Besides these animals, there is a whole
supernatural world with superhuman gigantic inhabitants.
There are continual fights with these
giants, which are often carried on without arms at all mere wrestling
matches, which seem to have had certain rules. It is somewhere told of the
Germans that they in their forests fought with clubs, and the Celtic
giants may once have been real men. Hercules fought with a club. Irishmen
use shillelahs still, and my west country friends, when they fight now a
days, use barrel staves instead of swords, and use them well, if not
wisely; but whether giants were men or myths, they are always represented
as strange, lubberly beings, whose dealings with men invariably end in
their discomfiture. There are giants in Herodotus and, I believe, in every
popular mythology known. There are giants in Holy Writ. They spoke an
unknown tongue everywhere. They said "Fee fo fum" in Cornwall. They say "Fiaw
fiaw foaghrich" in Argyll, and these sounds may possibly be corruptions of
the language of real big burly savages, now magnified into giants.
The last word might be the vocative of
the Gaelic for stranger, ill pronounced, and the intention may be to mimic
the dialect of a foreigner speaking Gaelic.
An Italian organ grinder once found his
way to the west, and sang "Fideli, fidela, fidelin lin la." 'Me boys
caught the tune, and sang it to the words, "Deese creepe Signaveete ha,"
words with as much meaning as "Fee fo fum," but which retain a certain
resemblance to an Italian sound.
If the giants were once real savages,
they had the sense of smell peculiarly sharp, according to the Gaelic
tales, as they had in all others which treat of them, and they ate their
captives, as it is asserted that the early inhabitants of Scotland did, as
Herodotus says that Scyths did in his time, and as the Feejee islanders
did very lately, and still do. A relative of mine once offered me a tooth
as a relic of such a feast; it had been presented to him in the Feejee
islands by a charming dark young lady, who had just left the banquet, but
had not shared in it. The Highland giants were not so big but that their
conquerors wore their clothes; they were not so strong that men could not
beat them, even by wrestling. They were not quite savages; for though some lived
in caves, others had houses and cattle, and hoards of spoil. They had
slaves, as we are told that Scotch proprietors had within historic times.
In "Scotland in the Middle Ages," p. 14 1, we learn that Earl Waldev of
Dunbar made over a whole tribe to the Abbot of Kelso in 1170, and in the
next page it is implied that these slaves were mostly Celts. Perhaps those
Celts who were not enslaved had their own mountain view of the matter, and
looked down on the Gall as intrusive, savage, uncultivated, slave owning
Perhaps the mountain mists in like
manner impeded the view of the dwellers on the mountain and the plain, for
Fin MacCoul was a "God in Ireland," as they say, and is a "rawhead and
bloody bones" in the Scottish lowlands now.
Whatever the giants were they knew some
magic arts, but they were always beaten in the end by men.
The combats with them are a Gaelic
proverb in action:
"Theid seoltachd thar spionnaidh."
Skill goes over might, and probably, as
it seems to me, giants are simply the nearest savage race at war with the
race who tell the tales. If they performed impossible feats of strength,
they did no more than Rob Roy, whose "putting stone" is now shewn to Saxon
tourists by a Celtic coachman, near Bunawe, in the shape of a boulder of
many tons, though Rob Ruadh lived only a hundred years ago, near Inverary,
in a cottage which is now standing, and which was lately inhabited by a
The Gaelic giants are very like those of
Norse and German tales, but they are much nearer to real men than the
giants of Germany and Scandinavia, and Greece and Rome, who are almost, if
not quite, equal to the gods. Famhairan are little more than very strong
men, but some have only one eye like the Cyclops.
Their world is generally, but not
always, under ground; it has castles, and parks, and pasture, and all that
is to be found above the earth. Gold, and silver, and copper, abound in
the giant's land; jewels are seldom mentioned, but cattle, and horses, and
spoil of dresses, and arms, and armour, combs, and basins, apples,
shields, bows, spears, and horses, are all to be gained by a fight with
the giants. Still, now and then a giant does some feat quite beyond the
power of man; such as a giant in Barra, who fished up a hero, boat and
all, with his fishing rod, from a rock, and threw him over his head, as
little boys do "cuddies" from a pier end. So the giants may be degraded
gods after all.
But besides "popular tales," there are
fairy tales, which are not told as stories, but facts. At all events, the
creed is too recent to be lightly spoken of.
Men do believe in fairies, though they
will not readily confess the fact. And though I do not myself believe that
fairies are, in spite of the strong evidence offered, I believe
there once was a small race of people in these islands, who are remembered
as fairies, for the fairy belief is not confined to the Highlanders of
Scotland. I have given a few of the tales which have come to me as
illustrations in No. 27.
"They" are always represented as
living in green mounds. They pop up their heads when disturbed by people
treading on their houses. They steal children. They seem to live on
familiar terms with the people about them when they treat them well, to
punish them when they ill treat them. If giants are magnified, these are
but men seen through the other end of the telescope, and there are such
people now. A Lapp is such a man - he is a little, flesh eating mortal -
having control over the beasts, and living in a green mound - when he is
not living in a tent, or sleeping out of doors, wrapped in his deer skin
shirt. I have lived amongst them and know them and their dwellings pretty
well. I know one which would answer to the description of a fairy mound
exactly. It is on the most northern peninsula in Europe, to the east of
the North Cape, close to the sea, in a sandy hollow near a bum. It is
round say, twelve feet in diameter and it is sunk three feet in the sand;
the roof is made of sticks and covered with turf. The whole structure, at
a short distance, looks exactly like a conical green mound about four feet
high. There was a famous crop of grass on it when I was there, and the
children and dogs ran out at the door and up to the top when we
approached, as ants run on an ant hill when disturbed. Their fire was in
the middle of the floor, and the pot hung over it from the roof I lately
saw a house in South Uist found in the sand hills close to the sea. It was
built of loose boulders, it was circular, and had recesses in the sides,
it was covered when found, and it was full of sand; when that was removed,
stone querns and combs of bone were found, together with ashes, and near
the level of the top there was a stratum of bones and teeth of large
grass-eating animals. I know not what they were, but the bones were
splintered and broken, and mingled with ashes and shells, oysters,
cockles, and wilks (periwinkles), shewing clearly the original level of
the ground, and proving that this was a dwelling almost the same as a Lapp
"Gam" at Hopseidet.
Now, let us see what the people of the
Hebrides say of the fairies. There was a woman benighted with a pair of
calves, "and she went for shelter to a knoll and she began driving the peg
of the tether into it. The hill opened, and she heard as though there was
a pot hook 'gleegashing,' on the side of the pot. A woman put up her head,
and as much as was above her waist, and said, 'What business hast thou to
disturb this tulman, in which I make my dwelling' ". This might be a
description of one of my Lapp friends, and probably is a description of
such a dwelling as I saw in South Uist. If the people slept as Lapps
sleep, with their feet to the fire, a woman outside might have driven a
peg very near one of the sleepers, and she might have stood on a seat and
poked her head out of the chimney.
