Oíche Nollag

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  • Teideal (Title): Oíche Nollag.
  • Uimhir Chatalóige Ollscoil Washington (University of Washington Catalogue Number): 781502.
  • Uimhir Chnuasach Bhéaloideas Éireann (National Folklore of Ireland Number): none.
  • Uimhir Roud (Roud Number): none.
  • Uimhir Laws (Laws Number): none.
  • Uimhir Child (Child Number): none.
  • Cnuasach (Collection): Joe Heaney Collection, University of Washington, Seattle.
  • Teanga na Croímhíre (Core-Item Language): Irish.
  • Catagóir (Category): Joe’s background; song.
  • Ainm an té a thug (Name of Informant): Joe Heaney.
  • Ainm an té a thóg (Name of Collector): Esther Warkov.
  • Dáta an taifeadta (Recording Date): 02/03/1978.
  • Suíomh an taifeadta (Recording Location): University of Washington, United States of America.
  • Ocáid an taifeadta (Recording Occasion): interview.
  • Daoine eile a bhí i láthair (Others present): unavailable.
  • Stádas chóipcheart an taifeadta (Recording copyright status): unavailable.

Joe was interviewed in March, 1978, by Esther Warkov. She started by asking him how Christmas was celebrated in Carna.

On Christmas Eve, everybody gathers together for what they call the Christmas Supper. That’s about six o’clock in the afternoon. And the old custom was fish, and potatoes, and buttermilk. It’s a fast-day, and nobody takes meat that particular day. And then at night, when the evening comes, they put two candles in each window in the house. And the story about putting the candles in the window is that the Blessed Virgin and Joseph was looking for a place to stay, and if they saw the lights, you’d guide them to the house. The door was never shut on Christmas Eve, and there was a big turf fire down, and there was food and everything left on the table, even when the people went to bed. Well, there was never any drinking after the supper. If somebody wanted a drink, they went out to the local pub and had their drink before the supper, but after it was… no [drinking]1. Because at that time the people had to get up early in the morning to go to mass, and they had to walk four and five miles; there was no other transport at the time. And even today, with the electric power and all being around, they still put the candles in the window, and keep the old custom up. The houses are whitewashed, sanded, all sand, pure white sand around the house, welcoming the guests that comes at Christmas, you know. Everybody is in their own home. There’s nobody goes out visiting after the supper. Everybody has their own supper in their own house and all the family’s together if it’s possible, if they’re still in the vicinity.

So it’s a pretty quiet evening?

It really is. A quiet, dedicated evening to what’s coming. It’s a big occasion, you know.

What happens in the evening after the supper? Is there any singing?

They just, eh, sit around, talking about this Christmas, and then maybe the old woman or something will sing the song ‘The First Christmas,’ the old old song in Gaelic that was sung around Christmas in her time, handed down to her by her people.

Did your grandmother used to sing it?


And she taught it to you?

I picked it off her you know. But she wouldn’t let me sing it until I could do it justice. That was one thing about them songs, they wouldn’t let you do them unless you could do them right, and that took a long time. They were very critical, you know. But you can’t – I don’t think anyone can do justice to them songs properly. I try my best, you know, but I still like to do it a little bit better.

So, when was the first time that you sang that particular song?

Well, I sang it for my grandmother before she died, and she liked what I did and she said ‘Keep at it – you’ll be able to do it yet!’


And the story is, of course, that they were going around, you see, they were refused permission to go into the hotel, and they came to the stable. And that he was born, and the three kings came. And they were all looking out the door at the fourth king that was following them, who got lost, you know, and as the other lament2 tells appeared on Calvary on Good Friday. They brought frankenstein3, gold and myrrh. And the song says he refused them all, because he came to save people, not to be bought by them. But they was still held on and used as an example afterwards, even in the mass, on what the kings brought him.

And then, as he grew up a little bit, he was walking with his mother one day, and she asked him, ‘Is this the way you’ll always be?’ And he said, ‘No. I’ll be sold on Wednesday for thirty pieces of silver; I’ll be hunted on Thursday; and I’ll be crucified on Friday. And the drop of blood that’s in my head will be down to my toes before they finish with me.’

