The Fairies

Image credit: Rosie Hopkins
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 watchdogs,
All night awake.

High on the hill-top
The old King sits;
He is now so old and grey
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 the 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 fig-leaves,
Watching till she wake.

By the craggy hillside,
Through the mosses bare,
They have planted thorn trees
For my 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 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!

By William Allingham via Scottish Poetry Library 

5 replies »

  1. My Mum used to recite this poem to me when I was wee in far off South Africa. I loved the rhythm and felt vaguely anxious about “little Bridget” then, but now it’s quite scary! Thanks.

  2. Like Rosie, this was a childhood poem for me, recited to me by my uncle, and it was the rhythm that made it stick in my head, both fascinating and frightening. This is a poem about Donegal, and Allingham, a contemporary and friend of. Tennyson, was born in Ballyshannon there, something he shares with Rory Gallagher.
    My mental imagery of this has persisted for over 60 years now unchanged. That shows the power of words.

  3. This brought back memories of my Mum singing it to me – or should that be chanting – and us chanting it together.

    I don’t remember thinking it was scary – it reminded me of the area around Lough Talt, County Sligo – and I’d imagine being at the bottom of the Lough. https://theorkneynews.scot/2022/05/26/awareness/

    I was an odd child.

    Good memories.

  4. This was the first place I looked for this quotation: “They wend their busy with tiny lamps ago/” It appears as a quotation in the Jeff Hawke story ‘Faery Land Forlorn’ (Daily Express 22/5/64 – 29/8/64), drawn by Sydney Jordan, story by Willie Patterson. The nearest I’ve found yet is from Sir Walter Scott, ‘The Lady of the Lake’: ‘now back they wend their watery way’. The poet Brian Finch suggested “Puck of Pook’s Hill” by Rudyard Kipling, which was a good idea; apropos of the ‘Pharisees’ = fairies, it does have, “They’d flash their little green lights along the dykes, comin’ and going’, like honest smugglers”. Any help would be appreciated!