The magic about the beasts is but the
mist of antiquity; and the fairy was probably a Pict. Who will say who the
Pict may have been? Probably the great Clibric hag was one, and of the
"In the early morning she was busy
milking the hinds; they were standing all about the door of the hut, till
one of them ate a hank of blue worsted hanging from a nail in it."
So says the "fiction," which it is considered a sin to relate. Let me
place some facts from my own journal beside it.
"Wednesday, August 22,1850. Quickjok,
Swedish Upland. In the evening the effect of the sunlight through the mist
and showers was most beautiful. I was sketching, when a small man made his
appearance on the opposite side of the river and began to shout for a
boat. The priest exclaimed that the Lapps had come down, and accordingly
the diminutive human specimen was fetched, and proved to be a Lapp who had
established his camp about seven miles off, near Vallespik. He was about
twenty five years old, and with his high blue cap on could stand upright
under my arm."
I had been wandering about Quickjok for
a week, out on Vallespik frequently, searching for the Lapps, with the
very glass which I had previously used to find deer close to Clibric,
which is but a small copy of the Lapland mountain.
"Thursday, 23rd. Started to see the
deer, with the priest and the Clockar, and Marcus, and the Lapp. The Lapp
walked like a deer himself, aided by a very long birch pole, which he took
from its hiding place in a fir tree. I had hard work to keep up with him.
Marcus and the priest were left behind. Once up through the forest, it was
cutting cold, and we walked up to the 'cota' in two hours and a quarter.
The deer was seen in the distance, like a brown speck on the shoulder of
Vallespik; and with the glass I could make out that a small mortal and two
dogs were driving them home. The cota is a permanent one, made in the
shape of a sugar loaf, with birch sticks, and long flat stones and turf.
There are two exactly alike, and each has a door, a mere narrow slit,
opening to the west, and a hole in the roof to let out the smoke. I crept
in, and found a girl of about fifteen, with very pretty eyes, sitting
crouched up in a comer, and looking as scared as one of her own fawns. The
priest said, that if we had come without our attendant genius, the small
Lapp, she would have fainted, or run away to the hills. I began to sketch
her, as she sat looking modest in her dark comer, and was rejoicing in the
extreme stillness of my sitter, when, on looking up from some careful
touch, I found that she had vanished through the door way. I had to bribe
her with bread and butter before she could be coaxed back. A tremendous
row of shouting and barking outside now announced the arrival of the deer,
so I let my sitter go, and off she ran as fast as she could. I followed
more leisurely to the spot where the deer were gathered, on a stony
hillside. There were only about 200; the rest had run off up wind on the
way from the mountains, and all the other Lapps were off after them,
leaving only my pretty sitter, the boy, and a small woman with bleared
eyes, as ugly as sin, his sister.
"How I wished for Landseer's pencil as I
looked at that scene! Most of the deer were huddled close together; hinds
and calves chewing the cud with the greatest placidity, but here and there
some grand old fellows, with wide antlers, stood up against the sky line,
looking magnificent. I tried to draw, but it was hopeless; so I sat down,
and watched the proceedings of my hosts.
"First, each of the girls took a coil of
rope from about her neck, and in a twinkling it was pitched over the horns
of a hind. The noose was then slipped round the neck, and a couple of
turns of rope round the nose, and then the wild milkmaid set her foot on
the halter and proceeded To MILK THE HIND, into a round birch bowl with a
handle. Sometimes she sat, at others she leant her head on the deer's dark
side, and knelt beside her. I never saw such a succession of beautiful
"Every now and then some half dozen deer
would break out of the herd and set off to the mountain, and then came a
general skurry. The small Lapp man, with his long birch pole, would rush
screaming after the stragglers; and his two gaunt, black, rough, half
starved dogs would scour off, yelping, in pursuit. It generally ended in
the hasty return of the truants, with well-bitten houghs for their pains;
but some fairly made off, at a determined long trot, and vanished over the
hill. It was very curious to be thus in the midst of a whole herd of
creatures so like our own wild deer, to have them treading on my feet and
poking their horns against my sketch-book as I vainly tried to draw them,
and to think that they who had the power to bid defiance to the fleetest
hound in Sweden should be so perfectly tame as to let the small beings who
herded them so thump, and bully, and tease them. The milking, in the
meantime, had been progressing rapidly; and after about an hour the pretty
girl, who had been dipping her fingers in the milk-pail and licking up the
milk all the time, took her piece of bread and butter, and departed with
her charge, munching as she went.
"The blear eyed one, and the boy, and
our party, went into the cota, and dined on cold roast reiper and reindeer
milk. The boy poured the milk from a small keg, which contained the whole
product of the flock; and having given us our share, he carefully licked
up all that remained on the outside of the keg, and set it down in a
corner. It was sweet and delicious, like thick cream. Dinner over, we
desired the Lapp to be ready in the morning (to accompany me), and with
the clocker’s dog, 'Gueppe,' went reiper-shooting. The clocker himself,
with a newly-slaughtered reindeer calf on his shoulders followed; and so
we went home."
A few days afterwards, I was at another
camp, on another hill, where the same scene was going on. "In a tent I
found a fine looking Lapp woman sitting on a heap of skins, serving out
coffee, and handing reindeer cream to the clocker with a silver spoon. She
had silver bracelets, and a couple of silver rings; and altogether, with
her black hair, and dark brown eyes glittering in the fire light, she
looked eastern and magnificent." Her husband had many trinkets, and they
had, amongst other articles, a comb, which the rest seemed much to need.
Her dress was blue, so were most of the
dresses, and one of her possessions was a bone contrivance for weaving the
bands which all wore round their ankles. She must have had blue yarn
somewhere, for her garters were partly blue.
I spent the whole of the next day in the
camp, and watched the whole operations of the day.
"After dinner, the children cracked the
bones with stones and a knife, after they had polished the outside, and
sucked up the marrow; and then the dogs, which did not dare to steal, were
called in their turn, and got the remains of the food in wooden bowls, set
apart for their especial use."
The bones in the hut in South Uist might
have been the remains of such a feast by their appearance.
"The cota was a pyramid of sods and
birch sticks, about seven feet high, and twelve or fourteen in diameter.
There were three children, five dogs, an old woman, Marcus, and myself,
inside; and all day long the handsome lady from the tent next door, with
her husband, and a couple of quaint looking old fellows in deer skin
shirts, kept popping in to see how I got on. It was impossible to sit
upright for the slope of the walls, as I sat cross legged on the ground."
