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Irish Christmas Songs

Christmas (called Nollaig in the Irish language) is celebrated in Ireland like no other holiday with much of the country closing down for several weeks to take stock, eat plenty, share presents and generally have a good time. Of course, being a Catholic country there is still a strong religious element to the celebrations and attendances at Church over the Christmas period are at their highest. With such a long standing tradition of celebrating Christmas it comes as no surprise that Ireland has a grand tradition in producing festive themed songs and we will endeavour to outline in chronological order the development of the Irish Christmas song from traditional carol to contemporary pop song.


Wexford Carol (12th century)

'Wexford Carol' (also known as 'Good People All, This Christmas time') is a song about the birth of Jesus and is recognised as one of Europe's earliest Christmas carols. Although it boasts a funereal march the lyrics are punctuated with joyful phraseology about the nativity scene. 'Wexford Carol' was given a new lease of life in the late 1850's by Enniscorthy local William Grattan Ford who had the song published for the first time, which led to its inclusion in the esteemed Oxford Book of Carols. Wexford Carol has been recorded by many contemporary artists such as the Chieftains with Nancy Griffith, Moya Brennan, Julie Andrews and Alison Krausse.


Don Oíche Úd I mBeithil

This very old carol was written in Gaelic and translates to 'That Night In Bethelehem'. It has been performed and recorded by many well known artists from Ireland such as Altan, Moya Brennan (of Clannad), the Chieftains and Celtic Woman.


Once In Royal David's City (1848)

Written by Waterford (a county in Ireland) lady Cecil Frances Humphreys Alexander in 1848 'Once In Royal David's City' has become one of the most recognisable Christmas carols in existence. As well as being performed by Church choirs around the world it has also been recorded by popular artists such as Petula Clark, Jethro Tull, Sufjan Stevens and the Chieftains.


Curoo, Curoo (18th Century)

This traditional Irish carol, also known as 'Carol of The Birds', is believed to have been written in the 18th century. It was made famous by the Clancy Brothers who recorded it for their 1969 album 'The Clancy Brothers Christmas Album'. Again the focus is on the nativity and the chorus of birds that illuminated the scene.


Christmas In Killarney (1950)

Although Bing was about as Irish as St. Patrick he nonetheless wore a shamrock on his sleeve and we lapped it all up especially when he recorded 'Christmas In Killarney' in 1951 for the reissue of his first Christmas album 'Merry Christmas'. There is a spring in the step of his rendition and it remains a popular novelty piece to this day. Crosby was not the first to record 'Christmas In Killarney' however as New Yorker (of genuine Irish blood) Dennis Day pulled out all the stops to recreate what was intended when John Redmond, James Cavanaugh and Frank Weldon wrote the song just months before.


The Pogues - Fairytale of New York (1987)

It only takes a couple of piano tinkles to recognise this memorable, yet intensely gritty, Christmas song from the Pogues. It was originally released in 1987 and features vocals by Kirsty MacColl who spends most of the song telling her co-singer (the Pogues leadman) Shane McGowan how much she can't stand hin. In truth the couple, while disallusioned with how life has turned out for them, still love each other. 'Fairytale of New Year' may be one of the most non traditional Christmas songs ever written but that hasn't stopped it from becoming one of the most popular. It still brings us to tears each December.


Other Contemporary Irish Christmas Songs


Chris DeBurgh - A Spaceman Came Travelling

Nina Hynes - Twinkle

The Chieftains - The Bells of Dublin


Irish Christmas Videos (Click to Play)

Alison Krauss - Wexford Carol-IrishOnce In Royal David's City-IrishJulie Andrews - Wexford Carol-IrishMoya Brennan - Wexford Carol-IrishThe Chieftains & Nancy Griffith - Nancy Griffith-IrishSufjan Stevens - Once In Royal David's City-IrishJethro Tull - Once In Royal David's City-IrishThe Clancy Birds - Curoo, Curoo-IrishCeltic Woman - That Night in Bethlehem-IrishMoya Brennan - Don Oíche Úd I mBeithil (& Do You Hear What I Hear)-IrishAltan - Don Oíche Úd i mBeithil-IrishDennis Day - Christmas In Killarney-IrishBing Crosby - Christmas In Killarney-IrishThe Pogues & Kirsty MacColl - Fairytale Of New York-IrishChris DeBurgh - A Spaceman Came Travelling-IrishThe Chieftains - The Bells of Dublin-Irish