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Real Irish Songs for St. Patrick’s Day

If you’ve been following this blog at all, you know that the music I listen to and perform around St. Patrick’s Day is different from what a lot of you may listen to (if you’re new to this blog welcome!).

If you like, you can read a little bit about the kind of music I DO listen to/perform here (link will open in a new window). Hint: Don’t expect “Danny Boy” or “When Irish Eyes are Smiling.”

Taking the party out of the music hall

It occurred to me the other day, as I started thinking about St. Patrick’s Day posts, that the best thing to do might be to introduce people to a couple of real Irish songs suitable for singing on St. Patrick’s Day. After all, I can’t complain about maudlin music hall songs if I don’t supply something to sing in their place, can I?

(Well, yes…I guess I could, but it wouldn’t be very nice, now would it?)

Part of the challenge, though, is the fact that most Irish songs that are explicitly for St. Patrick’s Day are also religious in nature. That shouldn’t come as a total surprise, really…after all, until fairly recently, St. Patrick’s Day WAS pretty much exclusively celebrated as a religious holiday in Ireland.

That’s still true, actually, in many parts of the country, though American-style celebrations are beginning to crop up in some cities. Still, religious songs don’t tend to go over well in the pub.

The other challenge is that most Irish songs are actually rather sad…again, not terribly surprising, given Ireland’s turbulent history, but not exactly party material.

A little of both

There are SOME happy songs in Irish, however, and one in particular — Trasna na dTonnta (“Across the Waves”) — fits in well with the sentiment of the day for children of the Irish diaspora.

Also, party or no party, it’s not unusual for communities with a large number of Irish immigrants to have special religious services on or near the big day, so I’m including one of my favorite St. Patrick’s Day hymns — Dóchas Linn Naomh Pádraig (“Our Hope is St. Patrick”) — as well.

These aren’t sean-nós songs, but they’re great songs, with lovely tunes…good for getting the whole Irish class singing along!

Sing whichever best suits your inclination or your celebration (I do!) and enjoy the fact that you’re participating in a bit of real Irish culture!

A note on phonetics

While I do offer a rough pronunciation for each song, remember that English phonetics can only give you a very, very basic guideline. There are sounds in Irish that don’t exist in English. In addition, my dialect of English may be different from yours. Whenever possible, find a recording of a native speaker, or at least a very fluent speaker, to emulate.

I’m including links to YouTube recordings of the two songs to help you out as well.

Now, onto the songs!

Trasna na dTonnta/Across the Waves

This song is taught to most schoolchildren in Ireland, and enthusiastically sung by Irish speakers and learners at home and abroad. It’s one of those very rare songs of Irish emmigration in which the exile returns home to family and friends in Ireland!

I learned this song at Oideas Gael in Donegal, and it always makes me want to jump right on a plane (or a boat) and go back to Ireland!

Once you’ve read through the lyrics a time or two, try singing along with this great recording by Na Casaidigh.

Curfá (Chorus): 

Trasna na dtonnta, ‘dul siar, ‘dul siar,

(TRASS-nuh nuh DUN-tuh, dul sheer, dul sheer) 

Slán leis an uaigneas is slán leis an gcian.

(Slahn lesh un WEG-nass iss slahn lesh un GEE-un) 

Geal é mo chroí agus geal í an ghrian,

(Gyal ay muh khree AG-uss gyal ee un GHREE-un) 

Geal bheith ag filleadh go hÉirinn.

(Gyal veh eg FIL-oo guh HAY-rin) 

Véarsa 1 (Verse 1):

Chonaic mo dhóthain de thíortha i gcéin

(KHAHN-ik muh GHOH-hun jeh HEER-huh ih gayn) 

Ór agus airgead, saibhreas an tsaoil.

(Ohr AG-uss AYR-ih-gud, SY-vruss un teel) 

Éiríonn mo chroí ‘nam le breacadh gach lae

(EER-ee-un muh khree num leh BRAK-oo gakh lay) 

‘S mé druidim le dúthaigh mo mhuintir!

(smay DRIJ-im leh DOO-hee muh WIN-chir)

Véarsa 2 (Verse 2):

Muintir an Iarthair is iad cairde mo chroí!

(MWIN-chir un EER-hur SHEE-ud KAR-jeh muh khree) 

Fáilte is féile beidh romham ar gach taobh.

(FAHL-cheh iss FAY-leh bay ROH-um air gakh TEE-uv) 

Ar fhágaint an tsaoil seo, ‘sé mo ghuí ar an Rí,

(Air AH-ginch un teel shah, shaym gh(w)e air un ree) 

Gur leosan mo shínfear i gcill mé.

(gur L(Y)OH-sun muh HEEN-fur ih gill may)


Here’s a rough translation of the song:


Across the waves, going west, going west!

Farewell to loneliness and farewell to sorrow.

