Your Sunday Hymn: Good People All (Wexford Carol)

For the 4th Sunday of Advent – a traditional Irish carol – and my very favorite Christmas hymn: Wexford Carol.

“The Wexford Carol,” sometimes known by its first verse, “Good people all this Christmas time,” is one of the oldest extant Christmas carols in the European tradition. The song achieved a renewed popularity due to the work of William Grattan Flood (1859 – 1928), who was organist and musical director at St. Aidan’s Cathedral in Enniscorthy. He transcribed the carol from a local singer, and had it published in the Oxford Book of Carols, putting Enniscorthy into most carol books around the world.

Bard Francis, of the SCA medieval society comments:

This lovely tune, remarkable for its haunting Mixolydian mode form, is unlikely to be 12th century. The words are maybe older than the tune, which likely came from the wave of Irish Music during the late 18th and through the entire 19th century, American Civil War period. Such rhyming words and tune structure had not been invented sufficiently in the 12th century, and it looks more like the 16th if it can be proven to be earlier than the 18-19th.

The Mixolydian mode can be played with only two chords one step apart on lute or guitar, which makes it an easy and wonderful performance piece for good singers but beginning players. Celtic Woman does it in D and C chords, though there are variations out there.

From the O’Reilly Consort Christmas Album (the only Celtic Holiday album you’ll ever need.)


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