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Updated 07/12/2013


When Irish Eyes are Smiling

"When Irish Eyes Are Smiling" is a lighthearted song in tribute to Ireland. Its lyrics were written by Chauncey Olcott and George Graff, Jr., set to music composed by Ernest Ball, for Olcott's production of The Isle O' Dreams, and Olcott sang the song in the show. It was first published in 1912, at a time when songs in tribute to a romanticized Ireland were very numerous and popular both in Britain and the United States. During the First World War the famous tenor John McCormack recorded the song.

Composer Ernest Ball was born in Cleveland, Ohio on July 22, 1878. He was trained at the Cleveland Conservatory. In 1905, Ball was already in New York City, he was given a few verses written by the then state Senator, James J. Walker, who later became famous as the Dapper Jimmy Walker, Mayor of New York City. He put one of the verses to music, and called it "Will You Love Me In December as You Do In May?" which became a national hit.

Beginning in 1906, Ball had a dual career, writing songs and also singing them himself on the vaudeville stages. At first he worked alone, but later shared billing with his second wife, Maude Lambert. In 1907 he was a charter member of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) and signed a contract with Witmark Music as a demonstrator and house composer.

Between 1907 and 1910, Ball wrote a number of popular songs including the first of his Irish ballads, "Mother Machree". He followed this in 1912 with "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling". Other highlights from the Ball catalog include “Love Me and the World is Mine”, “Saloon”, “Till the Sands of the Desert Grow Cold”, “Dear Little Boy of Mine”, “I’ll Forget You”, “A Little Bit of Heaven”, “Let the Rest of the World Go By”, “In the Garden of My Heart”, “My Dear”, “Who Knows?”, “Goodbye, Good Luck, God Bless You”, “Turn Back the Universe”, “I Love the Name of Mary”, “To the End of the World With You”, “West of the Great Divide”, “Ireland is Ireland to Me”, “She’s the Daughter of Mother Machree”, “To Have, To Hold, To Love”, “Mother of Pearl”, “For the Sake of Auld Lang Syne” and “You Planted a Rose.”

Ball has said that he became a successful composer when he learned to write songs that came from his heart, and were about things that he knew. He collaborated with several lyricists including Chauncey Olcott, George Graff, Darl MacBoyle, J. Kiern Brennan, James J. Walker, Arthur Penn, Annelu Burns and David Reed.

Ernest Ball died in Santa Ana, California on May 3, 1927.  A dispute over Copyright renewal for "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling" ended up in the US Supreme Court in 1943. However, today there is no dispute as to its copyright status; it is now in the public domain, since it was published in the USA prior to 1923.


What most people know as the lyrics of the tune, is actually the chorus:

Verse 1:

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


When Irish Eyes Are Smiling, sure 'tis like a 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 so tender and light.
For the springtime of life is the best time of all,
With never a pain or regret.
While the springtime is ours, thru all of life's hours,
Let us smile each chance we get.