THE press of the spring work was over, and the people
of the Glen were employed at the gart-ghlanadh, which literally
means "the clearing of the gart, or enclosed land," but which
practically included repairs of fences, drains, and many other
things, besides the clearing of clover fields of stones, and the
taking away of dead branches, flood leavings, and all other
obstructions to the growth of vegetation, and dangers to scythe
People cleared their own rigs and meadows first,
and then all the families of the baile turned out together to
clear the common meadows, woods, and pastures, and to repair the
common dykes, fences, and drains.
Diarmad, with perhaps a score of others of both sexes and all
ages, was engaged one day in the common land gart-ghlanadh, when
Iain Og's grandson, Shonnie, from the next baile, came running
towards them, and screaming while yet at a distance—
"Diarmad, we are going to Dun-an-teine on Beltane Day! We are
going to have a Beltane fire and a Beltane bonnach, and lots of
Now, Shonnie was carrying a basket, from which
it was clear he was going to the shop with eggs. But he was
swinging the basket forgetful of the eggs, until Diarmad cried
to him to take care; and then Shonnie put the basket down, and
fairly danced with joy about his Beltane Day plan.
are going to this affair?" asked Ewan, who was raking away
rubbish along with Mary Macintyre, his own sister, Jessie
Cameron, and Diarmad, for in all common work these four always
fell some way or other into the one company.
"I am going,"
said Shonnie, "and Shemmie Dalveich is going. Our Maggie is
going, and Duncan's Maggie is going. I want Diarmad himself, and
Jessie, and Mary, and you, and lots more to go."
is a crois-tarra business thou wishest to make of it."
Shonnie—"Yes, and mother is going to give eggs and all things
for a right good bonnach."
"It is a stupid faoineis all
and entirely," said Ewan.
"Thou art stupid thyself all and
entirely," responded Shonnie. "What dost thou know about it
"Why, this just. You go up in the morning with
green branches and flowers to the circle on Dun-an-teine. You
pile dry wood, birns, and anything else to make a quick blaze
on the raised mound within the circle. Then, when the fire gets
a bit low, you bake a bonnach-inid on it."
"No, it is not a bonnach-inid." corrected Shonnie.
"Well, no, nor anything half so good. By the bonnach-inid you spae your fortune, but this bonnach-bealltainn
does not do for anything so good. It is broken into many bits.
One bit is marked with a black cross. Ail the bits are put into
a poke, and then you each put in a hand and take out a bit, and
the one who gets the black cross bit is chased round the circle
with lots of noise and slappings, and he gets no peace until he
jumps three times clean over the fire."
Shonnie, with great
contempt—"That is all thou knowest! My seanair says that when
he was young they went up in the night, and made cake and chased
the duine gointex before daybreak. But when the sun was just
ready to rise they threw away the raven's feathers they wore on
their heads before, and taking flowers and green branches they
stood behind the fire with faces to the east, and when they saw
the sun they bowed with hand to lip and hand to brow, and said
words to it."
Diarmad—"Eh, laddie! does thy seanair know the
Shonnie—"He says that the Kirk had put down the old
words because they were not canny, and that in his time they
said only 'failte' and 'ceud mile failte.'"
never the right thing though to cover up the back trails of
history. The Beltane and Halloween fires were the great
festivals of the Druids. They were certainly sun-worshippers."
Mary Macintyre—"Did they not think that on Beltane morning the
sun came back a conqueror from the yearly fight with the Dragon
of the Black Abyss?"
Diarmad—"Yes, yes, that is the only
explanation of the Druid creed which remains."
Shonnie—"But, Diarmad, thou must make words for us, and we'll go up in the
night and do it all right."
Ewan—"It is just the beautiful
Diarmad—"Especially if we can get old Duncan Ban and
his fiddle to take care of us."
Shonnie—"That would be best of all. Thou
must make right good words, and get old Duncan Ban and the
yellow fiddle. And we'll take our breakfast, mother says, and
cook it up there. And we'll go up in the night, and I know every
bit of the way. Deeleman ! deeleman !"
