1940 recording by Glenn Miller and His Orchestra on RCA Bluebird, B-10612-B
Initially written to a tune other than "Londonderry Air", the words to "Danny Boy" were penned by English lawyer and lyricist Frederic Weatherly in Bath, Somerset in 1910. After his Irish-born sister-in-law Margaret (known as Jess) in the United States sent him a copy of "Londonderry Air" in 1913 (an alternative version has her singing the air to him in 1912 with different lyrics), Weatherly modified the lyrics of "Danny Boy" to fit the rhyme and meter of "Londonderry Air".
Weatherly gave the song to the vocalist Elsie Griffin, who made it one of the most popular songs in the new century; and, in 1915, Ernestine Schumann-Heink produced the first recording of "Danny Boy".
Jane Ross of Limavady is credited with collecting the melody of "Londonderry Air" in the mid-19th century from a musician she encountered.
There are various theories as to the true meaning of "Danny Boy". Some have interpreted the song to be a message from a parent to a son going off to war or leaving as part of the Irish diaspora.
The 1918 version of the sheet music included alternative lyrics ("Eily Dear"), with the instructions that "when sung by a man, the words in italic should be used; the song then becomes "Eily Dear", so that "Danny Boy" is only to be sung by a lady". In spite of this, it is unclear whether this was Weatherly's intent.
The song is popular for funerals; but, as it is not liturgical, its suitability as a funeral song is sometimes contested. In 1928, Weatherly himself suggested that the second verse would provide a fitting requiem for the actress Ellen Terry.