This might be a description of the Uist
hut itself, and its inhabitants, as I can fancy them.
"The three dogs (in the tent), at the
smallest symptom of a disturbance, plunged out, barking, to add to the
row; they popped in by the same way under the canvas, so they had no need
of a door."
So did the dogs in the story of
Seantraigh; they ran after the stranger, and stopped to eat the bones. And
it is remarkable that all civilized dogs fall upon and worry the half
savage black Lapp dogs, and bark at their masters whenever they descend
from their mountains, as the town dogs did at the fairy dogs. In short.,
these extracts might be a fair description of the people, and the
dwellings, and the food, and the dogs described as fairies, and the hag,
and the tulman, in stories which I have grouped together; told in Scotland
within this year by persons who can have no knowledge of what is called
the "Finn theory," and given in the very words in which they came to me,
from various sources.
Lord Reay's forester must surely have
passed the night in a Lapp cota on Ben Gilbric, in Sutherland, when Lapps
were Picts; but when was that? Perhaps in the youth of the fairy of whom
the following story was told by a Sutherland gamekeeper of my
THE HERDS OF GLEN ODHAR. A wild romantic
glen in Strath Carron is called Glen Garaig, and it was through this that
a woman was passing carrying an infant wrapped in her plaid. Below the
path, overhung with weeping birches, and nearly opposite, run a very deep
ravine, known as Glen Odhar, the dun glen. The child, not yet a year old,
and which had not spoken or attempted speech, suddenly addressed his
mother thus: -
S lionmhor bo mhaol odhar, Many a dun
Le laogh na gobhal With a calf below he,
Chunnaic mise ga'm bleoghan Have I seen
Anns a' ghleann odhar ud thall, In that
dun glen yonder,
Gun chu, gun duine, Without dog, without
Gun bhean, gun ghille, Without woman,
Ach aon duine, But one man,
'S e liath. And he hoary.
The good woman flung down the child and
plaid and ran home, where to her great joy, her baby boy lay smiling in
Fairies then milked deer, as Lapps do.
They lived under ground, like them. They worked at trades especially smith
work and weaving. They had hammers and anvils, and excelled in their use,
but though good weavers, they had to steal wool and borrow looms. Lapps do
work in metal on their own account; they make their own skin dresses, but
buy their summer clothes. A race of wanderers could not be weavers on a
large scale, but they can and do weave small bands very neatly on hand
looms; and they alone make these. There are savages now in South Africa,
who are smiths and miners, though they neither weave nor wear clothes.
Fairies had hoards of treasure - so have Lapps. A man died shortly before
one of my Tana trips, and the whole country side had been out searching
for his buried wealth in vain. Some years ago the old silver shops of
Bergen and Trondhjem overflowed with queer cups and spoons, and rings,
silver plates for waist belts, old plate that had been hidden amongst the
mountains, black old silver coins that had not seen the light for years. I
saw the plate and bought some, and was told that, in consequence of a
religious movement, the Lapps had dug up and sold their hoards. Fairies
are supposed to shoot flint arrows, and arrows of other kinds, at people
now. Men have told me several times that they had been shot at: one man
had found the flint arrow in an ash tree; another had heard it whiz past
his ear; a third had pulled a slender arrow from a friend's head. If that
be so, my argument fails, and fairies are not of the past; but Californian
Indians now use arrow heads which closely resemble those dug up in
Scotland, in Denmark, and, I believe, all over Europe. Fairies are
conquered by Christian symbols. They were probably Pagans, and, if so,
they may have existed when Christianity was introduced. They steal men,
women, and children, and keep them in their haunts. They are not the only
slave owners in the world. They are supernatural, and objects of a sort of respect and wonder.
So are gipsies where they are rare, as in Sweden and Norway; so are the
Lapps themselves, for they are professed wizards. I have known a terrified
Swedish lassie whip her horse and gallop away in her cart from a band of
gipsies, and I have had the advantage of living in the same house with a
Lapp wizard at Quickjok, who had prophesied the arrival of many strangers,
of whom I was one. Spaniards were gods amongst the Indians till they
taught them to know better. Horses were supernatural when they came, and
on the whole, as it appears, there is much more reason to believe that
fairies were a real people, like the Lapps, who are still remembered, than
that they are "creatures of imagination" or "spirits in prison," or
"fallen angels;" and the evidence of their actual existence is very much
more direct and substantial than that which has driven, and seems still to
be driving, people to the very verge of insanity, if not beyond it, in the
matter of those palpable impalpable, visible invisible spirits who rap
double knocks upon dancing deal boards.
I am inclined to believe in the former
existence of fairies in this sense, and if for no other reason, because
all the nations of Europe have had some such belief, and they cannot all
have invented the same fancy. The habitation of Highland fairies are green
mounds, they therefore, like the giants, resemble the "under jordiske" of
the north, and they too may be degraded divinities.
It seems then, that Gaelic tales
attribute supernatural qualities to things which are mentioned in popular
tales elsewhere, and that Gaelic superstitions are common to other races;
and it seems worth inquiry whether there was anything in the known customs
of Celtic tribes to make these things valuable, and whether tradition is
supported by history.
In the first place, then, who are Celts
now? Who were their ancestors? Who are their relations? and where have
Gaelic tribes appeared in history.
I believe that little is really known
about the Gael; and in particular, the origin of the West Highlanders has
been very keenly disputed. One thing is clear, they speak a language which
is almost identical with the Irish of the north of Ireland, and they are
the same people. The dialect of Irish, which varies most from Scotch
Gaelic, is clearly but another form of the same tongue. Manks is another;
and these three are closely related to Welsh and Breton, though the
difference is very much greater. Gaelic, Irish, and Manks vary from each
other about as much as Norse, Swedish, and Danish. Welsh and Breton vary
from the rest about as much as German and Dutch do from the Scandinavian
languages. There are variations in Gaelic, and I believe there are in all
the five surviving Celtic dialects, as there are in the languages of
different countries in England, of every valley in Norway and Sweden, of
every German district, and of every part of France, Spain, and Italy. But
one who knows Gaelic well, can make himself understood throughout the
Highlands, as freely as an Englishman can in England, though he may speak
with a Northumbrian burr, or a west country twang, or like a true Cockney.
