Weela Weela Walya

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"Weela Weela Walya", also called "Weila Waile", "Wella Wallia" or "The River Saile", is an Irish schoolyard song that tells the story of an infanticide in a comic way. It was popularised in the 1960s by Irish folk bands The Dubliners and The Clancy Brothers.


The song is a variation of a murder ballad called "The Cruel Mother" or "The Greenwood Side" (Child 20, Roud 9), but in an up-tempo version sung by children in the schoolyard.[1] As in several versions of "The Cruel Mother", the woman stabs the baby in the heart using "a penknife long and sharp", but whereas in "The Cruel Mother" the woman is visited by the ghosts of the children she killed, in "Weela Weela Walya" it is "two policeman and a man" (two uniformed police and a detective), who come to her door and arrest her for the murder.[1] Neither this version nor any adult Irish version is found in Child's English and Scottish Popular Ballads,[2] but it is listed in the Roud Folk Song Index.[3] The song was popular with Irish Traveller children.[1] A similar song, "Old Mother Lee", is sung in playgrounds in Liverpool.[4]


The song was recorded by The Clancy Brothers as "Wella Wallia" on Recorded Live in Ireland (1965),[5] and as "Weila Waile" by The Dubliners on their 1967 album A Drop of the Hard Stuff.[6] It was a popular part of the Dubliners' repertoire for decades, appearing on several of their live albums, and was sung at the funeral of Ronnie Drew in 2008.[7]


There was an old woman and she lived in the woods
Weela Weela Walya
There was an old woman and she lived in the woods
Down by the river Saile.[n 1]

She had a baby three months old, etc.

She had a penknife long and sharp.

She stuck the penknife in the baby's heart.

Three loud knocks came a'knocking on the door.

Two policemen and a man.

"Are you the woman that killed the child?"

"I am the woman that killed the child."

They took her away and they put her in jail.

  1. ^ Pronounced SAWL-ye


  1. ^ a b c "Weela Weela Walya". Songs of Clare. Clare County Library. Retrieved 19 March 2017. 
  2. ^ Child, Francis James (1882). English and Scottish Popular Ballads. Volume 1. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin. pp. 218–27. Retrieved 19 March 2017. 
  3. ^ "Weela Weela Walya". Roud Folksong Index (S380526). Vaughan Williams Memorial Library. Retrieved 19 March 2017. 
  4. ^ "Old Mother Lee". A Liverpool Folk Song a Week. Retrieved 19 March 2017. 
  5. ^ "The Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem - Recorded Live In Ireland". Discogs. Retrieved 19 March 2017. 
  6. ^ "The Dubliners - A Drop Of The Hard Stuff". Discogs. Retrieved 19 March 2017. 
  7. ^ Anderson, Nicola (20 August 2008). "Mourners give Ronnie a rare ould send-off". The Irish Independent. Retrieved 19 March 2017.