St. Patrick’s Night Music Byte

In Ireland, it is a popular legend that the Celtic Catholic cross was introduced by Saint Patrick or possibly Saint Declan during his time converting the pagan Irish, though no examples survive from this early period. It has often been claimed that Patrick combined the symbol of Christianity with the sun cross, to give pagan followers an idea of the importance of the cross by linking it with the idea of the life-giving properties of the sun. In Celtic regions of Ireland and later in Great Britain, many free-standing upright crosses or high crosses were erected by Irish monks, beginning at least as early as the 7th century. Some of these ‘Celtic’ crosses bear inscriptions in runes.

The most famous standing crosses are the Cross of Kells, County Meath, Ireland; Ardboe High Cross, Ardboe, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland; the crosses at Monasterboice, County Louth, Ireland; and the Cross of the Scriptures, Clonmacnoise, Ireland. The Celtic cross is often made of stone. After the 15th century, ringed high crosses ceased to be created in the Celtic lands, other than a few obscure examples.

That being said, let’s move on to tonight’s music byte. Oh Danny Boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling. Anyone who plays Irish music must be ready to field countless requests for this song, particularly around St. Patrick’s Day. There is no doubt about its popularity with those who know little about traditional Irish music, and even with the older generation of Irish-Americans. But newly arrived immigrants from Ireland have frequently never heard of Danny Boy! Where did the song come from? Is it Irish at all?

To begin with, Danny Boy is one of over 100 songs composed to the same tune. The author was an English lawyer, Frederic Edward Weatherly (1848-1929), who was also a songwriter and radio entertainer. In 1910 he wrote the words and music for an unsuccessful song he called Danny Boy. In 1912 his sister-in-law in America sent him a tune called the Londonderry Air, which he had never heard before. He immediately noticed that the melody was perfectly fitted to his Danny Boy lyrics, and published a revised version of the song in 1913. As far as is known, Weatherly never set foot in Ireland.

Danny Boy has been sung by just about everyone at one time or another. Lynnrockets’ favorite version however, is by Deanna Durbin in the 1946 film Because Of Him.

Deanna Durbin (born December 4, 1921) is a Canadian-born, Southern California-raised singer and actress, who appeared in a number of musical films in 1930s and 1940s singing standards as well as operatic arias. Durbin made her first film appearance in 1936 with Judy Garland in Every Sunday, and subsequently signed a contract with Universal Studios. Her success as the ideal teenage daughter in films such as Three Smart Girls (1936) was credited with saving the studio from bankruptcy and in 1938, Durbin was awarded the Academy Juvenile Award. Such was Durbin’s international fame and popularity that diarist Anne Frank pasted her picture to her bedroom wall in the Achterhuis where the Frank family hid during World War II. The picture can still be seen there today, and was pointed out by Frank’s friend Hannah Pick-Goslar in the documentary film Anne Frank Remembered. In 1945 and 1947, Deanna Durbin was the top-salaried woman in the United States. Her fan club ranked as the world’s largest during her active years.

Durbin is perhaps best known for her singing voice, variously described as being light but full, sweet, unaffected and artless. With the technical skill and vocal range of a legitimate lyric soprano, she performed everything from popular standards to operatic arias. Dame Sister Mary Leo in New Zealand was so taken with Durbin’s technique that she trained all her students to sing in this way. Sister Mary Leo produced a large number of famous sopranos including Dames Malvina Major and Kiri Te Kanawa, all of whom were said to sound like her.

Please enjoy Deanna Durbin singing Danny Boy. This version brings a tear to my eye every time that I hear it:


Posted on March 17, 2010, in Songs, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Very moving rendition of that song. Thanks for the background on it.

  2. This may be the only version of that song that I didn’t find unbearably hokey. Thank you for recovering it.

  3. One of my favourites from the Queen of Song.

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