These, then, form the Celtic clan, the
people of the west of Scotland, the Irish, the Manks, the Welsh, and the
Breton. Who their relations are, and who their ancestors, are questions
not easily answered, though much has been written on the subject. The
following is a brief outline of what is given as Celtic history by modem
writers whose works I have consulted lately: -
According to Henri Martin, the French
historian, (Histoire de France, par Henri Martin; 1855) the whole of
Central Europe, France, and Spain, were once overrun by a race calling
themselves Gael, and best known as Gauls. This people is generally
admitted to have been of the same stock as Germans, Latins, Greeks, and
Slavonians, and to have started from Central Asia at some unknown epoch.
They are supposed to have been warlike, to have been tatooed like modem
New Zealanders, and painted like North American Indians, to have been
armed with stone weapons like the South Sea Islanders and California
Indians; but shepherd, as well as hunters, and acquainted with the use of
wheat and rye, which they are supposed to have brought with them from
Asia. One great confederation of tribes of this race was known to ancient
historians, as Kελזסį. They were represented as fair and rosy cheeked,
large chested, active, and brave, and they found the Euskes settled in the
south of France, who were dark-complexioned, whose descendants are
supposed to be the Euscualdonec or Basques of the Pyrennees, and who are
classed with the Lapps of the north of Europe, and with tribes now
dwelling in the far north of Asia. I have seen faces in Barra very like
faces which I had seen shortly before at St. Sebastian in Spain. A tribe
of Gauls made their way into Italy, and have left traces of their language
there, in the names of mountains chains and great rivers. There are named
"Amhra," or "Ombres," and Amhra is translated Valliant. This invasion is
calculated to have taken place about 1500 B.C.
The Gael were followed by Kimri or
Cimbri, a kindred people of a darker complexion, speaking a kindred
language, and their descendants are supposed to be the Welsh and Bretons.
These in turn occupied the interior of eastern Europe, and were followed
by the Scyths, and these, says the French historian, were Teutons.
According to the learned author of the
essay on the Cimmerians, in the third volume of Rawlinson's Herodotus, p.
184, it is almost beyond doubt that a people known to their neighbours as
Cimmerii, Gimiri, or probably Gomerini, attained a considerable power in
Western Asia and Eastern Europe within the period indicated by the dates
B.C. 800, 600, or even earlier.
These people are traced to the
inhabitants of Wales and Gael and Cymri are admitted by all to be Kελזסį;
and still keep up their old character for pugnacity by quarrelling over
Celts were undoubtedly the primitive
inhabitants of Gaul, Belgium, and the British Islands, possibly also of
Spain and Portugal; but no word of the language spoken by these ancient
Cimbri has been preserved by ancient authors, except the name, "and
perhaps the name Cimmerii may have included many Celtic tribes not of the
Cymric branch." These Gauls appeared everywhere in Europe; and, in
particular, they who had probably been driven out by the Scythians invaded
Scythia, intermixed with the people, and formed the people known in
history as Celto-Scythians; who the Scyths were (according to the author)
appears to be uncertain. All that remains of their language is a list of
words, picked out of the works of ancient authors; and knowing what modem
authors make of words which they pick up by ear, such a list is but a
narrow foundation on which to build. Still on that list it has been
decided that Scyths spoke a language which has affinity with Sanscrit, and
in that list, as it seems to me, there are several words which resemble
Gaelic more closely than the Sanscrit words given with them. And so,
according to this theory, the Basques were found in Europe by the first
Gael, and these were driven westwards by Kimri, and these again by
Scythians, and these by Teutons, and all these still occupy their
respective positions. The Basques and Lapps pushed aside; The Gael in
Scotland and Ireland, driven far to the westwards; the Kimri driven
westwards into Wales and Brittany; the Scyths lost or absorbed; and the
Teutons occupying their old possessions, as Germans, Saxons, English,
Scandinavians, and all their kindred tribes; and of all these the Basques
and their relatives alone speak a language which cannot be traced to a
common unknown origin, from which Sanscrit also came.
Whatever then throws light on the
traditions of the first invaders of Europe is of interest to all the rest,
for, according to this theory, they are all of the same clan. They are all
branches of the same old stock which grew in Central Asia, and which has
spread over great part of the world, and whatever is told of Gauls is of
interest to all branches of Celts.
Rome was taken by Gauls about 390 B.C.;
Greece was invaded by Gauls about 297 B.C., and they are then described as
armed with great swords and lances, and wearing golden collars, and
fighting savagely. At the end of the third century B.C., according to the
French historian, Gaul might have been a common name for the greatest part
of Europe, for Gauls were everywhere.
Now, what manner of men were these Gauls,
when men saw them who could describe them?
All the Gauls kept their hair untouched
by iron, and raised it like a mane towards the top of the head. As to the
beard, some shaved it, others wore it of a moderate length. The chiefs and
the nobles shaved the cheeks and the chin, and let their mustache grow to
all their length. (Histoire de France, page 33.)
Their eyes were blue or sea-green, and
shone under this thick mass of hair, of which the blond hue had been
changed by limewater to a flaming tint.
Their mustaches were "Rousses," which is
the only word I know which will translate ruadh.
The warrior was armed with an enormous
sabre on his left thigh; he had two darts in his hand, or a long lance; he
carried a four cornered shield, painted of various brilliant colours, with
bosses representing birds or wild animals; and on his head was a helmet
topped with eagles' wings, floating hair, or horns of wild animals; his
clothes were particoloured and he wore "brighis; " he was always fighting
at home or abroad; he was a curious inquiring mortal, always asking
questions; and truly he must have been a formidable savage that old French
Gaul. Men's heads were nailed at the gates of his towns and his houses,
beside trophies of the chase, much as modem Gael now hang up the trophies
of their destructive skill, in the shape of pole-cats and crows.
The chiefs kept human heads embalmed and
preserved, like archives of family prowess, of the Dyaks of Borneo and the
New Zealanders still do, or did very lately. The father had the power of
life and death over his wife and children, and exercised it too by burning
the guilty wife; and, though some chiefs had several wives, and there are
some scandalous stories of the manner and customs of the inhabitants of
the island; women were consulted together with men by the chiefs on
matters of moment, and held a high place amongst the Gauls of France.
Now, this short description of the Gauls,
rapidly gleaned from the pages of two modem books of high authority and
great research, after my Gaelic stories were collected, agrees with the
picture which the Gaelic tales give of their mythical heroes in many
particulars. They have long beautiful yellow hair, Leadanach, Buidh,
Boidheach. They are Ruadh, Rousses. They have large swords, claidheamh,
sometimes duileagach, leaf shaped. They cast spears and darts, Sleadh.
They are always asking questions, and their descendants have not lost the
habit yet. Their dwellings are surrounded by heads stuck on staves, stob.
They have larders of dead enemies. When a man is described as ragged and
out of order, it is almost always added that his beard had grown over his
face; and though beards are coming into fashion now, it is not a highland
fashion to wear a beard; and many a stinging joke have I heard aimed at a
bearded man by modem Highlanders. The shields of the warriors are
Bucaideach, bossed; Balla-bhreachd, dotted and variegated; Bara chaol,
with slender point; "with many a picture to be seen on it, a lion, a
cremhinach, and a deadly snake;" and such shields are figured on the Iona
tombs. The ancient Gauls wore helmets which represented beasts. The
enchanted king's sons, when they came home to their dwellings, put off
cochal, the Rusk, and become men; and when they go out, they resume the
cochal and become animals of various kinds. May this not mean that they
put on their armour. They marry a plurality of wives in many stories. In
short, the enchanted warriors are, as I verily believe, nothing but real
men, and their manners real manners, seen through a haze of centuries, and
seen in the same light as they are seen in other popular tales, but,
mayhap, a trifle clearer, because the men who tell of them are the
descendants of the men described, and have mixed less with other men.
I do not mean that the tales date from
any particular period, but that traces of all periods may be found in them
- that various actors have played the same parts time out of mind, and
that their manners and customs are all mixed together, and truly, though
confusedly, represented - that giants and fairies, and enchanted princes
were men; that Rob Roy may yet wear many heads in Australia, and be a god
or an ogre, according to taste - that tales are but garbled popular
history, of a long journey through forests and wilds, inhabited by savages
and wild beasts: of events that occurred on the way from east to west, in
the year of grace, once upon a time.
Tales certainly are historical in this
sense when they treat of Eirinn and Lochlann, for the islands were the
battlefield of the Celts and Scandinavians, and though they lack the
precision of more modem popular history, they are very precise as to Irish
names and geography. "They went to Cnoc Seannan in Ireland." Conall was
called Gulbanach from Beinn Gulbain in Ireland. There is the "king of
Newry," and many other places are named according to their Gaelic names,
never as they are named in English. The same is true of the manuscript
tales in the Advocates' library. Places about Loch Awe are named, and the
characters pass backwards and forwards between Ireland and Argyll, as we
are told they really did when the Irish Celts invaded and possessed that
part of the west of Scotland, and that invasion is clearly referred to in
more than one popular tradition still current. When Lochlann is mentioned,
it is further off, and all is uncertain. The king's son, not the king
himself, is usually the hero. Breacan Mac Righ Lochlainn is named,
or the son of the king of Lochlann, without a name at all, but the Irish
kings often have a whole pedigree; thus Connall Gulbanach MacIulin MacArt
Mac some one else, king of Ireland, and I lately heard a long story about
This again is like distorted, undated
popular history of true events. They are clearly seen at home, the very
spot where the action took place is pointed to; less clearly in Ireland,
though people and places are named; they are dimly seen in Lochlann, and
beyond that everything is enlarged, and magical, and mysterious and
grotesque. Real events are distorted into fables and magnified into
supernatural occurrences, for the Gaelic proverbs truly say, "There are
long horns on cattle in mist" or "in Ireland," and "Far away fowls have
But whether the stories are history or
mythology, it is quite clear that they are very old, that they belong to a
class which is very widely spread, and that they were not made by living
All story tellers agree in saying that
they learned them as traditions long ago; and if all those whose names are
given had been inclined to tell "stories" in another sense, they could not
have made and told the same stories at opposite ends of Scotland, almost
simultaneously, to different people. James Wilson could not have told
Connall Cra-bhuidhe to Hector MacLean in Islay, about the same time that
Neil Gillies was telling Conal Crobhi to me at Inverary, and a very short
time before Hector Urquhart got No. 8 from Kenneth MacLean in Gairloch. An
old fisherman and an old porter could not have combined to tell a "story"
which was in Straparola, in Italian, in 1567, to Hector MacLean in Barra,
in 1859, and to the Rev. Mr. MacLauchlan in Edinburgh, in 1860, unless
these stories were popular facts, though despised as fictions; and they
are curious facts too, for the frame of Conal is common to old German
manuscripts, and some of the adventures are versions of those of Ulysses.
There are many proverbs which are only explained when the story is known;
for example, "blackberries in February" means nothing; but when explained
by the story, the meaning is clearly the idea which an acquaintance of
mine once embodied in a French toast, as "les impossibilités accomplies."
The stories do not change rapidly, for I have gone back to a reciter after
the lapse of a year, and I have heard him again repeat in Gaelic, what I
had translated from his dictation, with hardly a change (vol. 1).
I have now no doubt that the popular
tales are very old; that they are old "Allabanaich," Highlanders and
wanderers; that they have wandered, settled, and changed, with those who
still tell them; and call themselves "Albannaich," men whose wandering
spirit is not yet extinct, though they were settled in their present
abodes "before the memory of man."
There was and is, a wandering spirit in
the whole race, if Celts are Indo Europeans. In the people who delighted
in the adventures of Ulysses and Æneas, a longing spirit of western
adventure, which was shewn in the fabled Atalantis, and the Island of the
Seven Cities and St. Brandon the spirit which drove the hordes of Asia to
Europe, and urged Columbus to discover America, and which still survives
in "the Green Isle of the great deep," "Eilean uaine an iomal torra
domhain," of which so much is told, which Highland fancy still sees on the
far western horizon, and which as "FLATHINNIS," the Isle of Heroes, has
now been raised from an earthly paradise to mean Heaven.
Much has been said about highland
superstitions, and highlanders of the east and west, like their southern
neighbours, have many, but they are at least respectable from their age;
and because they are so widely spread over the world, I believe them to be
nearly all fictions founded on facts.
Thirteen Highlanders would eat their
potatoes together without fear, and one of them might spill the salt
without a shudder. I never heard of a Celtic peasant consulting his table
as an oracle, or going to a clairvoyant; but plenty of them dream dreams
and see visions, and believe in them as men in Bible history did of old.
