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Danny Boy or O'Cahans Lament

History of the Tune

The tune which has become known as "Danny Boy" was first printed in 1855 in a collection of Irish music complied by George Petrie who named it the "Londonderry Air" probably because the tune had been given to him by a lady called Jane Ross who lived in County of Londonderry.

The History of the tune, begins with an O'Cahan bard, named Rory Dall O'Cahan, who lamenting the pasting of his great chief. Sir Donnell O'Cahan's death brings an end to the line of O'Cahan Chiefs of Ulster and the twilight of Gaelic Ulster.

Tradition has it that this blind Bard - harpist wrote the original tune, for Danny Boy, in memory of his Chief and the destruction of this ancient line. Accordingly, O'Cahan wanted to create a song of great pain and passion that would touch the hearts of the world. This tune became known as "O'Cahan's Lament."

The tune was passed down the generations of the O'Cahan harpists and fiddlers and is believed to have been heard, been played by an old Fiddler in Limavady. Possibly Jane Ross who lived in Limavady overheard the playing and so adapted the tune.

Lament To A Fallen Chief

The words to O'Cathain Lament may be has follows: Unfortunately no clear evidence supports this.

A chief far famed for liberal affluence,
For wise discretion and conducting sense,
Whom sages honour and learned commend,
The minstrels' patron, and the clergy's friend.

In his sad bower and damsel bands are pale,
And weep their chieftain and unwearied wail,
With lamentation oft renewed they mourn,
And know no joy, but hope for his return.

When Croghan's fate in battles fearful scale,
Hung trembling yet and their fair dames looked pale,
His arm rolled back the battle from afar,
Chief of valiant - Ulster's leading star.

With jewelled wealth and gay magnificence,
Whose bounteous tables heaped with princely hand,
Diffused a grateful odour o'er the land,
There met the brave, there came the poorest distrest,
And there the minstrel was an honoured guest.
O'Kane the brave, the generous to dispose,
Wealth to his friends - destruction to his foes,
Sword, fire and plunder followed where he trod,
And peace and mercy vanished at his nod.

The present day Lyrics to Danny Boy were written by an English lawyer, Frederic Edward Weatherly, in 1910. His version was unsuccessful, until his sister-in-law (in the United States), sent him the melody to the Air from County LondonDerry. The melody matched nicely with his words and became an instant success, especially in the United States.


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