Tunes that came from the fairies

Tunes that came from the fairies

Once in a while you hear about how someone learned any given tune from the fairies. I thought it would be nice to make a discussion as a sort of index of fairy tunes and the stories behind them.

My contribution: I read in an old Treoir magazine that Wind That Shakes the Barley was a fairy tune. The story as I remember it was that a couple of guys were sitting out in a barley field one pleasent afternoon when they saw some lights flying a big circuit up in the sky. The lights were singing a beautiful song. Conveniently one of them had his fiddle with him, and every time the fairy lights got close he would pick up a little more of the tune until he had the whole thing. And thus a classic reel was born. If you ask me they’d both had a little too much barley juice, but we got a good tune out of it, so you can’t complain.

Re: Tunes that came from the fairies

The King of the Fairies
The Fairy Dance (Gow)
Si beag, Si mor
Too late tonight to go into stories behind them!

Re: Tunes that came from the fairies

Garster’s Dream - Garster apparently heard this tune coming from a hole in the ground on his way home from a Shetland wedding and attributed it to the ‘trows’ [trolls]. The story doesnt say how much drink he had taken.

Re: Tunes that came from the fairies

Wait: this is a common thing? To claim that tunes came from fairies? Surely in jest, though? I need more info.

Re: Tunes that came from the fairies

“Wait: this is a common thing? To claim that tunes came from fairies? Surely in jest”
Given that this is Irish traditional music, and given that Faeries were a serious part of an Irish folklore that believed them to be inseparable from the Irish landscape, I don’t see why there would be much jest.

Posted by .

Re: Tunes that came from the fairies

As we would have said in Inverness “Fairy Nuff”.

Re: Tunes that came from the fairies

There seem to be quite a few tunes in the Swedish tradition that are attributed to fairies, trolls, and miscellaneous sprites. If interested, look out for those with ‘Näcken’ in the title (he being an imp living under a bridge playing a fiddle, who will grab you and haul you into the stream if he gets a chance). There’s another called ‘Hårgalåten’ associated with a Pied-Piper type of legend. A few examples at: http://www.rudemex.co.uk/Tune%20library/Scandinavian/01tunelib_Scandi.php. Also worth looking at: http://www.folkwiki.se - a huge repository of Swedish material.

Posted by .

Re: Tunes that came from the fairies

Plenty of “trowie” tunes in Shetland.
In Wales there’s the tune found in a bottle….

There’s a great essay by JRR Tolkien about “fairy” and how it was changed from the scary otherworld to pretty Victorian twee-ness.

Re: Tunes that came from the fairies

Paddy’s Rambles Through the Park

Re: Tunes that came from the fairies

Does “Pull the Knife and Stick it Back in Again” count?

Re: Tunes that came from the fairies

Those interested in this topic should have a look at the excellent book, The Otherworld, edited by Rionach ui Ogain & Tom Sherlock (Comhairle Bhealoideas Eireann 2012). It contains accounts and oral histories of some 41 tunes and songs selected from the University College of Dublin’s National Folklore Collection. The accounts presented in the book have been transcribed and presented in the original Irish, as well as the English translations. Two audio CDs of the original recordings of the lore, music or song are included. It is a wonderful look into the folklore of music and song from the Irish tradition.

Re: Tunes that came from the fairies

Not from fairies, but from a ghost: Packie Manus Byrne’s great uncle “Big Pat” Byrne got the tune “The Ghost’s Welcome” from a phantom fiddler. Tune and a link to the story at: https://thesession.org/tunes/14471

Re: Tunes that came from the fairies

I don’t think belief in fairies in Ireland is so much a thing of the past.

Re: Tunes that came from the fairies

The Scots Gaelic song, strathspey and reel “Tha mi Sgìth” (I’m so tired) is supposed to be the song of a heartbroken fairy - though why a fairy would be cutting bracken beats me. There’s a rather bizarre rendering at https://youtu.be/2ItuI4ry65Y which I think is intended to convey its feyness.

Re: Tunes that came from the fairies

Michael Fortune is doing a heroic job of documenting surviving folklore in Ireland. Here’s a link to one of his videos in which two men discuss the quare, uncanny happenings around Ballyscough Bridge which borders the villages of Oulart and Kilmuckridge in Co. Wexford:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q5cz6MtwnCM

Re: Tunes that came from the fairies

@joe fidkid, thank you for that! It’s wonderful.

Re: Tunes that came from the fairies

There’s a great story of a piper who went out to play for the fairies and was given the gift of
being master of his pipes.
I tried it sober, nothing happened SO my next attempt will be Molly the Monk
Knowing my luck I could end being a frog playing a banjo

Posted .

Re: Tunes that came from the fairies

Great video, thanks for posting that up.

Re: Tunes that came from the fairies

Dia dhaoibh! Greetings all

Of course music comes from the fairies However else? You sit under the stars, maybe nod by a hearth and a tune is breathed into you.
In the morning you pick up the flute, maybe fiddle, harp, and the tune trips out from under the fingers and never having tried to learn it!

Have you seen the beautiful paintings of the very lovely Tommy Peoples playing fiddle with the fairies dancing off his bow?

All the best
Brian x

Re: Tunes that came from the fairies

“Fort of the Fairy Queen” (Irish), Carolan’s “The Fairy Queen”, followed by “The Fairy Dance” from O’Sullivan’s “Life, Times and Music of an Irish Harper”, in the appendix to the book.

Re: Tunes that came from the fairies

I suppose it makes sense that most tunes about fairies also came from fairies, although I don’t think that’s always the case. Shi Beag Shi Mor for example inspired by the legend of a battle between two fairy hills. Not sure if the same is true of The Fairy Queen.

Re: Tunes that came from the fairies

Bryan, I was thinking about giving that try if I ever get back to Ireland (although in my case I’d ask to become better at the harp), but something tells me I’d have the same result as you. Ah well, it’s worth a try! Maybe with a few pints in me it would work better!

Re: Tunes that came from the fairies

In the 2 years since I made this post I’ve read more about the origins of Cutting Ferns. It was not written by a fairy, but by a human who went into a fairy mound and got trapped there. The fairies gave him a sickle and told him that if he cut all the ferns on a certain hill he would be allowed to leave. However, after he finished cutting the ferns on one side of the hill he would go to the other side, and on returning to the first side would find that all the ferns had grown back. He wrote this song in Gaelic, loosely translated the chorus would go:

I am tired and weary
Cutting ferns, cutting ferns,
I am tired and weary,
Always cutting ferns.

Eventually he cut all the ferns and was allowed to return home, but since time moves differently in The Otherworld, when he got home he found that a hundred years had passed.

Re: Tunes that came from the fairies

Scots and Gaelic rather 😃Oops.