Fairy Children (or Changelings) in Ireland

From The Dublin Penny Journal, Volume 1, Number 29, January 12, 1833

The superstitious belief which still prevails to a great extent in Ireland, with regard to fairy children, or changelings as they are called, is of very injurious tendency, and will, we trust, ere long, be extirpated. The entertaining historian of fairy lore, Mr. Crofton Croker, says—

“When a child appears delicate, or a young woman consumptive, the conclusion is, that they are carried off to be made a playmate or nurse to the young fairies, and that a substitute, resembling the person taken away, is deposited in their place, which gradually declines, and ultimately dies. The inhuman means used by ignorant parents to discover if an unhealthy child be their offspring or a changeling, (the name given to the illusory image,) is, placing the child, undressed, on the road side, where it is suffered to lie a considerable time exposed to cold. After such ceremony, they conclude a natural disorder has caused the symptoms of decay; and the child is then treated with more tenderness, from an idea, that had it been possessed by a fairy, that spirit would not have brooked such indignity, but made its escape. Paralytic affections are attributed to the same agency, whence the term ‘fairy-struck;’ and the same cruel treatment is observed towards aged persons thus affected.”

The following very pleasing ballad, by our talented counryman, Dr. Anster, has been founded on this superstition; the mother is supposed to speak—

“The summer sun was sinking

With a mild light, calm and mellow,

It shone on my little boy's bonny cheeks,

And his loose locks of yellow.

The robin was singing sweetly,

And his song was sad and tender;

And my little boy's eyes as he heard the song,

Smiled with sweet soft splendour.

My little boy lay on my bosom,

While his soul the song was quaffing;

The joy of his soul had ting'd his cheek,

And his heart and his eye were laughing.

I sat alone in my cottage,

The midnight needle plying;

I fear'd for my child, for the rush's light

In the socket now was dying.

There came a hand to my lonely latch,

Like the wind at midnight moaning,

I knelt to pray—but rose again—

For I heard my little boy groaning!

I crossed my brow, and I crossed my breast,

But that night my child departed!

They left a weakling in his stead,

And I am broken-hearted!

Oh! it cannot be my own sweet boy,

For his eyes are dim and hollow,

My little boy is gone to God,

And his mother soon will follow.

The dirge for the dead will be sung for me,

And the mass be chaunted sweetly;

And I will sleep with my little boy,

In the moonlight church-yard meetly.”

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