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Updated 05/28/2013

 

Be Thou My Vision


Saint Dallan Forgail

“Be Thou My Vision” is a traditional Christian hymn, which can be traced to Ireland but is now sung in English-speaking churches around the world.  The text (Rop tú mo baile) is often attributed to Dallan Forgaill in the 8th century.   Saint Dallan Forgaill (Dallan Forchella; Dallan Forgaill; Dallan of Cluain Dallain; Eochaidh) was a Christian Irish Poet. Dallan was born around 530 AD in Magh Slécht, County Cavan, Ireland, and studied so intensively that he literally became blind from writing poetry and studying. He was a first cousin of Saint Mogue. Dallan was martyred in 598, when pirates broke into the island monastery of Inniskeel, Donegal, where he is buried, and was beheaded. It is also said that God reattached his head to his body after being martyred.

Dallan was widely known as the chief poet of Ireland. He reformed the Bardic Order, thus helping preserve the Gaelic language and literature. He is best known for eulogies attributed to him, on the subject of contemporaneous Irish saints, namely the Amra Choluim Chille on St. Columba, 'Amra Senain' on St. Senan, and "Amra Connaill' for St. Connall. The poems, rarely translated, were of such obscure language that subsequent scribes included copious glosses on the poems.

He is said to have died in 598, when pirates broke into the island monastery of Inniskeel, County Donegal, where he is buried, and was beheaded. It is also said that God reattached his head to his body after being martyred.  He was acclaimed a saint in the early 11th century, during the reign of the High King Máel Sechnaill mac Domnaill.

The text had been a part of Irish monastic tradition for centuries before the hymn itself was written. It was translated from Old Irish into English by Mary E. Byrne in “Eriú," Journal of the School of Irish Learning, in 1905. The English text was first versified by Eleanor H. Hull in 1912, and this version of the lyrics is the most common. However, slight variations of these lyrics are sometimes seen.

Thus, the English translation of the hymn itself is fairly recent and the Elizabethan vocabulary and structure is somewhat an anachronism. Be Thou My Vision has become the quintessential Irish hymn in English-speaking churches and is often sung around St. Patrick's Day.

 

Lyrics by Dal­lan For­gaill
(translated from the Irish by Ma­ry E. Byrne, Versified by El­ea­nor H. Hull)

 

Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art.
Thou my best Thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.

 

Be Thou my Wisdom, and Thou my true Word;
I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord;
Thou my great Father, I Thy true son;
Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.

 

Be Thou my battle Shield, Sword for the fight;
Be Thou my Dignity, Thou my Delight;
Thou my soul’s Shelter, Thou my high Tower:
Raise Thou me heavenward, O Power of my power.

Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise,
Thou mine Inheritance, now and always:
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart,
High King of Heaven, my Treasure Thou art.

 

High King of Heaven, my victory won,
May I reach Heaven’s joys, O bright Heaven’s Sun!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all.