Saturday, March 15, 2008

For St. Patrick’s Day, One NYC Pub Bans ‘Danny Boy’

By Heather Chin (March 7, 2008)

In a bid to liven up celebrations even further, one Manhattan pub owner bans the traditional Irish song, which was written by an Englishman.

Drunken revelers at Foley’s Pub and Restaurant, in Manhattan, will be banned from singing the song “Danny Boy” for the entire month of March, reports the Associated Press. In its stead, guests will be rewarded with a prize for singing other traditional Irish tunes. And at its annual pre-St. Patrick’s Day karaoke party, free beer will be offered.

Pub owner, Shaun Clancy, explains that since the song is depressing, not usually sung in Ireland for the holiday, and written by an Englishman, there is no historic precedent for it to be sung here. However, the owners of an Irish pub in Detroit apparently disagree: their AJ’s Café will be holding a marathon on the lucky weekend devoted solely to singing 1,000 versions of “Danny Boy.”

With lyrics first published back in 1913 by an English lawyer, Frederick Edward Weatherly, who had never visited Ireland, the song in question was written to the tune of an old Irish song called “The Derry Air.” It became a hit in 1915, when opera singer Ernestine Schumann-Heink recorded the new version, and big names of the 1940s and 50s sang it, too, from Bing Crosby to Elvis Presley, Judy Garland to Johnny Cash, Cher to Willie Nelson.

The meaning of the lyrics is debatable, as well. Some see it as a mournful ballad by a mother to her dead son, while others interpret the object of lament as a lover or other heart-breaker. It is this emotion that is, in part, fueling the tension today, in the new millennium.

Ultimately, whatever your take on the necessity of this month’s ban at Foley’s Pub, at least there can now be a change of pace. Says parishioner and retired passenger ship waiter Martin Gaffney, “I’m glad!... [The song] is all right, but I get fed up with hearing it – it’s like the elections.”

Traditional Irish ballads that could serve as singing alternatives include “Molly Malone” and Dublin’s “Cockles and Mussels.”

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