“The Fairies” by William Allingham (1824-1889)

William Allingham was a man of letters, born in Ballyshannon, County Donegal, who was known for beautiful descriptive lyric poetry. This poem, however, reminds us that the fair folk can be quite dangerous and capricious in nature. Sixteen of his poems may be read online here.

The Fairies

William Allingham

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 hill-top
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 hill-side,
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 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!


  1. Terpsichore says:

    Between the watch-frogs and dinner of Northern Lights, I am delighted – but between Bridget and the thorn-trees, I am wary.

    And the tale of Abbot Cormac is rather delightful! – like Rip Van Winkle, but better-behaved.

  2. Ah, an old favourite. I remember this from childhood, in a place with its own airy mountains and rushy glens. The images were such a precise match to experience it was a sadness to realise the rest of it wasn’t real. Another poem I loved then, and now, in a similar vein is Matthew Arnold’s ‘The Forsaken Merman’.

    1. David says:

      Sorry it’s taken me so long to reply to your comment!

      I haven’t read anything by Matthew Arnold, I think, but perhaps I should seek that poem out.

  3. A. Setliffe says:

    I had forgotten this poem, but then reading the first line sent it flooding back. I can’t recall when or where or why I read it, but “we daren’t go a-hunting for fear of little men” has stuck with me over the years. Glad I am not to be enslaved by fear of such, fascinating though they are.

    1. David says:

      I’m unsure what to make of the old view of the Fair Folk as constantly dangerous or murderous people. Some people I know insist that those are the original, native versions, but I don’t like the unsettling nature of many such stories.

      1. A. Setliffe says:

        Such stories often remind me of the primal fear of those un-shielded from evil spirits and demons. I know some might object to that view, but to me there is a wide difference between wild and strange fey, which are dangerous because they are wild and strange, and those who are like horrors in the glen, and stir up humanity’s primal fears. Does that make sense?

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