The Irish have long been known for their love of music, their talent for writing poetry, and their devotion to faith. All of these come together beautifully in traditional Irish Christmas carols.
You may not be as familiar with The Wexford Carol and others as with some of the more frequently-played modern-day carols and other traditional favorites. But the richness of the words and the Irish charm of the music may call you to make these carols an important part of your family's Christmas celebration.
The Wexford Carol is one of the oldest Irish carols and may date back to the 12th century. You can find the audio version of the music here or here. These are the words:
The Wexford Carol
Good people all, this Christmas-time,
Consider well and bear in mind
What our good God for us has done
In sending his beloved Son.
With Mary holy we should pray
To God with love this Christmas day;
In Bethlehem upon that morn
There was a blessed Messiah born.
The night before that happy tide
The noble Virgin and her guide
Were long time seeking up and down
To find a lodging in the town.
But mark how all things came to pass;
From every door repelled alas!
As long foretold, their refuge all
Was but an humble ox's stall.
There were three wise men from afar
Directed by a glorious star,
And on they wandered night and day
Until they came where Jesus lay,
And when they came unto that place
Where our beloved Messiah was,
They humbly cast them at his feet,
With gifts of gold and incense sweet.
Near Bethlehem did shepherds keep
Their flocks of lambs and feeding sheep;
To whom God's angels did appear,
Which put the shepherds in great fear.
"Prepare and go", the angels said.
'To Bethlehem, be not afraid,
For there you'll find this happy morn,
A princely babe, sweet Jesus born.
With thankful heart and joyful mind,
The shepherds went the babe to find,
And as God's angel had foretold,
They did our savior Christ behold.
Within a manger he was laid,
And by his side the virgin maid,
Attending on the Lord of life,
Who came on earth to end all strife.
A newer but also well-loved Irish song, The Kerry Christmas Carol (An Ciarrí Carúl Nollag), was first published in 1955 in a book of poetry entitled Ballads of a Bogman. Written by Sigerson Clifford, it focuses on a traditional Irish Christmas Eve custom. Each household welcomes the Holy Family to their home by lighting a candle and placing it in a window. According to Jack & Vivian Hennessey's Irish Page about the Kerry carol, "There was a pious belief that Joseph and Mary and the Child still wandered the roads of the world, looking for a place to rest from the persecution of Herod. That they should show a preference for the roads of rural Ireland was accepted as a given."
The only online audio version of The Kerry Christmas Carol that I could find is this little snippet from Tim Dennehy's Between The Mountains And The Sea. Here are the words to the song in Irish-Gaelic followed by the English translation (thanks to the Irish Page):
An Ciarrí Carúl Nollag
The Kerry Christmas Carol
Scuab an t-urlár agus glan an teallach,
's coimead na grísaigh beo,
Ar eagla go dtiocfhaidh siad anocht,
Agus an domhan 'na chodladh go suan!
Brush the floor and clean the hearth,
And set the fire to keep,
For they might visit us tonight
When all the world's asleep!
Ná múch an coinneal ard bán,
Ach fág é lásta go geal.
Go mbeidh siad cinnte ar aon
go bhfuil fáilte is fiche roimh cách
Sa teach ar an Oiche Nollag naofa seo!
Don't blow the tall white candle out
But leave it burning bright,
So that they'll know they're welcome here
This holy Christmas night!
Léig amach ar an mbord, arán is feoil,
Agus braonín bainne don leanbh.
Agus beidh beannacht ar an dtine
Agus ar an té a bhruith an t-arán
Agus ar an lamh a dhéin an t-obair dian.
Leave out the bread and meat for them,
And sweet milk for the Child,
And they will bless the fire, that baked
And, too, the hands that toiled.
Beidh Naomh Iósaef túirseach,
Tar éis an turas fada.
Agus aghaidh Mhuire fann, bánghnéitheach
Agus beidh néal codlata aca.
Sar a n-imthígheann siad arís.
For Joseph will be travel-tired,
And Mary pale and wan,
And they can sleep a little while
Before they journey on.
Beidh túirse na mbóthar fada ortha
Agus seans aca a scíth a ligint,
Ó's iomai an míle fada uaigneach
Atá roimh an dtriur aca
Uaidh seo go dtí Beithil.
They will be weary of the roads,
And rest will comfort them,
For it must be many a lonely mile
From here to Bethlehem.
Ó is fada an bóthar 'tá le taisteal aca,
Agus é idir garbh is mín
Agus Cnoch Chalvaire mar ceann scríbe aca,
Agus chroise adhmad indan.
O long the road they have to go,
The bad mile with the good,
Till the journey ends on Calvary
Beneath a cross of wood.
Ná cur ar an ndoras ach an laiste anocht!
Agus coimead na gríosaigh beó -
Agus guí go mbeidh siad fén ar ndíon anocht
Agus an domhan 'na chodladh go suan.
Leave the door upon the latch,
And set the fire to keep,
And pray they'll rest with us tonight
When all the world's asleep.
Another favorite Irish carol is Once In Royal David's City written in 1848 by Cecil Frances Humphreys Alexander. You can find an audio version of it at this page. Here are the words:
Once in Royal David's City
Once in royal David's city
Stood a lowly cattle shed,
Where a mother laid her baby
In a manger for His bed:
Mary was that mother mild,
Jesus Christ her little child.
He came down to earth from heaven,
Who is God and Lord of all,
And His shelter was a stable,
And His cradle was a stall;
With the poor, and mean, and lowly,
Lived on earth our Savior Holy.
And through all His wondrous childhood
He would honor and obey,
Love and watch the lowly Maiden,
In whose gentle arms He lay:
Christian children all must be
Mild, obedient, good as He.
Jesus is our childhood's pattern;
Day by day, like us He grew;
He was little, weak and helpless,
Tears and smiles like us He knew;
And He feeleth for our sadness,
And He shareth in our gladness.
And our eyes at last shall see Him,
Through His own redeeming love;
For that Child so dear and gentle
Is our Lord in heaven above,
And He leads His children on
To the place where He is gone.
Not in that poor lowly stable,
With the oxen standing by,
We shall see Him; but in heaven,
Set at God's right hand on high;
Where like stars His children crowned
All in white shall wait around.
For more on Irish Christmas carols read Bridget Haggerty's An Irish Christmas - Ding Dong, Merrily on High...
You might also enjoy these Gaelic versions of popular Christmas carols (including Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer) courtesy of Vivian and Jack Hennessey.
This article is part of a series written in celebration of the Advent and Christmas seasons. It will be included as part of the GeneaBloggers Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories 2009 Day 21: Christmas Music. Make a visit to Thomas MacEntee's GeneaBloggers website for some additional inspiration to get yourself in the holiday spirit!
The article originally appeared here at Small-leaved Shamrock and was included in Thomas MacEntee's Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories 2007. In the mood for more Christmas carols? Check out footnote Maven's "heavenly host" at A Choir of GeneaAngels. The angel to footnote Maven's right in the center of the choir is standing in for me.