The song has been enduring as a lullaby sung my mothers to their little children. While most people consider this tune to be a traditional Irish tune, it's origins are quite American. James Royce Shannon wrote this song in 1913 for the musical "Shameen Dhu" (Gaelic for "Black Jamie") produced by Chauncy Olcott. The musical premiered in New York in February 1914 and ran for 32 performances. It's story line is set in Ireland in the late 1700s. This Broadway musical was an Irish love story set within the background of Ireland's struggle to gain freedom from British rule. Shannon born in Adrian, Michigan was one of America's more prominent actors, composer/lyricists of the Tin Pan Alley era.
The popularity of the song stems more from the success of Bing Crosby's hit from the movie "Going My Way" in 1944 in which he plays a young priest of Irish decent at St. Dominic's in New York City. The song reached number 4 on the Billboard charts in 1944 and remained in the top 100 songs for 12 weeks selling more than million copies. The song is also memorialized by Dean Martin in the 1950s movie "At War with the Army."
For a very different interpretation of the song, listen to it sung live by Van Morrison in a performance with the Band on their Last Waltz Boxed Set.
Over in Killarney
Many years ago,
Me Mither sang a song to me
In tones so sweet and low.
Just a simple little ditty,
In her good old Irish way,
And l'd give the world if she could sing
That song to me this day.
Too-ra-loo-ra-loo-al, hush now, don't you cry!
Too-ra-loo-ra-loo-ral, that's an Irish lullaby."
Oft in dreams I wander
To that cot again,
I feel her arms a-huggin' me
As when she held me then.
And I hear her voice a -hummin'
To me as in days of yore,
When she used to rock me fast asleep
Outside the cabin door.