a song for father’s day and a summer blog break

Oh, Danny Boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling . . . 

Whenever I hear this song, I think of my dad.

Since he was such a passionate music lover, there are many songs that remind me of him, but none touches me as deeply as “Danny Boy.”

When I was growing up, music was that special something we could do together. With my brother it was fishing, but with me, James loved to play his harmonica while I accompanied him on the piano.

First, he would line up his instruments — he had several Hohner Chromonicas and a couple of diatonic harmonicas in different keys.

Then we would play our way through my stack of sheet music and piano books — folk songs, church hymns, patriotic songs, show tunes (Rodgers and Hammerstein, Leonard Bernstein, Lerner and Loewe), semi-classical pieces, Strauss waltzes, drinking songs/sea shanties, Christmas carols, on and on.

I would try to find songs in the same key so he wouldn’t have to keep switching harmonicas with every song. I knew which ones he especially loved to play: “O Sole Mio,” “Love’s Old Sweet Song,” “Greensleeves,” “Finlandia,” “Moon River,” “Santa Lucia,” and of course, “Londonderry Air” (the melody for “Danny Boy”). 

James with one of his chromatic harmonicas.

A good harmonica player is able to bring out single notes to make the melody soar, and my dad was a great soloist in this regard. He once played Sibelius’s “Finlandia” in church, moving many to tears. His breath control was amazing for a two-packs-a-day cigarette smoker. 🙂

My father seemed to have a special place in his heart for Irish tenors. On Saturday nights, he enjoyed hearing Joe Feeny on The Lawrence Welk Show sing “My Wild Irish Rose, “Irish Lullaby,” “Danny Boy,” or “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling,” which eventually became Dad’s signature song to sing at wedding receptions.

I once asked him why he liked Irish songs so much and he said, “Don’t you know that Koreans are the Irish of Asia?”

As a teen, James (left) enjoyed singing in harmony with other members of his church youth group.

Well okay — a high percentage of the Irish are regular church goers, they’re quick to break out into song or verse, they wear their hearts on their sleeves (watch those tempers), love their drink, are sometimes prone to brawling, and have a thing for cabbage. 

Yes, James must be Irish then. 🙂

At the time, I didn’t consider that both Ireland and Korea have a shared history of colonial occupation and partition, and have fought hard to retain their unique cultural identities despite being bullied by their island neighbors.

As for “Danny Boy,” I’d always assumed both melody and lyrics were 100% Irish. After all, isn’t it considered the traditional Irish ballad throughout the world? 

The lyrics were in fact written in 1910 by English lawyer and lyricist Frederic Weatherly — but initially he had written the song to another tune.

In 1913, his Irish-born sister-in-law Margaret (who was living in America), sent him a copy of “Londonderry Air,” and when he heard it, he was so taken with the sweeping melody, he tweaked his lyrics accordingly. “Danny Boy” soon became one of the most popular songs of the 20th century and beyond, with its ability to stir up deep emotions and national pride.

Weatherly in 1895

But what of “Londonderry Air”? There are various theories as to its origin, many involving blind harpists. The most popular theory is that in 1851, a woman named Jane Ross happened to hear an itinerant fiddler playing it in Limavady, Northern Ireland. She asked him if she could transcribe the music to send to her friend in Dublin, who was trying to preserve the ancient music of Ireland. He agreed, but sadly, his name has been lost to the ages.

What is “Danny Boy” about? Many think it’s about a parent sending a son off to war, but it could also be a song of farewell to any of the millions of Irish emigrants. 

Margarets are good luck: thanks to one, “Danny Boy” got the right melody, and thanks to this one marrying my dad, I was born.

The heartrending impact of the song ultimately speaks to fundamental feelings of loss, departure, and perhaps, death. The longing for “home,” whether it be a person, place, or time period is universal. However melancholy, the song’s final lines do offer hope of reunion, whether in this life or the next.

