Famous Irish Christmas Songs

The Fairytale of New York has become one of the most iconic Christmas songs in Britain and Ireland in the modern era. It is like a modern Christmas carol. It was written in 1987 and released a year later. The words and music were composed by the Celtic punk band The Pogues. This is a song that proved to be controversial in the early years due to its depiction of the struggles faced by families whose lives have been blighted by the effects of alcohol and drug addiction, particularly at Christmas time. It is a song about anger but also about hope and faith in the goodness of humanity. Set in New York and centred around the lives of poor Irish immigrants, the theme of the song is an argument that breaks out between a husband and wife but, at the same time, their memories of happier times.

Public appreciation of the song has skyrocketed since the late 1980s. It was a joint UK-Irish success, since the male vocalist (Shane McGowan) is of Anglo-Irish background and the female singer (Kirsty MacColl) was English. Sadly, MacColl died in a tragic accident off the coast of Mexico in 2000.

Two of the most famous traditional Irish Christmas songs are The Wexford Carol and Don Oíche Úd i mBeithil (That Night in Bethlehem).

The Wexford Carol, which was collected by a folklorist called Grattan Flood, is traditionally associated with the town of Enniscorthy in Wexford (south-east of Ireland) (2). The lyrics are thought to date back to the 12th century. The tune itself is probably much older. It was traditionally sung by men alone, but many female artists have recorded versions of the song since the 1990s (3). Search for a popular version by the all-female musical ensemble Celtic Woman on YouTube.

The second carol, sung in the Irish language, Don Oíche Úd i mBeithil, originated in one of the Irish speaking parts of the island of Ireland. It is remarkable that it has been handed down to us over the centuries, as singing it (along with other old Catholic Gaelic songs) was prohibited by the forces of Oliver Cromwell, the English political and military leader who ruled over Britain and Ireland in the mid-17th century (4). Why not look up the version by the Irish traditional music group Altan, featuring the vocalist Mairéad Ní Mhaoinigh, a notable Irish traditional singer.

Hopefully this blog and the links to the songs mentioned has boosted your knowledge of Irish Christmas music. Be sure to follow my next blog in the New Year, when I will be returning to the theme of animal references in English speech.

A Merry Christmas to all and catch you next time!


(1) http://www.celticchristmasmusic.com/christmas-traditions/caroling-in-celtic-tradition.htm

(2) http://worldmusic.about.com/od/instrumentation/a/TheWexfordCarol.htm

(3) http://www.patrickcomerford.com/2011/12/christmas-poems-1-wexford-carol.html

(4) http://www.celticchristmasmusic.com/christmas-traditions/caroling-in-celtic-tradition.htm


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