The ceilidh comes to church: new hymn book published

A new book of hymns features traditional melodies from the Highlands and Islands.

Rev Leith Fisher, previously minister at Wellington Church in Glasgow, was often inspired by traditional Gaelic tunes when he wrote
Rev Leith Fisher was often inspired by traditional Gaelic tunes

The hymns are by the Rev Leith Fisher, who died in 2009, previously minister of Wellington Church in Glasgow's West End and a former Assembly committee convener.

When Leith couldn't find a suitable hymn to match the theme on a Sunday, he would write one. Seven of these were snapped up by the editors of the current Church Hymnary. But there were many more.

Some of these have now been rescued and set to music.

Leith Fisher was often inspired by traditional Gaelic tunes when he wrote. Capercaillie and Runrig were favourite bands. So in addition to those already with chosen tunes the editor has added others.

Wellington Church
Originally from Greenock, Rev Leith Fisher was the minister at Wellington Church in Glasgow

'An ubhal as àirde' was the first ever song in Gaelic to reach the UK top twenty (1995), performed by Runrig in the distinctive style of Gaelic psalm singing.

'Soraidh leis an àit' (Farewell to the place) was written by Mairi nan Orain (Big Mary of the Songs) whose songs protested against the poverty, hardship and injustice experienced by Gaels, whether during the earlier Clearances or in her own time of the nineteenth century.

These and other tunes bring extra mileage to Fisher's hymns which are so often about hardship and injustice and the realities of life for many in our own time.

Former Moderator David Lunan shows in the book's introduction how the hymns grew from Leith Fisher's own ministry, initially in the Calton area of Glasgow. He writes:

Leith never lost the perspective he gained from living and working in Calton, and he never failed to see life through the eyes of those whose lives are diminished by paucity of opportunity or social prejudice. … Leith knew that people might be moved by a purple passage in a sermon, or retain its overall message; they might hold on to a phrase in a prayer, or the words of a scriptural blessing; but it is what we sing that we remember.

Other tunes give strong support to Leith's new words. 'Cradle Song', by the gifted Victorian-era violinist and dancing master of the North East, James Scott Skinner, has been set to a hymn urging us not to hide our gifts but develop and share them for the good of church and community.

'The Moss o' Barradale', about tinkers journeying to a gathering, has a new use in a hymn where Jesus calls the disciples to follow him on his journey to the cross, the grave, through to the great gathering in the Kingdom of God.

And the 'Bleacher Lass o' Kelvinhaugh', where the River Kelvin joins the Clyde not far from Wellington Church - one of the great body of folk songs which helped a community to live with love and loss, hardship and survival - is an apt inclusion in a book of hymns where the realities of life are never far away.

The hymns were edited and the music arranged by former Assembly Precentor Douglas Galbraith. As well as the tunes mentioned, standard hymn tunes are provided or suggested.


Strange Majesty: The hymns of Leith Fisher, edited by Douglas Galbraith, Wild Goose Publications (Iona Community) 2018, £9.99 (also e-book), 22 hymns. With a Foreword by the Very Rev Dr David Lunan, Moderator 2008.

Launch event

Although available now, there will be an official book launch on Saturday 20 October at 7pm at St Matthew's Church, Tay Street, Perth. The evening is open to all and will include a talk about Rev Leith Fisher by former moderator Rt Rev David Lunan. Rev Dr Douglas Galbraith and Ian McCrorie, formerly conductor of the Scottish Philharmonic Singers, will lead singing.