There was a bit I wanted very much to put into my story on West Ireland, but it just didn’t fit. It took too long to explain and as it turns out, I really didn’t understand it myself at the time. But I’ve had a chance to think about it and like the trip, and the writing of the story, it involved a voyage of self-exploration.
Now I know that there are many fine people, in Boston and in Ireland and in many other places on this good Earth, who could live a long happy life without ever again hearing “The Londonderry Air” or, as it is more widely known, “Danny Boy.” I am not one of them. My darling daughter is, though. She and her friends referred to the piece as the “London Derrière.”
I also admit that I am a person of unsophisticated musical tastes, but I was a chorister at the age of eight and I have sung Mozart’s “Ave Verum” and Palestrina’s “In Monte Oliveti,” so I have heard beautiful melodies.
The problem is, at least for a lot of people in America, that in our country this song has become a kind of tour de force for tenors who fancy that they have an exceptional set of pipes.
This has had unfortunate results, and I myself have come face to face with the very worst of it. I heard “Danny Boy” rendered by a New Hampshire State Senator who shall forever remain nameless. It is a woman’s song and men have no business singing it.
That’s why, when the singers at Bunratty Castle reached the end of their program, and we all knew it was coming, I was delighted when they invited their audience not to join in, and we heard “Danny Boy” sung by angelic womens’ voices with a brilliant fiddler doing the fills.
It’s a song about loss. It’s about finding love in a sad and sorry world and then some guy starts honking on a pigskin in the next glen over and the one you love is taken from you forever and all you have left is the love.
It took me back to my boyhood in Boston, from which I am now forty years removed, in a town that celebrates all that is Irish, and to the culmination of that celebration when a bright young Irish lad became president of the United States.
Like most people in America and nearly everyone in Ireland, I loved this bright young president who called on each of us to do what we could do for our country.
And then he was shot dead in the street and no one in public life then or now seems to give a rat’s ass who did it. With him died his dream, and Washington’s dream and Lincoln’s dream, of America as a powerful force for good in this world.
And all that’s left is the love. That’s the news from the GODFORSAKEN country of America which sends soldiers to other countries to commit rape and murder.