A man had been lost in crossing the
dangerous ford, five or six miles of sand or rock, between Benbecula and
North Uist, shortly before I was there in 1859. I was told the fact, and
it was added incidentally, "And did he not come to his sister in a dream,
and tell her where to find him? and she went to the place, and got him
there, half buried in sand, after the whole country side had been looking
for him in vain." Here is a similar story from Manchester: -
"FULFILLMENT OF A DREAM. - An
inquest was held last evening at Sheffield, before Mr. Thomas Badger,
coroner, on the body of Mr. Charles Holmes, button manufacturer,
Clough House Lane, who had been found drowned on Monday morning, in
the Lead mill dam in that town. The deceased left his home on Saturday
night in company with his wife; they walked through the town together,
and about nine o'clock, at which time they were at the top of Union
Street, he said to her, 'I'm going to leave thee here, Fanny.' She
said, 'Are you?' and he replied, 'Yes, I want to see an old friend who
is going to Birmingham on Monday, and he is to be here.' She said to
him, 'Well, Charlie, don't stop long, because I do feel queer about
that dream,' and he replied, 'Oh, don't say that; I'll just have a
glass, and then come home. Go and get the supper ready, and I'll come
directly.' She then left him. When he got into the house he was
invited to drink with his friend, but he exhibited some reluctance,
saying that on the night before his wife had dreamed that she saw him
dead in a public house, and that she had dreamed a similar dream about
a week before. Unfortunately, however, he yielded to the temptation,
got drunk, and did not leave the public house till after twelve. He
was accompanied part of the way home by his friend, and was never
afterwards seen alive. Near his house are the Lead mill dams, and, in
consequence of his not returning home, his wife felt convinced that he
had fallen in and got drowned. A search was made, and on Monday
morning his body was found in the water, and was removed to the Royal
Standard public house, where his wife saw the body, and identified it
as that of her husband; The jury returned a verdict of 'Found
drowned,' and recommended that an opening in the wall, near the dam,
through which it is supposed he had fallen, should be built up."
There are plenty of lowlanders as well
as "ignorant" Highlanders who think that they are seers, without the aid
of a deal board through which to look into futurity, by the help of a
medium, and it is by no means uncommon, as I am told, for the
Astronomer-Royal to receive English letters asking his advice, ex
It may not be out of place to add a word
as to the spoken Gaelic of these tales; the mode of writing it; and the
English of the translation. First, then, it is admitted by all that the
Gaelic of the West Highlands is a branch of the old Celtic stock, that is
to say, the language of some of the oldest invaders or inhabitants of
Europe of whom anything is known. Why it is I know not, but from works on
philology it appears that the Highland dialect has been least studied, and
for that reason, if for no other, it is perhaps best worth the trouble. I
thought it best to ignore all that had been said or written on the
subject, to go direct to those who now speak the language, especially to
those who speak no other tongue; to men who use words as they use their
feet and hands, utterly unconscious of design; who talk as nature and
their parents taught them; and who are as innocent of philology as their
own babies when they first learn to say "Abbi."
I requested those who wrote for me to
take down the words as they were spoken, and to write as they would speak
themselves; and the Gaelic of the tales is the result of such a process.
The names of the writers are given, and I am satisfied that they have done
their work faithfully and well. The Gaelic then is not what is
called "classical Gaelic." It is generally the Gaelic of the people - pure
from the source.
Next, as to orthography. I chose one
man, Mr. Hector MacLean, whom I know to be free from prejudice, and who
knows the rules of Gaelic spelling, to correct the press, and I asked him
to spell the sounds which he heard, according to the principles of Gaelic
orthography, whenever he wrote anything down himself; and in correcting
the press for the work of others, to correct nothing but manifest
mistakes, and this he has done, as it appears to me, very well.
In Gaelic there are certain vowels, and
combinations of them, which represent certain sounds; and they are all
sounded, and always in the same manner, according to theory, but in
practice it is a very different matter. In speaking Gaelic, as is the case
in other languages, various modes of pronouncing the same vowels exist in
various districts. The consonants meet and contend and extinguish each
other, and change the sound of the vowels in Gaelic more than in any other
language which I know; but they fight by rule, and the conquered and the
slain encumber the words which are their battlefields, as dead or dying
consonants standing beside the silent h which kills or controls
them. One difficulty in writing Gaelic from dictation is to ascertain, in
words of doubtful meaning, whether the sound v is to be expressed
by bh or mh. The first letter was once at the head of a
small regiment of letters, and sounded his own note m or b,
and so he regulated the meaning of the rest, but having fallen in with an
h in an oblique case, and being changed thereby to v, the
whole history of the word must be known before it can be settled whether
it should begin with mh or bh, and it is much more difficult
in other cases, where the letter is silenced altogether. My mother, if
Gaelic, might become vy vother - father, ather, but the
sounds would be spelt mhother, fhather. The meaning in a
book depends on the spelling, but in speaking, it is a different matter.
There are shades of sound which an ear used to a language can detect, but
which letters are wholly unfitted to express.
Gaelic scholars, then, who have a
standard for Gaelic writing, and who adhere to it strictly, will probably
find much which will appear to them erroneous spelling.
An English scholar reading Sir Walter
Scott's novels will find plenty of words which are not in Johnson's
Dictionary, and a student of Pickwick will find much in Sam Weller's
conversation which he will not discover in that form in Shakspeare.
Had I found stories in the Isle of Wight
I should have spelt good morning good marnin, because it is so pronounced;
falbh is spelt folbh when a story comes from some of the Western Islands,
because it is so pronounced there; and for the same reason iad is spelt
eud. I have no doubt there are errors. I can only vouch for having chosen
men who did their best in a very difficult matter; for I do not believe
that there are ten men now living who would write a hundred lines of
Gaelic off hand and spell them in the same way. I very much doubt if ten
men ever did live at the same time who would have agreed as to Gaelic
spelling; and I know that I find forms of words in books which I have very
rarely heard in conversation. For example, the plural in IBH (iv)
is very rare; the common form is AN.
The spelling of the first book printed
in the Gaelic language, Bishop Carswell's Prayer book, 1567, is not the
same as the spelling of the Gaelic Bible. The Gaelic names in old charters
are not spelt according to modem rule. The old Gaelic manuscripts in the
Advocates' Library are spelt in various ways. Every man who has written
Gaelic for me, spells words variously. Manks spelling is phonetic. Irish
spelling is different; and where there is so little authority, I hope to
be forgiven if I have ventured to ask men to follow their own own road. I
hope they will be forgiven if they have taken a short cut to obtain a
certain object, and if they have left the beaten path.
For the translation I am responsible,
and I feel that the English needs excuse. It has been the fashion so far
to translate Gaelic freely; that is, to give the sense of the passage
without caring much for the sense of words. One result is, that
dictionaries give so many meanings that they are almost useless to any one
ignorant of Gaelic. There are many words in these tales which were new to
me, and I have repeatedly been driven to gather their meaning from the
context, or to ask for it at the source, because of the multitude of
contradictory explanations given in dictionaries. Let me take one word as
an example. In the first tale the hero meets CU SEANG NA COILL’ UAINE, and
the meaning turned on the word SEANG. To that word the following meanings
are attached: - Slender, slender waisted, hungry, hungry looking, lank,
lean, active, handsome, strong; (applied to a shirt front), fine; "Sad am
I this day arising the breast of my shirt is not seang ," (applied to food
in a proverb), meat makes men "seang;" (applied to hinds in an ode), neat;
(applied to a horse), spirited; also slim, small, small bellied, gaunt,
nimble, agile; (applied to lady), slender waisted. On looking further it
appears that SEANGAN is an ant; that SHUNKA is the Dakotah for all animals
of the dog species, and that the word came to be applied to a horse, as
spirit dog, when horses came first to that country; and it further appears
that there is a word in broad Scotch which nearly fits the Gaelic, SWANK;
that SING means a lion in India; and that the horses of the sun were
swankas with beautiful steps in Sanscrit. It seemed to me that the phrase
might be thus freely translated "The Forest Lion."
