Fairy Boy, The

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  • Teideal (Title): Fairy Boy, The.
  • Uimhir Chatalóige Ollscoil Washington (University of Washington Catalogue Number): 853906.
  • Uimhir Chnuasach Bhéaloideas Éireann (National Folklore of Ireland Number): none.
  • Uimhir Roud (Roud Number): 9293.
  • Uimhir Laws (Laws Number): none.
  • Uimhir Child (Child Number): none.
  • Cnuasach (Collection): Joe Heaney Collection, University of Washington, Seattle.
  • Teanga na Croímhíre (Core-Item Language): English.
  • Catagóir (Category): lore; song.
  • Ainm an té a thug (Name of Informant): Joe Heaney.
  • Ainm an té a thóg (Name of Collector): Lucy Simpson.
  • Dáta an taifeadta (Recording Date): 06/11/1979.
  • Suíomh an taifeadta (Recording Location): Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, New York, United States of America.
  • Ocáid an taifeadta (Recording Occasion): private.
  • Daoine eile a bhí i láthair (Others present): unavailable.
  • Stádas chóipcheart an taifeadta (Recording copyright status): unavailable.

Anyway, this song — The Fairy Boy — there’s a… myth — and indeed, that’s how many years ago, people believed it, and some of them still believe it — that if a young child gets drowned in a well, in a spring well — especially a spring well, that’s where the water comes out of the rock — that the fairies have something to do with that particular drowing. That they — What they do, is they take the child, and put the body of the child into somebody old, and put somebody old in the form of a child, and put them in the well, so that they’ll be taken out an buried. And that means that the body they’ve taken goes into one of their own, who’s getting old, and they can live another lifetime. Well, this mother discovers a baby drowned in the well, and she believes that the fairy king — The rath… where the fairies supposed to live was beside the house and she went to the rath, pleading with the fairy king to let her boy come. But she knew he didn’t die accidentally. She knew it was sort of… They, they planted him in the well and… took his body away. The Celts had the same belief, that if… somebody died, they went the Isle of… Hy-Brasail and was reincarnated after a hundred years, and came back again into this world. But any[way], here goes.

A mother came while stars were paling, wailing round a lonely spring
Thus she cried, as tears were falling, calling on the fairy king.
Why would spoil a mother’s treasure, courting him with fairy joy?
Why destroy a mother’s blessing? Whyfore steal my baby boy?


O’er the mountains, through the wild wood, where in childhood he longed to play
Where the flowers are freshly springing, there I wander day by day.
There I wander, growing fonder of the child that made my joy
And the echoes while recalling — please restore my baby boy.


But in vain my plaintive calling; tears are falling all in vain
He now sports with fairy treasure — he’s the pleasure of their train.
So fare thee well, my child forever! In this world I’ve lost my joy
In the next we ne’er shall sever! There I’ll find my baby boy.


So fare thee well, my child forever! In this world I’ve lost my joy
In the next we ne’er shall sever! There I’ll find my baby boy.


Joe tells Lucy that he learned this song from the same old woman from whom he learned I Wish I Had Someone to Love Me. On other occasions he tells her that this old woman was his grandmother, who lived in their house while he was growing up. He goes on: “That’s why I love women singers, because they can do more justice to an awful lot of songs than men can, you know. They can put more feeling into them. That’s why I love to hear lots of women singing, you know, anywhere I go.”

The air is the same one used for Anach Cuain. The practice of humming, or crónán, is associated with private lamentation. See also the lullabies Joe sang in Irish for more examples.

A number of Joe’s songs and stories relate to the widespread belief in people being stolen by the fairies. See The Changeling, Lore About Changelings, Tháinig Bean Cois Leasa, The Fairy Greyhound, The Woman Who Came Back from the Dead, Why Children are Stolen by the Fairies, and the lullabies Seoithín, Seo-hó and Dún do Shúil.

D. L. Ashliman, in A Guide to Folktales in the English Language (Greenwood Press, New York, Westport CT, London, 1987, p. 104.), has added a new classification to the Aarne-Thompson index, and gives the following description:

504 Changeling. While working in a field, a mother left her newly born child on a stack of hay. When she came back, she knew that the baby lying there was not hers, for it greedily sucked her milk and made inhuman noises. The landowner told her to beat the child with a switch, and she would witness a miracle. She did this, and the devil took his child back, returning the stolen baby.

Ashliman indicates that versions of this story appear in W. B. Yeats, Fairy and Folk Tales of Ireland, pp. 48 and 51; also in Henry Glassie, Irish Folktales, No. 62.