Sunday, March 13, 2011

Irish Hymns

It's Sunday and I've enjoyed going to church on this fairly warm day, spending time with fellow believers, hearing from God's Word and singing hymns of the faith. I've been thinking about hymns today and looking for hymns that are Irish in lyric or melody.

Be Thou My Vision
Arguably the most famous Irish hymn is Be Thou My Vision. Words are at­trib­ut­ed to Dal­lan For­gaill from the 8th Cen­tu­ry; trans­lat­ed from an­cient Ir­ish to Eng­lish by Ma­ry E. Byrne, in “Eriú,” Jour­nal of the School of Ir­ish Learn­ing, 1905, and versed by El­ea­nor H. Hull in 1912. Melody is Slane, of Ir­ish folk or­i­gin. It's named after Slane Hill where in 433 AD St. Patrick lit a fire in honor of Easter and in defiance of High King Lo­gaire's decree that noone should light fires before his pagan holiday was celebrate. Lo­gaire was so im­pressed by Pat­rick’s de­vo­tion that, de­spite his de­fi­ance (or per­haps be­cause of it­), he let him con­tin­ue his mis­sion­ary work. This is my favorite hymn because the melody is not only beautiful but the words are such a beautiful prayer!

Verse 1:
Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art.
Thou my best Thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.

Find all the verses and a MIDI of the melody at

King of Love My Shepherd Is
I know I've sung this lovely hymn before but I hadn't seen it in a long time. Words are by Henry W. Baker an English minister, first published in his Hymns An­cient and Mo­dern (London: 1868). Music is St. Columba, an­cient Ir­ish melody. An interesting fact: This hymn was sung at the fun­er­al of Di­a­na, Prin­cess of Wales, in West­min­ster Ab­bey, Lon­don, Sep­tem­ber 6, 1997. The lyrics focus on Christ being our Shepherd, some of the words come directly from Psalm 23.

Verse 1:
The King of love my Shepherd is,
Whose goodness faileth never,
I nothing lack if I am His
And He is mine forever.

Find all the verses and a MIDI of the melody at

The Day Of The Lord Is At Hand
I'd never heard this hymn before but I really enjoyed the lyrics which focus on the second coming of our Lord. Words by Charles Kings­ley (1819-1875), an English minister who had the honor of serving as pri­vate chap­lain to Queen Vic­tor­ia in 1859. He wrote many poems and this one was set to the traditional Ir­ish mel­o­dy Re­mem­ber the Poor.

Verse 1:
The day of the Lord is at hand, at hand;
Its storms roll up the sky;
The nations sleep starving on heaps of gold;
All dreamers toss and sigh;
The night is darkest before the morn;
When the pain is sorest the child is born,
And the day of the Lord is at hand, at hand,
The day of the Lord is at hand.

Find all the verses and a MIDI of the melody at

O Come And Sing To God, The Lord
This was another hymn I'd never heard before but it's lovely! Words from The Psalter, 1912. One of the alternate tunes is Irish, from A Col­lect­ion of Hymns and Sac­red Po­ems (Dub­lin: 1749). I love this call to praise the Lord!

Verse 1:
O come and sing to the God, the Lord,
To Him our voices raise;
Let us in our most joyful songs
The Lord, our Savior, praise.

An earlier version of verse 1, from the 1650 Scottish Psalter:
O come, let us sing to the Lord,
To Him our voices raise;
With joyful noise let us the Rock
Of our salvation praise.

Find all the verses and a MIDI of the melody at

Morning Has Broken
I know this song has been sung and made popular by many secular singers, but I really enjoy the words and music. Words by English author Eleanor Farjeon, first published in 1931. Set to a traditional Gaelic tune known as Bunessan.

Verse 1:
Morning has broken, like the first morning
Blackbird has spoken, like the first bird
Praise for the singing, praise for the morning
Praise for them springing fresh from the word.

