"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. 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, till our wedding day". She returns as a ghost at night, and repeats the words "it will not be long, love, till our wedding day", intimating her own tragic death (possibly at the hands of her disapproving family), as well as the couple's potential reunion in the afterlife.
Origins of the melody
The melody is in Mixolydian mode. John Loesberg speculates: "From its strange, almost Eastern sounding melody, it appears to be an air of some antiquity," but he does not define its age any more precisely. It has been found both in Ireland and in Scotland, but scraps of the song were first collected in County Donegal by the Longford poet Padraic Colum and the musicologist Herbert Hughes.
Origins and publishing of the lyrics
The lyrics were first published in Hughes's Irish Country Songs, published by Boosey & Hawkes in 1909.
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.
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.
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.
The traditional singer Paddy Tunney relates 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 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 downloaded clothes
- The sheets they lay empty 'twas plain for to see
- And out of the window with another went she.
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. 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".
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.
Performances and recordings
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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. 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).
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. An alternative version of the lyrics is also used in Mary Black's version of the song.
Other notable versions:
- Pete Seeger, on his album Love Songs for Friends and Foes (1956)
- Mary O'Hara, on her album Songs of Erin (1956)
- Dominic Behan, on his album Irish Songs (1958)
- 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 (1962)
- Anne Briggs (1963)
- Shirley Collins, on her EP Shirley Sings Irish (1963)
- Odetta, on her album One Grain of Sand (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). 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) under the name "White Summer", uncredited Davy Graham arrangement.
- Donal Donnelly, on his album Take the Name of Donnelly (1968)
- Trees (folk band), on the album Garden of Jane Delawney (1970)
- Alfred Deller with Desmond Dupre, on the album Folk Songs album (1972)
- The Sutherland Brothers, on their album The Sutherland Brothers Band (1972), credited as the song "I Was In Chains" with completely different words.
- Jeremy Brett on Twiggy (1975)
- Roger Whittaker, on the album Folksongs of Our Island Volume 1 (1977)
- Brenda Wootton and John the Fish, on the album So Long (198?)
- Alan Stivell, on his album Chemins de Terre (1973)
- The King's Singers, on their album Watching the White Wheat – Folk Songs of the British Isles (1985)
- Loreena McKennitt, on her albums Elemental (1985) and Nights from the Alhambra (2007)
- Paul Young, on his album The Secret of Association credited as the song "I Was In Chains" by the Sutherland Brothers (1985)
- Barbara Dickson, on her album The Right Moment (1986)
- Eyeless in Gaza, on the album Back from the Rains (1986)
- Pentangle, on the album In the Round (1986)
- All About Eve, on their debut album, All About Eve (1988)
- Van Morrison and the Chieftains, on their album Irish Heartbeat (1988); a live version is included in the video Van Morrison: The Concert (1990)
- 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 under the name "White Summer (uncredited Davey Graham arrangement)/Black Mountain Side (uncredited Bert Jansch arrangement of Black Water Side) "
- Feargal Sharkey, on his album Songs from the Mardi Gras (1991)
- The Doug Anthony Allstars, on their unreleased album Blue (1991)
- Máire Brennan (1992)
- Jam Nation, on the album Way Down Below Buffalo Hell arranged by Caroline Lavelle (1993)
- Hazel O'Connor (1995)
- Carol Noonan, on her recording Absolution (1995)
- Boyzone, on the album A Different Beat (1996)
- Mike Oldfield, on his album Voyager (1996)
- Maggie Reilly, on her album Elena (1996)
- The King's Singers, on their album Spirit Voices (1997)
- Bert Jansch, on his album Toy Balloon (1998)
- Shane MacGowan and the Popes, as the b-side to the single Rock 'N' Roll Paddy (1998)
- Sarah Brightman, as "He Moved Through the Fair" (1998)
- Alan Hacker and Tony Coe, as "One Star Awake", on their album Sun, Moon and Stars (1999)
- Charlie Zahm, on his album The Celtic Balladeer (1999)
- Charlotte Church, on her album Charlotte Church (2000)
- Órla Fallon, on her album The Water Is Wide (2000)
- B-Tribe, on the album ¡Spiritual, Spiritual! (2001)
- Andreas Scholl, on his album Wayfaring Stranger (2001)
- Rua, on their self-titled album Rua (2001)
- Anthony Kearns, on the album The Very Best of the Irish Tenors (2002)
- John Langstaff, on his album Nottamun Town: British and American Folk Songs (2003; remastered from 1950's)
- Wayne Shorter, instrumental version on his album Alegría (2003)
- Rory Gallagher with Bert Jansch, on Gallagher's album Wheels Within Wheels (2003)
- Celtic Woman, on their eponymous debut album (2004)
- Enter the Haggis, on the album Casualties of Retail (2005)
- Hayley Westenra on her album Odyssey (2005)
- Donovan, as "She Moved Through the Fair", on Try for the Sun – the Journey of Donovan (2005)
- John Martyn, on his album London Conversation - Remastered (2005)
- Culann's Hounds, on the album One for the Road (2006)
- Michael Londra, on his album Celt (2006)
- Majella O'Donnell, on her album At Last (2006)
- Rhys Meirion, on his album Celticae – Cymru, Alba, Eire (2007)
- Scooter, in Ratty's Revenge on their album The Ultimate Aural Orgasm (2007)
- Cara Dillon, on her album Hill of Thieves (2009)
- Camilla Kerslake, on her eponymous debut album (2009)
- Siobhan Owen, on her album Celestial Echoes (2009)
- Nyle Wolfe, on his album Home Ground (2009)
- Fionnuala Sherry, on her album Songs From Before (2010)
- Jim Causley, as a "Devonshire variant" on his album Dumnonia (2011)
- Andrea Corr, on the album Celtic Skies (2012)
- Arbouretum, on the album Covered In Leaves (2012)
- Mediæval Bæbes, on the album The Huntress (2012)
- Johnny Logan, on his album The Irish Connection 2 (2013)
- Josh Groban, on his album All That Echoes (2013)
- Celtic Thunder, on the album Mythology (2013)
- Peter Hollens, on his album Peter Hollens (2014)
- 10,000 Maniacs, on the album Twice Told Tales (2015)
- Tony Christie and Ranagri, on the album The Great Irish Songbook (2015)
- No Carrier, on the EP EP, "Ghosts of the West Coast (2015)
- Carolyn Hester, on her album Carolyn Hester (1960)
- Slaid Cleaves, on the compilation album Dark River: Songs of the Civil War Era (2011)
- Allen, Patrick (1999). Developing Singing Matters. Oxford: Heinemann Educational Publishers. pp. M1 22. ISBN 0-435-81018-9. OCLC 42040205.
- Loesberg, John (1980). Folksongs and Ballads Popular in Ireland, Volume 1. Cork: Ossian Publications. ISBN 9780946005000. OCLC 11958964.
- Mills, Peter (2010). Hymns to the Silence: Inside the Words and Music of Van Morrison. New York: Continuum. p. 69. ISBN 9780826416896.
- Irish Country Songs, collected and arranged by Herbert Hughes. London and New York : Boosey & Hawkes, 1909–1915.
- Irish Times, 22 April 1970
- Facsimile – see page 26.
- Ó Conluain, Proinsias. "She Moved Through the Fair" (letter), The Irish Times, 2 April 1970
- Paddy Tunney, The Stone Fiddle – My Way to Traditional Song, Appletree Press, 1991, p. 152
- Songs of the People: Selections from the Sam Henry Collection, ed. John Moulden. Blackstaff Press, 1979. ISBN 0-85640-132-3
- "I Once Had a True Love". Csufresno.edu. Retrieved 26 January 2016.
- J. Llewellyn and S. Thompson. "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
- Ní Mhiolláin, Treasa (2019). "1.6 Bailéad an Phíolóta". Lán Mara (booklet). An Spidéal, Éire: Cló Iar-Chonnachta. Retrieved 19 February 2020.
- http://jopiepopie.blogspot.co.uk/2014/11/my-lagan-love-1904-she-moved-thro-fair.html - this page contains information on other early recordings
- Richard Thompson setlist, 13 November 2015, Seattle, WA USA - http://www.setlist.fm/setlist/richard-thompson/2015/neptune-theatre-seattle-wa-bf57136.html
- "BBC Radio 4 - Soul Music, Series 15, She Moved through the Fair". Bbc.co.uk. 23 February 2013. Retrieved 26 January 2016.
- "Cocteau Twins' Elizabeth Fraser teams with The Insects for "She Moved Through The Fair"". The Line of Best Fit.
- "Cocteau Twins' Elizabeth Fraser Contributes Song to BBC Drama: Listen". Pitchfork.
- "Cocteau Twins' Elizabeth Fraser contributes song to BBC series". 27 June 2016.
- "Alfred Deller, Mark Deller, Desmond Dupre – Folk Songs". discogs.com. 1972. Retrieved 8 February 2017.
- Sissel & The Chieftains Live recording of "Love, Will You Marry Me?" and "She Moved Through The Fair"
- Traditional Ballad Index, California State University: sources and notes about the song
- The lyrics and a MIDI version of the song
- Info/speculation about the history, origins and variations of this song
- Lyrics and chords
- Sheet Music