A special Fairy Issue of Fortean Times has just hit the newsstands and I’m tra-la-ling over the fact that my article on fairy music is included. Everyone rush over to your news agent’s and pick up a copy! Inspired by this harmonic subject, I present a story of Irish fairy music from the 1920s. I fear that Miss Black was enjoying the local dialect just a wee bit too much, faith and begob… But the story follows many of the same patterns you’ll find whenever fairy music is mentioned.
Just a Bit of Blarney About Old Erin
Sure, It’s Only in Kerry That You Hear Fairy Music
Were you ever in Ireland?
Sure, it’s a strange place—Ireland.
I was there a few months ago. We went down to the Lakes of Killarney, and the boatman who rowed us across the Lower Lake told us about Tir-an-Ogue, the strange man who lives at the bottom of the lake and once a year rides abroad on a snow-white horse. If you can catch hold of the horse’s tail, you can ride, too, down to the bottom of the deep, deep lake and ‘tis there you’ll begin to grown young again. And you’ll stay a year and a day. When you come up to the top of the water you’ll look and act and be sweet sixteen.
And we saw the Meeting of the Waters and we sang “Sweet Innis Allen”—and it was all like a strange dream.
But going back to Dublin we went by the way of Kerry. Were you ever in Kerry, now?
Faith, ‘tis a strange place—Kerry.
Great wide fields, all yellow with gorse, like blobs of clotted honey and purple heather. There’s a sweet smell in the air and all the bees are buzzing, and every once in a while there’s a tall, dark woman with her black hair in a knot at the back of her head. And she with a black shawl across her shoulders and walking with long, slow steps and looking straight ahead as if she saw something you couldn’t see—yourself.
And all at once, while we were driving, I heard faint and far away music.
It seemed to be blown to us on a low wind that was shaking the gorse and making the purple heather dance on the brow of the hill. I looked around. There was not a thing to be seen except the heather and the gorse; the blue sky and the white clouds and a promise of rain ahead of us.
Hark! There it was again, soft-like and very sweet.
“’Tis some boy playing the old-fashioned pipes,” I thought, “and he’s hidden in the gorse. Come out, you little rascal, and let’s have a sight of you.”
But my two friends who were born and brought up in Kerry looked at me and their eyes were wide and they shook their heads and would not answer when I spoke to them about the music.
No, it was not the wind—it was music—delicate and high, like someone playing on an old violin and half crooning, half talking an old-fashioned song.
Wistful it was—the song—and very sad, yet there was something gay about it, too. Again and again I heard the music, sometimes far away, and sometimes so close that I looked behind every clump of gorse expecting to see the musician. But when we were safe in the house and the fire blazed on the hearth and the candles were lit and tea was hot in the cups, my two friends said to me, one after the other:
“You must not talk about the music when you hear it. It is bad luck to speak of it. It is fairy music, and it is seldom that one who was not born in Kerry can hear it.” I laughed and then I sighed.
How sweet it was, the mysterious music! Whenever the sun shines on a green hill and the wind blows just a little, I shall hear it again all these thousands of miles away across the bitter sea.
And isn’t that strange now?
Lincoln [NE] Evening Journal 3 March 1927: p. 7
You’ll find many accounts of fairy music in Seeing Fairies by Marjorie T. Johnson, which I reviewed here. I also wrote of an ambiguous account of angels/fairies singing at a child’s deathbed here. And stories of mysterious music here and here.
I’ve recorded some examples of fairy music on an electronic church organ, which you’ll find at this page.
Other instances of what you believe to be fairy music? Enchant me at chriswoodyard8 AT gmail.com
Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead.