She Moved Through the Fair

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"She Moved Through the Fair" (or "She Moves Through the Fair") is a traditional Irish folk song, which exists in a number of versions and which has been recorded many times.


According to the Ossian Publication Folksongs & Ballads Popular in Ireland: Volume 1 the melody traces back to Mediaeval times.[1] Culturally, the melody is a shared one, turning up in Irish as well as in Scots Gaelic contexts.[2] The scraps of this song were first collected in Donegal by Longford poet Padraic Colum and musicologist Herbert Hughes. In a letter published in the Irish Times, 22 April 1970,[3] Padraic Colum, claiming he was the author of all but the final verse of the poem, described how Hughes collected the tune and he, Colum kept the last verse of a traditional song they heard and then composed a couple of verses to fit the music. One verse was not included in the first publication of the collection published by Boosey & Hawkes in London in a work entitled Irish Country Songs in 1909.[4] Colum soon realised that he had not put in the poem the fact that the woman had died before the marriage, and so he wrote the verse which begins: "The people were saying, that no two were e'er wed, but one had a sorrow that never was said ..." and sent it on to Hughes. It was too late for publication in that particular collection, however, and was subsequently published in other collections, along with the other three verses. No earlier version of those three verses written by Colum have ever been found, and so there is no doubt that he is the author of the first three verses of the poem. The tune is in Mixolydian mode.[5] The lyrics were also published in Colum's 1916 collection Wild Earth: And Other Poems (though the book doesn't mention their traditional origin).[6]

A different variant of the song is called "Our Wedding Day". A related song, "Out of the Window", was collected by Sam Henry, from Eddie Butcher of Magilligan, Northern Ireland, around 1930, and published in Henry's Songs of the People.[7] Another song, "I Once Had a True Love", also appears to be related, as it shares some lyrics with "She Moved Through the Fair".[8]

The traditional singer Paddy Tunney learned it in County Fermanagh and recorded it in 1965. Other singers who sang it in the 1950s and 1960s were Dominic Behan and Anne Briggs. It was a popular song among members of the Traveller community in Ireland by that time.

Fairport Convention recorded the song in 1968, adopting the style of the song from the influential travelling singer Margaret Barry, though she herself had learned it from a vinyl recording made by John McCormack at EMI Studios in 1941. Also of note are the recordings of the song by Alan Stivell in 1973. Art Garfunkel (formerly of Simon and Garfunkel) recorded a particularly lush version on his acclaimed 1977 album, Watermark.

Josh Groban recorded the song for his album All That Echoes released on 5 February 2013 on Reprise Records.


One version of the lyrics is as follows:

Verse 1
My young love said to me,
My mother won't mind
And my father won't slight you
For your lack of kind.
And she stepped away from me
And this she did say:
It will not be long, Love,
'Til our wedding day.

Verse 2
She stepped away from me
And she moved through the fair
And fondly I watched her
Move here and move there.
And then she made her way homeward,
With one star awake,
As the swan in the evening
Moved over the lake.

Verse 3
The people were saying,
No two e'er were wed
But one had a sorrow
That never was said.
And I smiled as she passed
With her goods and her gear,
And that was the last
That I saw of my dear

Verse 4
Last night she came to me,
My dead love came in.
So softly she came
That her feet made no din.
As she laid her hand on me,
And this she did say:
It will not be long, love,
'Til our wedding day.


Colum is the author of the first three verses of this song. His poem is shorter than other version; the variant of the song called Our Wedding Day has ten verses, to Colum's four. The song is often shortened further by omitting the third verse (above), as this verse was the one Colum wrote after the first three verses had been sent for publication and it had to await a later edition for publication.

Several versions of the lyrics are in current use. For example, in the first line of Colum's version published in Wild earth:

My young love said to me, "My brothers won't mind,

the word 'brothers' is usually changed to 'mother.'

Similarly, the second line:

And my parents won't slight you for your lack of kine.

is usually rendered:

And my father won't slight you for your lack of kind. [kind = goods or commodities[9]]

or even as:

And my father won't slight you for your lack of kine. [kine = cattle]

The original "My dead love" in verse 4 is often rendered as "my dear love", "my own love", or "my young love" (particularly when verse 3, which implies that the woman may have died, is omitted). In Colum's version, this final appearance of the woman is in a dream, whereas other versions imply she is a ghost.

In the variant called Our Wedding Day, the woman goes into the man's bedroom while he is asleep, but she is not dead; she then runs off with another suitor, and the man joins the army.

Alternative versions recounted by Paddy Tunney[edit]

The traditional singer Paddy Tunney relates[10] how Colum "wrote" the song after returning from a literary gathering in Donegal with Herbert Hughes and others. Tunney suggests, however, that it would be more accurate to say that Colum simply added additional lyrics, not the melody, to an original traditional song which at that time had splintered into many variations throughout Ireland.

Tunney himself collected one version from an Irish singer called Barney McGarvey. This version was called "I Once Had a True Love". The opening four lines are reminiscent of "She Moved Through the Fair" and the second four lines are unmistakably similar.

The words to the first verse are:

I once had a sweet-heart, I loved her so well

I loved her far better than my tongue could tell

Her parents they slight me for my want of gear

So adieu to you Molly, since your are not here

I dreamed last night that my true love came in

So softly she came that her feet made no din

She stepped up to me and this she did say

It will not be long love, till our wedding day

The remaining two verses, however, are quite different. Nevertheless, this opening verse shows how songs could be changed and adapted as they were passed down in the oral tradition.

