This ancient text is often attributed to Dallan Forgaill, an Irish poet from the 8th Century, although it may have been written a little later. The Irish language went through some changes around that time, and it’s a little hard to pin down the original poem. But whoever the author, it was written to honour Saint Patrick. It was translated into English by Mary Byrne in 1905, and a few years later versified by Eleanor Hull.
The melody has been a traditional Irish folk tune for centuries, and was published in 1909 as part of a collection of Old Irish music. It was then picked up by David Evans, a professor of music in Cardiff, and arranged in the form we know today as SLANE, named for the hill in County Meath where St Patrick famously lit his Easter fire.
So many versions of this text use the word ‘armour’, or even ‘buckler’, and many omit the third verse entirely, as modern western congregations have become wary of warlike language. But the verse is entirely appropriate in the context of our reading from Ephesians 6, and I have chosen to use the word ‘breastplate’, to reinforce the links both to scripture and to St Patrick.
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Five verses, set in the key of D, a necessary compromise to make it accessible to as wide a range of singers as I can. It is available as audio only, or as a Lyric Video in two sizes.
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