Oíche Chiúin! Oíche Mhic Dé!

The Irish Translation of the Carol

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In honour of the 200th year anniversary of “Silent Night”, St Patrick’s College will be hosting a special exhibition ”Silent Night 200 – History. Message. Present.

The exhibition by the Austrian Foreign Ministry traces the origins of the song’s lyrics and melody, its dissemination and also gives insight into the Carol’s Irish adaptations. “Silent Night, Holy Night” originated in Austria in 1818 and is known in more than 300 languages and dialects around the world. In 2011, the carol was declared an intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO.

The “Silent Night” exhibition will run from December 17 until December 21, 2018 and from January 3 until January 7, 2019 at the President’s Arch in the St Patrick’s College Maynooth. The exhibition is free of charge and open to the public from 9am to 6pm.

Translations of the Popular Christmas Carol

For a PDF version, click here.

On Saturday 17 December 1938 ‘Roddy the Rover’ published the following in his column in the Irish Press newspaper:

A reader asks me to publish the words of that beautiful carol, “Silent Night”, which has come into such favour in recent years. I have found the German words as well as the English translation, and give the German with especial pleasure.

This was followed, as indicated, by these two versions of the song. On Thursday 29 December the same columnist referred again to the carol—having mistakenly noted it to be a German, rather than an Austrian song, he wanted to correct this for his readers. Having done this, he questioned whether or not the song had been translated into Irish, and directed the question at one person in particular, Torna (Tadhg Ó Donnchadh), from a place called Carraig na bhFear in County Cork:

The lovely Christmas hymn which I printed, shortly before the Festival, in its original German and in English (by the way, has any one done it into Irish, yet?—eh, Torna?) is from Austria.

A number of people responded to his question, and on Thursday 5 January 1939 Roddy published a number of the replies. The first from Maureen McGee who proclaimed that:

Yes, it has. We sing it in Irish in our school at the Mercy Convent, Boyle. We thought that all Éire would know how much more beautiful the little hymn is when sung in our own tongue.

Unfortunately Maureen did not send in the lyrics sung at the Convent. Roddy, it would appear, had himself, in the meantime, been given an Irish version by a Sligo man who had gotten it when he was in Manchester a few years previously—a version which the Sligo man thought had been translated by Aindrias Ó Muimhneacháin. This version begins as follows:

Caoin-oidhche chiúin, caoin-oidhche neamhach!

Bethelem Síothach ach solas áin:

’Soillsiú timpeall beirthe ’n tréin

’S lán-ghuth aingeal ’líonadh a’ aeir—

Séire Síothaacha neimhe,

Séire Síothacha neimhe!

This is quite a loose translation of the song, and not the version which is commonly sung today throughout the country.

Roddy reported, in the same article, that another reader had just one verse in another version, a verse ‘he heard the children of Donegal sing on a starry, frosty night near Cnoc Fola, where one of the most sublime views in Ireland may be seen’:

Oidhche chaoin, oidhche chóir,

Oidhche d’fhóir don tSlánuightheoir;

Oidhche chiúin, oidhche fhionn,

Oidhche bhain le slánú sinn:

Oidhche ann—saoghal um suain

Oidhche chaoin ’s chóir.

Again, not the version we have come to know and love.

Several years prior to this, on the 9 June 1934, Liam Ó Rinn, a translator working in Leinster House, who translated Peadar Kearney’s “The Soldier’s Song” to Irish—“Amhrán na bhFiann”, had published the following lyrics in United Ireland:

Oíche chiúin! Oíche naomh!

Cách ’na luighe ach lánúin shéimh

Ógbhean cháidh is a céile cóir

Ag fair’ os cionn an naoidhnáin óig

Atá ’na chodladh go sámh

Atá ’na chodladh go sámh!

Oíche chiúin! Oíche naomh!

Aodhair’ ar dtúis a chuala an scéal

Chuala míle Hallelúia

Ceol na n-aingeal i bhfad is i ngearr:

Chughaibh bhur Rí Íosa Críost

Chughaibh bhur Rí Íosa Críost.

Oíche chiúin! Oíche naomh!

Fáilte rót ’aonmhic Dé!

Grádh mo chroidhe thú, a Shlánuitheoir!

Grádh mo chroidhe do gháire, ’stór!

Aoibhinn dúinne do theacht,

Aoibhinn dúinne do theacht!

In December 1948, Muiris Ó Súilleabháin, Blasket Islander and author of Twenty Years A-Growing, published an article in the Irish Presstelling the story Fr Mohr and how the carol came about. He concluded the article with the following verse, a translation by Tadhg Ó Séaghdha, a Kerryman who lived and worked as a teacher for many years in Connemara, on the West coast of Ireland:

Oidhche Chiúin; naomhtha an tráth;

Codluigheann cách. Dís amháin—

Naomh-dhís dílis ag faire le práinn

Caomh-naoidhean dlaoi-chas i máinséar go sámh

Codail i gcaoineas suain!

Codail i gcaoineas suain!

Further versions that I’ve yet to find have been credited to Douglas Hyde, language activist and first President of Ireland, and to Pádraig de Brún, former Professor of Mathematics in Maynooth College and former President of Galway University. Máire MacSwiney Brugha, in

History’s Daugher: A Memoir from the only child of Terence MacSwiney, tells us: ‘It was also Dr Paddy Browne who translated ‘Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht’ into ‘Oíche Chiúin, Oíche Mhic Dé’, which is still sung at Irish Masses at Christmas. Who today realises that it was he who translated this German Christmas carol into Irish?’

While clearly there were, and are, alternative versions of the carol being sung in homes and in communities across Ireland, it would appear that the version we now recognise and sing as the Irish version of this carol was first printed in January 1939 in the Irish Pressnewspaper, credited to the Irish writer Tadhg Ó Donnchadha, also known as ‘Torna’. He was a renowned scholar, fluent in many languages, and translated numerous works to Irish from English, French and German. Ó Donnchadha spent time in Heidleberg University, where he studied with Professor Mulhausen.

It was in response to that initial question put by ‘Roddy the Rover’ as to whether or not there was an Irish version of the carol, directed at Torna, that this translation was printed:

Oidhche chiúin, oidhcheMhic Dé, Cách ’na suan,dís araon, Dís is dílse ag faire le spéis Naoidhean bheag gnaoi-ghealcheannanntais chaomh,

Críost, ’na chodladh go séimh, Críost, ’na chodladh go séimh.

Oidhche chiúin, oidhcheMhic Dé, Aodhairíar dtúis chuala ’n scéal Aililiúiáaingeal ag glaodhach, Cantain tsuairc i ngar is i gcéin:

Críost an Slánuightheoir féin, Críost an Slánuightheoir féin

Oidhche chiúin, oidhcheMhic Dé, Mac Dé bhí gáire a bhéil, Tuar dá rádh ’s dá lánchur i gcéill Ann gur tháinig tráth chinn an tséin

Críost’sa theacht ar an saoghal, Críost’sa theacht ar an saoghal.

Tracey Ni Mhaonaigh, Maynooth University.


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