“Amazing Grace” is a song of faith that I really enjoy. The one version I like the best is sung by Judy Collins. This song is linked to the Civil Rights Movement in the US and first achieved pop-culture notice when it was recorded by Aretha Franklin. The beginnings of this song can be found off the shores of Buncrana which is a town in the Republic of Ireland with a population of 6000 along the Wild Atlantic Way.
“Amazing Grace” was written by John Newton who was an English slave trader turned minister. He greatly mocked religion until a near-death experience made him change his outlook. In 1748 Newton was caught up in a violent storm raging off the coast of Buncrana. As the storm raged on Newton prayed for the ship and the crew to be saved. As soon as a crew member replaced him on the deck that man was swept into the waves and drowned. Newton and the rest of the crew survived this violent storm. It became like a spiritual awakening for Newton.
Even though he now had renewed his faith, he continued working in the slave trade. In 1754 when succumbed by illness he began studying theology and in 1764 became a minister. At this time is wrote some of the wonderful words from the song “Amazing Grace”
“I once was lost, but now am found/Was blind, but now I see.”
Newton finished the rest of the song and used it to accompany his sermon on New Year’s Day in 1773. as a pastor of the Anglican Church in Olney, England. The text to the song was published in Olney Hymns in Three Books which was a compilation of dozens of hymns that Newton had written with poet William Cowper.
Soon Newton’s sermon became popular in the U.S. It was published in New York City in 1790 and the following year in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In the early 1830s, it was used by many Baptist, Congregationalist, and Reformed churches. However, the composer of the music remains unknown. The hymn first appeared in print with the title “Amazing Grace” in Sacred Songs and Solos in 1877.
“Amazing Grace” became the ballad of the Civil Rights Movement in the US some 200 years after it had been written by Newton. During the 1960s the song was sung by Mahalia Jackson during many Martin Luther King Jr. rallies. The song remains well-known even in the 21st century and was sung at the Inaugural Prayer Service when President Barack Obama was elected in 2009.
Buncrana still celebrates its connection to “Amazing Grace” and hosts an annual festival with art, music, and dance along with historic reenactments in period dress. The town is also home to the Amazing Grace Park which is a scenic park overlooking the sea, In the park you can see mosaics designed by artist Andrew Garvey Williams depicting the ship Newton sailed on called The Greyhound and the words Amazing Grace in Newton’s handwriting, It also shows broken chains that symbolize the end of slavery. Visitors can also see signs that have lines from Newton’ autobiography and other writings.