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She Moved Through the Fair

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"She Moved Through the Fair" (also called "Our Wedding Day", "My Young Love Said to Me", "I Once Had a True Love", "She Moves Through the Fair" or "She Moved Through the Faire") is a traditional Irish folk song, with a number of iterations, that has been performed and recorded by various artists. The narrator sees his lover move away from him through the fair, after telling him that since her family will approve, "it will not be long [love] 'til our wedding day". She returns as a ghost at night, and repeats the words again, intimating her own tragic death and the couple's potential reunion in the afterlife. There are numerous alternate versions, some sung about a male lover, with different lyrics, such as "Our Wedding Day" and "My Young Love Said to Me", among others.

Origins and structure[edit]

"She Moved Through the Fair" has been found both in Ireland and in Scotland,[1] but pieces of the song were apparently first collected in County Donegal by Longford poet Padraic Colum and the musicologist Herbert Hughes.[citation needed]

The melody is in Mixolydian mode (major scale with a flattened seventh—a fairly common mode within Irish and Scottish musical traditions), placing a large emphasis on the 1st, 4th, 5th and 7th chords of the scale.[2] John Loesberg speculated: "From its strange, almost Eastern sounding melody, it appears to be an air of some antiquity,"[3] but he does not define its age any more precisely.

Origins and publishing of the lyrics[edit]

The lyrics were first published in Hughes' Irish Country Songs, published by Boosey & Hawkes in 1909.[4] A common version goes 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 stepped away from me, and this, she did say: "It will not be long, love, ‘til our wedding day."

She stepped away from me, and she moved through the fair. And, fondly, I watched her move her and move there. And then she moved onward, with one star awake. Like the swan in the evening moves over the lake.

Last night, she came to me; she came softly in. So softly she came, that her feet made no din. And she stepped closer to me, and this, she did say: "It will not be long, love, ‘til our wedding day."

In a letter published in The Irish Times in 1970, Colum stated that he was the author of all but the final verse. He also described how Herbert Hughes collected the tune and then he, Colum, had kept the last verse of a traditional song and written a couple of verses to fit the music.[5]

One verse was not included in the first publication: 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 that 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, too late for publication in that particular collection. This extra verse was published in other collections, along with the other three verses. The lyrics were also published in Colum's collection Wild Earth: And Other Poems (1916), though the traditional origin of the final verse is not mentioned there.[6]

In the course of the same Irish Times correspondence, however, another music collector, Proinsias Ó Conluain, said he had recorded a song called "She Went Through the Fair", with words the same as the other three verses of "She Moved Through the Fair", sung by an old man who told him that "the song was a very old one" and that he had learned it as a young man from a basket-weaver in Glenavy.[7]

"Our Wedding Day" version[edit]

Irish singer Paddy Tunney related[8] how Colum wrote an alternate version called upon returning from a literary gathering in Donegal with Herbert Hughes, among others. However, as the melody remains the same, Tunney suggested that it would be more accurate to say that Colum simply added new lyrics to an existing traditional song that, by then, had generated many variations throughout Ireland

Tunney, himself, collected a version from an Irish singer named Barney McGarvey. This version, similarly to the lyrics of "Our Wedding Day", was called "I Once Had a True Love". The opening four lines are highly reminiscent of "She Moved Through the Fair", and the second four lines are unmistakably taken from that composition.

The first verse says:

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 you 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 are quite different. Tunney also points to a version of the song that he obtained from his mother, who called it "My Young Love Said to Me", which recalls lyrics from the alternate version, as well. The first verse is virtually the same as Colum's, but the latter three verses are quite different:

My young love said to me, "My mother won't mind…
And my father won't slight you for your lack of kine."
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 greesagh 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 downfolded clothes.
The sheets, they lay empty; 'twas plain for to see.
And out of the window, with another, went she.

Variants and related songs[edit]

One 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 in Northern Ireland in around 1930 and published in 1979.[9] Yet another song, "I Once Had a True Love", also appears to be related, as it shares some lyrics with "She Moved Through the Fair".[10]

"I Was In Chains", written by Gavin Sutherland and recorded by The Sutherland Brothers on their album The Sutherland Brothers Band (1972), has a similar tune but completely different words. Paul Young covered this song on his album The Secret of Association (1985).

The 1989 song "Belfast Child" by Simple Minds incorporates the melody of "She Moved Through the Fair".[11]

In the 1990s the tune was used in the winning entry in the Comórtas na nAmhrán Nuachumtha ("Competition for newly composed songs") in Ráth Cairn. The subject of the song, Bailéad an Phíolóta ("The Ballad of the Pilot"), was a plane crash that took place in 1989 on an unlit runway on Árainn Mhór.[12]

Other name variants include "She Moved Thru' The Fair",[13] "She Moved Thro' The Fair",[14] and "He Moved Through The Fair" [15]

Performances and recordings[edit]

Scottish tenor Sydney MacEwan recorded the song in 1936 and Irish tenor John McCormack recorded it in 1941.[16]

In 1952, folklorist Peter Kennedy recorded the McPeake Family singing a version based on that of Margaret Barry entitled "Our Wedding Day." It featured a bagpipe accompaniment by Francis McPeake, II. The traditional singer Paddy Tunney learned "She Moved Through the Fair" in County Fermanagh and recorded it in 1965. Other singers who sang it in the 1950s and the 1960s included Patrick Galvin, Dominic Behan and Anne Briggs. It was popular among members of the Traveller community in Ireland at that time.

