Lifestyle & Belief

Leave 'Danny Boy' on mute this St. Patrick's Day

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The Empire State Building is lit in green for St. Patrick's Day.


Jonathan71/Wikimedia Commons

Here' a small musical matter that comes up every St. Patrick's Day. Danny Boy.

It's a favorite tune on St. Patrick's Day, but let's face it. The song is, well, it's a bit tired.

In New York City, where St. Patrick's Day celebrations were in full swing, we found someone who feels just that way. And he's got some Irish credibility.

Shawn Clancy was behind the bar at Foley's in New York City on St. Patrick's Day, as usual. Clancy says it's a great day to be Irish, but not a great day to sing Danny Boy.

"We're known as the bar that banned Danny Boy. But, in fairness to me, we banned the butchering of Danny Boy. I grew up in Ireland, so until I came to America I never equated Danny Boy with being an Irish song. It's more of a Scottish song that's been adopted here by the Irish," he explains.

"It's mostly equated with funerals and, you know, St. Patrick's Day is a day for celebration, so we're celebrating by singing a song about a funeral. I mean, listen to the words. The song was written 100 years ago this year about a mother whose son is going off to war, and the mother basically says, 'Hey I'm going to be dead when you come back, but will you at least come sit by my grave,'" says Clancy. "It's not really how you want to celebrate St Patrick's Day when we have so many great uplifting songs."

There are other reasons why it’s a poor choice to sing, too. The song, like the Star Spangled Banner, requires hitting some high notes. Suffice it to say, due to tipping back a few too many Guinnesses, or maybe a few Harps, many miss the mark.

Plus, says Clancy, St Patrick's Day usually packs so many patrons into the bar that, at his establishment at least, it's so busy no one will hear your masterpiece. "Even if you tried to sing Danny Boy, you'd get drowned out by the Dropkick Murphy's or Flogging Molly or the Pogues or U2 or you name it. They're all in full force here today."

So what does St. Patrick's Day mean to Clancy, who grew up in County Cavan, Ireland?

"Today's a day when we're all Irish and it's a chance to embrace our Irish heritage," he says. "I wish we could get back to doing that and take all the politics and all the other hoopla that's going on both here in New York and in Boston out of St. Patrick's Day."

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