Irish Christmas Carols

The history and lyrics of traditional Irish Christmas carols.
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The Wexford Carol dates back to the 12th century. It is one of the oldest Irish Carols and is thought to originate in the area of Country Wexford, Ireland.

The Wexford Carol

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Good people all, this Christmas-time,
Consider well and bear in mind
What our good God for us has done
In sending his beloved Son.
With Mary holy we should pray
To God with love this Christmas day;
In Bethlehem upon that morn
There was a blessed Messiah born.

The night before that happy tide
The noble Virgin and her guide
Were long time seeking up and down
To find a lodging in the town.
But mark how all things came to pass;
From every door repelled alas!
As long foretold, their refuge all
Was but an humble ox's stall.

There were three wise men from afar
Directed by a glorious star,
And on they wandered night and day
Until they came where Jesus lay,
And when they came unto that place
Where our beloved Messiah was,
They humbly cast them at his feet,
With gifts of gold and incense sweet.

Near Bethlehem did shepherds keep
Their flocks of lambs and feeding sheep;
To whom God's angels did appear,
Which put the shepherds in great fear.
"Prepare and go", the angles said.
'To Bethlehem, be not afraid,
For there you'll find this happy morn,
A princely babe, sweet Jesus born.

With thankful heart and joyful mind,
The shepherds went the babe to find,
And as God's angel had foretold,
They did our savior Christ behold.
Within a manger he was laid,
And by his side the virgin maid,
Attending on the Lord of life,
Who came on earth to end all strife.


An old traditional Irish Christmas carol is "Curoo, Curoo," or the Carol of the Birds. It is thought to date back to at least the 18th century. It has been recorded by the well known Irish singers The Clancy Brothers on a hard to find album by the name of "The Clancy Brothers Christmas"

Curoo, Curoo

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Full many a bird did wake and fly
Curoo, curoo, curoo
Full many a bird did wake and fly
To the manger bed with a wandering cry
On Christmas day in the morning
Curoo, curoo, curoo
Curoo, curoo, curoo

The lark, the dove, the red bird came
Curoo, curoo, curoo
The lark, the dove, the red bird came
And they did sing in sweet Jesus' name
On Christmas day in the morning
Curoo, curoo, curoo
Curoo, curoo, curoo

The owl was there with eyes so wide
Curoo, curoo, curoo
The owl was there with eyes so wide
And he did sit at sweet Mary's side
On Christmas day in the morning
Curoo, curoo, curoo
Curoo, curoo, curoo

The shepherds knelt upon the hay
Curoo, curoo, curoo
The shepherds knelt upon the hay
And angels sang the night away
On Christmas day in the morning
Curoo, curoo, curoo
Curoo, curoo, curoo

Another Irish Christmas carol is "Once in Royal David's City"
written by Cecil Frances Humphreys Alexander in 1848.
It was set to music in 1849 by Henry John Gantlet.

Once In Royal David's City

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Once in royal David's city
Stood a lowly cattle shed,
Where a mother laid her baby
In a manger for His bed:
Mary was that mother mild,
Jesus Christ her little child.

He came down to earth from heaven,
Who is God and Lord of all,
And His shelter was a stable,
And His cradle was a stall;
With the poor, and mean, and lowly,
Lived on earth our Savior Holy.

And through all His wondrous childhood
He would honor and obey,
Love and watch the lowly Maiden,
In whose gentle arms He lay:
Christian children all must be
Mild, obedient, good as He.

Jesus is our childhood's pattern;
Day by day, like us He grew;
He was little, weak and helpless,
Tears and smiles like us He knew;
And He feeleth for our sadness,
And He shareth in our gladness.

And our eyes at last shall see Him,
Through His own redeeming love;
For that Child so dear and gentle
Is our Lord in heaven above,
And He leads His children on
To the place where He is gone.

Not in that poor lowly stable,
With the oxen standing by,
We shall see Him; but in heaven,
Set at God's right hand on high;
Where like stars His children crowned
All in white shall wait around.


The 12 Days of Christmas

There has been much speculation and controversy over the origins and tradition of the Christmas carol, "The 12 Days of Christmas." It is said that each gift represents an aspect of the Catholic faith and that the song was used to teach children during a time when Catholicism was banned. Many versions of the story abound, one being written by a Friar who states that he was doing research in some old Latin texts when he came up references to the song in "letters from Irish priests, mostly Jesuits, writing back to the motherhouse at Douai-Rheims, in France." Other sources say this can not possibly be true as the first written version of the song appeared in 1780 France in a children's book - Mirth Without Mischief. They do state however that the song may very well be much older. I shall leave this for scholars to debate. The song is currently used in many Irish households as an inspiring song of faith.

The symbols mean the following:

2 Turtle Doves = Old and New Testaments
3 French Hens = Faith, Hope and Charity
4 Calling Birds = Four Gospels and/or the Four Evangelists
5 Golden Rings = first Five Books of the Old Testament
6 Geese A-laying = Six days of creation
7 Swans A-swimming = Seven gifts of the Holy Spirit
8 Maids A-milking = Eight beatitudes
9 Ladies Dancing = Nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit
10 Lords A-leaping = Ten Commandments
11 Pipers Piping = Eleven faithful Apostles
12 Drummers Drumming = Twelve points of doctrine in the Apostle's Creed


One of my favorite renditions of Christmas in Killarney was by Bing Crosby
on the 1949 "Merry Christmas" album.

Christmas In Killarney

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The holly green, the ivy green
The prettiest picture you've ever seen
Is Christmas in Killarney
With all of the folks at home

It's nice, you know, to kiss your beau
While cuddling under the mistletoe
And Santa Claus you know, of course
Is one of the boys from home

The door is always open
The neighbors pay a call
And Father John before he's gone
Will bless the house and all

How grand it feels to click your heels
And join in the fun of the jigs and reels
I'm handing you no blarney
The likes you've never known
Is Christmas in Killarney
With all of the folks at home

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