Make your own free website on
"When Irish Eyes are Smiling", arr. Goldstein


Who are we?
Our Musical Director
Calendar of Events
Joining Bel Canto
Bel Canto in the press
Singers Write (NEW)
Contact Us
Bel Canto Male Choir

When Irish Eyes are Smiling

by Jonathan Cohen


One of the latest additions to our repertoire is a barbershop arrangement of a lovely "Irish folksong" When Irish Eyes are Smiling. Its cheery words and lovely melody were an instant hit with us all. Who wouldn't fall for that Irish blarney: "When Irish hearts are singing all the world seems bright and gay"?!


However, I put "Irish folksong" in inverted commas because after a humming this enchanting tune every day for the week after we began rehearsing it, a Google search revealed to me that its origins are New World rather than Old!


It turns out the lyrics were written by Chauncey Olcott and George Graff, Jr. and set to music by Enerst Ball for Olcott's 1912 production of The Isle O' Dreams, in which Olcott himself sang Irish Eyes.


Olcott was born in Buffalo, New York, and he produced several shows about Ireland for the New York stage. His other hits - yes, we're talking bout "hits" rather than ancient Irish tradition - included My Wild Irish Rose.


Ernest Ball loved Ireland but was also American born. Specializing in creating heart-tugging ballads - of which Irish Eyes was his most famous - Ball once observed: "People like songs they can take home to themselves." Other Ball hits include Will you love me in December as you do in May?, and Love Me and the World is Mine


Here are two simple midi versions of Irish Eyes:

Irish Eyes (chorus) - Click Here

Irish Eyes (full) - Click Here

Irish Eyes was even a Bing Crosby hit, as you can see from this record cover:


Here are the lyrics in full. I have laid out the lyrics the way they are fitted to the tune, which is why the odd numbered verse lines are twice the length of the even numbered ones:


(Verse 1) There's a tear in your eye, and I'm wondering why,
For it never should be there at all.
With such pow'r in your smile, sure a stone you'd beguile,
So there's never a teardrop should fall.
When your sweet lilting laughter's like some fairy song,
And your eyes twinkle bright as can be;
You should laugh all the while and all other times smile,
And now, smile a smile for me.

(Chorus) When Irish eyes are smiling,
Sure, 'tis like the morn in Spring.
In the lilt of Irish laughter
You can hear the angels sing.
When Irish hearts are happy,
All the world seems bright and gay.
And when Irish eyes are smiling,
Sure, they steal your heart away.

(Verse 2) For your smile is a part of the love in your heart,
And it makes even sunshine more bright.
Like the linnet's sweet song, crooning all the day long,
Comes your laughter and light.
For the springtime of life is the sweetest of all
There is ne'er a real care or regret;
And while springtime is ours throughout all of youth's hours,
Let us smile each chance we get.





Here's the harmonization:


| C | C | C | G7 |
| G7 | C : A7 | D7 | G7 |

| C | C | C : C7 | F |

| D7 | G | D7 | G |


| C | C | F | C |

| F | C | A7 : D7 | G |

| C | C | C7 : F | C |

| F |  C : A7 | D7 : G7 | C |


The syncopation of "smi-ling" and "laugh-ter" sound quintessentially Irish, but I think that the A7-D7-G7-C progression in the chorus sounds far more Broadway than Galway (though I would be happy to be put right by anyone who knows more about the subject).


Our version


The version we sing has been adapted to male voice, barber shop style by a brilliant local composer, and friend of our musical director, Raymond Goldstein (no Irish blood there I daresay). Here's Goldstein's impressive Irish/American/Jewish/barbershop version (using the chorus only), dated Jerusalem, Jan 1988:

Irish Eyes (Goldstein) - Click Here

When Irish eyes are smiling,
Sure, its like a morn in Spring -- in Spring.
In the lilt of Irish laughter
You can hear the angels sing -- angels sing.
When Irish hearts are happy,
All the world seems bright and gay -- and gay.
And when Irish eyes are smi - - - ling,
Sure, they steal your heart away -- your heart away - away.


The close harmonies are typical of barbershop, as is the glissando at the end of the seventh line. Notice that in the second half of the tune the second voice rises above the melody line. This sounds better with real singers than on the midi file, because in real life the second tenors sing that bit slightly more forcefully than the first tenors, thus sustaining the melody.


The lyrics for Goldsteins version include a small change to the second line of the chorus: "sure its like a morn in Spring" in place of the original: "sure tis like the morn in Spring". The original sounds more authentic; I assume Goldsteins change is either a transcription error or a concession for non-English singers.

Modal Irish Version
Despite its America origin, I did manage to find a modal, Irish version of Irish Eyes, apparently modern. The version below does I think sound more authentically Irish than the Broadway original, though to our classically conditioned ears it is perhaps less appealing. (Depending on the quality of your computer's sound card, this file may even sound as though it is being played on Irish bagpipes.)

Irish Eyes (modal) - Click Here

So... from Broadway hit to Jewish Barbershop to... authentic Irish folk melody?



Note: The first, second and fourth midi files on this page are from the Internet and to the best of my knowledge in the public domain. The midi file of the Goldstein version I made myself. You may save it for personal, non-commercial use only.