Singing ‘Danny Boy’ will ruin your St. Paddy’s Day


Growing up in a solidly Scots-Irish family meant St. Paddy’s Day was pretty special.

We never celebrated Robbie Burns Day on Jan. 25 to honor our Scots side, because that involves haggis if you’re a traditionalist. And let me tell you, no thinking individual would ever eat haggis – a pudding made of the heart, liver and lungs of a sheep mixed with toasted oatmeal, onions and seasonings and then cooked in the actual stomach of the sheep – if he or she weren’t forced to on pain of death. If we served haggis to political prisoners or terrorists, we’d be called to account for war crimes in the Hague quicker than you can say “Bob’s Your Uncle.” It’s that bad.

But we all looked forward to St. Paddy’s, when my mother would cook up huge pots of corned beef and cabbage, make fresh soda bread slathered with real butter, and scones with orange frosting for dessert (the frosting was orange, because we were Protestants).

When we got older, Pop would occasionally let us have a bottle of Guinness Stout, a wonderful brew so thick it’s almost ameal in itself. The real grown-upsmight sip a tot of Jameson IrishWhiskey (never Bushmills Irish Whiskey, because that, at least in theirminds, was associated with a religion other than ours).

The only problems arose when that tot became a few tots, and then the menfolk started getting a little tipsy, and then they started telling jokes and stories. And then, bless us all, they’d start to sing. I don’t know what it is about the Scots and Irish, but they do love music and they do love to sing, even though not all of them have the voices for it.

They might start singing “Whiskey in the Jar,” or “The Wild Rover,” or “I’ll Tell My Ma,” but inevitably, someone would throw in a slower song, maybe something like “Molly Malone,” or “Carrickfergus.”

And then some morose knucklehead who couldn’t hold his liquor would start singing “Danny Boy,” and people would start crying, the party would break up and everybody would go home.

Thank God we only had to hear “Danny Boy” once a year, or we’d all have needed long-termprescriptions formood-elevating drugs. You want to know why the Irish have a reputation for drinking? Well, it’s because they listen to “Danny Boy” much more than the average human psyche can stand, and they turn to alcohol to soothe the pain.

Without “Danny Boy” it’s my honest opinion that Ireland would be an island of teetotalers, making fun of the Scots across the water for eating food cooked in a sheep’s stomach.

I truly dislike that song. I dislike it so much, in fact, that when I was learning the guitar, and my guitar teacher assigned me to learn that song because the notes were easy to pick up, it made me so depressed I almost gave up the guitar in favor of the penny whistle. It’s impossible to be depressed when you play a penny whistle, and you never hear “Danny Boy” played on one of those happy instruments.

I kept playing the guitar (badly, as it turned out), but I never play “Danny Boy.” Last time I played that song, the dog ran away from home, my wife put pillows over her ears and all three of my sons threatened to join a gang, because gangs never sing “Danny Boy,” at least the self-respecting ones.

Still, you can’t escape hearing it once in a while, usually around St. Paddy’s.Which was why I was so happy last week when I read that at least one Irishman has said “enough is enough.”

According to a story by The Associated Press, Shaun Clancy, who owns Foley’s Pub and Restaurant in New York City, has banned the playing of “Danny Boy” in his establishment for the entire month of March.

There are lots of reasons to ban the song, Clancy said. It’s not usually sung in Ireland on St. Paddy’s, it was written by an Englishman who never set foot in Ireland, and hemight have copied an old Irish song called “The Derry Air” when he wrote it.

But most of all, Clancy said, “Danny Boy” is just an incredible downer.

“It’s overplayed, it’s been ranked among the 25 most depressing songs of all time and it’smore appropriate for a funeral than for a St. Patrick’s Day celebration,” Clancy explained.

I could also add that “Danny Boy” reminds me of Bing Crosby and “The Danny Thomas Show,” both of which bring back unhappy memories. I think my grandmother made us listen to Bing and watch Danny Thomas as punishment for misbehavior, but I could be wrong. Maybe it just felt like punishment.

At any rate, since many of my readers are too young to remember Bing Crosby or Danny Thomas, we’ll just focus on the fact that “Danny Boy” is depressing. It would even be depressing played as up-tempo ska (I’m not sure what that is, but I’ve heard my kids mention it), or by a reggae band.

You just can’t put enough lipstick on that pig to make it presentable.

I’ve been writing this column long enough to know that I’m going to hear from some readers who disagree. In the near future, I’m bound to hear from some people who accuse me of being a traitor to the Green. “Danny Boy,” they’ll say (I’ve heard these arguments before), is beautiful and representative of all the bad things that have happened to the Irish over the years, the occupation, the poverty, the potato famine, the diaspora, the “Troubles.”

But I disagree.Agood Fenian song like “The Rising of the Moon,” or “TheWearin’ of the Green,” or ballads like “The Shores of Amerikay,” and “The Dying Rebel” are much more authentic and representative of Ireland’s cultural and political heritage.

So if you come from Irish stock, or even if you’re “St. Paddy’s Irish” – green only on March 17 – let’s get behind Shaun Clancy this year and ban this miserable song from our musical lexicons.

If you want some good Irish music this St. Paddy’s, pick up “Irish Heartbeat,” by Van Morrison and the Chieftains, or you can buy a CD by the Saw Doctors, theWaterboys, the Hothouse Flowers, In Tua Nua, or anything by a wonderful Irish band called Gaelic Storm. Any of those will make you happier on St. Paddy’s than any version of “Danny Boy” ever recorded, even the ones by Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson.

You won’t want to drink as much, and none of the guests will leave your house in tears.

Gregory Bean is executive editor of GreaterMediaNewspapers. To comment on this opinion, you can write him at