Mrs. Cecil Frances Alexander, 1823-95Cecil Frances Alexander
Fahan Presbyterian Church is within a couple of Km from the Rectory (now in private hands), where the great hymnwriter Cecil Frances Alexander lived;
Mrs Alexander was the second daughter of Major John Humphreys, Miltown House, County Tyrone, Ireland. She married the Rt. Rev. W. Alexander, D.D. Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, who became Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of Ireland. They were married for 45 years, half of which was lived in Derry. Mrs. Alexander was of a humble disposition and disliked praise and flattery. She died greatly beloved by the many poor she had helped by her kindness. She is buried in Derry Cemetery.
Mrs. Alexander, as a little girl, showed that she had a poetic gift and her father encouraged her in it. She became a prolific writer of hymns. Over four hundred came from her busy pen. She wrote many narrative poems and Tennyson the poet said he would have been proud to have written her poem "The Burial of Moses". All the profits from the publications of her hymns were given to help an institution for Irish mutes.
Perhaps her most famous hymn is 'There is a Green Hill far away'. This hymn was inspired by a little hill outside the walls of Derry. In her mind it was on a hill like that that Jesus was crucified. Her hymn was to help her godchildren to understand the statements of the creed, "Suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried". This hymn was composed while she sat by the bedside of a sick child. Several great musical composers have written tunes for this hymn. Gainod pronounced it the most perfect hymn in the English language because of its charming simplicity.
In the middle of the First World War a doctor was busy in his consulting room with patients who were affected by the many tensions of the war. As he was listening to their anxieties, he heard singing from a room above his consulting room. It was his wife and children singing "There is a green hill far away". The doctor said to his patients, "If we all believed in the truth of that hymn we hear being sung, we would have less worry, anxiety and fear".
Mrs Alexander gave a metrical version of a hymn known as St Patrick's Breastplate. Here is one verse from her rendering of the hymn:
Christ be with me, Christ within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me, Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me, Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.
In his great work on hymns Julian indicates that the hymn of Mrs. Alexander which is included in 'Spiritual Songs', "Jesus calls us o'er the tumult" no. 293 has had many variations. Mrs. Alexander revised the hymn in 1881. It will suffice to quote verse 3 as it is in 'Spiritual Songs':
Jesus calls us from the worship
Of the vain world's golden store:
From each idol that would keep us
Saying, 'Christian, love Me more'.
On R238 from Derry to Buncrana at Tooban, Burnfoot
Republic of Ireland F93 XY65