Fairport Convention recorded the song in 1968, adapting the style of the song from the Traveller Margaret Barry, though she herself had learned it from the John McCormack vinyl recording. Former Fairport Convention guitarist and songwriter Richard Thompson regularly includes the song in concert performances.[17] Also of note are the recordings of the song by Alan Stivell in 1973. Art Garfunkel (formerly of Simon & Garfunkel) recorded a particularly lush version on his album Watermark (1977), which featured Irish traditional band The Chieftains and was arranged by Paddy Moloney and Jimmy Webb.

Versions of the song recorded by Sinéad O'Connor (as used on the soundtrack of the film Michael Collins), Trees and Nana Mouskouri change the gender of the pronouns, so the song became "He Moved Through the Fair". O'Connor's and Trees' versions keep the original title even so, but Mouskouri changes it. In a 2015 interview, O'Connor expressed regret for having changed the gender.[18] An alternative version of the lyrics is also used in Mary Black's version of the song.

In June 2016, the BBC TV series The Living and the Dead premiered a version of the song sung by Elizabeth Fraser in collaboration with The Insects.[19][20][21]

Other notable versions[edit]

Artist Title (if different) Album Year Notes
10,000 Maniacs Twice Told Tales 2015
All About Eve All About Eve 1988
Arbouretum Covered In Leaves 2012
B-Tribe ¡Spiritual, Spiritual! 2001
Dominic Behan Irish Songs 1958
Boyzone A Different Beat 1996
Mary Black Collected 1984 Sings an alternative version of the lyrics
Máire Brennan 1992
Jeremy Brett Twiggy 1975
Anne Briggs 1963
Sarah Brightman "He Moved Through the Fair" 1998
Jim Causley "She Moved Through The Fair / Germany Clockmaker" Dumnonia 2011 Devonshire variant
Celtic Thunder Mythology 2013
Celtic Woman Celtic Woman 2004
Tony Christie and Ranagri The Great Irish Songbook 2015
Charlotte Church Charlotte Church 2000
Slaid Cleaves Dark River (compilation album) 2011
Shirley Collins Shirley Sings Irish (EP) 1963
Andrea Corr Celtic Skies (compilation album) 2012
Culann's Hounds One for the Road 2006
Alfred Deller with Desmond Dupre Folk Songs 1972
Barbara Dickson The Right Moment 1986
Cara Dillon Hill of Thieves 2009
Donal Donnelly Take the Name of Donnelly 1968
Donovan "One Star Awake" 2005
The Doug Anthony Allstars Blue 1991 Unreleased album
Enter the Haggis Casualties of Retail 2005
Eyeless in Gaza Back from the Rains 1986
Fairport Convention 1968
Marianne Faithfull North Country Maid 1966 Re-recorded for Blazing Away (1990)
Órla Fallon The Water Is Wide 2000
Elizabeth Fraser with The Insects Version for TV series The Living and the Dead 2016
Rory Gallagher with Bert Jansch Wheels Within Wheels 2003
Art Garfunkel (featuring The Chieftains) Watermark 1977 Arranged by Paddy Moloney and Jimmy Webb
Lesley Garrett A North Country Lass 2012
Davey Graham From a London Hootenanny (EP) 1962
Cy Grant Cool Folk! 1964
Josh Groban All That Echoes 2013
Alan Hacker and Tony Coe "One Star Awake" Sun, Moon and Stars 1999
Carolyn Hester Carolyn Hester 1960
Peter Hollens Peter Hollens 2014
Jam Nation Way Down Below Buffalo Hell 1993 Arranged by Caroline Lavelle
Bert Jansch Toy Balloon 1998
Anthony Kearns The Very Best of the Irish Tenors 2002
Camilla Kerslake Camilla Kerslake 2009
The King's Singers Watching the White Wheat 1985 Also on Spirit Voices (1997)
John Langstaff Nottamun Town: British and American Folk Songs 2003 Remastered from 1950s
Led Zeppelin "White Summer" Coda 1993 Guitar-only arrangement
Johnny Logan The Irish Connection 2 2013
Michael Londra Celt 2006
Benjamin Luxon Simple Gifts: Benjamin Luxon and Bill Crofut sing Folks Songs at Tanglewood 1990
Shane MacGowan and the Popes "Rock 'N' Roll Paddy" (single) 1998 B-side
John Martyn London Conversation - Remastered 2005
Loreena McKennitt Elemental 1985 Also on Nights from the Alhambra (2007)
Mediæval Bæbes The Huntress 2012
Rhys Meirion Celticae – Cymru, Alba, Eire 2007
Van Morrison and The Chieftains Irish Heartbeat 1988 Live version in the video Van Morrison: The Concert (1990)
Nana Mouskouri "He Moved Through the Fair"
No Carrier Ghosts of the West Coast (EP) 2015
Carol Noonan Absolution 1995
Odetta One Grain of Sand 1963
Hazel O'Connor 1995
Sinéad O'Connor Sang "He Moved Through the Fair"; used in the soundtrack of the film Michael Collins
Majella O'Donnell At Last 2006
Mary O'Hara Songs of Erin 1956
Maureen O'Hara "He Moved Through the Fair" Maureen O'Hara Sings Her Favourite Irish Songs 1961
Mike Oldfield Voyager 1996
Terry Oldfield Celtic Spirit 2009
Siobhan Owen Celestial Echoes 2009
Pentangle In the Round 1986
Marina Prior part of "Celtic Medley" Marina Prior Live 2013 "Celtic Medley": "He Moved Through The Fair", "Heigh Diddle Dum", "Danny Boy"
Jean Redpath Songs of Love, Lilt and Laughter 1963
Maggie Reilly Elena 1996
Rua Rua 2001
Andreas Scholl Wayfaring Stranger 2001
Scooter "Ratty's Revenge" The Ultimate Aural Orgasm 2007
Pete Seeger Love Songs for Friends and Foes 1956
Feargal Sharkey Songs from the Mardi Gras 1991
Fionnuala Sherry Songs From Before 2010
Wayne Shorter Alegría 2003 Instrumental version
Alan Stivell Chemins de Terre 1973
Trees Garden of Jane Delawney 1970 Sang "He Moved Through the Fair"
Hayley Westenra Odyssey 2005
Roger Whittaker Folksongs of Our Island Volume 1 1977
Nyle Wolfe Home Ground 2009
Brenda Wootton and John the Fish So Long 198?
The Yardbirds "White Summer" Little Games 1967
Charlie Zahm The Celtic Balladeer 1999
Oli Steadman 365 Days Of Folk 2024 [22]


