King of the Seven Heavens (Philip Harper)
Length – 8:31
In 5th century Ireland the pagan High King Loegaire of Tara decreed that on Easter night all fires should be extinguished and none should be re-lit until the first Easter fire, started by the Druid priests, could be seen burning on the Hill of Tara. St. Patrick, in his attempt to spread the message of Christianity across the land, defied the King’s orders by lighting his own fire in the darkness on Slane Hill. Contrary to expectation, the King showed mercy to St. Patrick and recognized his devotion to his own God which, it was then assumed, had protected him from the King’s wrath. King of the Seven Heavens is a line taken from Mary Byrne’s 1905 translation of Be Thou My Vision, a Christian hymn of Irish origin commonly known as Slane which is used as a focal point in this piece. The music starts with seven flashes of light, representing St. Patrick’s defiant act on Slane Hill, and there follows a depiction of the pagan Irish Easter Festival. As the festivities end we hear St. Patrick’s prayer and the first full statement of the hymn tune. After a reminder of the lighting of the fires, a turbulent section reveals the King preparing to give his judgement. The hymn tune finally returns triumphantly as St. Patrick’s faith protects him from harm.