Jessie Cameron—"If a
girl should draw out the black-cross bit of the cake, surely
she'll not be expected to jump over the fire ?"
no. She will be represented by her champion. If thou shouldst
happen to draw the gointe .bit, I'll do the running and
jumping for thee, Jessie."Ewan—"And I'll do the same for thee,
Mary."Shonnie—" But dost thou promise to make the words,
Diarmad—"I should like to get hold of the old
words. Well, we are going to the minister's peatmaking the
morrow's morning, and I'll see Gilleasbuig Sgoilear. Yes,
Shonnie, I'll make some words if I can't get any old ones. They
must be rann and luinneag,2 for doubtlessly the Beltane hymn to
the sun would be liturgical, the Druid priest saying the rann,
and the people saying the chorus."
Shonnie—"And we must all
learn the words before Beltane day. And, Diarmad, thou must make
them soon, soon."
Diarmad—"Yes, for sure. Be off now to the
shop and don't break the eggs."
All the Glen, at least most
of its population fit for the work, turned out one day early in
the season to make peats for the minister. At the gathering this
year Diarmad used his opportunity to question Gilleasbuig
Sgoilear about the lost words of the Beltane hymn to the sun.
Gilleasbuig could not go further than Iain Og. The Kirk, he
thought, long before the Reformation, had denounced this too
striking remnant of the old worship. What was the meaning of the
fountain at the foot of Schiechallion being called "fuaran na
h-ighinne," or "spring of the maid," to which still the young people of
three parishes went before midnight on Beltane eve? He thought
it meant this, that the early Christian priests, perhaps the
Culdees themselves, dedicated it to the Virgin Mary, and told
the people to stop there and be blessed, and not to go up to the
top of the ben to worship the sun like their forefathers. It was
no wonder the words had perished when Culdees, and Romanists,
and Reformers had been all determined to strike them out of the
"But I have heard words on Dun-an-teine on
Beltane Day," said Ealag of Craig, coming up to the bank with
"You have, Ealag! And what were they?" asked Diarmad, much interested.
Ealag—"Just let me think a minute.
Oh! I remember, they went this way " :—
Righ an t-soluis,
Righ na beatha,
Righ a chinneis,
Armuinn threunmhor fhuair a bhuaidh
Air Dearc an clubh-aite,
Armuinn aluinn 's or-bhuidh gruaidh,
Ceud mile failte !
Diarmad—"Excellent, Ealag. More words, Ealag. Have you no more
Ealag—"I remember no more, and the wonder is that
such vanities should stick to my memory so long."
Diarmad—"Who said the words?"
them, and made them, too. It was when he was after the daughter
of Rob Mor, and I was a little lass then."
the words are not old, they still keep a grip on the old
story—the fight between Light and Darkness, between Life and
Death. We shall have words like them rann and luinneag."
Ealag—"You ! Who may you be?"
Diarmad—"Why, I and a lot of others who are going to give the sun failte
on Beltane morning."
Ealag—"Ah me ! What have I done !
Worshipping Baal in high places! What will the Elder Claon say?"
Diarmad—"There is no harm in welcoming the blessed sun, Ealag.
As for the Elder Claon, why look you, does he not make medicine
drinks for his sick cows by salt,. meal, and three old silver
crossed coins, dipped thrice in fountain water?"
Ealag—"Nay, he never dips the old crossed coins in sick cows' drink. It
is gath nathrach (serpent's fang) that he dips thrice in the
water. They say that gath nathrach has medicine power over
Diarmad—"Worse and worse. It is the Elder Claon that should, I think, be delated to the Session. Why, look
you, the gath nathrach medicine means the worship of the Old
Serpent, which is the Devil."
" Oh people!" exclaimed Ealag,
rushing off with her barrow.
Then Gilleasbuig and Diarmad had
a long discussion on the heathen faiths of the country in
ancient times. Diarmad supposed that the duine gointe lot must
have at first meant human sacrifice, but he argued that the
victim was not offered to the Sun-God, but as a trap to divert
the attention of the Dragon, so that the Sun-God might beat him.
And Gilleasbuig thought the serpent worship belonged to the
daoine fiadhaich whom the Gael found in the country, and whose
last representatives seemed to be the "Uruisgs" and "Glaistigs" of legendary lore.
