Beliefnet
Oh Danny Boy, oh Danny Boy. I love you so.

But maybe after Mass.

The Catholic community in Rhode Island is in the midst of a debate over whether "Danny Boy," the treasured Irish-American ballad, is an appropriate farewell song at a Catholic funeral Mass.

The Diocese of Providence's music commission will "educate" its parishes' music directors that songs such as "Danny Boy," however beloved, do not belong in Mass. The Rev. Peter J. Andrews, director of worship for the diocese, said last week it would possibly be done in the form of a workshop or letter.
"I want 'Danny Boy' sung at my funeral Mass, and if it isn't, I'm going to get up and walk out."

No telling what could happen without "Danny Boy." Irish Catholics like Charles McKenna, a "retired Irish cop and proud of it," are predicting no rest.

He promised in a letter to The Providence Visitor, the Diocese's official newspaper: "I want 'Danny Boy' sung at my funeral Mass, and if it isn't, I'm going to get up and walk out."

"Danny Boy" is perfectly reverent, he said last week.

"We're not talking about 'Who Threw the Overalls in Mrs. Murphy's Chowder,'" he said, referring to another song popular with Irish-Americans.

Catholic doctrines say Mass must not be marred by secular tunes, that liturgical music must come from sacred text or be written specifically for Mass. Some churches, however, quietly make exceptions for "Danny Boy."

Many Irish-Americans consider the ballad, only formally known as "Londonderry Air," an adopted national anthem. They whistle the melancholy tale of the Irish lad, summoned to the military by bagpipes, to their babies. They sing it to sons named Daniel.

They want "Danny Boy" at their funerals.

But when a Rhode Island church refused, a letter to The Visitor opened an ongoing debate and brought stern reminders of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishop's official guidelines for worship music: No "Danny Boy."

John Lynch, of Smithfield, R.I., started the debate.

Not that Lynch, 67, wants the Irish ballad played at his funeral Mass. In fact, he told his son Danny, "Daniel Patrick, I won't do that to you."

But he became upset when a local acquaintance was not allowed to fulfill her father's last wish: to have "Danny Boy" played at his funeral.

Lynch wrote his concerns, about two years ago, to the weekly Visitor, whose publisher is the Most Rev. Robert E. Mulvee, bishop of the Diocese of Providence.

To approve 'Danny Boy' at one Mass will open the doors to approving 'Perhaps Love' by John Denver at weddings," he wrote, "or 'Happy Birthday' for a reception on Sunday just because the family for whom the Mass is offered may request it."

The paper's editorial staff responded to Lynch's letter, saying "Danny Boy" is not liturgical, meaning that it does not have a proper place in Mass. The paper's rebuttal said editors talked to Irish priests, who said "Danny Boy" would never be allowed in churches in Ireland.

Lynch would not give up. A friend's housekeeper knew of an Irish church where the ballad is sung, as did Lynch's cousin, Peggy. Lynch wrote back to The Visitor this spring, saying, "I challenge you...to dispute that 'Danny Boy' was sung and is sung at a parish known as South Chapel in County Cork."

Lynch had struck a chord, or at least a note on the bagpipe.

Brian Michael Page, director of music at Holy Name of Jesus Church, in Providence, recently wrote that any liturgist "in his right mind" would refuse "Danny Boy."

"To approve 'Danny Boy' at one Mass will open the doors to approving 'Perhaps Love' by John Denver at weddings," he wrote, "or 'Happy Birthday' for a reception on Sunday just because the family for whom the Mass is offered may request it."

Those who still insist on "Danny Boy" should save it for the wake or reception, Page said. At Mass, "let's put ourselves in the presence of the Lord."

It's believed that the music for "Danny Boy" was composed in the 1600s, and the best-known lyrics written in 1913 by an Englishman, Frederick Edward Weatherly. The ballad speaks of Danny leaving, and then returning, from the war, to perhaps declare his love for his father, or mother, who is in the grave. There are many versions. One goes:

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