Why Children are Stolen by the Fairies

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  • Teideal (Title): Why Children are Stolen by the Fairies.
  • Uimhir Chatalóige Ollscoil Washington (University of Washington Catalogue Number): 841421.
  • Uimhir Chnuasach Bhéaloideas Éireann (National Folklore of Ireland Number): none.
  • Uimhir Roud (Roud Number): none.
  • 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): story.
  • Ainm an té a thug (Name of Informant): Joe Heaney.
  • Ainm an té a thóg (Name of Collector): Joan Rabinowitz.
  • Dáta an taifeadta (Recording Date): unavailable.
  • Suíomh an taifeadta (Recording Location): University of Washington, United States of America.
  • Ocáid an taifeadta (Recording Occasion): KRAB Radio.
  • Daoine eile a bhí i láthair (Others present): unavailable.
  • Stádas chóipcheart an taifeadta (Recording copyright status): unavailable.

Fairy Beliefs: Why children are stolen by the fairies

Joe explains the belief that attractive children who are drowned in a spring well, or who die accidentally, have been taken by the fairies in order to rejuvenate an elderly member of their own tribe.


A number of Joe’s songs and stories relate to the belief in people being stolen by fairies. See Tháinig Bean Cois Leasa, The Fairy Boy, The Fairy Frog, The Fairy Greyhound, The Woman Who Came Back from the Dead, The Changeling, 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.

Documentation gives 19th October 1984 as the recording date but it is probably the broadcast date, as Joe Heaney died in May of that year.