Who is Danny Boy?

o'cahanEvery year around this time, when Irish and wanna-be Irish alike celebrate St. Patrick, we hear a dozen different renditions of the sorrowful and haunting Irish air “Danny Boy.”

So who was this fellow Danny? In doing research for my “Dawn of Ireland” novels, I found out a few amazing things about dear old Danny, and I share them with you.

To start with, an Irish clan called the O’Cahan clan (pronounce it like “O’Cain”) were kicking around as early as the 5th C AD (the time of St. Patrick) in and around Coleraine and Limavady, in the northern Ireland area then called Ulster.

The O’Cahan clan became strong and influential. But by the 17th century, they were mercilessly targeted and murdered by the British.  The last of the influential lords, Domhnaill (Danny) O’Cathain, was captured and held in the Tower of London, where he died in 1626.

Around that time, an Irish harpist named Rory Dall O’Cahan wrote a lament for the fall of the proud clansman; and that song has survived to this day in the form of “Danny Boy.”

So when you hear those mournful words, raise a glass to an immortal Irishman. For thanks to his kinsman Rory, he has survived to this day.

Erin O’Quinn, Author