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Popular Tales of the West Highlands

From Ann MacGilvray, Islay. -  April 1859

There was ere now a farmer, and he had three daughters. They were waulking (Postadh. A method ofwashing clothes practised in the Highlands viz., by dancing on them barefoot in a tub of water.) clothes at a river. A hoodie (Hoodie – the Royston crow - a very cornmon bird in the Highlands; a sly, familiar, knowing bird, which plays a great part in these stories. He is common in most parts of Europe.) came round and he said to eldest one, "M-POS-U-MI, Wilt thou wed me, farmer's daughter?” "I won't wed thee, thou ugly brute. An ugly brute is the hoodie," said she. He came to the second one on the morrow, and said to her, "M-POS-U-MI, wilt thou wed me?" "Not I, indeed," said she; "an ugly brute is the hoodie." The third day he said to the youngest, M-POS-U-MI, "Wilt thou wed me, farmer's daughter?" "I will wed thee," said she; "a pretty creature is the hoodie," and on thje morrow they married.

The hoodie said to her, "Whether wouldst thou rather that I should be a hoodie by day, and a man at night; or be a hoodie at night, and a man by day?” "I would rather that thou wert a man by day and a hoodie at night," says she. After this he was a splendid fellow by day, and a hoodie at night. A few days after they married he took her with him to his own house.

At the end of three quarters they had a son. In the night there came the very finest music that ever was heard about the house. Every man slept, and the child was taken away. Her father came to the door in the morning, and he asked how were all there. He was sorrowful that the child should be taken away, for fear that he should be blamed for it himself.

At the end of three quarters again they had another son. A watch as set on the house. The finest of music came, as it came before, about the house; every man slept, and the child was taken away. Her father came to the door in the morning. He asked if every thing was safe; but the child was taken away, and he did not know what to do for sorrow.

Again, at the end of three quarters they had another son. A watch was set on the house as usual. Music came about the house as it came before; every one slept, and the child was taken away. When they rose on the morrow they went to another place of rest that they had, himself and his wife, and his sister-in-law. He said to them by the way, "See that you have not forgotten any thing." The wife said, "I FORGOT MY COARSE COMB." The coach in which they were fell a withered faggot, and he went away as a hoodie.

Her two sisters returned home, and she followed after him. When he would be on a hill top, she would follow to try and catch him; and when she would reach the top of a hill, he would be in the hollow on the other side. When night came, and she was tired, she had no place of rest or dwelling; she saw a little house of light far from her, and though far from her she was not long in reaching it.

When she reached the house she stood deserted at the door. She saw a little laddie about the house, and she yearned to him exceedingly. The housewife told her to come up, that she knew her cheer and travel. She laid down, and no sooner did the day come than she rose. She went out, and when she was out, she was going from hill to hill to try if she could see a hoodie. She saw a hoodie on a hill, and when she would get on the hill the hoodie would be in the hollow, when she would go to the hollow, the hoodie would be on another hill. When the night came she had no place of rest or dwelling. She saw a little house of light far from her, and if far from her she was not long reaching it. She went to the door. She saw a laddie on the floor to whom she yearned right much. The housewife laid her to rest. No earlier came the day than she took out as she used. She passed this day as the other days. When the night came she reached a house. The housewife told her to come up, that she knew her cheer and travel, that her man had but left the house a little while, that she should be clever, that this was the last night she would see him, and not to sleep, but to strive to seize him. She slept, he came where she was, and he let fall a ring on her right hand. Now when she awoke she tried to catch hold of him, and she caught a feather of his wing. He left the feather with her, and he went away. When she rose in the morning she did not know what she should do. The housewife said that he had gone over a hill of poison over which she could not go without horseshoes on her hands and feet. She gave her man's clothes, and she told her to go to learn smithying till she should be able to make horse shoes for herself.

She learned smithying so well that she made horseshoes for her hands and feet. She went over the hill of poison. That same day after she had gone over the hill of poison, her man was to be married to the daughter of a great gentleman that was in the town.

There was a race in the town that day, and every one was to be at the race but the stranger that had come over to poison hill. The cook came to her, and he said to her, Would she go in his place to make the wedding meal, and that he might get to the race.

She said she would go. She was always watching where the bridegroom would be sitting.

She let fall the ring and the feather in the broth that was before him. With the first spoon he took up the ring, with the next he took up the feather. When the minister came to the fore to make the marriage, he would not marry till he should find out who had made ready the meal. They brought up the cook of the gentleman, and he said that this was not the cook who made ready the meal.

They brought up now the one who had made ready the meal. He said, "That now was his married wife." The spells went off him. They turned back over the hill of poison, she throwing the horse shoes behind her to him, as she went a little bit forward, and he following her. When they came back over the hill, they went to the three houses in which she had been. These were the houses of his sisters, and they took with them the three sons, and they came home to their own house, and they were happy.

Written down by Hector Maclean, schoolmaster at Ballygrant, in Islay, from the recitation of "Ann MacGilvray, a Cowal woman, married to a farmer at Kilmeny, one Angus Macgeachy from Campbelltown." Sent April 14, 1859.