  1. ^ Mills, Peter (2010). Hymns to the Silence: Inside the Words and Music of Van Morrison. New York: Continuum. p. 69. ISBN 9780826416896.
  2. ^ Allen, Patrick (1999). Developing Singing Matters. Oxford: Heinemann Educational Publishers. pp. 22. ISBN 0-435-81018-9. OCLC 42040205.
  3. ^ Loesberg, John (1980). Folksongs and Ballads Popular in Ireland, Volume 1. Cork: Ossian Publications. ISBN 9780946005000. OCLC 11958964.
  4. ^ Irish Country Songs, collected and arranged by Herbert Hughes. London and New York : Boosey & Hawkes, 1909–1915.
  5. ^ Irish Times, 22 April 1970
  6. ^ Facsimile – see page 26.
  7. ^ Ó Conluain, Proinsias. "She Moved Through the Fair" (letter), The Irish Times, 2 April 1970
  8. ^ Paddy Tunney, The Stone Fiddle – My Way to Traditional Song, Appletree Press, 1991, p. 152
  9. ^ Songs of the People: Selections from the Sam Henry Collection, ed. John Moulden. Blackstaff Press, 1979. ISBN 0-85640-132-3
  10. ^ "I Once Had a True Love". Csufresno.edu. Retrieved 26 January 2016.
  11. ^ J. Llewellyn and S. Thompson (5 July 2017). "Belfast Child (1989)". Alpha History. Retrieved 2 October 2018. Belfast Child opens with an ethereal melody drawn from an Irish folk song called She Moved Through the Fair
  12. ^ Ní Mhiolláin, Treasa (2019). "1.6 Bailéad an Phíolóta". Lán Mara (booklet). An Spidéal, Éire: Cló Iar-Chonnachta. Retrieved 19 February 2020.
  13. ^ "Celtic Woman on Manhattan Records". Retrieved 21 June 2022.
  14. ^ "Father Sydney MacEwan EP". Retrieved 21 June 2022.
  15. ^ "Old Airs From Ireland, Scotland And England". Retrieved 21 June 2022.
  16. ^ http://jopiepopie.blogspot.co.uk/2014/11/my-lagan-love-1904-she-moved-thro-fair.html - this page contains information on other early recordings
  17. ^ Richard Thompson setlist, 13 November 2015, Seattle, WA USA - http://www.setlist.fm/setlist/richard-thompson/2015/neptune-theatre-seattle-wa-bf57136.html
  18. ^ "BBC Radio 4 - Soul Music, Series 15, She Moved through the Fair". Bbc.co.uk. 23 February 2013. Retrieved 26 January 2016.
  19. ^ "Cocteau Twins' Elizabeth Fraser teams with The Insects for "She Moved Through The Fair"". The Line of Best Fit.
  20. ^ "Cocteau Twins' Elizabeth Fraser Contributes Song to BBC Drama: Listen". Pitchfork. 27 June 2016.
  21. ^ "Cocteau Twins' Elizabeth Fraser contributes song to BBC series". 27 June 2016.
  22. ^ "365 Days Of Folk: Song List". Retrieved 24 January 2024.

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