“King Of The Fairies” is a very enchanting hornpipe, entitled Ri Na Sidheog in Irish. It is played at some sessions, but sadly it’s not as popular as some others we’ve covered. This might be because of fear. It’s told that if you play this tune three times through at the right tempo and with the right reiterations of A and B parts, then the King of the Fairies himself will appear! A version of this tune appears in the second volume of the James Aird’s book of airs, entitled Aird’s Airs, in 1789. Aird (d. 1795) was a Scotsman running a music shop in Glasgow, and published six volumes (containing 1200 tunes) between 1778 and 1801. His small volumes were best-sellers in Scotland of the late 18th century, and were used as source-books by Robert Burns (1759-1796), and the tunes are used in many of his songs — see, e.g., The Songs of Robert Burns, ed. Donald Low (Routledge: 1993, p. 928). Another version of the tune “King of the Faries” was published earlier by the Irishman John Edward Pigot (1822–1871) in the mid-1800s. Some people dubiously claim the title refers to Charlie Edward Stuart, better known as Bonnie Prince Charlie (1720-1788), others just as dubiously say that it refers to William of Orange (1650-1694). There are many versions and ways to play it, some people add in more c#s to make it eerier. Actually, this tune is a set dance, and when played for set dancers both parts are repeated: they do a step-dance to the A part and then a set dance to the B part. In sessions it is either played AABB or AAB. It can sound pretty spooky at a moderate tempo, but can be a pretty lively tune when played faster. Ted Furey (d. 1977?) plays it at a good clip, Michael Gorman (1895-1970) plays it very slowly, and Horslips tuned it into a rooftop Irish rock tune. Click the title for the King of the Fairies ABC.
King Of The Fairies, med tempo (Sylvain Surcin, flute)
King Of The Fairies, med tempo (Tony H., whistle)
King Of The Fairies, med tempo (Gary Humphrey, recorder)
King of the Faries, med temp (flute with bouzouki backup)
King of the Faries, med temp (whistle and flute)