Monday, December 21, 2009

"Away in a Manger" and William James Kirkpatrick (1838 - 1921)

Sometimes called "Luther's Cradle Hymn", the world-famous "Away in a Manger" is one of the best known Christmas songs of Christ's birth. It was first published in Pennsylvania in 1885, but the tune that most people today know it by was written by William James Kirkpatrick, also in Philadelphia, around 1895. Some of the records of Kirkpatrick's family tree say that he was born in County Tyrone. I'll suggest that, as Ulster emigrants called Kirkpatrick who ended up as Methodists in Pennsylvania, it's highly likely that the family were Ulster-Scots. I must admit that I prefer the earlier tune, and I find the words a bit dubious in places, but Kirkpatrick's is definitely one of the best-known melodies in the world. Some of his other work is far superior.

Regardless of your opinion of the tune, once again Ulster-Scots is proven to not be some narrow oddball identity (as its opponents try to present it) - but one which has made a major contribution to mainstream cultural life in the western world for centuries.

Merry CHRISTmas!