Though there are many beautiful renditions of “Danny Boy” by the likes of Eva Cassidy, Emmet Cahill, and Elvis Presley (who claimed the song was written by angels), the one that tugs most at my heartstrings is by 4-year-old child prodigy Emma Sophia Ryan from Kinsale, Ireland.

When you combine the emotional power of the song with the sweetness and purity of this child’s voice, it’s impossible not to be deeply moved.  

James and Jama at Grandma’s house.

I think back to all the times James and I played this song together, all the times I heard him sing a few bars of it in the shower, all the times he lit up whenever he heard it on the radio or watched someone sing it on TV. 

My wish for this Father’s Day is that we could play “Danny Boy” together just one more time, that I could return ‘home’ to when a younger me would say, “This one’s in the key of G,” and he would eagerly pick up his harmonica.

The “Ja” in Jama stands for “James.”

He would have loved Emma Sophia, and he was happy that his daughter ended up marrying an Irish American who was once a choir boy. 🙂

This one’s for you, James.

*

Time again to sign off for our annual summer blog break. Now that we’re making good progress with vaccinations and lower case counts, hope you’re able to see more friends and family members in person. Whether you have plans to travel or luxuriate in a restful staycation, stay well and we’ll see you right after Labor Day.

Happy Father’s Day weekend, Happy Juneteenth, and Happy Summer!

Help yourself to some rocky road ice cream (James’s favorite)!

BTW, is there a particular song that reminds you of your father?

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The wonderfully talented Buffy Silverman is hosting the Roundup at her blog. Wander over there to check out the full menu of poetic goodness being shared around the blogosphere this week.

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*Copyright © 2021 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

57 thoughts on “a song for father’s day and a summer blog break

  1. Thank you for the ice cream–love me some Rocky Road. And, thanks for the lovely farewell Father’s Day post. There is so much love for home and for your Dad tucked in here. I will miss this blog in the summer days but enjoy it’s return come Labor Day. Cheers, Jama. You make life more beautiful.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you Jama for this beautiful Father’s Day blog. You brought me right back to Saturday evenings when my parents always put on Lawrence Welk. They wouldn’t miss it! My dad, being an Italian immigrant, always sang O Sole Mio! See you in September! Hey, that’s a song!🎤🎼🎹

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Same with us — Lawrence Welk every Saturday night. Nice to hear your Dad sang O Sole Mio. “See You in September” really takes me back.

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  3. My Irish American goosebumps multiplied as I read your post, Jama. ‘Danny Boy’ reminds me of my dad, too. He would off-tune jokingly** sing it to aggravate my mom. Your dad was a special man – anyone who can play a harmonica well is amazing in my book. And that picture of you with him and the fish – you. could. not. be. any. cuter!
    Enjoy your summer break! (I’ll be taking one, too 😉 ) I look forward to your posts in September.

    **have you seen the Sh*t Creek episode where Moira sings Danny Boy at a funeral? Side-splittingly hilarious…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haven’t seen that episode — will look for it. Your dad sounds like a riot — proves I was right about Irish being quick to break into verse or song . . . 🙂

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  4. What a lovely post! I feel like I got to know your father through your memories and photos. What special memories to have, making music together.

    Wishing you a lovely summer break!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wish I had more photos of him actually. I’m grateful we had music in common. I didn’t mention that he also played the piano (by ear) and the ukulele. 🙂

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  5. Oh, Jama, what a post. So beautiful, such a lovely tribute to your father James. I love the photos and the Ja for James. I’m listening to Emma Sophia now, and thinking about my dad, who died when I was seven. I don’t remember any music with him, sadly, but your post and this song make me sad and touched. Have a beautiful summer, Jama!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sorry to hear you lost your dad at such a young age. Isn’t Emma Sophia amazing? I read that she graduated from preschool today. 🙂

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  6. Gorgeous post Jama, remembering your unique and wonderful dad! I too shared a musical bond with my Dad who had an incredibly powerful singing voice and played the banjo and guitar. Loved all the pics and Emma’s rendition of Danny Boy almost had me in tears. I’ll miss you too, and look forward to your return in fall, enjoy summer! xo

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    1. Love that you also shared a musical bond with your Dad. I’ve always admired people who can play the banjo — such a unique instrument; always makes me happy to hear it.

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    1. Thanks for reading, Samantha. Pics of me with James are few and far between. Other than my wedding pictures, for some reason I didn’t pose with him all that often as an adult — and that goes for when I still lived at home before moving overseas.

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  7. Oh Jama! That was the most heart warming and loving tribute to Dad! I regret that I missed so much by living on the mainland, I think that is why I visited him almost every year from the time he was 90 up until his 104th!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. And how he enjoyed your visits! I remember him writing letters to you in his neat handwriting all the time when we lived in Wahiawa. Always exciting when he received your replies. 🙂

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  8. Oh, Jama, it’s a beautiful & loving post you’ve crafted before your leave! I love seeing little you & all the family plus the ending with young Emma. My step-father whistled a lot but I don’t remember any particular song although we danced to the old forties tunes! It was my grandmother who played & my mother who did other instruments like the guitar while we all sang Danny boy & others of that time. They are good memories that last & last, aren’t’ they? Hugs to you for some good R & R & this summer, getting about as you can with a better open world.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. A whistling stepfather sounds fun, Linda. Cool that your grandmother and mom played instruments and you all sang together. Sounds like wonderful times. Glad you have those good memories!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Teared up and smiled. What a beautiful tribute, Jama. So, I’ve always pronounced your name, “Jaw-ma.” Is it a long “a” as in James? I pinned some of your old photos. Your dad sounded so wonderful, what a gift. Enjoy your time away, center, and expand. Much love, W

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for asking. Yes, the “Ja” is pronounced with a long “a,” as in James. The “ma” half of my name is of course short for Margaret. They thought they were being very clever making up a hybrid name for me. Problem is, everyone throughout my life has mispronounced it. “Jaw-ma” is very common, as is “Jamma” with the “a” like in “apple.” For those who remain confused, I remind them them that calling me “Your Highness” is perfectly acceptable. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Oh, and I do have a song from my dad! I doubt anyone would know it. On vacations (to the snow!) or when we stayed at his house on weekends (divorced), he’d wake us up singing in his big, warm baritone, “Oh it’s nice to get up in the morning when the sun is shining bright. At four or five or six o’clock in the good old summertime. But when the snow is snowing and it’s murky overhead, oh, it’s nice to get up in the morning… but it’s nicer to stay in bed!”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, what a wonderful song, Wendy!! I love that he sang a wake-up song to you. Adorable! Hadn’t heard that song before; wonder if there’s more to it. Thanks for sharing!

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      1. Thanks for finding this, Cathy!! Love hearing the entire song (with commentary afterwards) as well as that Scottish brogue. Since I’m not a morning person, can’t say whether I’d be receptive to hear such a cheery tune before I was fully awake. 😀

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  11. When we were growing up, we had music in the house so much of the time, mostly coming from record player or tape recorder. My dad likes a wide variety of musical styles, so there’s lots of it that reminds me of him. Probably the highest percentage of it was classical. I remember an album of “Pictures at an Exhibition,” particularly.

    Great post, Jama! Enjoy your summer break!

    Ruth, thereisnosuchthingasagodforsakentown.blogspot.com

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Lovely Father’s Day post, Jama! I guess “Sultans of Swing” by Dire Straits is the first song that comes to mind re: my dad. That picture of wee you just slays me. Your mom and dad both have twinkles in their eyes — I can see where you got that charming bit of mischief. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Was that his favorite song? You have a young dad! Me? Mischievous? Ahem. Don’t know where you got that idea. Mr Cornelius is another story, however . . .

