A Hymn That Celebrates The Heritage of St. Patrick
The rich lyricism of this Gaelic hymn can be traced to the original Irish which has been translated by Dubliner Mary Byrne to prose--16 couplets--and then published in Eriú (1905). Later, Manchester-born Eleanor Hull wrote it out into verse-form in Ireland and published it in Poem Book of the Gael (1912). Lorica is the Irish prayer for protection; its theme is heroic, akin to medieval Irish poetry, attributing a clan’s protection to the High King, later expanded to God the ruler of all. The hymn spread throughout the United Kingdom upon its publication in Ireland and soon after, its popularity spread to the U.S. during World War 2.
The tune of “Be Thou My Vision”, a stratospheric ballad, is dubbed as Slane. Slane is a traditional Irish tune which accompanies several other Irish songs beyond “Be Thou My Vision” because of the Irish practice of fusing liturgical lyrics to folk melodies. This tune was published by Patrick Weston Joyce in Old Irish Folk Music and Songs: A Collection of 842 Airs and Songs hitherto unpublished (1909) and applied to the tender hymn “Be Thou My Vision” in Ireland’s Church Hymnal (1919).
Slane is a village in Ireland connected to St.Patrick’s devotion to God. St. Patrick was kidnapped by pirates from Scotland and taken to Ireland as a slave. He escaped but returned as a missionary. The story is that St. Patrick lit candles on Slane Hill on Easter Eve defying the King’s decree that only the King could light the fire signaling the start of the pagan Spring Festival. But St. Patrick’s defiance earned the King’s admiration so St. Patrick carried on his apostolate work as Ireland’s first Christian missionary. St.Patrick’s Day is annually celebrated in the month of March because he is the first saint of Ireland.