Chuadar siar is aniar na sráideannaí, ní bhfuaireadar aon dídean ann
Nó go dtáinigdar don stábla naofa dhá uairín roimh lá
Dhiúltaigh an teach ósda iad a thabhairt as an sneachta
agus rugadh an leanbh naofa idir bullán agus asail.

Aililiú-leá, is aililiú-leá
A bhó-bhó is a chó-chó
is aililiú-leá.

Tháinig na trí ríthe le bronntanaisí ag an leanbh
[Dhiúltaigh tú an méid sin,] ór buí agus aiteas
Dhiúltaigh tú uilig an méid sin ag sábháil gach peacach
dhá dtiocfaidh, dhá ndeachaigh, ‘s dhá mbeidh againn feasta.

Aililiú-leá, is aililiú-leá
A bhó-bhó is a chó-chó
is aililiú-leá.

Lá dhá raibh an cúpla ag siúl lena chéile
Ó d’fhiafraigh an Mhaighdean Ghlórmhar ‘An mar seo a bhéas muid feasta?’
‘Díolfar mé Dé Céadaoin ar leath-choróin den airgead bán
Agus beidh mé Déardaoin do mo ruaig[eadh] ag mo námhaid
Tiocfar anuas orm le chúig mhíle buille
Agus an braon uasal is ort in uachtar4, beidh sé síos le mo shála.’

Aililiú-leá, is aililiú-leá
A bhó-bhó is a chó-chó
is aililiú-leá.

They went up and down the streets, they got no shelter anywhere
Until they came to the Holy Stable two hours before day.
The inn refused to take them in out of the snow
And the holy infant was born between a bullock and asses.

Aililiú-leá, is aililiú-leá…


They went up and down the streets, they got no shelter anywhere
Until they came to the Holy Stable two hours before day.
The inn refused to take them in out of the snow
And the holy infant was born between a bullock and asses.

Aililiú-leá, is aililiú-leá…

The three kings came, with presents for the baby
You refused all of them, yellow gold and frankincense;
You refused all of them, saving every sinner
that will be, that has been, and that we shall ever have.

Aililiú-leá, is aililiú-leá…

One day when the pair [Jesus and his Mother] were walking together
The Virgin asked him ‘Is this how we shall be from now on?’
‘I shall be sold on Wednesday for a half-crown of silver;
And on Thursday I shall be hunted by my enemies.
I shall be smitten with five thousand blows
And the highest drop [of blood] shall be down at my heels.’

Aililiú-leá, is aililiú-leá…


1. Joe actually said, ‘no supper,’ but the context makes clear that ‘no drinking’ is what he meant.

2. ‘the other lament’ i.e. either ‘Caoineadh na dTrí Muire’ or ‘Amhrán na Páise.’ In fact this fourth king is mentioned in neither of the texts of these laments that we have from Joe, although he mentions this detail on a number of occasions when talking about these religious songs. Here is how Joe told the story on another occasion:
‘There was four kings who set out the night that Christ was born, and they saw the star. The four of them met at a certain place, and the four of them set out, but one of them got lost. And thirty-three years afterwards, he arrived at Calvary, and all he had was a bottle of water. And the bottle of water of water he handed to Christ, when he saw he was so thirsty, he handed him the water and one of the soldiers around the cross broke the bottle, and the blood from Christ’s breast fell into the bottle. And at the same time, a little bird sat on the man’s shoulder, and a drop of the blood fell on the bird’s breast. And that is how they reckon, how the robin redbreast got a red breast… And at the same time the man collapsed and died, the king, the fourth king’ (UW 840115).

3. Joe consistently says ‘frankenstein’ instead of ‘frankincense’ when discussing the gifts of the three kings.

4. This line is somewhat problematical, although the last part of Joe’s story indicates what he thinks it means, i.e. that there will be no drop of blood left unspilt. In another performance the line goes: An braon uasal is cóir a bheith in uachtar, beidh sé síos le mo shála (UW 840115).

This song was recorded while Joe was Artist in Residence at University of Washington.