See also: video recording (BBC 2 Scotland, February 2007)
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.
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.’
— Carmina Gadelica (1900)
Hoire! Hoire! Beannaicht e! Beannaicht e!
Hail King! Hail King! Blessed is He! Blessed is He!
SATB and String Quintet (1 Vln, 2 Vla, 2 vcl).
First performance: St Mary’s Music School, Georgian House Concert, December 2006.
- St Mary’s Music School - Christmas Concert 2006.
- BBC Two Scotland - Recorded as part of a documentary on the life and work of Alexander Carmichael, broadcast week beginning 19th January 2007.