The Gaelic of this tale is the plain everyday Gaelic of Islay and the West Highlands. Several words are variously spelt, but they are variously pronounced - falbh, folbh, tigh, taighe, taighean. There is one word, Tapaidh, which has no English equivalent; it is like Tapper in Swedish.



Bha tuathanach ann roimhe so; agus bha triủir nighean aige. Bha eud a' postadh aig obhainn. Thàinig feannag mu'n cuairt's thuirt e ris an té bu shine, "Am p̣s thu mise a nighean an tuathanaich." "Cha pḥs mis' thu' bheathaich ghrànnda: is grannda am beathach an fheannag," ars'ise. T'hàinig e thun na dàrna té an la 'r na mhàireach, 's thuirt e rithe, "Am pḥs thu mise." "Cha pḥs mi féin," ars'ise; " 's grànnda am beathach an fheannag." An treas la thuirt e ris an te b'̣ige, "Am pḥs thu mise, a nighean an tuathanaich." “P̣saidh," ars'ise; "s ḅidheach am beathach an fheannag." An la'r na mhàireach pḥs èud. Thuirt an fheannag rithe, "C̣ 'ca is fheàrr leat mise a bhith am fheannag 'san latha 'sam dhuine 'san oidhche, na bhith 'san oidhche am fhearmag 's am dhuine 'san latha?" " 'S fhearr leam thu bhith a’d’ dhuine 'san latha 's a'd' fheannag 'san oidhche," ars'ise. As a dhèigh so bha e na ̣ganach ciatach 'san latha, 's'na fheannag 's an oidhche. Am beagan làithean an déigh dhaibh p̣sadh thug e leis i 'ga 'thigh féin. Ann an ceann tri ràithean bha mac aca. Anns an oidhche thàinig an aon chẹl timchiol an taighe bu bḥidhche 'chualas riamh. Chaidil a h-uile duine, 's thugadh air folbh am pàisde. Thàinig a h-athair thun an doruisd sa mhadainn. Dh' fhẹraich e dé mur a bha h-uile h-aon an siod; 's bha duilichinn mḥr air gun tugadh air folbh am pàisde, eagal agus gum biodh coir' air a dhèanadh air féin air a shon. Ann an ceann tri ràithean a rithisd bha mac eile aca. Chuireadh faire air an tigh. Thàinig cẹl ra bḥidheach mar a thàinig roimhid timchoill an taighe; chaidil a h-uile duine 's thugadh air folbh am pàisde. Thàinig a h-athair thun an doruisd sa mhaidainn dh'fhẹraich e an robh gach ni ceart; ach bha 'm pàisde air a thoirt air folbh, 's cha robh fhịs aige dé a dhèanadh e leis an duilichinn. Ann an ceann tri ràithean a rithisd bha mac eile aca. Chaidh faire 'chur air an tigh mar a b’ àbhaist. Thàinig cẹl timchioll an taighe mar a thàinig roimhid; chaidil gach neach, 's thugadh am pàisde air folbh. Nur a dh' éiridh iad an la 'r na mhàireach chaidh iad gu hàite tàmh eile a bha aca, e fein 's a' bhean, ‘s a' phiuthar cḥile. Thuirt e riu air an rathad, "Feuch nach do dhichuimhnich sibh ni 'sam, bith." Urs' a' bhean, "DHIOCHUIMHNICH MI MO CHIR GHARBH." Thuit an carbad anns, an robh eud 'na chual chrionaicch, s dh' fhalbh esan 'na fheannag. Thill a dha phiuthair dhachaidh 's dh' fholbh ise 'na dhéighsan. Nur a bhiodh esan air mullach cnoic leanadh ise e feuch am beireadh i air, 's nur a ruigeadh ise mullach a chnoic bhiodh esan san lag an taobh eile. Nur a thàing an oidhche 's i sgith, cha robh àite tàmh na fuireachd aice. Chunnaic i tigh beag soluisd fada uaithe ‘s ma b' fhada uaithe cha b’ fhada a bha ise 'ga ruigheachd. Nur a ràinig i an tigh sheas i gu diblidh aig an dorusd. Chunnaic i balachan beag feadh an taighe, s thẹigh i ris gu h-anabarrach. Thuirt bean an taighe rithe tighinn a nios, gu robh fios a seud 's a suibhail aice-se. Chaidh i laidhe, 's cha bu luaithe thainig an latha na dh' éiridh i. Chaidh i 'mach, 's nur a bha i 'mach bha i o chnoc gu cnoc feuch am faiceadh i feannag. Chunnaic i feannag air cnoc,'s nur a rachadh ise air a' chnoc bhiodh an fheannag 'san lag, nur a rachadh i do 'n lag bhiodh an fheannag air cnoc eile. Nur a thàinig an oidhche cha robh àite taimh na fuireachd aice. Chunnaic i tigh beag soluisd fada uaithe 's ma b' fhada uaithe cha b' fhada 'bha ise 'g a ruigheachd. Chaidh i gus an dorusd. Chunnaic i balachan air an urlar ris an do thẹigh i gu ra mḥr. Chuir bean an taighe a laidhe i. Cha bu mhoich' a thàinig an latha na ghabh i 'mach mar a b'àbhaist. Chuir i seachad an latha so mar no làithean eile. Nur a thàinig an oidhche ràinig i tigh. Thuirt bean an taighe rithe tighinn a nios; gu 'robh fios a seud 's a siubhail aice-se; nach d' rinn a fear ach an tigh fhàgail bho cheann tiota beag; i 'bhith tapaidh, gum b' i siod an oidhche ma dheireadh dhi fhaicinn, 's gun i 'chadal, ach stŕ ri gréim a dhèanadh air. Chaidil ise, 's thàinig esan far an robh i, ‘s lig e tuiteam do dh' fhàinn, air a làinh dheas. Nur a dhuisg ise an so thug i làmh air breith air, 's rug i air ite d'a sgéith. Leig e leatha an ite, 's dh' fhalbh e. Nur a dh' éiridh i 'sa mhadainn cha robh fios aice dé a dheànadh i. Thuirt bean an taighe gu'n deach e thairis air cnoc neamh air nach b'urrainn ise dol thairis gun chrủidhean d'a làmhan agus d'a casan. Thug i dhi aodach fir 's thuirt i rithe dol a dh' ionnsachadh na goibhneachd gus am biodh i comasach air crủidhean a dhèanadh dh́ féin. Dh' ionnsaich i 'ghoibhneachd cho math's gun d'rinn i crủdhean d'a làmhan agus d'a casan. Dh 'fholbh i thairis air a chnoc neamh. An latha sin féin an déigh dhi dol thairis air a chnoc neamh bha p̣sadh ri bhith aig a fear ri nighean duine uasail mḥir a bha 'sa bhaile. Bha rèis anns a bhaile an latha sin, s bha h-uile h-aon ri bhith aig an rèis ach an coigreach a thàinig thairis air a' chnoc neamh. Thàinig an c̣caire a h-ionnsuidh, 's thuirt e rithe an rachadh i 'na àite a dhèanadh biadh na bainnse, 's gu 'faigheadh e dol thun na réise. Thuirt i gu' rachadh. Bha i furachail daonnan càite am biodh fear na bainnse ‘na shuidhe. Lig i tuiteam. do 'n fhàinne agus do 'n ite 'sa bhrot a bha air a bheulaobh. Leis a chiad spàin thog e'm fàinne, s leis an ath spàin thog e 'n ite. Nur a thàinig am ministir a làthair a dheanadh a pḥsaidh cha pḥsaidh esan gus am faigheadh e fios co a rinn am biadh. Thug iad a'làthair c̣caire an duine uasail, 's thuirt esan nach b' e siod an c̣caire a rinn am biadh. Thug iad an làthair an so an t-aon a rinn am biadh. Thuirt esan gum b’e siod a' bhean pḥsda-san a nis. Dh' fholbh na geasan dheth. Thill iad air an ais thairis air a' chnoc neamh; ise a tilgeil nan crủidhean as a deigh da 'ionnsuidhsan nur a thigeadh i treis air a h-aghaidh, 's esan 'ga leantainn. Nur a thàinig eud air an ais thar a' chnoic, chaidh iad thun nan tri taighean anns an robh ise. B’e sin tri taighean a pheathraichean-san, thug iad leo an tri mic. Thàinig iad dhachaidh g'an tigh féin, 's bha iad gu toilichte.


