Writer of the lyrics was an Englishman, later put with the Irish tune, Londonerry Air (Mann).
Oh Danny boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling
From glen to glen, and down the mountain side
The summer's gone, and all the roses falling
'Tis you, 'tis you must go and I must bide.
But come ye back when summer's in the meadow
Or when the valley's hushed and white with snow
'Tis I'll be here in sunshine or in shadow
Oh Danny boy, oh Danny boy, I love you so.
But when he come, and all the flowers are dying
If I am dead, as dead I well may be
You'll come and find the place where I am lying
And kneel and say an "Ave" there for me.
And I shall hear, tho' soft you tread above me
And all my grave will warm and sweeter be
For you will bend and tell me that you love me
And I shall sleep in peace until you come to me.
20th century Irish soldiers - around the same period the lyrics of Danny Boy were written
In the first line, it states "The pipes, the pipes are calling". There is some controversy to the meaning behind the pipes, but I believe they are a call to arms. "From glen to glen and down the mountain side" means from valley to valley and through the mountains, these pipes can be heard, essentially across the country. In the last two lines, it is saying that the seasons are changing, it is getting cold, and the speaker is saying that the person they are talking to (I believe is her son) must go off and the speaker must stay.
The Maam Valley in Ireland
The speaker of the ballad, I believe, is a deceased mother and she is speaking to her son who goes off to war.
She then goes on to say that her son should return and visit her whenever he can, whether it is in the summer or winter because she will always be there. She tells her son she loves him.
In the next four lines, the speaker says if her son comes and the flowers are dying (the flowers I believe that are on her grave), he should come to her grave and kneel and say a prayer for her.
She will know when her son returns, for she will hear him, and her grave will be warmer and sweeter, where he tells her he loves her. The speaker can then rest in peace until she is reunited with her son later.
Overall, the ballad seems to be about a mother who has passed and whose son had to go off to war, but wishes for him to visit her once so she may rest in peace until they meet again with religious allusions.
Mann, Anthony. “Danny Boy Song Story.” Danny Boy: the Story Behind the Song, www.dannyboystory.com/.