Is it Any Wonder the Irish are So Weird? - Lora O'Brien - Irish Author & Guide

Is it Any Wonder the Irish are So Weird?

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Wikipedia says:
The River Saile (known also as Weile Weile Waile) is a children’s nursery rhyme from Ireland.”

That’s true like, it is a song I heard as a kid, they taught it to us in primary school, so we would have sung it from about the age of 5 or 6 years old.

I got all nostalgic a week or two ago, and stuck a ‘Dubliners’ CD in the car, for solo journeys where nobody could judge me. Don’t judge me.

Seriously, stop that shit, I can feel you judging me.

And I had a complete throwback when the Weile Weile Waile song came on. Ronny Drew’s kinda cheery sounding Dublin rasp, and the banjo player plucking away in the background… and I was right back in the midst of the childhood incomprehension of trying to figure out what the hell was going on when I heard the song for the first time. See for yourselves.

There was an old woman and she lived in the woods, weile weile waile.
There was an old woman and she lived in the woods, down by the river Saile.

She had a baby three months old, weile weile waile.
She had a baby three months old, down by the river Saile.

She had a penknife, long and sharp, weile weile waile.
She had a penknife, long and sharp, down by the river Saile.

She stuck the penknife in the baby’s heart, weile weile waile.
She stuck the penknife in the baby’s heart, down by the river Saile.

There were three loud knocks come a’knocking on the door, weile weile waile.
There were three loud knocks come a’knocking on the door, down by the river Saile.

There were two policemen and a man, weile weile waile.
There were two policemen and a man, down by the river Saile.

They took her away and they put her in the jail, weile weile waile.
They took her away and they put her in the jail, down by the river Saile.

They put a rope around her neck, weile weile waile.
They put a rope around her neck, down by the river Saile.

They pulled the rope and she got hung, weile weile waile.
They pulled the rope and she got hung, down by the river Saile.

And that was the end of the woman in the woods, weile weile waile.
And that was the end of the baby too, down by the river Saile.

There were 13 different versions of this song recorded by Francis Child, before he died in 1896. Known as a ‘murder ballad’, the versions catalogue a variety of infanticide – from the stabbing knife, to strangling, to burying bound children alive.

So, what are they about?

Besides the obvious like, I know it’s about a woman killing her baby. I mean though, why would people sing about such gruesome acts? Is it a version of ‘warning about the boogeyman’; a mother killing her child as the most frightening thing possible, used to scare kids into line?

Is it, as my friend Janet suggested, a social commentary on post-natal depression? Or a warning method for new parents, a way of passing information on things to watch out for when you have a new baby, without having to discuss it?

Or do kids (humans) just love being gross and frightening each other?

Is it any wonder we’re so weird though?!

Lora O'Brien

Irish Author and Guide to Ireland

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Elizabeth Creely Reply

I’ve nothing intelligent to add, but would just like to say that I, too, wonder how it is this song came about.
crikey!

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