SHE MOVES THROUGH THE FAIR
“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 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.
In a letter published in The Irish Times (22 April 1970)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.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. 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.
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.
I once had a sweetheart, I loved her right well
I loved her far better than my tongue can tell
Her parents did slight me for the want of guile
Adieu to all pleasure since I lost my dear
She went away from me and moved through the fair
Where hand-clapping dealers’ loud shouts rent the air
The sunlight around her did sparkle and play
Saying, “It will not be long, love, ’til our wedding day”
When dew falls on meadows and moths fill the night
When glow from the greesach on half-froze, half-light
I’ll slip from my casement and I’ll run away
Then it will not be long, love, ’til our wedding day
I dreamed last night that my love came in
She came in so easy, her feet made no din
She came stepping up to me and this she did say
“It will not be long, love, ’til our wedding day”