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The Fairy Child
Martin Howley
Fanore, north west Clare
Recorded in singer's home, summer 1975

Carroll Mackenzie Collection

Martin Howley

A mother came while stars were paling
Wailing round her lonely spring.
Where thus she cried while tears are falling
Calling on her fairy king.
Why thus in spell my child’s caressing,
Courting him with fairy joy.
And he now break a mother’s blessing,
When first you steal my baby boy.

And o’er the mountain through the valleys,
There in childhood I love to play.
Where the flowers are still freshly stringing
There I’ll wander day by day.
It is there I’ll wander growing fonder
For the child that made my joy.
But still the echoes are wildly calling
To restore my baby boy.

But alas in vain my plaintives calling
Courting him with fairy joy.
But he now breaks a mother’s blessing
When first you steal my baby boy.
But alas in vain my plaintives calling
Tears are falling all in vain.
But he now sports with fairy pleasure,
He’s the treasure of the trail.

So fare thee well my child forever
In this world I have lost my joy.
But in the next I ne’er shall sever
When first I lost my baby boy.


"This was composed as a poem by Samuel Lover under the title 'The Fairy Boy'. Its 'changeling' motif of a child being 'taken' by the fairies, usually to be replaced by a weak, ailing substitute, is a recurring motif in both the Irish and Scottish traditions, where it provides the subject for many tales and several songs.

We recorded this story of Biddy Early and the Changeling from Traveller Mikeen McCarthy, Caherciveen, County Kerry:
'There was a child inside in the cot anyway like, at the fire, the child used never stop crying, always crying, you know, and it never thriving, always shrinking like. The child was eating more than four or six people in the house. It had them almost broke, you know, eat and eat and eat, and drink and drink and never stop crying. They usedn't get a sleep or nothing at all out of this child. So bejakers, they sent for Biddy Early anyway and Biddy Early came on and she looked at the child in the cot. So she said, everybody leave the house now, because she knew if the mother was watching her, what she was going to do to the child that she couldn't stand it like. So they were almost as afraid of Biddy Early as they were of any fairies, you know. Out she go, she order them out of the house, she said, ‘If you want your child cured get out of the house,’ she said. So she put them all out and she shut the windows and she put on a big fire and she caught the child and she held the child to the fire. And such heat that was getting at her own hands now, d’you know, that she couldn't hardly stick the heat. And she kept at it, and the child started roaring and screaming and roaring and screaming. And the next thing anyway, this gust of smoke come out from the fire like, and went up the chimney, you know. And the fairy came in behind her and the child fell off weightless then like. ‘Ah’, said the fairy, and ‘'twas well you showed up in time, because I'd have broke this place, and broke this farm,’ he said. And she shouted outside for somebody open the door and the fairy went out the door and the child never stopped thriving after that.'"
Jim Carroll

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