Music for Starry Winter Nights

by Kerry Dexter /
Kerry Dexter's picture
Dec 15, 2019 / 0 comments

It is winter in the northern hemisphere.

Unsettled weather in every sense of the word, in every part of the world, at this December.

Yet, that very unsettled aspect can offer encouragement and means to treasure connections, to deepen them, to look for those things which we hold in common rather than what divides us. Yes, that can be hard, but the long term consequences of the alternatives are harder still.

As ever in this series, music is a way to think about these things, a good companion while making your way through them. A reminder, too, that long dark nights are good times to look up and consider the stars.   

Music for Starry Winter Nights

The Castle of Dromore is an Irish lullabye, suggesting hope amidst troubles and unsettled weather. The version I like best is the one here by Cherish the Ladies, on the earliest of their three Christmas recordings, On Christmas Night. Heidi Talbot sings the lead on the song.

You may also like to look for the group's recording Heart of the Home. Heidi has a recent Christmas project, too, with Swedish artists Sophia Stinnerbom, Roger Tallroth, and Magnus Stinnerbom, called A Light in the Dark.

Speaking of lights in the dark, have a listen to Tim Edey's take on Coinnle an Linbh Íosa, a tune from Ireland with a title which translates as Lights of the Child Jesus. Tim can play many instruments but often turns to the guitar, as he does here, and for the length of the album on which it appears, Sleeping Tunes: Volume 2: Christmas and Celtic Music Played on Guitar, is a lovely collection of just what it says in the title, with several non-seasonally associated tunes mixed in with Tim's Celtic-tinged take on secular and sacred holiday music.

Tim Edey comes from Kent, in England, has lived in and has family connections to Ireland, and has been based in Scotland for some years. Each of these things finds its way into his thinking about music. It's a fine album to accompany those quiet nights looking up at the stars. If you'd like to experience another aspect of Edey's work, you might look to hear him collaborate with Cape Breton fiddle player Natalie MacMaster on her album Sketches.

Soilse Na Nollag /The Lights Of Christmas is another song inspired by the contrast of light and dark, and you might say by the idea of connection. Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh saw the lights in the windows of homes in her native Donegal, in Ireland's northwest, and came to write the song, which is in Irish. Here she sings in with her friend and fellow musician Moya Brennan. You may find it recorded on Altan's album 25th Anniversary Celebration, and also on The Very Best of Celtic Christmas, a compilation album from the Sony Legacy label. Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh is a founding member of Altan; you may also wish to see their recording called Gap of Dreams.

Andrew Finn Magill is a talented fiddle player, working in the music of the Celtic countries, Brazil, and folk and bluegrass. He explores these same genres on guitar. For his Christmas album, he decided to play both instruments, most often adding depth to his fiddle lines with creative guitar arrangements. Christmas Carols for Fiddle and Guitar comprises carols from before the twentieth century, some you will know and some you may not, from France, Ireland, Portugal, and other places, arranged and played with classical and Celtic influences. Those influences mean that Magill stays true to his own sound while respecting the stories the music tells. Tracks include Good King Wenceslas, Oíche Nollag, Pois que dos Reys Nostro Sennor, and this one, Lo How a Rose E'er Blooming.

Emily Smith's album Songs for Christmas comprises a thoughtful selection of well known carols and winter songs, contemporary seasonal songs, two originals, and Christmas songs from Smith's own native Scotland. For a number of years, Smith and her musical partner and husband Jamie McClennan have done a Christmas tour around Smith's home ground of Dumfries and Galloway in the southwest of Scotland, and in recent years they've taken that to other parts of Scotland as well; Songs for Christmas comes from some of their favorites gathered for these concerts. You may also want to see their recent release as the duo Smith and McClennan, an album called Small Town Stories.

Stories of the season, reflections of light in darkness, time for solitude, time for gathering, time for looking up at the stars on a winter's night: may these songs and tunes be good companions for all of this.

Speaking again of hope, here's a song you may find yourself singing along with: Matt and Shannon Heaton reworked an African American song with their own Celtic touch to create Fisherman's Lullabye, which you may find on their album Fine Winter's Night.


Thank you for staying with us through this journey. Below, you'll find a link that will take you to an article which has a bit more backstory on the series. It also has links to a number of the stories, including ones called Listening for Community, Music for Winter's Changes, and The Geography of Hope.

Music for Shifting Times

Music for Shifting Times




Kerry Dexter is Music Editor at Wandering Educators.

You may find more of Kerry's work in National Geographic Traveler, Strings, Perceptive Travel, Journey to Scotland, Irish Fireside, and other places, as well as at her own site, Music Road.