|Melody||Traditional Irish folk melody, transcribed by William Grattan Flood|
The Wexford Carol (Irish: Carúl Loch Garman, Carúl Inis Córthaidh) is a traditional religious Irish Christmas carol originating from County Wexford and, specifically, Enniscorthy (whence its other name). The subject of the song is the nativity of Jesus Christ.
"The Wexford Carol", sometimes known by its first verse "Good people all this Christmas time", is claimed to be one of the oldest extant Christmas carols. The song achieved a renewed popularity due to the work of William Grattan Flood (1859-1928), who was organist and musical director at St. Aidan's Cathedral in Enniscorthy. He transcribed the carol from a local singer and had it published in the Oxford Book of Carols, putting Enniscorthy into most carol books around the world.
Bard Francis, of the SCA medieval society, comments:
This lovely tune, remarkable for its haunting Mixolydian mode form, is unlikely to be 12th century. The words are maybe older than the tune, which likely came from the wave of Irish Music during the late 18th and through the entire 19th century, American Civil War period. Such rhyming words and tune structure had not been invented sufficiently in the 12th century, and it looks more like the 16th if it can be proven to be earlier than the 18-19th.*(Francis is assuming the original words were written in English but were most likely in Irish)
The Mixolydian mode can be played with only two chords one step apart on lute or guitar, which makes it an easy and wonderful performance piece for good singers but beginning players. Celtic Woman does it in D and C chords, though there are variations out there.
For the most likely oldest Christmas hymn, I suggest it may be "O Gladsome Light" with words from the 3rd century, tune possibly the 8th as a Nunc Dimittis. Source "Handbook to the Lutheran Hymnal," by Pollock. Also the still popular "O Come Emmanuel" may have been written about that time. The main problem is that these ancient Christian tunes, unlike the Celtic tunes, usually had a long oral tradition in the church before musical notation became understandable around the 14th century.
Traditions abound concerning the song--for example, that only men should sing it. However, many popular female artists, such as Julie Andrews in 1966 and Loreena McKennitt in 1987, have recorded versions of it, the former including an additional verse beginning "And buckets yore did rain that night." Yo Yo Ma and Alison Krauss recorded the song for Ma's 2008 holiday album, Songs of Joy and Peace. Michael McDonald (singer) covered it on his 2009 album This Christmas as a duet with his wife Amy Holland, using only the first three of the traditional verses. The carol featured as title track on the 2014 collection of traditional Irish Carols The Wexford Carols by the Irish early-music singer Caitríona O'Leary, with Tom Jones and Rosanne Cash. Irish folksinger Cara Dillon featured the song on her 2016 album Upon a Winter's Night. The Irish group Celtic Women included the Wexford Carol on their 2006 Christmas album. The English boy choir Libera performed an arrangement of the carol on their 2013 album, Angels Sing: Christmas in Ireland, recorded at Armagh Cathedral. Country artist Trace Adkins also recorded a version of the hymn on his 2013 Christmas album The King's Gift. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir performed an arrangement by conductor Mack Wilberg on its 2016 album Hallelujah!. On November 28, 2017 it was performed by renowned flautist Ashley Snell in Leonard Auditorium at Wofford College. In the Fall of 2018, Daywind Records in Nashville, TN released 'A Winter Carol' by the Gospel Music Associstion's legendary Hall of Fame family, The Nelons. It features The Wexford Carol as the second cut on the album.