Thanks to the English penal laws, totally silent Masses held in secret to escape persecution, the dying out of the harpers and indigenous Irish “classical” music, the Famine, immigration, and a bunch of other stuff, there isn’t as big a supply of traditional Irish hymn tunes as there are from Welsh, Scottish, or other nationalities.
Part of the lack of supply was met, back in the day, by lyrics being set to any folk tune that happened to be sitting around. But while this worked fine for less sacred music, a lot of people back then also thought it was tacky. I mean, one minute you’re singing about doing stuff to your girlfriend, and the next you’re singing to the same tune about God? Not great….
Sometimes, you find a few, though. Christmas albums seem to be a prime place to look. The problem, of course, is that Christmas rather clings to Christmas carol tunes. But if we’re not Irish Irish and these carols and hymns aren’t familiar to us, that shouldn’t be a problem.
“Leanbh Ghil Mhilis” (Sweet Bright Child) is a very dignified slow air. For non-Irish audiences, it would probably work fine with different hymn lyrics. Here’s the lyrics and translation of the original.
“Do’n Oiche ud i mBeithil” (That Night in Bethlehem) is more of a ballad tune (the telling a story kind).
“Rug Muire Mac Do Dhia” (Mary Bore the Son of God) is more march-like.
“Ag Chriost an Siol”: The lyrics are traditional. The hymn tune is by Sean O’Riada.
“Gabhaim Molta Brighde” (I Praise St. Brigid): A sturdy plain tune. You could stick lots of different words to this one.
“A Mhuire na nGras” (O Mary of Graces): Pretty tune. The rhyming English translation is by Douglas Hyde.
“Deus Meus Adiuva Me”: The lyrics were written by Maol-Iosa O Brolchain way back. Music: Trad.
“Dochas Linn, Naomh Padraig” (Bring Us Help, St Patrick): Lyrics by Tomas O Flannghaile. Music: Trad. A very stately marching hymn tune.
“Mo Ghrasa, Mo Dhia” is to a traditional tune.
The thing is, I’m sure there’s tons of good hymn tunes from Ireland. I just don’t know them. 😦
UPDATE: There is a book of Irish hymns in Irish, published in 1928. It’s called Danta De: Hymns Ancient and Modern (aka Danta De: Idir Sean agus Nuad). It was collected together by Una Ni Ogain, and includes organ accompaniments for NINETY (90!) Irish religious songs. In Irish.
Well, there’s no closer library copy than Notre Dame. So I may actually have to hit the rare books beat and drop actual money. Sigh. Oh, well, it’s all for a good cause.