A Gaelic Christmas - Liner Notes BACK

1. Dia Do Bheatha (jeeah duh vaha) “Hail God” Trí Long (tree long) “Three Ships”

The short celebratory welcoming song “Hail God” awoke in me a childhood memory of the Victorian Christmas song “I Saw Three Ships Come Sailing In.” I decided to write a Gaelic adaptation of the 19th century carol in order to create a piece that would combine these two joyous songs.
Mary all vocals, keyboards; Robin Petrie hammer dulcimer;  Steafan Hannigan bodhrán, uilleann pipes; Dia Do Bheatha words & music trad. arr. Mary Mc Laughlin; Trí Long words; Mary Mc Laughlin; music trad. arr. Mary Mc Laughlin.

2. Do’n Oíche Úd I mBeithil (dun eeha ood ih mehil) “To That Night Long Ago in Bethlehem”

This exquisite song is one of the more popular Gaelic songs sung in Ireland although I have been unable to trace its origins. The melody seems to me to capture the mystery of the Christmas story while the words indicate the magnitude of the event.
Mary all vocals; William Coulter guitar; Steafan Hannigan bansuri (flute); Barry Phillips cellos
Words & music trad. arr. Mary Mc Laughlin.

3. A Oíche Bheannaithe  (ah eeha vanaha) “Oh Holy Night”

The music of “Oh Holy Night” was composed by Adolphe-Charles Adam (1803–1856). Placide Cappeau wrote the French words in 1847 and these were subsequently translated by John Sullivan Dwight into English later that century.  Although “Oh Holy Night” is usually sung like an anthem in the USA, the version I learned when I was young had more of a jig-like quality which I have preserved here.  Since I could not find a Gaelic version I wrote a set of Gaelic words to fit the original melody. As in all translations there often need to be changes to the original text to maintain rhythmic and rhyming patterns. The principal changes here are in the title, “Oh Blessed Night,” and the chorus:  Be Ye still, Listen to the angels Oh Blessed Night, the night when Christ was born….
Mary all vocals; Steve Coulter harp; Barry Phillips cello; Words Mary McLaughlin; Music trad. (Adolphe-Charles Adam).

4. Leanbh Sa Mhainséar (laniv sa wanshayr) “Child In The Manger”

Like many people, I grew up listening to the beautiful hymn “Morning Has Broken” unaware that it was based on a Scots Gaelic carol from the 1800s. The original, “Leanaibh An Aigh,” was composed by Mary Mc Donald (1789–1872) from the Ross of Mull.  The air of the song is also known as “Bunessan”  named for her birthplace. As I did not feel I could do justice to the the Scots Gaelic (which has a different pronunciation to Irish Gaelic), I wrote a new set of Irish Gaelic words based on the original Scots.
Mary all vocals; Steve Coulter harp; Barry Phillips cellos;  Shelley Phillips oboe, English horn; Words Mary Mc Laughlin;
Music trad. arr. Mary Mc Laughlin.

5. Muire Agus Naomh Seosamh  (mwirra awgus neeav showsoo) “Mary & St. Joseph”

I found “Muire Agus Naomh Seosamh” in Spiritual Songs of Connaught collected by Douglas Hyde in the early 1900s. Although the book is entitled Spiritual Songs of Connaught, it contains, in fact, only lyrics of songs, not the music. I noticed that this Gaelic text had strong parallels with the English “Cherry Tree Carol” of which there are many versions. I eventually chose this version from the 1860s as it fitted the Gaelic text quite well.
Mary all vocals; Danny Carnahan octave mandolin; Barry Phillips cellos; Steafan Hannigan percussion (djembe, bodhrán, shaker
Words & music trad. arr. Mary Mc Laughlin.

6. Seacht Suáilce Na Maighdine Muire  (shokht sooalka na majina mwirra) “The Seven Joys of the Virgin Mary”

Also known as “The Seven Comforts of Mary,” there are many versions of this song, some of which cover the entire life of Christ. As I wanted to focus on the Christmas aspect (i.e. the birth of Jesus), I combined a couple of texts but mostly used the version from the Douglas Hyde collection. He got it from County Mayo and reported it as a prayer with a response. The repetitive nature of the verses preserve the prayer-like quality of the chant.
Mary all vocals, keyboards; Steafan Hannigan bodhrán. Words & music trad. arr. Mary Mc Laughlin.

7. Carúl Loch Garman  (karool lokh garman) “The Wexford Carol”

More accurately known as “The Enniscorthy Carol,” this is one of the most popular, and possibly oldest, Irish Christmas carols — some say it dates back to the 12th century.
Mary all vocals; Danny Carnahan octave mandolin; Robin Petrie hammer dulcimer; Shelley Phillips oboes.
Words & music trad. arr. Mary Mc Laughlin.

