

Nah, Danny Boy was Leo escaping a hit and being an artist with a Thompson.

jjimm
05-09-2011, 04:52 PM
And I will hear, though soft you tread above me,
And I will lurch, and rise like April rains:
Eleven years have passed, so say you love me,
And you and I alike will go in search of braaiiinnnssss...Sir, I salute you.

An Gadaí
05-17-2011, 01:20 PM
Here's a current rendition (http://www.rte.ie/news/av/2011/0517/media-2960051.html#), from today outside Buckingham Palace.

Gary T
05-17-2011, 02:50 PM
Here's a current rendition (http://www.rte.ie/news/av/2011/0517/media-2960051.html#), from today outside Buckingham Palace.From 2:18 it was the tune I've always heard. What preceded that? A portion of "Londonderry Air" that was not used for "Danny Boy?" Some other tune in medley? Anyone know?

An Gadaí
05-17-2011, 02:59 PM
From 2:18 it was the tune I've always heard. What preceded that? A portion of "Londonderry Air" that was not used for "Danny Boy?" Some other tune in medley? Anyone know?

It's just a variation on it as far as I can tell.

handsomeharry
05-24-2011, 09:12 PM
Thanks to Miller's Crossing the song now reminds me of a guy walking though the woods and expecting to have his head blown off.

"The old man's still an artist with a Thompson!"

ETA: Which, I see, now, was already referenced upthread.
Best wishes,
hh