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Fairy Lullaby

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I left my baby lying there
Lying there, lying there
I left my baby lying there
When I went to gather blaeberries
Ho bhan ho bhan haithri o ho ....

I followed the track of the white swan
But I could not find my baby o
Ho bhan ho bhan haithri o ho ....

I followed the track of the red deer
Ho bhan ho bhan haithri o ho ....

I followed the track of the grey mare
Ho bhan ho bhan haithri o ho ....

Fhuair mi lorg an dòbhran donn
Cha d'fhuair mi lorg mo chùbhrachain
Ho bhan ho bhan haithri o ho ....

Fhuair mi lorg na lach' air an lòn
Cha d'fhuair mi lorg mo chùbhrachain
Ho bhan ho bhan haithri o ho ....

Fhuair mi lorg na bà sa pholl
Cha d'fhuair mi lorg mo chùbhrachain
Ho bhan ho bhan haithri o ho ....

Fhuair mi lorg a'cheò 'sa bheinn
Cha d'fhuair mi lorg mo chùbhrachain
Ho bhan ho bhan haithri o ho ....

I followed the track of the mist on the moor
And there I found my baby o
Ho bhan, ho bhan ....

There I found my baby o

The last verse of this one was my mother's insertion, because I used to cry at the thought of being an un-found baby. No doubt other mothers have done the same. It wasn't helped by my older brother's teasing, of course. The idea behind the song centres on the tradition of fairies who stole away babies, and on occasion adults. Sometimes they would leave a 'changeling' in its place. There are umpteen stories of this actually happening. Quite often the evidence is that a perfectly normal baby suddenly changed in character, becoming unruly, temperamental, uncommunicative and very difficult to live with. In some cases changelings were said to just lie, like a statue, able to feed, etc, but unable to take any other part in the normal day to day activity of the household. It seems that some of these stories may have helped people deal with conditions they could not understand, perhaps including autism and neural disorders. It has been suggested that theft of babies by the fairies was an acceptable cover for infanticide. The proliferation of such traditions points to a combination of circumstances. The popularity of this lullaby is at odds with its slightly sinister content and I have opted for the 'happy ending' version as it was this I learned from my mother and it is this I sing to my children. It is also another great song for improvisation. The verses given here are examples, verses I regularly use, but you wouldn't have to sing them all. Equally, with a sick child needing a cuddle for a long time, you might want to add on all sorts of other creatures to stretch the song to fit the circumstances. With older children, making up the animals can be a good introduction to oral composition.

Translation of Gaelic verses:

I found the track of the dunn otter
I didn't find a trace of my fragrant one

I found the track of the duck on the marshy ground
I didn't find a trace of my fragrant one

I found the  track of the cow in the pool
I didn't find a trace of my fragrant one

I found the trail of the mist on the mountain
I didn't find a trace of my fragrant one

The first published version of this song, that I am aware of, was in 1868 when it was included in Donald Campbell Macpherson's collection, "Duanaire".  In the preface, he states that most of the songs and poems were collected on the braes of Lochaber.  Unfortunately, he does not specify which songs and gives no musical notation.  His version is entitled "An Cóineachan", rather than "The Fairy Lullaby".  In fact, he appears not to consider it a lullaby at all.  He notes it as

"TUIREADH a rinn té air ‘na ghoid na sìthichean a leanabh, na-m b’fhior."

(A lament written by one on the theft by fairies of her infant, from a true story)




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