8. Suantraí Na Maighdine  (sooantree na majina) “The Virgin’s Lullaby”

Seán Óg Ó Tuama was a contemporary Irish songwriter and singer who passed in the early 1980s. He wrote many beautiful Christmas hymns in the Irish language, this being my personal favourite. A simple lullaby sung to a child by his mother who marvels at the miracle before her…

I adore my little child Sleep little child safely...

Mary all vocals; Steve Coulter harp; Barry Phillips cellos. Words & music Seán Óg Ó Tuama; with permission from Estate of Seán Óg Ó Tuama.

9. A Leanbh Ghil Mhilis (ah laniv yil vilish) “Oh Sweet, Bright Child”

Also known as “Na Leanbhai I mBeithil,” this carol was collected by Liam De Noraidh. Having heard this beautiful lullaby — but not having access to a text — I mounted a search for the elusive lyrics which reached through the Irish language networks of the USA and right over to Ireland! Ultimately a group of us pieced this version together from listening to various recordings. I am indebted to Galt Barber who did the lion’s share of the deciphering!

Oh sweet bright child who came down from Heaven
In order to bring the news of peace and good will from heaven
Isn’t it a wonder to speak of you lying in the cold
And it is you, oh loving Saviour, who is the Lord of power.

Mary all vocals; Steve Coulter harp; Barry Phillips cellos Words & music trad. arr. MaryMc Laughlin.


10. Bí Thusa Mo Shúile (bee hussa muh hoola) “Be Thou My Vision”

Although this isn’t strictly a Christmas song, I could not resist putting it on the album as the devotional quality of the words and the sheer beauty of the melody evoke a poignancy which has survived the centuries. It is said that the original text in Old Irish was composed by Dallan Forgaill in the eighth century and was used as a lorica (a prayer of protection) by the Irish monastic tradition for many centuries before being set to music. The text was eventually set to the Irish traditional tune “Slane” which was composed in honor of St. Patrick and his insistence on lighting an Easter fire on Slane Hill in 433 despite the objections of the King.  In 1905 Mary E. Byrne translated the song from Old Irish into English and that translation became the basis for the well-known English hymn. It was subsequently translated into modern Irish by Hugh Duggan.
Mary all vocals; Steve Coulter harp; Barry Phillips cellos Words & music trad. arr. Mary Mc Laughlin.

11. Dán D’oíche Nollag (dawn deekha nullag) “Christmas Eve Hymn”

Another text from Spiritual Songs of Connaught.

Douglas Hyde commented that he had found this one in a manuscript that had been written down in Leath Chuinn in the 1700s, although it is probably much older than that and had lived on in the oral tradition. He had never seen it anywhere else and was concerned that if he “did not put it down it would forever be lost” — thank you Mr. Hyde!

Mary all vocals; Steafan Hannigan davul (frame drum), uilleann pipes. Words trad.; Music Mary Mc Laughlin.
Pipe tune during round: “Blue Remembered Hills” composed by Steafan Hannigan.

12. Oíche Chiúin (eeha kkh’yooin) “Silent Night”

The original words were written in German by Josef Mohr, (1816-1818). The original music was composed by Franz Gruber (1820), and Douglas Hyde wrote the Gaelic translation around the beginning of the twentieth century. A Gaelic Christmas album felt incomplete without this beloved song, yet it felt like a daunting task to come up with an original arrangement of one of the worlds best known and most sung Christmas carols! I decided to strip the song back to its essence — that of a gorgeous melody and gentle sentiments. After all, it is because of its original simplicity that this carol has grabbed the imagination of generations and become a world classic.
Mary all vocals; Barry Phillips cellos Words & music trad. arr. Mary Mc Laughlin.

13. Suantraí An Chríost (sooantree on khreeust) “The Christ’s Lullaby”

The “Christ Child’s Lullaby” is a well-known Christmas hymn based on a Scots Gaelic text. Again I wrote an Irish Gaelic adaptation of the original Scots Gaelic. I sing it as a song of jubilation rather than a lullaby, as the melody suggests celebration to me. At the same time the repetitive chorus has a trance-like quality which preserves the spirit of the suantraí which is, after all, a song which enchants its listeners to sleep!
Mary all vocals, keyboards; Steve Coulter harp; Robin Petrie hammer dulcimer.
Words Mary Mc Laughlin; music trad. arr.Mary Mc Laughlin