During 1910, a year of loss which his father and only son died, Fred penned some verses for which frustratingly he could not find suitable music. Until in 1912, as he wrote in his memoirs, he received from a sister-in-law in America the music for the Londonderry Air. With modifications, he found that the 1910 words fitted the melody and Danny Boy was born. Published in 1913, it became popular world-wide, particularly after a first recording in 1918.
I realised once I was being asked about Danny Boy, as the heir of Fred’s copyrights, that I knew very little about Fred and his family. So, I set out on some family research, fitting it around a busy professional life. It has been an intriguing journey, touching on diverse people and topics, such as W E Gladstone, Boosey ballad concerts, and silver fox farming in the US. However, for the lovers of Danny Boy I can reveal a new account of the creation of the song, that of Margaret Weatherly, the sister-in-law. This I discovered in an archive of papers lodged since 1936 in Colorado, where she and her husband struggled to make a living from silver mining. Margaret was a passionate Irish-American, steeped in the Irish musical traditions by her father from Co Kerry. Her contribution to Danny Boy was never properly acknowledged.
The centenary of the song's publication was 2013, when a celebratory programme was commissioned by RTE and BBC4 that included material from this book that brought Margaret into the story.
In the intervening years, I have gained more information about the song and the Weatherly’s, so a second edition is now required to keep this public record correct.