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You might already be familiar with the melody of this song. Although it was popularized by Cat Stevens with his song Morning Has Broken, it has much older roots. Leanabh an àigh (Child in a Manger) is a Gàighlig hymn written by Mary MacDougal MacDonald (Màiri Dhòmhnallach [1789-1872]) and is set to the traditional Highland melody of Bunessan1. The song celebrates the
arrival of the Christ Child. Màiri was born into the crofting community of Ardtun (Àird Tunna) near Bunessan on the Isle of Mull (An t-Eilean Muileach) and was the daughter of Duncan MacDougal, a Baptist cleric and farmer. She married Neil MacDonald, a crofter, and in a contented life spent many hours at her spinning wheel passing the time singing and composing hymns and poems - many of which were an expression of her faith as a devout Baptist. Scottish Gàidhlig was her only language.
1. The ancient traditional Highland melody in Leanabh an àigh eventually became known as Bunessan (after the town of the same name).
Leanabh an àigh
Lyrics are traditional Scottish Gàidhlig with English translation
Leanabh an àigh, an Leanabh aig Màiri, The child of joy, the child of Mary,
Rugadh san stàball, Rìgh nan Dùl, born in a stable, King of the Universe,
Thàinig do'n fhàsach, dh'fhuiling 'n ar n-àite, He came into the desolate world to suffer in our place,
Son' iad an àireamh bhitheas dhà dlùth. Happy are those who trust in him.
Ged a bhios leanabain aig rìghrean na talmhainn, Though babes are born to kings on Earth,
An greadhnachas garbh is anabarr mùirn, In joyful celebration,
'S geàrr gus am falbh iad, 's fasaidh iad anfhann, They will soon grow weak and leave us,
An àilleachd 's an dealbh a' searg san ùir. Their beauty and form will diminish in the grave.
Cha b'ionann 's an t-Uan thàinig gur fuasgladh, Nothing equals the lamb who came to rescue,
Iriosal, stuama ghluais e'n tùs, Humble and modest from when He was first conceived,
E naomh gun truailleachd, Cruithfhear an t-sluaigh, Holy and without flaw, creator of humanity,
Dh'éirich e suas le buaidh o'n ùir. He rose triumphant from the grave.
Leanabh an àigh, mar dh'aithris na fàidhean, The child of joy, as foretold by prophets,
'S na h-àinglean àrd', b'e miann an sùl, A lovely vision to the eyes of the archangels,
'S E 's airidh air gràdh 's ar 'n urram thoirt dhà, Worthy of love and the worship given to Him,
Sona an àireamh bhitheas dhà dlùth. Happy are those who trust in Him.