But though it seemed to me possible I
might be entirely wrong, so I gave the meaning of the words, about which
there could be no mistake: -
CU SEANG NA COILL'UAINE.
Dog slim of the wood green.
My belief is, that the word was an
adjective, descriptive of the qualities of a lion wherever their likeness
is to be found as strength, activity, high courage, bold bearing, slender
form, hunger, satiety; but I did not venture to translate CU SEANG by
"lion," nor by "grey hound," as I was advised to do. I translated it by
those words which seem to give the present meaning of the Gaelic. CU, a
dog; SEANG, slim; and the phrase stands, "The slim dog of the green wood."
And so throughout I have aimed at giving
the present real meaning of every separate word, but so as to give its
true meaning in the passage in which it occurs. Where I have not been able
to do both, I have tried to keep as close as I could to the original idea
involved. For example, "In the mouth of night" is new to English, but it
is comprehensible, and it is the exact meaning of the phrase commonly used
to express the first coming on of darkness. The expression is poetical. It
seems to refer to some old mythical notion that the sun went into a cave
or a tent to sleep, for "Take thy sleep in thy cave" is a line in Ossian's
"Address to the Sun," and though it was suggested to me to alter this
translation, and make it "good English," I thought it best to adhere to my
original plan. Generally where the phrase occurs it is translated "in the
mouth of night," though I was advised to write, "in the dusk," "in the
evening," "at nightfall," "in the mantle of night," "at twilight," "in the
grey of the evening."
I admit that all these phrases express
ideas which might be attached to the words; but what could an unfortunate
student make of a passage in which a word meaning mouth according
to all dictionaries, should seem to mean mantle, or fall, or
grey. It is very much easier to write naturally and translate
freely; and as I have tried hard to make my translation a close one, I
hope the bad English will be forgiven.
Those only who have tried to turn Gaelic
into English can understand the difficulty. There are in fact many Gaelic
phrases which will not go into English at all. For example, THA SO AGAM (I
have this), is this at me, or with me, or by me, is a phrase which
cannot be rendered for want of a word equivalent to AG or AIG, which
expresses position and possession, and is combined with am, ad, e, inn,
ibh, and changed to aca to express the persons. Gaelic will not bear
literal translation into English, but I have tried to give the real
meaning of every word as nearly as I could, and to give it by using the
English word which most resembled the Gaelic; and thus I have unexpectedly
fallen in with a number of English words which seem to have the same
origin as Gaelic, if they are not survivors of the language of the ancient
Britons. I have translated CLAIDHEAMH, pronounced Claiv, by glave, THRAILL
by thrall, and so throughout wherever I have thought of an English word
that resembled a word admitted to be Gaelic.
It is my own opinion, and it is that of
Mr. MacLean, that the Gaelic language is the same from Cape Clear in
Ireland to Cape Wrath in Scotland, though there are many dialects, and
there is much variety. The language was taught to me by a native of Lorn,
and he was chosen by the advice of men well able to judge, as a native of the district where the best
Gaelic was then supposed to be spoken. Speaking from my own experience, I
can converse freely in Lorn Gaelic with Scotch Highlanders in every
district of Scotland, and with natives of Rathlin. I can make my way with
natives of the North of Ireland, but I cannot converse with the natives of
some Irish districts. I could not make the Manksmen understand me, but I
can readily understand most of the words in Manks and in Irish, when
There are a very great many words in
Welsh and in Breton which I can understand, or trace when they are
separately spoken, but the difference in these is much wider. Peasants
come from Connaught to Islay, and in a very short time converse freely,
though their accent betrays them; but an Argyllshire Highlander is known
in the north by his accent, just as a Yorkshireman would be found out in
Somersetshire. An Islay man is detected in Mull, and a native of one
parish in Islay is detected when he speaks in another; but though there
are such shades of difference, a Highlander used to hear languages
variously spoken should have no difficulty in understanding any dialect of
Gaelic spoken in Scotland, and most of the Irish dialects. But which of
all these is the best, who is to decide? The author of a very good
dictionary says, under the word COIG, that "in the islands of Argyllshire
every word is pronounced just as Adam spoke it." Dr. Johnson pronounced
the whole to be the rude speech of a barbarous people; and the Saxon knew
as much of Gaelic as the Celt did of Adam. One Gaelic scholar wished to
change the island words; a good Highlander told me that Dalmally was the
best place for Gaelic, another was all for Western Ross. Nobody has a good
word for Sutherland Gaelic, but it is very pure nevertheless in some
districts; north country men are an for Inverness. I have heard excellent
Gaelic in the Long Island. On the whole, I am inclined to think that
dialect the best which resembles the largest number of others, and that is
the dialect spoken by the most illiterate in the islands, and on the
promontories furthest to the west. I will not venture to name any
district, because I have no wish to contend with the natives of all the
The spirit of nationality is one which
has a large development amongst my countrymen, and the subject of language
brings it out in strong relief It is but a phase of human nature, a result
of the quality which phrenologists describe as combativeness, and it seems
to be common to all the races classed as Indo European.
It is a common opinion in England that
one Englishman can thrash three Frenchmen; and I have no doubt that a
similar opinion prevails in France, though I do not know the fact.
Highlanders believe that lowlanders generally are soft and effeminate;
lowlanders think that mountaineers are savages. An Irish Celt detests his
brother Celt over the water. A Scotch Celt calls another Eireannach when
he abuses him, but let a common foe appear and they will all combine.
England, Ireland, and Scotland are up in
arms, with rifles on their shoulders, at a hint of the approach of a
Frenchman; but they joined France with heart and hand to fight the Russian
and the Chinese; and as soon as the battle was over, they came back and
fought at home.
The English lion stirred up the Scotch
lion in the English press, and the northern lion growled over his wrongs.
Ireland began to tell of the tyrant Saxon, and a stranger might think that
the Union was about to fall to pieces. It is not so; it is but a
manifestation of superfluous energy which breaks out in the other "union"
over the water, and makes as much noise there as steam blowing off
I maintain that there is chronic war in
every part of her Majesty's dominions. Not long ago a dispute arose about
a manner of catching herrings. One set of men caught them with drift nets,
another with dragnets, and one party declared that the other violated the
law; blood got up, and at last a whole fleet of fishing-boats left their
ground and sailed twenty miles down to attack the rival fleet in form. A
gun-boat joined the party, and peace was preserved; but it was more the
result of a calm, which enabled the light row boats to escape from the
heavier sailing fleet. Both parties spoke the same language, and on any
subject but herrings, they would have backed each other through the world.