Diarmad, following Donnacha
Dubh Brocair's lines to a certain extent, made liturgical words,
which were learned by the others in secret; and it did not take
very great pressing to persuade Duncan Ban that he and his
fiddle were both required to look after the young people, and
to^ amuse them. The sacrificial fire was lighted at midnight;.Duncan Ban, however, hinted that although the time was right the
mode was wrong, since it should have been lighted by teine-eigin,
or fire obtained by rubbing two pieces of wood together. The
duine gointe lot fell on the elder's John, who jumped thrice
over the fire without suffering detriment. With the dawn
cloud-cleaving shimmer, raven's feathers gave place to flowery
garlands, and hazel wands wreathed with primroses and anemones.
And Diarmad officiating as Druid priest, and all looking to the
east, the rising luminary was greeted with the following
Chorus—Lord of Light, we hail thee !
Growth, we hail thee !
Giver of breath
And foe of Death—
Life, we hail thee !
We take the foilowing paragraph
from the account of the Parish of Callander, in the "Old
Statistical Account of Scotland," which was written in 1794 by
Mr, afterwards Doctor, Robertson, minister of the said parish :
"Peculiar Customs.—The people of this district have two
customs, which are fast wearing out, not only here, but all over
the Highlands, and therefore ought to be taken notice of, while
they remain. Upon the first day of May, which is called Beltan,
or Bal-tein day, all the boys in a township or hamlet meet in
the moors. They cut a table in the green sod. of a round figure,
by casting a trench in the ground, of such circumference as to
hold the whole company. They kindle a fire, and dress a repast
of eggs and milk in the consistence of a custard. They knead a
cake of oatmeal, which is toasted at the embers against a stone.
After the custard is eaten up, they divide the cake into so many
por tions, as similar as possible to one another in size and
shape as there are persons in the company. They daub one of
these portions all over with charcoal, until it be perfectly
black. They put all the bits of the cake into a bonnet. Every
one, blindfold, draws out a portion. He who holds the bonnet is
entitled to the last bit. Whoever draws the black bit is the
devoted person who is to be sacrificed to Baal, whose favour
they mean to implore, in rendering the year productive of the
sustenance of man and beast. There is little doubt of these
inhuman sacrifices having been once offered in this country, as
well as in the east, although they now pass from the act of
sacrificing, and only compel the devoted person to leap three
times through the flames; with which the ceremonies of this
festival are closed. The other custom is, that on All-Saints
Even they set up bonfires in every village. When the bonfire is
consumed, the ashes are carefully collected in the form of a
circle. There is a stone put in, near the circumference, for
every person of the several families interested in the bonfire ;
and whatever stone is moved out of its place, or injured before
next morning, the person represented by that stone is devoted or
fey; and is supposed not to live twelve months from that day.
The people received the consecrated fire from the Druid priests
next morning, the virtues of which were supposed to continue for
and ever bright,
Thou com'st with locks unshorn;
the lasting fight,
With night and Dearc forlorn !
the face that ne'er grows old,
Praise to the heart that ne'er
Praise to the burnished locks of gold,
Praise from gach aite
Chorus—Champion of right,
All fresh from the
With the proofs of thy might,
Ceud mile failte.
Druid—When winter shrouds thee dim,
And hardly peers thy rim
Above the sea, above the ben—
What wail the sons of men?
Chorus—Lord of Light, we pray thee !
Lord of Growth, we pray
Giver of breath,
And foe of Death,
Lord of Life, we
pray thee !—
Come back with cheering day;
Come back and drive
The sorrow, gloom, and cold
That make the young feel old,
And heroes keep in hold.
Druid—Come back, we cry; come back,
With new-born hope and gladsome ray,
With flowers and
songs and Beltane Day.
Chorus—The vernal hope,
Life-powers give free scope,
And men a brighter dream.
Druid—The quickening ray on soil and soul
shadows with the whole,
Till we can say, with latest breath,
To our dread foe, grim-visaged Death—
"Come veil thy haughty
Though half untold this tale of man,
darkness we can scan
A life of higher essence !"
Chorus—Lord of Light, we
hail thee !
Lord of Growth, we hail thee !
With hand to lip and
hand to brow,
With bowing head and heart-felt vow,
And foe of Death,
Lord of Life, we hail thee !