Christmas is a most important religious and family event in Ireland so it’s perhaps not surprising that it has inspired numerous sayings and blessings.
In keeping with the festive season, the blessings are all life affirming and tend to focus on the importance of family and friends.
Carols are also important in an Irish Christmas. Ireland has its fair share of original carols such as The Wexford Carol and While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks by Night. Many others have been translated into Irish and performed by leading artists.
These are some of Ireland’s best known Christmas blessing and carols.
The Wexford Carol
The Wexford Carol is one of the most famous and most popular hymns to come out of Ireland. Its origins are uncertain but it certainly dates back several centuries. It originated in Co Wexford and first came to wider prominence due to the work of William Grattan Flood who was the organist at St Aidan’s Cathedral in Enniscorthy.
He first came across the carol when he heard it being sung by a local singer in Wexford in the 19th century. He started to perform it at Christmas services in the cathedral and it was later published in the Oxford Book of Carols. It soon became a standard in carol books across the world.
Here the Wexford Carol is performed by Clare College Choir.
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Soilse na Nollag (Christmas Lights)
From RTÉ, Moya Brennan and Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh sing ‘Soilse na Nollag’, (meaning Christmas Lights). It was written by Mairéad and her father Francie Mooney. They sing it in the area of the Poison Glen, Gaoth Dobhair, Co Donegal, Ireland.
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Don Oíche Úd i mBeithil (To That Night in Bethlehem)
Altan performing a wonderful, haunting Irish carol, ‘Don Oíche Úd i mBeithil’. It means “To That Night in Bethlehem.” Recorded in St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin.
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Whilst Shepherds Watched Their Flocks by Night
Nahum Tate was born in Dublin in 1652. He was an Irish poet and wrote the famous Christmas carol ‘Whilst Shepherds Watched Their Flocks by Night’ which tell of the Annunciation to the Shepherds. He became poet laureate of England.
Here it is performed on the Celtic Harp.
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Silent Night has a particularly fascinating and often moving history. For example, during the First World War, it was sung together by German, French and British troops (which at that time included more than 200,000 Irishmen) during a break in fighting on Christmas Day.
The British and the Germans left off fighting for a few hours and played each other in a game of football during an impromptu Christmas truce initiated by the men themselves.
Enya – Silent Night (in Irish- Oíche Chiúin)
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An Ciarrí Carúl Nollag (The Kerry Christmas Carol)
The little known ‘The Kerry Christmas Carol’ – ‘An Ciarrí Carúl Nollag’ performed by Dennis Thompson singing this lovely Christmas Song at Dingle Acoustic in 2010.
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