Tunney also points to a version of the song which he learnt from his mother which she called, "My Young Love Said to Me". The first verse is virtually the same as Colum's but the remaining three verses are quite different and describe how the woman in the song went off with another man. It is as follows:

My young love said to me, my mother won't mind

And my father won't slight you for your lack of kind

And she went away from me and this she did say:

It will not be long now till our wedding day.

She went away from me and she moved through the fair

Where hand-slapping dealers' loud shouts rent the air

The sunlight around her did sparkle and play

Saying it will not be long now till our wedding day.

When dew falls on meadow and moths fill the night

When glow of the greeesagh on hearth throws half-light

I'll slip from the casement and we'll run away

And it will not be long love till our wedding day

According to promise at midnight he rose

But all that he found was the downloaded clothes

The sheets they lay empty 'twas plain for to see

And out of the window with another went she

Colum's version is more subtle. It gives no explanation for the young woman's disappearance, which gives the song a sense of mystery and allows the listener the freedom to interpret it in his or her own way.


In recent times, following Fairport Convention's version of the song in the 1960s, hundreds of artists have recorded this song in its traditional form. Most have kept to some form of the traditional lyrics: however, the versions by Sinéad O'Connor (as used in the soundtrack of the film Michael Collins), Trees and Nana Mouskouri change the gender of the pronouns and so the song became "He Moved Through the Fair". O'Connor and Trees' versions keep the original "She Moved Through the Fair" title on their sleeves, although Mouskouri changes the name to suit the variant. An alternative version of the lyrics was also used in Mary Black's version of the song.

Other notable versions:

  • Donovan as "She Moved Through the Fair" on Try For the Sun – the Journey of Donovan (Disc 3)
  • Pete Seeger as "She Moves Through the Fair" on his album Love Songs for Friends and Foes/ 1956
  • Maureen O'Hara as "He Moved Through the Fair" on her album Maureen O'Hara Sings Her Favourite Irish Songs/ 1961
  • Davey Graham on the EP From a London Hootenanny featuring two tracks by the Thamesiders and two by Davy [sic] Graham/ 1962
  • Shirley Collins as "She Moves Through the Fair" on her EP Shirley Sings Irish/ 1963
  • Jean Redpath on her album Songs of Love, Lilt and Laughter/ 1963
  • Cy Grant on his album Cool Folk!/ 1964
  • Marianne Faithfull on her album North Country Maid/ 1966: Faithfull re-recorded the song for her 1990 album Blazing Away, and has often sung it in concert.
  • Fairport Convention as "She Moves Through the Fair" on their album What We Did on Our Holidays/ 1969
  • Trees as "She Moved Thro' the Fair" on their album The Garden of Jane Delawney/ 1970
  • Nana Mouskouri as "He Moved Through the Fair" on her album Songs of the British Isles/ 1976
  • The King's Singers on their album Watching the White Wheat – Folk Songs of the British Isles/ 1985
  • Barbara Dickson as "She Moves Through the Fair" on her album The Right Moment/ 1986
  • Eyeless in Gaza a cappella version on their album Back from the Rains/ 1986
  • Pentangle on their album In the Round/ 1986
  • All About Eve as "She Moves Through the Fair" on their eponymous 1988 debut album, and often performed it live in their early days. Following an acrimonious departure from the band, guitarist Tim Bricheno would later use a sample of the vocal in the song "Wrong Thing", recorded by his later band, XC-NN.
  • Boyzone as "She Moves Through the Fair" on their album A Different Beat/ 1996
  • Maggie Reilly as "He Moved Through the Fair" on her album "Elena"/ 1996
  • Culann's Hounds on their album One for the Road/ 2006: track features Sara Gardner
  • Rhys Meirion on his album Celticae – Cymru, Alba, Eire/ 2007
  • Siobhan Owen recorded a version on her album Celestial Echoes/ 2009
  • Jim Causley recorded a Devonshire variant on his album Dumnonia/ 2011
  • Arbouretum on their limited edition prmarily-cover release Covered In Leaves/ 2012
  • Cheshire Moon on their album "Ways of Wind and Water" / 2012


  1. ^ Loesberg, John (1980). Folksongs and Ballads Popular in Ireland: Volume One. Cork: Ossian Publications. ISBN 9780946005000. OCLC 11958964. 
  2. ^ Mills, Peter (2010). Hymns to the Silence: Inside the Words and Music of Van Morrison. New York: Continuum. p. 69. ISBN 9780826416896. 
  3. ^ Irish Times, 22 April 1970
  4. ^ Irish country songs / collected and arranged by Herbert Hughes. London ; New York : Boosey & Hawkes, 1909–1915.
  5. ^ Allen, Patrick (1999). Developing Singing Matters. Oxford: Heinemann Educational Publishers. pp. 22. ISBN 0-435-81018-9. OCLC 42040205. 
  6. ^ Facsimile – see page 26.
  7. ^ Songs of the People: Selections from the Sam Henry Collection, edited by John Moulden. Blackstaff Press, 1979. ISBN 0-85640-132-3
  8. ^ [1]
  9. ^ Merriam-Webster
  10. ^ The Stone Fiddle – My Way to Traditional Song, Appletree Press, 1991 pp152

External links[edit]

Preceded by
"Something's Gotten Hold of My Heart" by Gene Pitney & Marc Almond
UK number-one single
19 February 1989
"Belfast Child"
by Simple Minds
Succeeded by
"Too Many Broken Hearts" by Jason Donovan