Weela Weela Walya

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"Weela Weela Walya",[1][2] also called "Weila Waile", "Wella Wallia" or "The River Saile", is an Irish schoolyard song that tells the story of an infanticide in a light-hearted way. It was popularised in the 1960s by Irish folk bands The Dubliners and The Clancy Brothers.

Origin[edit]

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.[2] 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, or possibly a psychiatrist), who come to her door and arrest her for the murder.[2] Neither this version nor any adult Irish version is found in Child's English and Scottish Popular Ballads,[3] but it is listed in the Roud Folk Song Index.[1] The song was popular with Irish Traveller children.[2] A similar song, "Old Mother Lee", is sung in playgrounds in Liverpool.[4]

The refrain "Weile Weile Waile" (/ˈwljæ ˈwljæ ˈwɔːl.jæ/) is a version of the Middle English expression of grief "wellaway!" (Old English wā lā wā, "woe, la!, woe).[5][6][7]

Performance[edit]

The song was recorded by The Clancy Brothers as "Wella Wallia" on Recorded Live in Ireland (1965),[8] and as "Weila Waile" by The Dubliners on their 1967 album A Drop of the Hard Stuff.[9] 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.[10] Virgin Prunes's singers Guggi and Gavin Friday sung a version of the song in the 1981 video Sons Find Devils.

Lyrics[edit]

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][11]

She had a baby three months old
Weela Weela Walya
She had a baby three months old
Down by the river Saile.

She had a penknife long and sharp
Weela Weela Walya
She had a penknife long and sharp
Down by the river Saile.

She stuck the penknife in the baby's heart
Weela Weela Walya
She stuck the penknife in the baby's heart
Down by the river Saile.

Three loud knocks came a'knocking on the door
Weela Weela Walya
Three loud knocks came a'knocking on the door
Down by the river Saile.

Two policemen and a man
Weela Weela Walya
Two policemen and a man
Down by the river Saile.

"Are you the woman that killed the child?"
Weela Weela Walya
"Are you the woman that killed the child?"
Down by the river Saile.

"I am the woman that killed the child"
Weela Weela Walya
"I am the woman that killed the child"
Down by the river Saile.

They took her away and they put her in jail
Weela Weela Walya
They took her away and they put her in jail
Down by the river Saile.

Alternate Ending:
They took her up and strung her by the neck
Weela Weela Walya
They took her up and strung her by the neck
Down by the river Saile.

And that was the end of the woman in the woods
Weela Weela Walya
And that was the end of the woman in the woods
Down by the river Saile.

In culture[edit]

The song's morbid theme of infanticide, juxtaposed with its childish nature, has made it popular as a cultural reference. It is mentioned in Sebastian Barry's novel Annie Dunne, Hannah Kent's novel The Good People, and Daniel Shortell's novel th!s, and forms a substantial inspiration for the film The Hole in the Ground, which also features Lisa Hannigan's version of the song.[12][13][14][15][16]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ /ˈsɔːl.jæ/. From the Irish salach ("dirty"), it was a former nickname for the River Poddle in Dublin.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "Weela Weela Walya". Roud Folksong Index (S380526). Vaughan Williams Memorial Library. Retrieved 6 November 2020.
  2. ^ a b c d "Weela Weela Walya". Songs of Clare. Clare County Library. Retrieved 6 November 2020.
  3. ^ Child, Francis James (1882). English and Scottish Popular Ballads. Volume 1. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin. pp. 218–27. Retrieved 19 March 2017. |volume= has extra text (help)
  4. ^ "Old Mother Lee". A Liverpool Folk Song a Week. Retrieved 19 March 2017.
  5. ^ ""Weile Weile Waile" - How an old Irish murder ballad became a children's song". IrishCentral.com. 2 August 2019.
  6. ^ Jamieson, John (1 November 1841). "An Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language: ... to which is Prefixed, A Dissertation on the Origin of the Scottish Language". W. Tait – via Google Books.
  7. ^ "wellaway | Origin and meaning of wellaway by Online Etymology Dictionary". www.etymonline.com.
  8. ^ "The Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem - Recorded Live In Ireland". Discogs. Retrieved 19 March 2017.
  9. ^ "The Dubliners - A Drop Of The Hard Stuff". Discogs. Retrieved 19 March 2017.
  10. ^ Anderson, Nicola (20 August 2008). "Mourners give Ronnie a rare ould send-off". The Irish Independent. Retrieved 19 March 2017.
  11. ^ "The origin, history and meaning of the popular Irish Folk Song, "Weile Weile Waila."". CORRIDORS│An Educational Website in the Visual Arts & Humanities. Featuring My Photography and Videos. 31 January 2017.
  12. ^ Shortell, Daniel (1 December 2016). th!s. danielshortell.com. ISBN 9780692831182 – via Google Books.
  13. ^ Kent, Hannah (9 February 2017). The Good People. Pan Macmillan. ISBN 9781447233374 – via Google Books.
  14. ^ Barry, Sebastian (25 November 2010). Annie Dunne. Faber & Faber. ISBN 9780571266845 – via Google Books.
  15. ^ "New trailer for eerie Irish horror 'The Hole in The Ground' featuring Lisa Hannigan". Planet of Sound.
  16. ^ "THE HOLE IN THE GROUND - Interview with director Lee Cronin - Highlight, interviews • Movies.ie - Irish Cinema Site". 26 February 2019.