The name Boyne itself is derived from the name of the goddess Boinn, literally 'cow-white', "a name well suited to a pastoral people whose wealth was chiefly in cattle" (Matthews, 1972). The name of the tune, however, commemorates the Battle of the Boyne (named for the Boyne River in SoundcloudCounty Meath, eastern Ireland, though the battle itself was fought three miles west of Drogheda), fought July 1st, 1690, in which the English monarch King William III defeated the Irish forces under King James II."
It has always been, and still is, very popular among the Orangemen of Ulster (for it dashed the hopes of the Irish for religious freedom and the Stuarts for Kingship). The ballad follows the historical accounts of the battle correctly enough. The air is well known in the south (of Ireland) also, where it is commonly called Sebladh na n-gamhan, 'Leading the Calves,' A good setting is given by Bunting in his second collection: the Munster and Connaught versions are given by Petrie in his Ancient Music of Ireland, vol. II, p. 12. I print it here as I learned it in my youth from the singing of the people of Limerick, not indeed to 'The Boyne Water' of Ulster, but to other words (given below).
My setting differs only slightly from that of Bunting; and it is nearly the same as I heard it played some years ago by a band on a 12th of July in Warrenpoint" (Joyce). O'Neill (1913) lists "Boyne Water" as one of the "splendid martial airs" of Irish music.
Samuel Bayard (1981) believes "Boyne Water" was composed in the seventeenth century, and thinks it has always been more of a vocal air rather than an instrumental tune. As witnessed by the myriad of titles in the beginning of this entry, it has been a popular air in the British Isles and, as Bayard states, "altogether, the forms suggest that it has undergone a long traditional development."
He believes the second half may have been the original tune, with the first half being fashioned out of elements from earlier strains. Bronson discerns the origins of the whole tune family in a Scottish melody found in the Skene Manuscript of c. 1615. Grattan Flood (1913) dates the tune from c. 1645, long before the famous battle, though how he arrived at this date is obscure. Cowdery (1990) believes that Flood's thinking may have stemmed from a reference to a melody published by Petrie (1855), called "To Seek for the Lambs I Have Sent My Child," in which the latter writer declared, "in its superior purity of expression, and in its passionate depth of feeling, affords intrinsic evidence of an original intention, and consequent priority of antiquity, which will not be found in that which I consider to be the derived from of it called 'The Boyne Water.'"
...more at: Boyne Water - full Score(s) and Annotations
X:1 T:Boyne Water  M:C L:1/8 S:Aird - Selection of Scotch, English, Irish and Foreign Airs, vol. II (1785, No. 121) Z:AK/Fiddler's Companion K:Ador g2 | e3d e2g2 | d>edB G2 AB | c2 BA e2 dB | A3G E2g2 | edef g2 fe | dcBA G2 AB | c2 BA e2 dB | A3G E2 :| |: G2 ga g3g | gage d2g2 | e2 ab a3b | abag e3f | gfga g2 fe | dcBA G2 AB | c2 BA e2 dB | A3G E2 :||
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