Londonderry Air

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For the 1938 film, see The Londonderry Air (film).
Londonderry Air
Also known as Derry Air
Air from County Derry
Music Unknown
Music sample

The Londonderry Air is an air that possibly originated from County Londonderry in Ireland (now Northern Ireland). It is popular among the Irish diaspora and is very well known throughout the world. The tune is played as the victory anthem of Northern Ireland at the Commonwealth Games. "Danny Boy" is a popular set of lyrics to the tune.

History[edit]

The title of the air came from the name of County Londonderry in contemporary Northern Ireland. The air was collected by Jane Ross of Limavady.

Ross submitted the tune to music collector George Petrie, and it was then published by the Society for the Preservation and Publication of the Melodies of Ireland in the 1855 book The Ancient Music of Ireland, which Petrie edited.[1] The tune was listed as an anonymous air, with a note attributing its collection to Jane Ross of Limavady.

For the following beautiful air I have to express my very grateful acknowledgement to Miss J. Ross, of New Town, Limavady, in the County of Londonderry—a lady who has made a large collection of the popular unpublished melodies of the county, which she has very kindly placed at my disposal, and which has added very considerably to the stock of tunes which I had previously acquired from that still very Irish county. I say still very Irish, for though it has been planted for more than two centuries by English and Scottish settlers, the old Irish race still forms the great majority of its peasant inhabitants; and there are few, if any counties in which, with less foreign admixture, the ancient melodies of the country have been so extensively preserved. The name of the tune unfortunately was not ascertained by Miss Ross, who sent it to me with the simple remark that it was 'very old', in the correctness of which statement I have no hesitation in expressing my perfect concurrence.[2]

This led to the descriptive title "Londonderry Air" being used for the piece; the title "Air from County Derry" or "Derry Air" is sometimes used instead,[citation needed] due to the Derry-Londonderry name dispute.

The origin of the tune was for a long time somewhat mysterious, as no other collector of folk tunes encountered it, and all known examples are descended from Ross's submission to Petrie's collection. In a 1934 article, Anne Geddes Gilchrist suggested that the performer Ross heard played the song with extreme rubato, causing Ross to mistake the time signature of the piece for common time (4/4) rather than 3/4. Gilchrist asserted that adjusting the rhythm of the piece as she proposed produced a tune more typical of Irish folk music.[3]

In 1974, Hugh Shields found a long-forgotten traditional song which was very similar to Gilchrist's modified version of the melody.[4] The song, Aislean an Oigfear (recte Aisling an Óigfhir, "The young man's dream"), had been transcribed by Edward Bunting in 1792 based on a performance by harper Donnchadh Ó Hámsaigh (Denis Hempson) at the Belfast Harp Festival. Bunting published it in 1796.[5] Ó Hámsaigh lived in Magilligan, not far from Ross's home in Limavady. Hempson died in 1807.[1] In 2000, Brian Audley published his authoritative research on the tune's origins. He showed how the distinctive high section of the tune had derived from a refrain in "The Young Man's Dream" which, over time, crept into the body of the music. He also discovered the original words to the tune as we now know it which were written by Edward Fitzsimmons and published in 1814; his song is "The Confession of Devorgilla", otherwise known by its first line "Oh Shrive Me Father".[6]

The descendants of blind fiddler Jimmy McCurry assert that he is the musician from whom Miss Ross transcribed the tune but there is no historical evidence to support this speculation. A similar claim is made that the tune came to the blind itinerant harpist Rory Dall O'Cahan in a dream, and a documentary detailing this version was broadcast on the Maryland Public Television in USA in March 2000.;[7] reference to this was also made by historian John Hamilton in Michael Portillo's TV programme "Great British Railway Journeys Goes to Ireland" in February 2012.[8]

Lyrical settings[edit]

Danny Boy[edit]

Main article: Danny Boy

The most popular lyrics for the tune are "Danny Boy" ("Oh Danny Boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling"), written by English lawyer Frederick Edward Weatherly in 1910, and set to the tune in 1913.

The Confession of Devorgilla[edit]

The first lyrics to be sung to the music were, "The Confession of Devorgilla", otherwise known as "Oh! shrive me, father".

'Oh! shrive me, father – haste, haste, and shrive me,
'Ere sets yon dread and flaring sun;
'Its beams of peace, – nay, of sense, deprive me,
'Since yet the holy work's undone.'
The sage, the wand'rer's anguish balming,
Soothed her heart to rest once more;
And pardon's promise torture calming,
The Pilgrim told her sorrows o'er.

The first writer, after Petrie's publication, to set verses to the tune was Alfred Perceval Graves, in the late 1870s. His song was entitled "Would I Were Erin's Apple Blossom o'er You". Graves later stated "that setting was, to my mind, too much in the style of church music, and was not, I believe, a success in consequence."[6]

Would I were Erin's apple-blossom o'er you,
Or Erin's rose, in all its beauty blown,
To drop my richest petals down before you,
Within the garden where you walk alone;
In hope you'd turn and pluck a little posy,
With loving fingers through my foliage pressed,
And kiss it close and set it blushing rosy
To sigh out all its sweetness on your breast.

Irish Love Song[edit]

The tune was first called "Londonderry Air" in 1894 when Katherine Tynan Hinkson set the words of her "Irish Love Song" to it:

Would God I were the tender apple blossom
That floats and falls from off the twisted bough
To lie and faint within your silken bosom
Within your silken bosom as that does now.
Or would I were a little burnish'd apple
For you to pluck me, gliding by so cold,
While sun and shade your robe of lawn will dapple,
Your robe of lawn and your hair of spun gold.