Christ Be Beside Me
One of the most famous poems from Irish history is the one penned by St. Patrick himself as a dedication to the Lord. There are several variants of his words, but this is my favorite. Words from St. Patrick's Breastplate; adapted by James Quinn. Melody is the Traditional Gaelic melody Bunessan (same as Morning Has Broken above). I love this song, almost more than Morning Has Broken. The words are such a lovely prayer!

Verse 1:
Christ beside me, Christ before me,
Christ behind me King of my heart;
Christ within me, Christ below me,
Christ above me never to part.

Find all three verses and a MIDI of this song at

These are just some of the Irish hymns I found today. I am looking into more hymns but this post is long enough! All of the photos are of various churches in Ireland. They may not be exactly the type of church I'd attend but I really enjoy the picturesque scenes!

Are there any more Irish hymns you can think of? 
Which of these hymns to you like best? What is your favorite hymn?

Very Truly Your's,


Elizabeth said...

Be Thou My Vision is one of my favorite hymns!! :)

Anonymous said...

Beautiful post! I really enjoyed it. Morning has Broken and Christ Be Beside Me are the two hymns I liked the best from this posting. The pictures of the different churches really add to the beauty of you post. Thanks again for working so hard to share these wonderful old hymns with us. God bless you. - Mom

Matthew said...

Came across this while looking up Irish hymns....

"Savior of the World" (sometimes referred to as "I Cannot Tell") has become one of my favorite hymns. There are a few Irish hymns in the Joan Pinkston-edited hymnal Hymns of Grace and Glory, another of which is "How Sweet and Awe-ful Is This Place" ("awe" as in awe-inspiring, awesome, etc.); it is sung to the same St. Columba tune as the Henry Baker version of Psalm 23 (The King of Love My Shepherd Is).

Miss Laurie said...

Matthew, thank you for mentioning these lovely hymns. I hadn't heard of them before. "I Cannot Tell" reminds me of the lyrics by Dottie Rambo, "He Looked Beyond My Faults" which is sung to the same Londonderry melody.
Thank you for stopping by my blog!

God Bless,
Miss Laurie

dona said...

I'm connecting with a friend who had never heard Be Thou My Vision before, and she loves Irish music. I hope to record you other suggestions, as they are each lovely. Thank you.
dona from Indy

Kate said...

Come Thou Fount is a personal favorite. Thanks for this post!

Tom said...

"Christ Be Near At Either Hand" which is based on the Lorica. It's an Irish folk song set to the tune GARTEN 77 77, thematically similar to Christ Be Beside Me.

Catherine Brennan said...

Criost An Siol has to be the most beautiful Irish hymn as Gaeilge there is! Simple yet incredibly moving :-)

Layla said...

I love Be Thou My Vision, it is a beautiful hymn. I recently learned how to playing on guitar, and it is my favorite to play yet! Thank you for sharing!

Anonymous said...

What an interesting blog ! Thank you very much and for the hymns I have heard some but the best are be thou my vision and morning has broken o love them .thank you very much .

Anonymous said...

In the Christian Science Hymnal #136 "I love Thy way of freedom, Lord" is set to an Irish Melody "Heavenward" arranged by H. Walford Davies. It's a beautiful tune, and I wish I knew where it came from originally!

Rinski said...

Thank you for the information. My massage therapist uses Celtic instrumental music when I receive a treatment. We quite often say a tune reminds us of hymns we have sung. I happened upon your site while searching for information regarding one of them. There are a couple of Welsh tunes that have been adapted to sending songs, "Go My Children, with My Blessing" and "Sent Forth by God's Blessing", that like to play in my head. I have my hymnal under my Bible, so when something I read triggers a song phrase I can search for it. Sometimes I investigate further so thank you again for the information, you are a further search.

Vocalcat said...

Here is an arrangement of my favorite hymn, Be Thou My Vision I did a few years ago.

Robert McCubbins said...

What hymns have you found with Irish Tunes? For instance I just found "The Mighty God with Power speaks" (it's in a presbyterian hymnal) to the tune of Star of the County Down... at the tune is listed as "Kingsfold" ... and found a powerful organ & congregation video...

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