Four Albums for an Irish Christmas… and One from Scotland for Good Measure

Submitted by Kerry Dexter

Music is a big part of any Irish Christmas celebration. You’ll hear familiar carols, hymns, and popular seasonal songs such as White Christmas and Little Drummer Boy. There will be jigs, reels, and songs from the tradition as well, alongside, at times, new songs. Want to sit in on such a holiday music session? Listen to these albums and you feel as though you’ll be doing just that.

To Shorten the Winter by Tommy SandsTo Shorten the Winter

Tommy Sands is from County Down in Northern Ireland, right along the border between the Republic and the North. This background comes through his album To Shorten the Winter, sometimes in unexpected ways. There’s the song The Bushes of Jerusalem, with Sands seeing Jesus in the guise of a revolutionary, and the song Like the First Time It’s Christmas Time, a piece which connects with the hope for lasting peace in Ireland, north and south. There’s also the classic rock song Whiter Shade of Pale. Singing that is a memory that takes Sands back to the idea of connection as well. “At Christmas time all barriers, musical and others, melted in the wake of a few sods of turf, we threw back our heads and sang,” Sands says, remembering being part of such evenings of music at the holidays north and south of the border. Liam O’Flynn adds pipes to the song, a very Celtic touch that works well.

An Nollaig by Eileen IversAn Nollaig: An Irish Christmas

Eileen Ivers thinks of the holiday songs she loves as ornaments on the tree: some new, some old, all well loved. On her album An Nollaig: An Irish Christmas, Ivers kicks off things with a rousing version of Hark the Herald Angels Sing, infused with a bit of an Irish jig to go along. Ivers is a fiddle player — she handles banjo and mandolin on An Nollaig as well — so there is a good selection of tunes along with the songs. There’s a lively set that begins with the Christmas Eve Reel, and a fine set beginning with Apples in Winter. Susan McKeown comes along to sing One Night in Bethlehem, in English and Irish. There’s Christmas Time Is Here, too. “Being Irish American, I had to include one of my all time favorites from the classic A Charlie Brown Christmas,” Ivers says. She also offers Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring, adding an Irish twist to the well known piece by Johann Sebastian Bach.

Fine Winter’s Night

Matt and Shannon Heaton have several fine original songs on their holiday album Fine Winter’s Night, along with carols and tunes you may know, as well. Of those latter, Matt sings lead on the Wexford Carol, which is thought to go back to Ireland in the twelfth century for its origin, and Shannon handles the lead on the nineteenth century carol O Little Town of Bethlehem, which the Heatons have arranged as a lullaby. Fisherman’s Lullaby is a song which has roots in African American spiritual tradition, changed, adapted, and added to through the Heatons’ Irish American musical focus. In First Snowfall of December, Matt creates a story of what might have happened one night in the Victorian era in the Heatons’ hometown of Medford, Massachusetts, while on the title track, Fine Winter’s Night, Shannon considers what gifts may be found in the sometime harsh sides of winter weather.

Narada Presents: The Best of Celtic Christmas

Narada Presents: The Best of Celtic Christmas is a two disc set. One disc is all music by the west of Ireland based group Dordan. It is called The Night Before, and comprises reels and jigs, songs and tunes, bringing in the atmosphere leading up to Christmas and the joy of holiday celebration itself. The Christmas Reel, the Mistletoe Waltz, and the Wayfarer’s Welcome are especially worth note.

The second disc comprises fifteen tracks, beginning with Cathie Ryan offering a quiet, understated take on It Came Upon a Midnight Clear, and going on to include tracks from Boys of the Lough, Frankie Gavin, Natalie MacMaster, Mairi MacInnes, and others. Well chosen, well sequenced, and a wide range of music that yet works well together to give a true flavor of Celtic Christmas.

Bonus Recording: Duan Nollaig- A Gaelic Christmas

Fiona J. Mackenzie lives in the highlands of Scotland, and the language she sings in is Scottish Gaelic rather than Irish. If you’re looking for a bit of a different Celtic flavor to your holiday, though, you’ll enjoy her recording Duan Nollaig- A Gaelic Christmas. She offers traditional carols, both ones you may know and lesser known ones, as well as songs such as The Twelve Days of Christmas and The Robin, all sung in Scottish Gaelic.

Kerry Dexter writes about music, travel, the arts, and Ireland for publications including Strings, Ireland and the Americas, Wandering Educators, Perceptive Travel and Music Road.

Author: Kerry

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  1. These are great, thanks! I’m going to have to check these out ASAP. I have a 3 CD set by Holiday Traditions called “Celtic Collection”. I bought it at a work bookfair about 10 years ago. My favorite of the three CD’s is called Winter on the Moors. I would definitely suggest you check them out – they’re my Christmas staples.

    Here’s a song from one (my fave):

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  2. It’s too late for this year, but these can go on my wish list for next Christmas (or my birthday). Meanwhile, my suggestion is any of Loreena McKennitt’s three holiday albums (Wexford Carol is on one).

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  3. Perfect! I was just searching for something on Amazon to get to $25 for free shipping. One of these will do nicely!

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  4. Whoooo, Fiona Mackenzie singing in Scottish Gaelic, I bet that is some nice ‘Ear Candy’, I was looking for a sample Listen button…

    It would be awesome to hear that one…

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  5. How can I get this music?

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  6. kerry – you always give us such great music recommendations. these look fantastic! thanks!

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  7. To Shorten the Winter – With Tommy Sands is a real jewel! After listening to some samples. He’s A Ballad singer with a good rhythm & feel. It’s one of those times when you find yourself wanting to sing along. I can imagine that in the background with a crackling fire in the fireplace. Appropriately named, To Shorten The Winter – that it would do, and bring good cheer to the winter as well! Thank You Kerry Dexter, I share your fondness for him too 🙂

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  8. thanks for the good words – glad this has interested many of you to explore this music, and good to hear from those who already know it.

    annee tompkins, if you click on the title of a CD, that will take you an amazon page for the CD. these artists have websites, as well.

    Diana, if you’re looking to hear Fiona MacKenzie’s music, I do not think there are samples on the amazon page for that album, but I am sure you will find them at her website,

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  9. not Irish but married with an Irish guy!I love the way the Irish celebrate Christmas it’s a lot of fun and a lot of music in the background.And then they start to sing and play instruments it’s a great atmosphere… I loved Celtic music before but now I’m experiencing it every time that we gather with my husband’s family. Great fun!!

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  10. Where is A Celtic Thunder Christmas or Paul Byrom’s Christmas Album? They are 4 great Irishmen & 1 Scotsman for good measure..

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  11. I am with Laury L – I love Celtic Thunder – especially the “bad boy” Ryan. Saw them in person when they performed last year in Fort Myers, have seen them on PBS, and have all their CDS. Hopeing they will be back in Ft Myers in 2011… Thanks for the suggestions for the CDs I have a towering selection of Irish music and have written down a couple of the suggestions to add to the stack!

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