Irish Hymn Tunes

To celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, I’m sharing five hymn tunes that (like me) have roots in Ireland. So get your green on as we explore some great melodies!


SLANE

Most often sung as Be Thou My Vision, SLANE was originally an old Irish folk tune – but it became a hymn tune in 1927 when David Evans paired it with an English translation of the ancient Irish text Rop tΓΊ mo baile. The tune gets its name from Slane Hill in County Meath Ireland where St. Patrick defied the pagan king Loegaire of Tara by lighting an Easter fire violating the king’s decrees. Loegaire was so impressed with St. Pat’s faith (and moxie) that he allowed St. Patrick the freedom to preach the Gospel throughout Ireland.

On another note (pun intended)…in 1931, English author Jan Struther – who created the character Mrs. Miniver – also adopted the tune SLANE for her lesser known, but equally lovely, hymn Lord of All Hopefulness.


ST. COLUMBA

You’ll often hear The King of Love My Shepherd Is sung with this tune – but only because the publishers of a 1906 hymnal couldn’t secure the copyrights to the British tune that was originally written for The King of Love (DOMINUS REGIT ME). The publishers used the Irish hymn tune ST. COLUMBA instead and it’s become a favorite.

ST. COLUMBA is named for (obviously) St. Columba – an Irish abbot and missionary credited with spreading Christianity to the area we now know as Scotland. (As legend has it, he may have also been the first person to have spotted the Loch Ness Monster!) Today St. Columba is one of the three patron saints of Ireland alongside St. Brigid of Kildare and – naturally – St. Patrick.


ST. PATRICK

Betcha can’t guess who this tune is named after! πŸ™‚

This ancient Irish hymn melody is most often sung with the text I Bind Unto Myself This Day (St. Patrick’s Breastplate) – Cecil Frances Alexander’s English translation of a text credited to St. Patrick. The tune, in my brutally honest opinion, is one of the two strangest tunes we have in hymnals today. (The other is Martin Luther’s Isaiah in a Vision Did of Old but that’s a story for another day.) However, this old Irish melody is starting to grow on me and someday I may write an arrangement of it. Until then, you can hear it here.


STAR OF THE COUNTY DOWN

From an Irish ballad about a young man who becomes infatuated with a young lady, American hymnist Rory Cooney adopted this tune for his hard-hitting hymn text that focuses on justice and peace: Canticle of the Turning.

The tune has a fun, rhythmic melody and I hope to write a piano arrangement of it sometime this year but, in the meantime, you can hear a lovely vocal version of it here.


LONDONDERRY AIR

Possibly the most well-known Irish tune of this group, most people have heard it sung to the words O Danny Boy. But there are several hymn texts that borrow this tune including Timothy Dudley Smith’s O Christ the Same and a moving Christmas text by William Fullerton, I Cannot Tell Why He Whom Angels Worship.

Someday I’d love to write a piano arrangement of this (if for no other reason than to drive my hubby crazy because he detests this tune πŸ˜‰ ) but for now you can hear – and read the text – to two of Fullerton’s Christmas verses here.


Enjoy the holiday and some great Irish music!

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