'Danny Boy' and Saying an 'Ave'

Ironically this is something that I have wondered since 9/11. Because that’s when I first heard the ballad Danny Boy all the way thru.

I first thought it was a Scottish ballad. It certainly still sounds like one. But according to the Wikipedia article “Danny Boy” is a ballad, written by English songwriter Frederic Weatherly in 1913. Okay, it’s an English song perhaps. Whatever.

But the thing that confuses me in the song, is the line Ye’ll come and find the place where I am lying,
And kneel and say an Avé there for me.
The Ave (we always called it the Hail Mary in RC school) is a Catholic prayer, isn’t it?

The Ave contains the invocation holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners. ‘Mother of God’ or Theotokos is a Catholic doctrine, as is the general idea of hyperdulia, or special veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Why would an English (or Scottish) person be saying this prayer?


Funny, I always thought of “Danny Boy” as being an Irish song.

The wikipedia entry for the song says that the lyrics were written by an Englishman, but set to a traditional Irish melody, “Londonderry Air.”

From Wikipedia:

There are various conjectures about the meaning of “Danny Boy”. Some interpret the song to be a message from a parent to a son going off to war or participating in the Irish uprising (as suggested by the reference to “pipes calling glen to glen”) or emigrating as part of the Irish diaspora.

Clearly I’m not the only one who sees it as an Irish song.

Did the author perhaps live in Londonderry, or elsewhere in Ireland? that would make him Irish, even if he were of English origin.

Remember that all of Ireland was once part of the United Kingdom, not just the northern part.

The “Ave” indicates he was Catholic as well.

Also, in the song, he says ‘the pipes, the pipes are calling’. I at least tend to associate bagpipes with Scotland, or at least that is what I originally assumed (mind you, I’ve heard the song all my life, just not all the way thru).

Also I read the Wikipedia article I gave a little quickly. But doesn’t it say he spent most of his time in England? So why would he be writing songs about Ireland? :slight_smile:

Irish bagpipes are a thing too, you know.

Uilleann pipes



And while the more familiar Highland pipes aren’t of Irish origin, they’ve still been enthusiastically adopted into Irish music.

Of course, even if the author was completely 100% English, born and raised in London, there are Catholics in England, too. They’re not the majority, but they’re still a rather sizeable minority.

A huh huh…London derriere.

Weatherly may have been English, but consciously aiming to write an “Irish” piece, or perhaps a “Celtic” piece. There was quite a vogue for Celtic/Gaelic artistic and literary themes in England around the turn of the nineteenth century, and he may have thought he could tap into this.

This gives me a chance to rewatch this. Worth the time.


Ave Maria” is simply Latin for “Hail Mary”, IIRC:

Ávē Marī́a, grā́tiā plḗna,
Dóminus tḗcum.
Benedícta tū in muliéribus,
et benedíctus frū́ctus véntris túī, Iḗsūs.[14]
Sā́ncta Marī́a, Mā́ter Déī,
ṓrā prō nṓbīs peccātṓribus,
nunc et in hṓrā mórtis nóstrae. Āmēn.

Yes, that’s the point. The “Hail Mary” is a distinctively Catholic prayer, so this lyric means that the song is sung in the voice of a Catholic. And, while obviously there are Catholics in England, your stereotypical English person is not Catholic. (The opposite, in fact; at the time the song was written the stereotypical Catholic person in England was an Irish immigrant.)

So the “Ave”, along with the references in the song to “pipes” and “glen” and the cod-Hiberno-English of “it’s you must go” and “it’s I’ll be there”, identify these as lyrics written by an Englishman, but in the voice of an Irish person.

I think UDS1 has it, as regards the words. Fred Weatherly wrote a lot of popular parlour ballads, often playing on popular stereotypes for different places and people in the country, as lots of song writers did at that time.

The tune is often used nowadays as a non-contentious signifier for Northern Ireland as a whole (as distinct from so many that are identified with one community rather than the other). I rather think sung versions omit the verses with specifically Catholic references (or at least I don’t recall hearing them). I don’t know if militant nationalists object to its being called the Londonderry Air.

I’m English, and I always knew this as an Irish ballad. I can confirm that in the UK the tune is definitely known as the Londonderry Air.

The tune is much older than the well-known lyrics, and is an authentic traditional Irish tune, first recorded in Ireland. It’s widely known as the Londonderry Air, and I think this is one of the few instances of “Londonderry” which is not politically or culturally contentious.

Yeah, we all did that the first time we heard the name too.

As the possessor of one, I’m not sure whether to take offence or not :slight_smile:

And then, out of nowhere, Guinastasia began speaking in tongues!

I’ve always considered it Irish as well. My brother and his wife had an Irish nanny for their kids; when their second child was born (named Daniel) she taught my niece the song.

And there are Catholics in Scotland, as well, as anyone who’s seen or read the Outlander series could confirm. Though now that I think of it, “glen” is a word I associate more with Scotland than Ireland. The author may well have unconsciously conflated all things Irish and Scottish as one and the same.

If the author was indeed an Englishman who never lived in any part of Ireland, well, our own Stephen Foster is another example of such cultural appropriation (in fact, a rather worse one, though supposedly Foster was actually an abolitionist). The man was as white as I am, and spent far less of his time in the South.

Lived most of his life in Pittsburgh IIRC.