08 May 2010

'Flores de Mayo' in the Philippines and 'Bring Flowers of the Fairest' in Ireland

Kabankalan City, Negros Occidental, Philippines

Here in the Philippines we observe the Flores de Mayo, The Flowers of May, every year. It is basically a programme for children, mostly from poor families, led by volunteers throughout the country who teach the youngsters the basics of our Catholic faith. The children also bring flowers which they place before a statue of the Blessed Mother.

When I was a child in Dublin we had May processions in some churches on Sundays, especially the Oblate Church in Inchicore. In Stanhope Street School, run by the Irish Sisters of Charity, where I went through four years of kindergarten, we had a May procession every Monday of the month. My mother got me a surplice, which I wore over my ordinary clothes. Boys with a surplice were put at the front of the procession, as I recall. I wouldn’t dream of wearing a surplice over anything but a soutane or cassock now but I read recently that it’s done in parts of Eastern Europe.

For many years it has been a practice on a popular radio programme on RTÉ in Ireland to play the hymn Bring Flowers of the Rarest, also known as Queen of the May, on the first Monday of May. They used to play a recording by the Scottish tenor Sydney MacEwan (1908-1991, photo above) who, in the middle of his career, became a priest for the Diocese of Argyll and the Isles in Western Scotland. He continued to sing and raised funds to build St Columba’s Cathedral in Oban (photo below). I did a mission appeal for the Columbans there in September 2001 and visited there again the following year before returning to the Philippines.

In recent years they’ve used a recording by Irish tenor, Frank Patterson (1938-2000). He sang the song at a concert in Dublin in 1997, Faith of Our Fathers, and the video is taken from that. There are different versions of the words but below is that used by Frank Patterson.

Bring Flowers of the Rarest (Queen of the May)
Attributed to Mary E. Walsh in 1883

Bring flowers of the rarest
bring blossoms the fairest,
from garden and woodland and hillside and dale;
our full hearts are swelling,
our glad voices telling
the praise of the loveliest flower of the vale!

O Mary we crown thee with blossoms today!
Queen of the Angels and Queen of the May.
O Mary we crown thee with blossoms today,
Queen of the Angels and Queen of the May.

Their lady they name thee,
Their mistress proclaim thee,
Oh, grant that thy children on earth be as true
as long as the bowers
are radiant with flowers,
as long as the azure shall keep its bright hue


Sing gaily in chorus;
the bright angels o'er us
re-echo the strains we begin upon earth;
their harps are repeating
the notes of our greeting,
for Mary herself is the cause of our mirth.


A note on the deaths of Frank Patterson and Cardinal John O'Connor of New York

Cardinal John O'Connor, Archbishop of New York, had requested that Frank sing Ave Maria at his funeral. The Cardinal died on 3 May 2000 from a brain tumour. Frank, who had had a series of operations for a similar tumour, was unable to sing at the funeral because he was admitted to hospital in Boston that very day. He lapsed into a coma and died just over a month later, on 10 June. May they both be in the loving presence of The Queen of the May and of her Divine Son.


Jackie Parkes MJ said...

Fabulous post Fr Sean..

Fr Seán Coyle said...

Thank you, Jackie

Crux Fidelis said...

I had the good fortune to meet the late Canon Sydney MacEwan when I was part of the campaign team to elect him as Lord Rector of Glasgow University in 1977. He was defeated but graciously held a dinner by way of thanking his campaigners. After the meal there was some entertainment. The Canon initially refused to sing saying that his voice was not what it was but a few drams later he was persuaded and gave us a marvellous rendition of "I Dream of Jeannie".

I have often visited St Columba's in Oban which I think must the most be the most fortunately sited cathedral in Europe.

Fr Seán Coyle said...

St Columba's is indeed in a beautiful location. The Diocese of Argyll and the Isles must be one of the most scenic in the world. I did brief supplies in Castlebay, Barra, and in Ardkenneth, South Uist, in the summer of 1997 while on holiday in Ireland from the Philippines. I had no difficulty in celebrating Mass in Gaelic but preached in English.

I was assigned to Glasgow in April 2002 in the middle of a supposedly four-year stint in Britain. I was there only a fortnight when asked to come back to the Philippines to edit our magazine here, now an online production, www.misyononline.com. I left Glasgow in September 2002.

The Latin word 'Scotus' meant 'Irish'. Our two countires have been closely intertwined for more than 2,000 years.

Crux Fidelis said...

Fr Seán: You also mention the Oblates church in Inchicore, another place I know well. My mother was born in Thomas St and was raised in Ceannt Fort where my cousin still lives. I try to visit Dublin at least once a year.

Crux Fidelis said...

If I remember correctly the current Bishop of Argyll and the Isles the Rt Rev Joseph Toal served as curate in Ardkenneth.