Music for Christmas: “Dia do Bheatha” performed by Tonos

I recently saw Tonos perfom their Wintersong concert, the music from which was available as a CD at the concert. I would highly recommend this. Tonos – soprano Roisin O’Grady and lutenist / guitarist Eamon Sweeney (no relation) performed Renaissance / late Medieval music from England, Spain, Ireland, France and Catalonia. Both contextualised the music skilfully and unobtrusively. The venue was the Main Guard in Clonmel, which is right by O’Connell Street and car horns and stereos did intrude at times.

Anyway, as an early Christmas song (as Christmas does not start until the evening of Dec 24th), here is “Dia do Bheatha”, by Aodh Mac Aingil (“Hugh of the Angels”) :

Some biographical detail on Aodh Mac Aingil, from the webpage of the Leuven Institute:

Hugh Mc Caughwell, Guardian of the Irish College in Leuven, was educated on the Isle of Man and at Salamanca.  He was an exceptional scholar of languages, law, philosophy and theology and took particular interest in interpreting the works of the medieval philosopher and theologian John Duns Scotus.  McCaughwell’s enthusiasm for Duns Scotus was partly prompted by English and Polish denials of Scotus’ Irishness and in 1620 he wrote a spirited defence of his hero’s Downpatrick roots.

Although the theological issues with which McCaughwell and his colleagues Conry and Wadding were engaged may look obscure and dry form a distance, they brought Irish scholarship in Latin to the very front of the European stage in an era when kings and princes deemed theologians as necessary to their government as they did diplomats.  McCaughwell, like so many of these 17th century friars, was also very accomplished in his native tongue.  His poem Dia do Bheatha is still sung as a Christmas carol.

McCaughwell was closely associated with Hugh O’Neill and was at one time tutor his sons.  He acted as an intermediary between the English court and O’Neill after the Flight of the Earls in the hope that O’Neill could return to Ireland.  These negotiations failed but throughout his career in Spain, Leuven and finally in Rome, McCaughwell continued to petition for aid to be sent to Ireland.  He was appointed Archbishop of Armagh but died in Rome in 1626 before he could return home to take up a post.

The words of Dia de Bheatha:

Dia do bheatha, a Naí anocht,

Do ghabh id’ Dhiagacht daonnacht,

Dár saoradh a Chnú chroí,

A Bhrú mhaoth-ghlan Mhaighdine.


Íseal ann do bhí ár bhFlaith

I gcró cúng an asail

Fáilte roimh a theacht Dá thoil

Nuair a d’fhág sé Neamh um Nollaig


Tréana thoil, a thrua `s a ghean,

Thug Dia a Mhac ‘na fhír-fhear

Dár gcosaint ó gleann na gciach,

A Rí, a Athair, A Aon-Dia.

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