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 has been recorded many times.

Origins of the Melody[edit]

The melody is in Mixolydian mode.[1] John Loesberg speculates: "From its strange, almost Eastern sounding melody, it appears to be an air of some antiquity,"[2] but he does not define its age any more precisely. It has been found both in Ireland and in Scotland,[3] but scraps of the song were first collected in County Donegal by the Longford poet Padraic Colum and the musicologist Herbert Hughes.

Origins of the Lyrics[edit]

In a letter published in the Irish Times (22 April 1970)[4] Colum claimed 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.

One verse was not included in the first publication, in Hughes's Irish Country Songs, published by Boosey & Hawkes in 1909.[5] 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 subsequently 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 their traditional origin is not mentioned there.[6]

No earlier version of the three verses written by Colum has ever been found, so there is little doubt that he is the author of those three verses.[citation needed]

Alternative Version[edit]

The traditional singer Paddy Tunney relates[7] 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 that by then had generated 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 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 learned from his mother, who called it "My Young Love Said to Me". The first verse is virtually the same as Colum's, but the remaining 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 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 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 downloaded 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.[8] 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".[9]

Performances and Recordings[edit]

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 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 a vinyl recording made by John McCormack at EMI Studios in 1941. Former Fairport Convention guitarist and songwriter Richard Thompson regularly includes the song in concert performances.[10] 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 album Watermark (1977). Josh Groban recorded the song for his album All That Echoes (2013).

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. [11] An alternative version of the lyrics is 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 (2005)
  • Pete Seeger, on his album Love Songs for Friends and Foes (1956)
  • Rua, on their self-titled album Rua (2001)
  • Maureen O'Hara, as "He Moved Through the Fair", on her album Maureen O'Hara Sings Her Favourite Irish Songs (1961)
  • 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) she re-recorded the song for her album Blazing Away (1990) and has often sung it in concert.
  • The Yardbirds, on their album Little Games (1967) reelaborated and arranged under the name "White Summer"
  • Alfred Deller with Desmond Dupre, on the album Folksongs album.
  • The King's Singers, on their album Watching the White Wheat – Folk Songs of the British Isles (1985)
  • Pentangle, on the album In the Round (1986)
  • Simple Minds, on the album Ballad of the Streets (1989) under the name "Belfast Child" with completely different words
  • Benjamin Luxon on the album "Simple Gifts: Benjamin Luxon and Bill Crofut sing Folks Songs at Tanglewood" (1990)
  • Led Zeppelin, on their compilation album Led Zeppelin (1990) reelaborated and arranged under the name "White Summer/Black Mountain Side"
  • Boyzone, on the album A Different Beat (1996)
  • Anthony Kearns, on the album The Very Best of the Irish Tenors (2002)
  • Rhys Meirion, on his album Celticae – Cymru, Alba, Eire (2007)
  • Jim Causley, as a "Devonshire variant" on his album Dumnonia (2011)
  • Arbouretum, on the album Covered In Leaves (2012)
  • Cheshire Moon, on the album Ways of Wind and Water (2012)


  1. ^ Allen, Patrick (1999). Developing Singing Matters. Oxford: Heinemann Educational Publishers. pp. 22. ISBN 0-435-81018-9. OCLC 42040205. 
  2. ^ Loesberg, John (1980). Folksongs and Ballads Popular in Ireland, Volume 1. Cork: Ossian Publications. ISBN 9780946005000. OCLC 11958964. 
  3. ^ Mills, Peter (2010). Hymns to the Silence: Inside the Words and Music of Van Morrison. New York: Continuum. p. 69. ISBN 9780826416896. 
  4. ^ Irish Times, 22 April 1970
  5. ^ Irish Country Songs, collected and arranged by Herbert Hughes. London and New York : Boosey & Hawkes, 1909–1915.
  6. ^ Facsimile – see page 26.
  7. ^ Paddy Tunney, The Stone Fiddle – My Way to Traditional Song, Appletree Press, 1991, p. 152
  8. ^ Songs of the People: Selections from the Sam Henry Collection, ed. John Moulden. Blackstaff Press, 1979. ISBN 0-85640-132-3
  9. ^ "I Once Had a True Love". Retrieved 2016-01-26. 
  10. ^ Richard Thompson setlist, November 13, 2015, Seattle, WA USA -
  11. ^ 15:30 (2013-02-23). "BBC Radio 4 - Soul Music, Series 15, She Moved through the Fair". Retrieved 2016-01-26. 

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