Oh Danny Boy – 12/17/2021
I don’t know why my parents named me Dan, other than my mother shared with me that it was the name she preferred. She never explained why she preferred it. But I do remember watching the Lawrence Welk show with my parents and hearing Joe Feeney, the Irish tenor sing Oh, Danny Boy and seeing the tears well up in my mother’s eyes. I remember that seeing those tears made me feel warm, sad, lonesome and loved all at the same time. My mother passed away on Christmas Eve 1979.
Over the years of course, I have heard other people sing that song – usually on St. Patrick’s Day. Those were certainly moments to pause and remember my mother, the fact that the song made her cry and also the knowledge that she chose that name for me. I find that the song still makes me feel warm, sad, lonesome and loved all at the same time.
The song, of course, is vintage Ireland. My mother certainly had a large dose of Irish blood as her mother was first generation American. My grandmother’s parents both came from Ireland to the United States. I strongly suspect that my mother’s Irish roots certainly played a role in her fondness for the song, and her fondness for the name Dan.
Several years ago, my wife and I had the opportunity to visit Ireland. The tour was a pilgrimage that focused on holy sites, but I don’t believe any day passed without us hearing someone sing Oh, Danny Boy. It is an apparent requirement of anyone with a microphone and an audience in Ireland to sing that song.
I was struck by the fact that the song is equally moving whether it is sung by a man or a woman. Maybe that comes from the ongoing debate about the song’s meaning. Some say that the song is a ballad of longing of a parent for their child – the son either having gone off to war, or perhaps he was one of the millions who fled the country in the Great Hunger that Ireland suffered in the mid-1800’s. Regardless of the cause of separation, if appreciated as written from a parent’s perspective, it is understandable why it can appeal whether sung by a male or female voice. Others propose that it is a song of the separation of lovers. Whether of patriotism or unique personal relationship, whether of child or lover, the song certainly sings of the trust in the hearts of believers that love is stronger than even death; love is eternal.
Even though my mother chose the name, it was my father who called me Danny. Whenever anyone else has tried to refer to me that way, I always correct them: “Only my father called me Danny.” My father was a man who struggled to express his affection any other way. “Danny” will always be our special connection.
My parents have both been gone many years now, but I regularly visit the place where they are lying; I kneel, I pray an Ave for them. Kneeling there, I sense again that love is stronger than separation; love is stronger than even death. In my heart I can hear them sing, “Oh Danny boy, Oh Danny boy, I love you so.” I love them too.