“Danny Boy: The Ballad that Bewitched the World” is a documentary that takes you on a journey from a lone fiddler in Ireland playing an ancient Irish melody, to English barrister Fred Weatherly who added the famous words, then to America where it was interpreted in various ways and back home to Ireland again where it became an anthem of unity at a world title boxing match. The musical flexibility and ultimate unifying force of the song Danny Boy is quite incredible.
This documentary directed by James Maycock is a co-production for RTÉ and BBC NI by independent production company Tyrone Productions. Released in 2013, the documentary coincided with the song's 100th 'official' birthday (the music is in fact much older), and this year was nominated for an Irish Film and Television Award in the documentary category. Producer Patricia Moore was herself impressed by the sheer number of people who connected with the song.
Peppered with interviews from famous actors, musicologists, historians, accomplished musicians and a priest, along with various versions on the soundtrack it becomes obvious that experiencing Danny Boy is subjective and collective. The beautiful vintage footage from Ireland and the USA enhances the storyline and makes for fascinating viewing. What an amazing journey it is. Harry Belafonte, Johnny Cash and Elvis. Rhythm and Blues, country music, hip hop and jazz. The emplotment of the narrative is quite spectacular as it is sung and interpreted in multiple ways crossing oceans and genres. The unifying effect of Danny Boy is seen in the bringing together of Protestants and Catholics in Ireland and the resonance felt by African Americans. Following Irish soldiers from World War one, through the Easter rising and on to the war of independence, Danny Boy provided hope and comfort to the Irish people. The past and the present are woven together as we follow its American immigration with the Irish, its Hollywood debut and its importance in the wake of 9/11. With new intriguing developments brought forward by a descendant of Fred Weatherly, Danny Boy continues to bewitch through new revelations.
This is a song that can’t be tamed, a song that lives forever and probably the most well known song in the world. Danny Boy has touched so many hearts and continues to do so to this day. As the documentary attempts to unpack the mystery of Danny Boy and its universality it comes up with no clear answers. There are many valid opinions presented and whether the pathos and emotional resonance comes from the beautiful contour and symmetry of the melody or whether it lies in the ambiguous yearning lyrics or still a combination of both will ever be the mystery. “Danny Boy: The Ballad that Bewitched the World” entices the viewer to discover more, to consider the effect of music more deeply and wonder at the potential vastness of the journey to other parts of the world.
"When it gets to Danny Boy, thats time to go."
- Paddy Moloney (quote from "Danny Boy: The Ballad that Bewitched the World")