There is another Irish folk song called Our Wedding Day which has a similar lyric. One verse is very close to She Moved Through the Fair.
Then I dreamt last night that my love came in,
And she walked up so soft that her feet made no din.
I thought that she spoke and those words she did say,
It won’t be long now, love, till our wedding day.
This version gives more information about how the couple broke up. She arranges to meet him at midnight but when he arrives at her room, he finds that she has escaped though the window and eloped with another man. In spite of the rejection, he still loves her and dreams about her returning.
The song is undoubtedly very old but it wasn’t widely known outside the Irish oral tradition until it was first collected by Padraic Colum from Donegal at the start of the 20th century. It was then published in 1909 by Boosey and Hawkes.
Colum was a poet and writer as well as a collector of traditional songs, and it’s likely that he rewrote and edited the original to make it more appealing (in his eyes) to contemporary audiences.
The fact that he was a writer might also have made it impossible for him to resist the temptation of “improving” it and putting his own stamp on it. This could also account for why some verses may have been removed.
The song has attracted the attention of a host of modern performers ranging from folk singers to pop and rock stars. Notable recordings have been made by Art Garfunkel, Loreena McKennitt, Cara Dillon, Van Morrison with The Chieftains, Richard Thompson, Fairport Convention, Odetta, Charlotte Church and many more.
Sinead O’Connor also recorded a beautiful version of the song which was then used on the soundtrack of the film Michael Collins.
She Moved Through the Fair has been performed as an unlikely showpiece guitar instrumental by several rock guitarists including Rory Gallagher and Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin.
Davey Graham was one of the first great acoustic guitarists to do an instrumental version of the song. Graham used the DADGAD guitar tuning which adds extra harmonic depth. Other great guitarist like Bert Jansch also recorded instrumental versions using similar techniques.