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Canon Sydney McEwan and Bring Flowers of the Rarest

By May 1, 2019October 5th, 2020Blog, Faith, News, Older Irish People

Canon Sydney Alfred McEwan (19 October 1908 – 25 September 1991) was a famous Scottish priest who was gifted with an exceptional tenor singing voice, and who sang traditional Scottish and Irish songs. Probably his most famous recording is the Marian hymn ‘Bring flowers of the Rarest’ written by Mary E. Walsh. The hymn was first published as the “Crowning Hymn” in the Wreath of Mary 1871/1883 and later in St. Basil’s hymnal (1889). The hymn is synonymous with Marian processions and devotions in the month of May.

Canon McEwan was a native of Glasgow. His father was from Scotland who left his mother, a native of Ireland, to raise him and his older brother on her own. Although finances were extremely tight, Mrs McEwan managed to pay for music lessons for both her sons and both won bursaries to good schools. Sydney attended St Aloysius’ College in Garnethill from 1919 to 1924, before transferring to Hillhead Academy. During World War II Canon McEwan was an ambulance driver and an RAF chaplain. He entered Bearsden Seminary in Glasgow before going to Pontifical Scots College in Rome, to follow his vocation to become a priest. He was ordained to the priesthood in St Andrew’s Cathedral, Glasgow in 1944 and he celebrated his first Mass at St Aloysius’ Church, Glasgow.



Once he was ordained Canon McEwan was able to combine his religious duties with his wonderful singing voice. He performed at both national and international settings and decided that all his earnings from his concert performances who be used for the good of charitable causes. When asked in 1948, the jovial clergyman and singer responded: Of the two, I think I prefer a concert audience to a congregation. People listen to me more attentively in a concert than in a church! Naturally he was joking about his pastime as his real passion was the celebration of his religious duties.

Canon McEwan was a household name in the UK and the BBC‘s This Is Your Life programme ran and edition on his life and story in October 1962. His autobiography, On the High C’s, was published in 1973.

Canon Sydney McEwan died in September 1991, at the age of 82. His funeral was held in St Andrew’s Cathedral, Glasgow, in the church where he was ordained. He was survived by his brother.

In Ireland on the first day of May each year, the popular hymn ‘’Bring flowers of the rarest’’, also known as ‘’Queen of the May’’, sung by Canon McEwan is played over the radio. The hymn will be fondly remembered by many people who avail of the services of the Irish Chaplaincy whether Irish prisoners, Irish Travellers in UK prisons and especially by our Irish Seniors. Maybe during the month of May you might have a chance to sing or say the hymn to a member of the Irish community.


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.
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,
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.




Rory Mac Giolla Chomhaill
Outreach Worker
Irish Chaplaincy

Author Irish Chaplaincy

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