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  13. Such a beautiful post and loving tribute to your Korean (Irish) Dad, Jama. How nice that he had a love for music that he shared with you. I love all the pictures. You were (still are) so adorable, and your parents- what a handsome/gorgeous couple! And Emma Sophia’s heartfelt and sweet singing brought me to tears. Cherish the memories. Have a wonderful, happy summer!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I teared up too when I first heard Emma Sophia’s rendition. James gifted all four of his children with a love for music. I’m grateful I grew up in a house full of music and that he insisted we take piano lessons.

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  14. Thank you Jama for sharing your cherished experiences and memories of James with all of us. I never knew why James was so fond of the piece “Danny Boy” but through your words I feel that it was in large part because of your time spent together sharing your love of music. Happy Fathers’ Day to James and to all of the loving fathers out there. 💕

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Jana, I love your post. It is full of remembrances and took back to my Catholic School years. The nuns loved Danny Boy and the Irish jig. Most of my friends were Irish so I have heard the song many times but not song so beautifully as the child you shared. Her voice is beautiful and mesmerizing but I think that is what the song does to everyone-put you in a mellow, reflective state. Thanks for sharing your childhood stories of your father, enjoy the weekend and have a wonderful summer.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The song is definitely haunting and fills the listener with a sense of longing. Thanks for sharing your Catholic school memory with us. It’s interesting to hear how the song figured into others’ lives.

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  16. Oh that photo of young Jama and James–how perfect! And I love imagining you playing the piano with your dad accompanying on harmonica. Thanks for sharing the fun memories. My Danny Boy story is that my younger kid and I used to go to a suzuki summer session at Blue Lake Music camp. I would pull out my violin and try to get my rusty fingers to play along with the kids on Danny Boy and other fiddle tunes. It’s humbling to be outplayed by the 10 and under set! I’m guessing you were more accomplished on the piano than I was on the violin.

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    1. I’m in awe of anyone who plays (or attempts to play) the violin. Such a beautiful instrument. Nice to know you play the violin, Buffy. Thanks for sharing your Blue Lake Music Camp memory. 🙂

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  17. I love the song ‘Danny Boy” and even more so after reading your history with the song. We share a similar name story. Jo= the JO from John and NE from NE of June. My guess is that the MA in your name is from your mom with the JA from your dad.? Sweet!

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    1. Oh, good to know, Jone! I always wondered about the unique spelling of your first name. That’s cool. Clever parents! And yes, the “Ma” in my name is from my mother Margaret. 🙂

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  18. What a beautiful post, Jama! Thanks so much for sharing your story and for pointing out the link between the Irish and the Koreans. I have an Irish and musical background, so your post brought back many memories. Have a great summer!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Apparently, the Irish of Asia thing has been around awhile. I didn’t get it as a child, but now looking at the two countries from a historical standpoint, there are similarities.

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  19. Lovely post, Jama. I especially like the photo of you as a young girl with your dad.

    The song that reminds me of my dad is “Leader of the Band” by Dan Fogelberg. My dad’s birthday was in June and often coincided with Father’s Day, so he sometimes got one present instead of two.

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  20. What a beautiful post, Jama. Thank you for sharing memories of your father and your family with us, as well as the history of “Danny Boy.” Your remembrances of the Lawrence Welk show swept me back to my grandparents’ house where those Irish tunes were sung alternately with gusto and tears. Have a lovely summer.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. ♥♥♥ It’s strange to me that I never made the Irish Asian connection until now… but it’s definitely a shared history there. Thank you once again for sharing your gorgeous parents. Happy Summer.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It might never have occurred to me either unless my dad had mentioned it all those years ago. And I “still” didn’t see all the historical/political implications until recently.

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  22. Jama, I missed a whole lotta Poetry Friday last weekend, so am just now stopping by here.

    I adore your remembrances of your family. They are always so touching and beautiful. Those photos! Be still my heart.

    Enjoy your blog break, enjoy your summer, embrace those memories, and may you create some new and beautiful ones this summer. xo

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