2. 1 have a great many versions of this tale in Gaelic; for example, one from Cowal, written from memory by a labourer, John Dewar. These are generally wilder and longer than the version here given.

This has some resemblance to an infinity of other stories. For example - Orpheus, Cupid and Psyche, Cinderella's Coach, The Lassie and her Godmother (Norse tales), East o' the Sun and West o' the Moon (ditto), The Master Maid (ditto), Katie Wooden Cloak (ditto), The Iron Stove (Grimm), The Woodcutter's Child (ditto), and a tale by the Countess d'Aulnoy, Prince Cherie.

If this be history, it is the story of a wife taken from an inferior but civilized race. The farmer's daughter married to the Flayer "FEANNAG," deserted by her husband for another in some distant, mythical land, beyond far away mountains, and bringing him back by steady, fearless, persevering fidelity and industry.

If it be mythology, the hoodie may be the raven again, and a transformed divinity. If it relates to races, the superior race again had horses for there was to be a race in the town, and every one was to be at it, but the stranger who came over the hill; and when they travelled it was in a coach, which was sufficiently wonderful to be magical, and here again the comb is mixed up with the spells.

There is a stone at Dunrobin Castle, in Sutherland, on which a comb is carved with other curious devices, which have never been explained. Within a few hundred yards in an old grave composed of great slabs of stone, accidentally discovered on a bank of gravel, a man's skeleton was found with teeth worn down, though perfectly sound, exactly like those of an old horse. It is supposed that the man must have ground his teeth on dried peas and beans perhaps on meal, prepared in sandstone querns. Here, at least, is the COMB near to the grave of the farmer. The comb which is so often found with querns in the old dwellings of some pre historic race of Britons; the comb which is a civilized instrument, and which in these stories is always a coveted object worth great exertions, and often magical.

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