Reading My Way Around the World

Friday 22 June 2018

The Faeries by William Allingham

The River Assaroe in Ballyshannon

We're back to a spate of beautiful sunshine here - just perfect for Midsummer. I love the Solstice - it brings me back to myself, to remembering nature and folklore and traditions. 

At this time of year as a child, we would have been in the hay field helping to save the hay and enjoying those special smells and the wonderful taste of tea and egg and onion sandwiches in the open air. 

We've been over in Donegal a lot in recent years, and a few weeks ago we went to see an old mill outside Ballyshannon and it reminded me of this poem we all learned as children.

(As an aside, I'm having terrible trouble getting my blog to hold its formatting, so apologies if this appears in miniature - anyone else having this problem? ) 

Up the airy mountain,
Down the rushy glen, 
We daren't go a-hunting
For fear of little men. 
Wee folk, good folk, 
Trooping all together; 
Green jacket, red cap, 
And white owl's feather!
William Allingham

It's almost a shameful thing to admit but I've never been a great fan of poetry. But this is one poem I have always adored. It was written by William Allingham (more about him below) in the mid 19th century. He grew up in Ballyshannon in South Donegal where my mother also comes from ... It's just a few miles from where I grew up which made the poem even more resonant to young minds. The River Erne flows into the Atlantic at Ballyshannon and there's a dedication to him on the bridge there. 

I totally believed in the fairies - I suppose I still do. Nobody I know would ever consider cutting down a fairy thorn for example. The stories of the Children of Lír and Tír na nÓg were told alongside Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella and were even more believable in a way because there were no princesses in Ireland. And I remember introducing you to the Leprechaun's clothes over in Carlingford late last year - you can read more about them here under the heading Neat. 

This verse was used as a threat to us as children - go to sleep or the fairies will come and get you. They took little Bridget - they'll get you too if you don't go to sleep. In the poem, Bridget comes back after 7 years and all her friends are gone, because of course time goes very slowly in the land of the ever young, Tír na nÓg.

The Faeries
Up the airy mountain, Down the rushy glen, 
We daren't go a-hunting For fear of little men.
Wee folk, good folk, Trooping all together; 
Green jacket, red cap, And white owl's feather!

Down along the rocky shore Some make their home --
They live on crispy pancakes Of yellow tide-foam;
Some in the reeds Of the black mountain-lake, 
With frogs for their watch-dogs, All night awake.

High on the hilltop The old King sits; 
He is now so old and gray, He's nigh lost his wits.
With a bridge of white mist Columbkill he crosses, 
On his stately journeys From Slieveleague to Rosses;

Or going up with music On cold starry nights, 
To sup with the Queen Of the gay Northern Lights.
They stole little Bridget For seven years long; 
When she came down again Her friends were all gone.

They took her lightly back, Between the night and morrow; 
They thought that she was fast asleep, But she was dead with sorrow.
They have kept her ever since Deep within the lake, 
On a bed of flag-leaves, Watching till she wake.

By the craggy hillside, Through the mosses bare, 
They have planted thorn-trees, For pleasure here and there.
Is any man so daring As dig them up in spite, 
He shall find their sharpest thorns In his bed at night.

Up the airy mountain, Down the rushy glen, 
We dare 't go a-hunting For fear of little men.
Wee folk, good folk, Trooping all together; 
Green jacket, red cap, And white owl's feather.

William Allingham, pic Internet 
William Allingham (19 March 1824 – 18 November 1889) grew up in Ballyshannon on the banks of the River Erne. Most of his poetry was lyrical and many were turned into songs - probably the most lasting apart from the Fairies is Adieu to Ballyshanny, which is still sung in the area. He was a contemporary of Tennyson and Carlyle and after he died his diaries were published which highlighted his contact with these more celebrated poets of the day. 

Do you believe in Fairies? I'd love to hear.


  1. well hello fil - yes I do - I mean this is the faerie embassy is it not?? not that this embassy is about faeries per se but as they are of the ' other ' realm they fit. I have a different notion of the fey folk these days - tend to see them more as an elder tribe - tall of stature wise fey lovers of earth and walkers between the realms - and over time became diminished to tiny folk reducing their power and abilities - etc etc ... long story too much for a comment - happy solstice you in your summer land and me in winter chill , blessings

    1. That's a great interpretation Sandra - we need to keep those beliefs alive, it makes for a much richer world. There's a man in Dublin that I heard once talking on the radio and he says that many of their paths have been built on by us so they can't travel as easily now.
      I hope winter isn't too harsh down your way.

  2. Hi Fil - delightful reminiscences. His timbre reminds me of Kipling's The Smuggling Poem. I should believe in faeries shouldn't I - being Cornish ... our pixies ... but I expect they're around ... not sure where! Cheers Hilary

    1. Definitely a Cornish woman needs to keep the pixies alive Hilary :) They're there.

  3. Lovely Fil & I find I like some poetry & some just leaves me cold, but that poem is one I do like, although I've never heard of it before. Do I believe in faeries. . . . .? Suppose it depends on whether they are good or bad, but I like to think we can all still have a little bit childishness in us. I grew up with gumnut babies, which are cute too, in books by May Gibbs, one of Australia's children's authors. Thanks for the interesting post & do love hearing about your Irish roots. Take care.

    1. Thanks Susan, I 've never heard of gum nut babies - must look that up sometime.

  4. I very much like this poem and I did a setting of it for Tenor voice and Piano for my Composition portfolio at University. My writing was a bit creepy!
    I read a LOVELY book set in Ireland all about Tír na nÓg callled The New Policeman. It was DELIGHTFUL book and every chapter had an Irish tune written out as the chapter starters (music was a very important part of the story) which I played as I read it!

    1. I read that book Kezzie, in fact I still have a copy - another blogger actually sent it to me - Pempi seems to no longer be blogging these days. It is a delightful book.
      I would love to have heard your setting of the Faeries - wow - have you recorded any of your compositions?

  5. Thank you for introducing me to this poem Fil. The Ballyshannon photo is lovely - I can imagine all sorts of magical and delightful things happening there, all under the eyes of the faeries of course.

    1. The fairies definitely keep their eye on things down there Deborah :)


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