I always enjoy learning about how phrases or sayings came to be, and I have been thinking about, for some time now, looking at exactly where what is known as “The Irish Blessing” came from: Who wrote it, and how long ago was it written.
This simple, yet profound verse, which begins with, “May the road rise up to meet you,” is known world-wide as “The Irish Blessing,” and is perhaps the most popular of all Irish sayings. While I’m not Irish, I know, and have certainly heard, all of its words, in various forms, from many different sources, over the years.
Here is the full verse:
“May the road rise to meet you
May the wind be always at your back
May the sun shine warm upon your face
The rains fall soft upon your fields
And until we meet again
May God hold you
In the palm of His hand.”
Over at Pastor Appreciation Gifts, our artwork featuring “The Irish Blessing” continues to be one of our most “looked up” works of art, throughout the year, and, most certainly, during the first part of the year. I have been amazed at how often visitors “land” on our website, from conducting a web search for “Irish Blessing.” So, I have been wanting to find out more. Plus, we are so blessed, by how many friends we have who visit our blog from Great Britain. Here is what I’ve learned:
First of all, no one knows who first wrote it. This surprised me. It is one of those verses which has been handed down, generation to generation, family to family, person to person, for so long, that no one can remember who “said it first.” Remember that so much of our history, especially family and local history, has survived in exactly the same way. It is known for certain, however, that it was an ancient Celtic prayer and blessing. I could not find one instance where the “land of origin” was in question. Everywhere I looked, I read the same type of introduction, beginning with something like, “This traditional Irish blessing is an ancient Celtic prayer …”
I learned about Celtic literature and history. I’ll be honest, and I think many of us are the same, with our only exposure to foreign culture being on television or in movies … when we think of “Celtic” we first think of incredibly talented performers, singers, and dancers … and, don’t realize the great culture and history of the Celtic people.
Who were, and are, the Celts? Officially, in our American definition, the simple definition of “Celt” is a member of a group of people (such as the Irish or Welsh) who lived in ancient Britain and parts of Western Europe, or a person whose ancestors were Celts. “The Irish Prayer” is also credited as being a “Gaelic” prayer. Which, you guessed it, made me find out exactly what that meant. I learned that “Gaelic” means “of or relating to the Celtic people of Scotland and Ireland.” These are things I thought I knew, but, really, needed to find out for sure. For our dear friends across the Pond, please understand that, over here, many of us don’t even know our next-door-neighbors, so please forgive us, as we are trying to learn …
It is historically accurate that “The Irish Blessing” came from … well … from Ireland. I learned that Celtic literature is known for using images of nature and everyday life to speak of how God interacts with His people. Remember-Jesus did the same thing! He used examples which His audience would be familiar with. As I learned about Celtic writing style, I was reminded that there are scholars who believe that “The Irish Blessing” was written by St. Patrick. It would certainly fit his writing style, as he would use nature in descriptive terms in his writing For example, one of his most famous works was “St Patrick’s Breastplate,” in which he described God’s strength by using examples from nature. However, as with the author of the book of Hebrews, it is not known for certain, only theorized due to writing style.
When we look at the words of this verse, beginning with “May the road rise up to meet you,” this prays God’s blessing on your journey. May it not be too difficult, without obstacles and challenges to overcome. Then, we see the images from nature: the wind, sun, and the rain. Historically, this points to God’s overall care and provision for us. Yes, the wind can be compared to God’s Spirit, in a word used to describe His arrival and presence, in Scripture. The sun easily represents warmth and comfort of God’s protection. The rain, a necessary part of growth, is prayed to be a soft, gentle rain.
My favorite part is the last:
“And until we meet again,
May God hold you
In the palm of His hand.”
By the way, there is a song to the words of this verse. I learned that Denes Agay (June 10, 1911 – January 24, 2007), an Hungarian composer, wrote the music for this verse.
I think about whether it’s ok to write about a “blessing” that doesn’t include Scripture. Then, I think about the Patriarchs. How important it was that the head of a family would give his “blessing” to others. Maybe it was to family members (especially heirs), or visitors, or even strangers. How the word “blessing” is such a large part of human relationships. How it is the intent behind the words, and not just the words, which carry such power. I think about how we, in seeking to get approval of a plan, a goal, maybe a marriage, seek to gain someone else’s “blessing.” Think about it. The simple definition of blessing is “approval that allows or helps you to do something; help and approval from God; something that helps you or brings happiness.”
I think that covers it.
So, it’s ok to “give someone your blessing.” Even if you quote someone else’s words. And, if that person’s blessing can be written down, how encouraging that would be, as time goes by. So … it must be ok to bless someone … even if you quote someone else’s words … and, it must be ok to write that blessing down … to remind someone that they “have your blessing.”
It is no secret that I send along blessings to you, and your family, each time I write.
I mean it!
I like it!