She Moved Through the Fair

One of the great Irish airs played for us on the whistle by Ballydehob Session regular Swithun Goodbody – She Moved Through the Fair:


The beautiful tune is well known as a song, and has a complicated history, involving various claims as to its composition. The song tells the story of two lovers who meet at the fair:

. . . 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 . . .

It’s a haunting song, and a haunted story. The melody is almost unworldly, and has been described as ‘Eastern’ in tone.

The Co Longford poet Padraic Colum (1881 – 1972) claimed to have written the majority of the words, having heard a traditional singer reciting one verse. This was challenged in a lengthy correspondence in the Irish Times in 1970 when collector Proinsias Ó Conluain (1919 – 2013), said he had recorded a song called “She Went Through the Fair”, given to him by an elderly singer who had learned it as a young man from a basket-weaver in Glenavy, Co Antrim.

In my opinion by far the best rendering of this song is by Margaret Barry (1917 – 1998) – top photo, who features in a Roaringwater Journal post here. When Margaret was once asked where she had got this song (presumably by someone hoping to sort out the controversy) she explained that she had learned it from a recording by Count John McCormack, made in the 1940s! I can’t resist sharing with you one of Margaret’s versions of the song, recorded in the mid 1950s:

Thank you, Swithun, for allowing me to expand on one of my favourite folk singers, but also providing us with these further fine tunes, on the fiddle: – Only Our Rivers Run Free by Mickey MacConnell (of Co Fermanagh, Dublin and Co Kerry), followed by another version of O’Carolan’s Sí Bheag Sí Mhór.


As an encore we have from Swithun a great jig which always goes with a swing – Smash the Windows (also known as Roaring Jelly):