The purchase of an orange, and a box on
the ear, grew into a serious riot in a northern town last year. The fight
spread as from a centre, and lasted three days; but here it developed
itself into a fight between Celt and Saxon. Both sides must have been in
the wrong, and I am quite sure they were both ignominiously defeated,
although they may hold the contrary.
Every election in the three kingdoms is
a shameful riot, according to some public organ, whose party get the worst
There is a regular stand up fight in
Paris periodically, the rest of Europe goes to war in earnest at every
opportunity, and when there are no national or class wars, men fight as
individuals all over the world. I was once at Christmas at a hurling match
in Ireland. The game was played on ice on a lake, and after some hours the
owner of the lake sent down a Scotch butler with bread and cheese and
whisky for the players. They gathered about the cart in perfect good
humour, when suddenly, without cause, an excited banker's clerk shouted, "Hurro
for -----' (the nearest post town), and performed a kind of war dance on
the outside edge of his skates, flourishing a stick wildly, and chanting
his war song, "I'll bet ere a man in England, Ireland, or SCOTLAND." A
knobby stick rose up in the crowd, and the Scotch butler was down; but an
Irish boy who had not opened his mouth was the next. He went head-foremost
into a willow bush amongst the snow, and three men in frieze great-coats
kicked him with nailed shoes. In ten minutes the storm was over, the
butler was up again in his cart dispensing the refreshments, the man in
the bush was consoling himself with a dram, and an was peace. But that
night the country party took up a position behind a stone wall, and when
the others came, they sallied forth and there was a battle royal.
So I have seen a parish shinty match in
the Highlands become so hot and furious, that the leaders were forced to
get two pipers and march their troops out of the field in opposite
directions, to prevent a civil war of parishes.
And so, a part of her Majesty's guards
having gone out to exercise at Clewer, and being stationed as "the enemy"
at some point, obstinately refused to "retreat in disorder;" but stood
their ground with such determination, that the officers had to sound the
retreat on both sides to prevent a serious battle.
So at Eton, shins were broken in my
tutor's football match against my dame's; and boys injured themselves in
rowing frantically for the honour of upper or lower sixes.
Two twins, who were so like, that one
used to skip round a pillar and answer to his brother's name, and who
probably would have died for each other, still fought in private so
earnestly, that one carried the mark of a shovel on his forehead for many
a long day; and so boys fight, and men fight, individually and
collectively, as parties, races, and nations, all over Europe, if not all
over the world.
I decline to state my opinion as to
which Gaelic is the best, for that is a peculiarly delicate subject, my
countrymen having ceased to use their dirks, are apt to fight with pens,
and I would rather see the children of the Gael, in this as in other
matters fighting shoulder to shoulder against foes, and working side by
side with their friends.
The Gaelic language is essentially
descriptive, rich in words, which by their sound alone express ideas. The
thundering sound of the waves beating on the shore is well expressed by
TONN, a wave; LUNN, a heavy Atlantic swell.
The harsh rattling and crushing of
thunder by TAERNEANACH.
The plunge of a heavy body thrown into
deep water by TUNN, plunge.
The noise of small stones and fine
gravel streaming seawards from a beach in the undertow is heard in
The tinkling of shells as they slip and
slide on the sand at the edge of the sea is heard in SLIGEAN, shells.
The hard sharp knocking of stones in
CLACH, a stone, and thence all manner of compound ideas follow as CLACHAN,
a village; CLACHAIR, a mason; CLACHARAN, a stone-chat.
The names of domestic animals usually
resemble their notes. Bo, a cow; gobhar, a goat; caora, a sheep; laogh, a
calf. Words such as barking, growling, squealing, coughing, sneezing,
suggest the idea by the sound, as they do in English. Many names of beasts
and birds, which are not of this class, are descriptive in another sense.
The grouse are the reddish brown cock and hen; the fox, the reddish brown
dog; the wolf, the fierce dog; the sandpiper, the little driolichan of the
strand. The crow is the flayer, the falcon, the darter; the otter the
brown or black beast.
It is a language full of metaphorical
and descriptive expressions. "He went to the beginning of fortune;" "he
put the world under his head;" "he took his own body home;" "he went away"
- that is, he went home sick, and he died. "There were great masses of
rain, and there was night and there was darkness." "Ye must not be out
amidst the night, she is dark."
It is rich in words expressive of war,
by no means rich in words belonging to the arts. CRANN, a tree, means a
mast, the bar of a door, a plough, and many other things made of wood.
BEAIRT means a loom, a block and tackling, and engines of various kinds.
It seems to contain words to express the
great features of nature, which can be traced in the names of rivers and
mountains in a great part of Europe, such as EAS, a rapid (pr. ace); ATH
(pr. A. and Av.), a ford; AMHAINN, OBHAINN, ABHAINN, a river, variously
pronounced, avain, a-wen, ovain, o-in, o-un, o-n. Calais I take to
be CALA, a harbour; the word has no meaning in French. Boulogne might be
BEUL OBHAINN, river's mouth; Donau, the Danube, might mean the brown
river. Tana might mean the shallow, and both are descriptive.
Rhine might mean the division, and there
is a district in Islay whose name is pronounced exactly as the name of the
great German river. Balaclava is exceedingly like the name of an Islay
farm, and might mean kite's town, BAILE CHLAMHAIN; but though such
resemblances can hardly fail to occur to any one who knows the Gaelic
language, it requires time and careful study to follow out such a subject,
and it is foreign to my purpose. There are plenty of Gaelic words which
closely resemble words in other European languages. Amongst the few
Sanscrit words which I have been able to glean from books, I find several
which resemble Gaelic words of similar meaning - JWALA, light flame, has
many Gaelic relations in words which mean shining, fire, lightning, the
moon, white, swan.
DYU, day, is like an diugh, to day;
MIRAH, the ocean, like muir, mara, the sea; but this again is foreign to
My wish has been simply to gather some
specimens of the wreck so plentifully strewn on the coasts of old
Scotland, and to carry it where others may examine it; rather to point out
where curious objects worth some attention may be found, than to gather a
great heap. I have not sought for stranded forests. I have not polished
the rough sticks which I found; I have but cut off a very few offending
splinters, and I trust that some may be found who will not utterly despise
such rubbish, or scorn the magic which peasants attribute to a fairy egg.