Babes in the Wood

Play recording: Babes in the Wood

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  • Teideal (Title): Babes in the Wood.
  • Uimhir Chatalóige Ollscoil Washington (University of Washington Catalogue Number): 843901.
  • Uimhir Chnuasach Bhéaloideas Éireann (National Folklore of Ireland Number): none.
  • Uimhir Roud (Roud Number): 288.
  • Uimhir Laws (Laws Number): Q34.
  • Uimhir Child (Child Number): none.
  • Cnuasach (Collection): Joe Heaney Collection, University of Washington, Seattle.
  • Teanga na Croímhíre (Core-Item Language): English.
  • Catagóir (Category): song.
  • Ainm an té a thug (Name of Informant): Joe Heaney.
  • Ainm an té a thóg (Name of Collector): Jill Linzee.
  • Dáta an taifeadta (Recording Date): between 1982 and 1984 .
  • Suíomh an taifeadta (Recording Location): University of Washington, 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.

Now, this is an old folktale, very old, and very sad too. And it’s about two little bab — two little children… the boy was eight years of old, and the girl was seven. And they were very happy living with their parents, much loved by their parents, well-to-do parents, too. And the parents died within one week of one another when the children were that young, eight and seven. And the children was taken into the care of their uncle. And because he got a bit greedy and he wanted the estate of the children to himself, he decided to do away with the children. And he hired two bad men to take the children away and to kill them. And the two bad men took the children with them, promising the children they were going to take them to a fair and treat them very well.

And they took them into a wood. And while they were walking through the wood, the little girl was holding one of the bad men’s hand and she was telling him, “you’re such a nice man, taking us to the fair and buying us this and that”. And whatever she said turned — melted the heart of the man who was taking her into the wood. And when the time came to dispose of the two children, this man wouldn’t let the other man kill them. So they both started fighting one another, and the good man killed the other man. But when he was — after that, the children had disappeared and got lost in the wood. And all that night they were running up and down in the wood, crying and crying, and finally they lay down. And ’twas a very cold, bitter time of the year, and before night was out, they both died under the tree. And the little robin redbreast came and started covering them over with leaves. And this is the song:

My dears don’t you know
How a long time ago
Two poor little children, their names we don’t know
Were taken away
On a fine summer day
And left in a wood, so we heard people say.

And when it was night
So sad was their plight
The sun had gone down and the moon gave no light;
They sobbed and they sighed
And they bitterly cried
The poor little infants, they lay down and died.

When they were dead
The robin redbreast
Brought strawberry leaves and over them spread;
And all the night long
It sang a sad song
Poor babes in the wood, poor babes in the wood.
And always remember the babes in the wood.


This venerable English tale, which contains elements of the Hansel and Gretel story, has been recorded throughout the English-speaking world. It has provided the basis for pantomime productions and even a film by Disney.

Joe doesn’t say where he learned it.

For a good native English rendition, see Magpie Lane’s version of this song