Published March 05, 2008
NEW YORK – It's depressing. It's not usually sung in Ireland for St. Patrick's Day. Its lyrics were written by an Englishman who never set foot on Irish soil.
Those are only some of the reasons a Manhattan pub is giving for banning the song "Danny Boy" for the entire month of March.
"It's overplayed, it's been ranked among the 25 most depressing songs of all time, and it's more appropriate for a funeral than for a St. Patrick's Day celebration," says Shaun Clancy, who owns Foley's Pub and Restaurant, just off Fifth Avenue opposite the Empire State Building.
The 38-year-old, who started bartending when he was 12 at his father's pub in County Cavan, promises a guest free Guinness if he or she sings any other traditional Irish song at the pub's March 11 pre-St. Patrick's Day karaoke party. On other nights, guests will be rewarded with a surprise.
Not everyone agrees.
Foley's is going head to head with a pub near Detroit — AJ's Cafe in Ferndale, Mich. — which is staging a "Danny Boy" marathon on St. Patrick's Day weekend, offering 1,000 renditions of the song over 50 hours.
The lyrics for the song published in 1913 were written by an English lawyer, Frederick Edward Weatherly, who never even visited Ireland, according to Malachy McCourt, author of the book "Danny Boy: The Legend of the Beloved Irish Ballad." Weatherly's sister-in-law had sent him the music to an old Irish song called "The Derry Air" and the new version became a huge hit when opera singer Ernestine Schumann-Heink recorded it in 1915.
Some say it's symbolic of the great Irish diaspora, with generations of Irish fleeing the famine and poor economic conditions starting around 1850. Others have guessed it's sung by a mother grieving for her son or even by a desolate lover — depending on how one hears lyrics like "The summer's gone, and all the flowers are dying/ 'Tis you, 'tis you must go and I must bide."
In the 1940s, "Danny Boy" was recorded by Bing Crosby, became the theme song of television's "Danny Thomas Show" from 1953 to 1964 and has been a vehicle for vocal stars from Judy Garland, Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash to Cher and Willie Nelson.
But for the rest of the month, Foley's will be "Danny Boy"-free.
"I'm glad! I'm glad! I'm glad!" exclaimed Martin Gaffney, 73, a retired passenger ship waiter who looked forward to the free beer. "You come in here and have a few pints for lunch. It'll be good."
The great old song is "all right, but I get fed up with hearing it — it's like the elections," he said in a thick Irish brogue.
Instead, Gaffney said Wednesday he looks forward to crooning his own Irish favorites, like "Molly Malone" — whose theme is also hardly a barrel of laughs.
A sort of unofficial anthem of Dublin also known as "Cockles and Mussels," the song tells the tale of a beautiful fishmonger who plies her trade on city streets and dies young of a fever.