Duan Nollaig

See also: video recording (BBC 2 Scotland, February 2007)

Programme Notes

Christmas chants were numerous and their recital common throughout Scotland. On Christmas Eve, bands of young men went about from house to house and from townsland to townsland chanting Christmas songs. When they entered a dwelling they took possession of a child, if there was one in the house. The child was called ‘Crist, Cristean’ - Christ, Little Christ.

The assumed Christ was placed on a skin, and carried three times round the fire, sunwise, by the ‘ceannsnaodh’ - head of the band, while the song men sang the Christmas Hail. The skin on which the symbolic Christ was carried was that of a white male lamb without spot or blemish and consecrated to this service. Homage and offerings and much rejoicing were made to the symbolic Christ.

About the Text

The text is in Scottish Gaelic, taken from the Carmina Gadelica by Alexander Carmichael (1832 - 1912).

The poem which follows was taken from Angus Gunn, Ness, Lewis, then over eighty-four years of age.

Angus Gunn had been a strong man physically and was still a strong man mentally. He had lived for many years in the island of North Roney, and gave a graphic description of it, and of his life there. He had much oral lore which he told with great dramatic power. The following tale is one of those related by him:

‘Ronan came to Lewis to convert the people to the Christian faith. He built himself a prayer-house at Eorabay. But the people were bad and they would not give him peace. The men quarrelled about everything, and the women quarrelled about nothing, and Ronan was distressed and could not say his prayers for their clamour. He prayed to be removed from the people of Eorabay, and immediately an angel came and told him to go down to the laimirig, natural landing-rock, where the cionaran-cro, cragen was waiting him. Ronan arose and hurried down to the sea-shore shaking the dust of Eorabay off his feet, and taking nothing but his pollaire, satchel, containing the Book, on his breast. And there, stretched along the rock, was the great cionaran-cro, his great eyes shining like two stars of night. Ronan sat on the back of the cionaran-cro, and it flew with him over the sea, usually wild as the mountains, now smooth as the plains, and in the twinkling of two eyes reached the remote isle of the ocean. Ronan landed on the island, and that was the land full of “nathair bheumnaich, gribh inich, nathair nimhe, agus leomhain bheucaich” - biting adders, taloned griffins, poisonous snakes, and roaring lions. All the beasts of the island fled before the holy Ronan and rushed backwards over the rocks into the sea. And that is how the rocks of the island of Roney are grooved and scratched and lined with the claws and the nails of the unholy creatures. The good Ronan built himself a prayer-house in the island where he could say his prayers in peace.’

Alexander Carmichael
— Carmina Gadelica (1900)

The Text

Hoire! Hoire! Beannaicht e! Beannaicht e!
Hoire! Hoire! Beannaicht e! Beannaicht e!
Hoire! Hoire! Beannaicht è ’n Rìgh dh’ am bì sinn a’ seinn,
Hò! rò! Biodh aoibh!

Nochd oidhche Nollaige mòire,
Rugadh Mac na Mòir Òighe,
Ràinig a bhonnaibh an làr,
Mac nam buadh a nuas o’n àrd,
Dhealraich nèamh is cruinne dha,
Hò! rò! Biodh aoibh!

Sèimh saoghal dha, sona neamh dha,
Feuch ràinig a bhonn an làr,
Fodhail Rìgh dha, failt Uain dha,
Rìgh nam buadh, Uan nan àgh,
Shoillsich cluan agus cuanta dha,
Hò! rò! Biodh aoibh!

Shoillsich frith dha, shoillsich fonn dha,
Nuall nan tonn le fonn nan tràgh,
Ag innse dhuinne gun d’ rugadh Criosda
Mac Rìgh nan rìgh a tìr na slàint;
Shoillsich grìan nam beannaibh àrd dha,
Hò! rò! Biodh aoibh!

Shoillsich cè dha is cruinne comhla,
Dh’ fhosgail Dè an Dòmhnaich Dorus;
A Mhic Mhuir Òighe greas ga’m chòmhnadh,
A Chriosd an dòchais, a Chomhla ’n t-sònais,
Òradh Ghrèine shlèibh is mhònaidh,
Hò! rò! Biodh aoibh!

Hail King! Hail King! Blessed is He! Blessed is He!
Hail King! Hail King! Blessed is He! Blessed is He!
Hail King! Hail King! Blessed is He, the King of whom we sing,
All hail! Let there be joy!

This night is the eve of the great Nativity,
Born is the Son of Mary the Virgin,
The soles of His feet have reached the earth,
The Son of glory down from on high,
Heaven and earth glowed to Him,
All hail! Let there be joy!

The peace of earth to Him, the joy of heaven to Him,
Behold His feet have reached the world;
The homage of a King be His, the welcome of a Lamb be His,
King all victorious, Lamb all glorious,
Earth and ocean illumed to Him,
All hail! Let there be joy!

The mountains glowed to Him, the plains glowed to Him,
The voice of the waves with the song of the strand,
Announcing to us that Christ is born,
Son of the King of kings from the land of salvation;
Shone the sun on the mountains high to Him,
All hail! Let there be joy!

Shone to Him the earth and sphere together,
God the Lord has opened a Door;
Son of Mary Virgin, hasten Thou to help me,
Thou Christ of hope, Thou Door of joy,
Golden Sun of hill and mountain,
All hail! Let there be joy!


SATB and String Quintet (1 Vln, 2 Vla, 2 vcl).

First performance: St Mary’s Music School, Georgian House Concert, December 2006.

Other performances: