Bestselling Irish-American author Malachy McCourt takes a fascinating historical look at the traditional folk song, Danny Boy, discovering its origin, lyricist, and the moving heritage that has grown around it. Everyone can hum this haunting Irish ballad that inevitably brings a tear to the eye. The most requested Irish song, it has been recorded by a variety of performers ranging from Elvis Presley, Bing Crosby, and Kate Smith to the Pogues. The complete story of this moving tune has been shrouded in mystery until now. Where did "Danny Boy" originate, who actually wrote the lyrics, and is it even Irish? Acclaimed novelist, actor, memoirist, screenwriter, playwright, and raconteur, Malachy McCourt, turns his Irish eye to the song's complex history and myths in an eloquent ode to this classic. He traces the evolution of the music, which is one of more than 100 songs composed to the very same tune, including the familiar "Londonderry Air," and explores the enduring mystique of "Danny Boy" in an unforgettable tribute that brilliantly weaves history with folklore.
"Danny Boy" is one of the best-known and most beloved songs in the Western world. Whether sung at funeral masses or by Elvis Presley, it nearly always raises a lump in the throat and brings a tear to the eye. The song itself may be simple and direct, but McCourt (A Monk Swimming) has written a lively and detailed cultural history of the tune's origins, cultural meanings and political import that is as fascinating as it is frequently provocative. While the tune of "Danny Boy" (also known as the Londonderry, or Derry, air) may well date back to Rory Dall O'Cahan, an Irish harpist who lived in Scotland in the late 17th century, the words as we know them today were penned by a British barrister and prolific song writer, Frederick Edward Weatherly. Having written the lyrics for another tune in 1910, Weatherly adopted them to the Derry air two years later and had an immediate hit, which despite its English origins became profoundly identified with Ireland and its struggle for independence. Unafraid of exploring all possibilities of the song's meaning is it sung by a grieving mother or a desolate gay male lover? is it about the great starvation and emigration? McCourt succeeds in making his case that the song is both specific and universal. Less sustained as cultural history than David Margolic's stunning Strange Fruit: The Biography of a Song, McCourt's reprise of "Danny Boy" is highly entertaining and idiosyncratically informative.