Jane Ross (1810 - 1879):
Jane Ross lived a quiet, rather genteel life, but is credited with the discovery and publishing of the "Londonderry Air", or "Derry Air", one of the most famous melodies - perhaps the most famous - to come out of Ireland, and is known worldwide.
She was a product of the local gentry; her father was a Captain in the Limavady yeomanry, who was quite prosperous, owning land, flour mills and a bleach green. Her brother William was rector of St Columb's Cathedral, Derry, and her paternal grandfather had been provost of Limavady. Jane Ross lived with some of her sisters in Limavady town and at some point in the 1860s began to collect folk tunes, which she had published in Dublin by George Petrie of the Society for the Preservation and Publication of the Melodies of Ireland, in a collection, The Ancient Music of Ireland, in 1855. The air which became famous was originally produced as an untitled piece without any text, though later, texts were written, notably by Fred Weatherly (the famous "Danny Boy" text) and Alfred Perceval Graves but there were many other texts adapted to it. Arrangements of the music have included those by Australian musician Percy Grainger and Sir Hamilton Harty, the prominent conductor and composer, of Hillsborough, County Down.
Musicologists have been baffled ever since as to the precise origins of the tune, various theories including Scotland, Magilligan (County Londonderry) or, given that there were no other versions known before Petrie's publication, that Ross wrote it herself.
Ross was commemorated by a musical festival in Limavady, where she lived out her life, and was interred in Christchurch Graveyard in the town.
Dictionary of Irish Biography; www.limavady.gov.uk; www.standingstones.com/dannyboy
© 2021 Ulster History Circle