Saturday, March 21, 2020

Legacy and Legend of an Irish Poet: Dallan Forgaill

One of my favorite hymns of all time is "Be Thou My Vision." The story behind the lyrics goes back in time much farther than the song and the people responsible for its translation. While part of the story of the original lyrics' author is likely true, other parts are either miraculous or the stuff of legends. 

"Be Thou My Vision" {PD}

Please bear with me as I share these hard to spell Gaelic names! Dallan Forgaill was born Eochaid mac Colla. He was descended from legendary high king, Colla Uais, through his father, Colla. His mother’s name in Old Irish was Forchella, which became Forgall.

Born in a place called Maigen, now Ballyconnell, in what is today’s County Caven in 530, he grew up to be a scholar and a poet. His nickname, Dallan, means “little blind one.” He is said to have become blind by studying too intensively.

He studied scriptural Latin and also wrote several poems that were panegyrics, or eulogies, of his contemporary Irish saints. Dallan’s most famous is called “Amra Coluim Cille," written in admiration of Saint Columba saving the poets or bards from being thrown out of Ireland at the Convention of Drumceat, in 573 or 575, depending on which source you read. Somehow, the bards had irritated the king at the time. Dallan wrote this Amra in 597. In its preface, Dallan is called the Chief Poet or Ollam of Ireland.

Church Ruins on Slane Hill, 2014 [cc] 

When the Amra of St. Columba was published, Dallan is said to have received his sight back! 

He is also known for "Rop tú mo baile,” or as we know it, “Be Thou My Vision.”

As I learned Dallan Forgaill was blind, it struck me how he referred to the
Lord as his vision. The first verse starts with:

Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art;

He wrote such beautiful imagery of trusting God as everything to him and the last verse ending with:

Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all.

These are words believers today can still take to heart in our troubled times. Perhaps that is why Irish scholar, Mary Byrne, translated 
Rop tú mo baile" into literal text in 1905. Eleanor Hull, president of the Irish Literary Society in London, then turned the prose into verses, which were published in her Poem Book of the Gael, in 1912. 
    Saint Dallan Forgaill,

In 1919, “Be Thou My Vision” was set to the traditional Irish tune, SLANE, which is of unknown origin. It was named after the hill on which St. Patrick lit a fire on Easter in defiance of a pagan king. 

As the story goes, in 598, Dallan went to visit his friend, Saint Conall Cael, at the monastery on the island of Inishkeel. While he was there, pirates raided the monastery and beheaded Dallan Forgaill. It is said his head was thrown into the sea, but that God miraculously reattached it to his body.

As early as the 9th century, he was listed in a compilation of martyrs as a saint. Around 1400, a medieval ode, “On the Breaking Up of a School, was written to commemorate how his monastery students all disbursed after his martyrdom, saying that no teacher compared to him, and they would not sit under another. Perhaps his teaching and beautiful poetry is why Dallan is listed among other ancient Irish authors in the Book of Ballymote as the “grandson of testimony.” 

Find the lyrics to “Be Thou My Vision” here:

Have you ever heard of Saint Dallan or Dallan Forgaill and his story?

Kathleen Rouser is the multi-published author of the 2017 Bookvana Award winner, Rumors and Promises, her first novel about the people of fictional Stone Creek, Michigan, and its sequel, Secrets and Wishes. She is a longtime member in good standing of American Christian Fiction Writers. Kathleen wanted to be a writer before she could even read. She longs to create characters who resonate with readers and realize the need for a transforming Savior in their everyday lives. She lives in Michigan with her hero and husband of thirty-some years, and continues on the elusive quest to brew the perfect cup of coffee to enjoy while she is writing. Connect with Kathleen on her website at, on Facebook at, and on Twitter @KathleenRouser.

Secrets and Wishes
Stone Creek, Michigan, April, 1901 — Maggie Galloway and Thomas Harper clash after their sons collide in a fistfight. Both widowed, they’re each doing their best as single-parents. Outgoing Maggie has dreams for a home of her own and a business to provide for her son as she searches for God’s path for her life as a widow. Reserved Thomas struggles to establish his new pharmacy and take care of his four rambunctious children, while wondering how a loving God could take his beloved wife.

When a charlatan comes to town, and tragedy soon follows. Maggie and Thomas discover the miracle potions he hawks aren’t so harmless when an epidemic hits Stone Creek. Thomas and Maggie realize they must work together to save lives.

Maggie finds herself caught up in battles within and without—the battle to help the townsfolk in the midst of illness and chicanery, and the battle to know which man—Thomas or Giles, a former beau—deserves to win her heart.


  1. What an interesting story! Thanks for posting. I love that hymn!

  2. Connie, I'm so glad you enjoyed the story. Thank you for stopping by to leave a comment.

  3. God is always our vision thanks a lot

  4. Thanks for producing this work about an important Irish saint besides St. Patrick. I have Irish ancestors but seem to know more about stuff like Chinese history than Irish history. That’s probably because both of my kids were adopted from China, but I would like them to understand the faith of their adopted ancestors better. Also, I have been writing for the last eight three distinct but sequentially related works of distopian near to far future sci fi with an overall adoption theme that is all about a possible future of the Church. I struggle with how much to edit, etc. and it sometimes seems like not one book will ever be completed. Do you think the American Christian Fiction Writers can help me finally with getting on the right path to publication?

  5. Hey Paul, Yes! I do think ACFW could be a great help. They have critique groups you can join. There are Sci fi writers there too! Also, you can join some of the groups on FB for Christian indi. They try to help out with questions. I can point you to a couple if you are interested. If you have questions, feel free to contact me privately at debbielynnecostello (at) hotmail (dot) com

  6. Thanks for the story so fascinating