Rop tú mo baile
Be Thou my vision
Text: Sources. Although this Irish text is sometimes attributed to Saint Dallan Forgaill (c. 530–598), a beloved Irish poet who was martyred by pirates while serving at the monastery of Inniskeel, Donegal, the manuscript record reflects linguistic nuances more consistent with the Early Middle Irish period, 10th or 11th century. The oldest surviving manuscripts are as follows: two documents in the Royal Irish Academy (23 N 10, pp. 95-96, 16th century [Fig. 1], and 23 E 16, p. 344, regarded as a poor copy of the other) and one in the National Library of Ireland (ms 3, f. 22, also 15th or 16th century).
Text: Translations. The RIA manuscripts were transcribed and translated by Mary Byrne (1880-1931) in Ériu: The Journal of the School of Irish Learning, vol. 2 (1905), pp. 89-91 (Fig. 2). The third manuscript was discovered in 1931 within the holdings of collector Thomas Phillipps (no. 7022) and is now housed in the National Library of Ireland. This copy was transcribed and translated by Monica Nevin in Éigse, vol. 2 (1940), pp. 114-116 (Fig. 3). For further analysis of Byrne and Nevin, see Gerard Murphy, Early Irish Texts (1956), pp. 42-45, 190-91.
Fig. 3. Éigse, vol. 2 (1940), pp. 114-116.
Text: Versification. Mary Byrne’s translation was adapted by Eleanor Hull (1860-1935), a venerable Irish scholar, and first published in her Poem Book of the Gael (London: Chatto & Windus, 1912 | Fig. 4), in twelve rhyming couplets. From there, it was adopted into the Irish Church Hymnal (1919), with alterations (Fig. 5). In hymn collections, the third stanza, “Be thou my breastplate,” is sometimes omitted, but this omission is unfortunate for a couple of reasons. First, Irish hymns such as this one belong to a tradition of song called lorica, songs of protection, or sometimes called breastplate songs. Second, the biblical allusion to the armor of God is lost (Eph. 6:10-18, Is. 59:17, etc.), and by extension, the idea of spiritual warfare. Whenever possible, this stanza should be included, for biblical and traditional reasons. Hull’s text is often adjusted by hymnal compilers in various ways to account for the irregularity of her poetic meter.
Tune. For the Irish Church Hymnal (1919), the editors used an Irish folk tune and named it SLANE. The name is in commemoration of St. Patrick’s defiance of King Lóegaire, when he lit a festival fire on Slane Hill on Easter eve. The editors of the Church Hymnal may have borrowed the tune from Patrick W. Joyce’s Old Irish Folk Music and Songs (1909 | Fig. 6), where it was given with the title “With my love on the road.” The tune has also been associated with a song known as “The Banks of the Bann.”
by CHRIS FENNER
for Hymnology Archive
9 July 2018
Gerard Murphy, Early Irish Texts (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1956), pp. 42-45, 190-91.
Companion to Church Hymnal, ed. Edward Darling & Donald Davison (Dublin: The Columba Press), pp. 752-754.
“Be thou my vision” on Hymnary.org:
J.R. Watson & Edward Darling, “Be thou my vision” at Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology: