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.)

Lyrics:

Good people all, this Christmas time,
Consider well and bear in mind
What our good God for us has done
In sending his beloved son
With Mary holy we should pray,
To God with love this Christmas Day
In Bethlehem upon that morn,
There was a blessed Messiah born.
The night before that happy tide,
The noble Virgin and her guide
Were long time seeking up and down
To find a lodging in the town.
But mark right well what came to pass
From every door repelled, alas,
As was foretold, their refuge all
Was but a humble ox’s stall.
Near Bethlehem did shepherds keep
Their flocks of lambs and feeding sheep
To whom God’s angel did appear
Which put the shepherds in great fear
Arise and go, the angels said
To Bethlehem, be not afraid
For there you’ll find, this happy morn
A princely babe, sweet Jesus, born.
With thankful heart and joyful mind
The shepherds went the babe to find
And as God’s angel had foretold
They did our Saviour Christ behold
Within a manger he was laid
And by his side a virgin maid
Attending on the Lord of Life
Who came on earth to end all strife.
There were three wise men from afar
Directed by a glorious star
And on they wandered night and day
Until they came where Jesus lay
And when they came unto that place
Where our beloved Messiah lay
They humbly cast them at his feet
With gifts of gold and incense sweet.

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