Hymns[edit]

As with a good many folk tunes, Londonderry Air is also used as a hymn tune; most notably for "I cannot tell" by William Young Fullerton.[9]

I cannot tell why He Whom angels worship,
Should set His love upon the sons of men,
Or why, as Shepherd, He should seek the wanderers,
To bring them back, they know not how or when.
But this I know, that He was born of Mary
When Bethlehem’s manger was His only home,
And that He lived at Nazareth and laboured,
And so the Saviour, Saviour of the world is come.

It was also used as a setting for "I would be true" by Howard Arnold Walter at the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales:

I would be true, for there are those that trust me.
I would be pure, for there are those that care.
I would be strong, for there is much to suffer.
I would be brave, for there is much to dare.
I would be friend of all, the foe, the friendless.
I would be giving, and forget the gift,
I would be humble, for I know my weakness,
I would look up, and laugh, and love and live.

"Londonderry Air" was also used as the tune for the Southern Gospel hit "He looked beyond my fault" written by Dottie Rambo of the group "The Rambos"

Amazing Grace shall always be my song of praise,
For it was grace that bought my liberty,
I do not know just why He came to love me so,
He looked beyond my fault and saw my need.
I shall forever lift mine eyes to Calvary,
To view the Cross where Jesus died for me,
How marvelous His grace that caught my falling soul.
He looked beyond my fault and saw my need.

Other hymns sung to this are:

  • O Christ the same through all our story’s pages, by Timothy Dudley-Smith
  • O Dreamer Leave Thy Dreams For Joyful Waking
  • I Love Thee So
  • My Own Dear Land
  • We Shall Go Out With Hope of Resurrection
  • Above the Hills of Time the Cross Is Gleaming
  • Lord of the Church, We Pray for our Renewing
  • Above the Voices of the World Around Me
  • "What Grace is Mine" by Kristyn Getty
  • O Son of Man our hero strong and tender
  • Since Long Ago by Watchman Nee
  • O Loving God by Paulette M. McCoy

In Derry Vale[edit]

W. G. Rothery, a British lyricist who wrote the English lyrics for songs such as Handel's "Art Thou Troubled," wrote the following lyrics to the tune of "The Londonderry Air":

In Derry Vale, beside the singing river,
so oft' I strayed, ah, many years ago,
and culled at morn the golden daffodillies
that came with spring to set the world aglow.
Oh, Derry Vale, my thoughts are ever turning
to your broad stream and fairy-circled lee.
For your green isles my exiled heart is yearning,
so far away across the sea.
In Derry Vale, amid the Foyle's dark waters,
the salmon leap, beside the surging weir.
The seabirds call, I still can hear them calling
in night's long dreams of those so dear.
Oh, tarrying years, fly faster, ever faster,
I long to see that vale belov'd so well,
I long to know that I am not forgotten,
And there in home in peace to dwell.

Far Away[edit]

George Sigerson M.D. wrote lyrics arranged by T. R. G. Jozé. These words were made popular in the early 20th century by the Glasgow Orpheus Choir under Sir Hugh Roberton. A pdf copy of the SATB arrangement by Jozé is available from the University of Michigan musical archives.

As chimes that flow o'er shining seas
When morn alights on meads of May,
Faint voices fill the western breeze,
With whisp'ring song from far away.
O dear the dells of Dunavore
A home in od'rous Ossory,
But sweet as honey running o'er,
The golden shore of Far Away.
There sings the voice whose wondrous tune
Falls like a diamond shower above,
That in the radiant dawn of June,
Renew a world of youth and love.
Oh fair the founts of Farranfore
And bright is billowy Ballintrae,
But sweet as honey running o'er,
The golden shore of Far Away.

Other[edit]

Instrumental settings[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Michael Robinson. "Danny Boy—the mystery solved!". The Standing Stones. Retrieved 2007-07-26. 
  2. ^ Petrie, The Ancient Music of Ireland (Dublin, 1855) page 57
  3. ^ Gilchrist, Anne Geddes (1934). "A new light upon the Londonderry Air". Journal of the English Folk Dance and Song Society. 
  4. ^ Shields, Hugh (1974). "New dates for old songs 1766–1803". Long Room (the journal of the library of Trinity College, Dublin). 
  5. ^ Bunting, Edward (1796). A General Collection of the Ancient Irish Music. 
  6. ^ a b Audley, B. (2000). "The Provenance of the Londonderry Air". Journal of the Royal Musical Association 125 (2): 205–247. doi:10.1093/jrma/125.2.205. 
  7. ^ Maryland Public Television-5 March 2000[dead link]
  8. ^ "Great British Railway Journeys Goes to Ireland – Ballymoney to Londonderry", Series 3, Episode 25, 3 February 2012, BBC Two
  9. ^ "I cannot tell". Retrieved 2013-12-02. 
  10. ^ http://vgmdb.net/album/44835
  11. ^ Hindmarsh, Paul (1983). Frank Bridge: A Thematic Catalogue, 1900–1941. London: Faber Music. p. 59. 
  12. ^ "Thomas Lewis "Source Guide to the Music of Percy Grainger"". Percygrainger.org. Retrieved 2013-09-05. 
  13. ^ "The Valiant Green Company"". frankduarte.com. Retrieved 4 January 2014. 

External links[edit]

Audio clips[edit]