Bright is my heart and bright is the sun,

Bright [i.e., with joy] to be returning to Ireland!

Verse 1:

I’ve seen my fill of faraway lands,

Gold and silver, the wealth of the world.

My heart rises within me at the break of each day,

As I draw close to the land of my people.

Verse 2:

The folk of the West are the friends of my heart!

There will be welcome and celebration before me on every side.

When I leave this life, it’s my prayer to the King [i.e., God]

To lie with them in the churchyard.*

*It’s an Irish song…you didn’t think you were going to avoid mournful topics and religion entirely, did you?

Dóchas Linn Naomh Pádraig

This is one of my favorite St. Patrick’s Day hymns! We usually sing it as a recessional for the St. Patrick Mass at St. Joseph’s Church in Mountain View, California.

Once you’ve gone over the lyrics, try singing along with this recording by the Irish Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus [Note: It sounds like there are three verses on the recording, but actually they repeat the first verse at the end].

Véarsa 1/Verse 1:

Dóchas linn Naomh Pádraig, aspal mór na hÉireann,

(DOH-khuss lin NEE-uv PAH-rig, AS-pul mohr nuh HAY-run)

Ainm oirdhearc  gléigeal, solas mór an tsaoil é.

(AN-yim OR-yark GLAY-gyal, SUL-uss mohr un teel ay)

D’fhill le soiscéal grá dúinn ainneoin blianta ‘ngéibheann.

(Dill leh SOSH-kyayl grah DOO-in AN-yun BLEE-un-tuh GNAY-vun*)

Grá mór Mhac na Páirte d’fhuascail cách ón daorbhroid.

(Grah mohr wak nuh PAHR-cheh DOOSS-kil kahkh ohn DEER-vrij)

* This “ng” is pronounced as the “ng” at the end of “sing”

Véarsa 2/Verse 2:

Sléibhte, gleannta, maighe, ‘s bailte mór na hÉireann,

(SLAYV-cheh, GLAN-tuh, MY-uhss BAL-cheh mohr nuh HAY-run)

Ghlan sé iad go deo dúinn, mile glóir dár naomh dhil!

(gglan shay EE-ud guh joh DOO-in, MEE-luh glohr dahr NEE-uv yil)

Iarr’mid ort, a Phádraig, guí orainn na Gaela,

(EER-mwij ort, uh FAH-rig, g(w)ee OR-in nuh GAY-luh,

Dia linn lá ‘gus oíche, ‘s Pádraig aspal Éireann.

(JEE-uh lin lah guss EE-hyehss PAH-rig AS-pul AY-run)


Here’s a rough translation of the lyrics:

Verse 1:

Our hope is St. Patrick, great apostle of Ireland,

A name noble and splendid, he was a great light to the world.

He returned to us with the gospel of love, despite years of bondage,

The great love of the Beloved Son, to ransom all from slavery.

Verse 2:

Mountains, valleys, plains, and great cities of Ireland,

He cleansed them for us forever, great glory to our dear saint!

We implore you, O Patrick, to pray for us of the Gael,

God with us day and night, and Patrick Ireland’s apostle.

Bain sult as an ceol!

Enjoy the music!

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8 thoughts on “Real Irish Songs for St. Patrick’s Day”

  1. Aha, I have already found it on Youtube (is there a thing in the World that one cant find in the Internet? – lol). Thank you once more! Cheers

  2. Sorry, Alex, but as far as I know, the score for Dóchas Linn Naomh Pádraig is under copyright. On the other hand, the Irish singing tradition is an oral one, so the YouTube recording should help you!

      1. Mary…I’d be careful about that. I’ve encountered many such tunes where “most sources” said the tune was “traditional” only to discover that the writer was, in fact, known, and his family still had copy rights. As far as I’ve been able to determine, that is the case with “Dóchas Linn Naomh Pádraig.”

  3. Go raibh maith agaibh, thank you for the lyrics! I would be very pleased, if you publish scores or MIDI files along with them, especially “Dóchas Linn Naomh Pádraig” (’cause “Trasna na dTonnta” is already written in my copybook – lol). I adore Irish folk songs, this one I recorded just 2 days ago:


    Slan! 🙂

  4. Coineach (Ken Pickles)

    I agree wholeheartedly. For many years I have celebrated here in Yorkshire with other musicians the playing of traditional Irish music, i.e. jigs, reels, hornpipes and slow airs. It is always well received. The sending of the old songs should help for they are in short supply, falling back at some gatherings with modern songs like Whiskey in the jar, McAlpines Fusiliers and such like; the sort of stuff which gave Scottish traditional music a poor name!My old aunt of nearly a hundred one asked why Scottish and Irish music was so sad then I reminded her who the neighbours were!! Slán gofoil Conneach

  5. Patrick Farrell

    Buíochas le dia! At last, someone takes the reins and guides this St Patrick’s Day business to it’s proper place. Thank you!