NO account of the
Outer Isles in general, nor more especially of Tyree in particular,
would be complete without a description of the Ceilidh. It has been
my privilege at various times to offer prizes in certain islands for
essays written in Gaelic and in English upon this among other such
subjects as are most familiar to the young authors. Rather than
attempt in the first place any account of the custom of Ceilidh in
my own words, I \yill quote from some of the essays sent to me under
these circumstances, by boys and girls in the island of Tyree,
confident that the inquiring reader will thank me for this glimpse,
at first hand, of island life. I wish I could quote from all or
almost all that lie before me, for, though many deal with similar
details, each writer has something individual in his or her point of
view. The first I give word for word as it stands :
We are here in an
island that is not altogether out of the way. Steamers call at it
very often and so in this island we are not so ignorant regarding
the affairs of the South as people would think. There is nothing
more certain than that we are very superstitious throughout all the
Western Islands of Scotland, but whether the Lowlanders will believe
the tales that the old Highlanders tell, or not, we have reason to
In this island we
have the custom of assembling together during the long winter nights
to pass them off in happiness and mirth. We call this Ceilidh.
Well then the house
in which we generally assemble is that of Hector, son of Donald, a
kind-hearted, greyheaded old man who always earns his daily bread
with zeal. I should not be acting justly if I did not bring before
you his wife, for often did she pleasantly pass the evening with us,
telling us her stories, of which she has a great many. She too is
not young now and so you will not wonder, though she should have
tales about wonderful things.
To show you therefore
how the evening is spent in Hectors house, I will tell you about a
certain night I happened to enter myself. Hector and his wife were
sitting at the fire and on a bench at the other side of the house
was a modest young man that was always one of the Ceilidh company.
He was named Red John. When I entered I began to tell the fright I
got, as the night was so dark. I was hearing a most wonderful sound
somewhat like the grunting of a pig, but though I searched as best
as I could, no pig could I see. Then I got greatly frightened and I
thought myself too slow to escape.
Red John: It was a
pig no doubt, but I daresay you will be of the opinion that it was
I (the Writer):
Indeed, I know not, but I got frightened whatever.
Hectors Wife: Are
you not foolish, John, if somebody were in his place with the gift
of second-sight, it is a wonder to me if he would not see that it
was not a pig. If it were a pig could he not have seen it himself?
Indeed, there is somebody to die sooner or later and you shall have
something to do about him. You may laugh, John, but there is such a
thing as second-sight, and the effects of an evil eye, and I would
not say but there is witchcraft yet, at least there was such a
Hector: No doubt but
there is every such thing you mention and I will prove that in part.
I remember of a good looking girl in our own township, who stayed
near the seashore with her father and mother and there is nothing
surer than that she saw a vision. I did not see anything, thanks to
the Lord, and I do not wish to see it, but nevertheless she told me
that much. She went one night to the well with two pails to fetch
water and there she saw the form of a man. She understood that he
was not earthly as he did not speak, and being frightened she fled
Hector's Wife: He
was seeking something surely.
for in a little time a good-looking young man was killed under a
boat, while being launched, and his appearance being ugly on account
of the bruise, this young woman covered his face with her shoulder
John: This was what
he wanted the night he was at the well ? But who is this coming in?
Hector: Is this you
Archibald? Come up and sit near the fire, the night is so cold.
Archibald: How are
you all here to-night? Who occupies the chair? or who does the
John: Well it was
Hector the head of the house that was trying to make us believe
about second-sight. What do you say to that?
Archibald: I indeed
believe it, although I never saw anything myself, but I cannot at
all believe in the effects of an evil eye, and foolish things of
Hectors Wife: Is not
the one thing as possible as the other, at least to one that has
only what he hears from others ? Hector already told you about
second-sight, and many are the stories that I myself heard about
second-sight, and now will you not believe me if I tell you about
the effects of an evil eye?
John: Do then, it
will pass the evening anyway. A story is pleasant though it be even
untrue, and often can lies be polished.
Hectors Wife: You do
nothing but talk about lies. Well then I tell you if more would
believe in an evil eye, sickness that cannot be understood would not
be so often amongst men and beasts. I remember of a fine grey mare
my grandfather had, and her equal was not in the near townships. She
was strong as horse that ever was stabled. One day however, as she
was ploughing, in the twinkling of an eye she fell and stretched her
head and neck, and nothing could be done to her but to give her a
drop of good whisky that my grandmother brewed. Then a certain man
in the township who was nicknamed the Lord advised us to send for
a healing bottle to Flora, daughter of Peter, and said that it was a
wonder if it would not prove of great use. The mare seemed to be
lost anyhow, and so they sent for the bottle. It was got and
sprinkled on the beast, and immediately she rose, shook herself, and
was whole. John: Perhaps if your grandfather himself had put the
water on her she would be all right. It was just weakness that was
wrong with her.
Hector 8 Wife: Oh !
how content you are in being foolish. Dont you see that there was
no use in the water unless the good woman had put some charm into it
to do good ? Understand, that it was some one who would not wish
good luck for my grandfather, that brought that on the mare by evil
powers. Powers given to evil people are the charms properly. You
know there are many charms, such as a charm to produce unlawful
love, a charm to make a cow allow the calf of another to suck her, a
charm to drown a foe, and a charm to do evil to a person.
Archibald: It is
there now the wonders come in. What is the charm? Whether do you say
about the one that harmed the mare that she had an evil eye or that
she was a witch?
Hectors Wife: She
had an evil eye, but you can almost call it witchcraft itself. Those
that knew witchcraft troubled people in various ways, by ruining
their properties, bringing death into their families and such
troubles. Some say that this is only a revenge for something done by
the ancestors of the man though it were by his great grandfather.
John: I can hardly
believe it although you put so much light on it for me. And yet I am
somewhat afraid to go home alone.
all the Highlands this sort of superstition is believed, and the
stories are told and that often by those that saw or felt something
in some way, and do you yourself think that they would all tell
lies? To-day the Lowlander spurns them, but if it is truth that they
tell, and I believe it is, why need they care?
John: It is now
late. Good night.
Hector: Good night,
and may you go home safe.
The next writer too,
deserves to be quoted without curtailment, if only for the picture
he draws of everyday Highland life.
Tyree, at its best,
is not a very cheery place, especially in winter. One of the
greatest difficulties which meet the young men is How to spend the
long winter nights. This, however, should present no difficulty to
them, for it has been a custom in Tyree from very early times for
the young men of each village to come together into one house and
spend the time in various conversationstory-telling in particular.
This gathering together we call Ceilidh.
A welcome always
awaits the young men no matter into whose house they go. They always
have one who acts as spokesman, and he, as soon as they all have
seats, stands up and says The first story, we expect, comes from
the man of the house, and we ourselves undertake to fill up the rest
of the time by each of us telling a story in turn. The next to him
then gets up and says, I and my friends agree to that. Let the
stories begin with the man of the house and pass on to the next till
the last gives his own story. In this manner many stories are told.
One night last winter
I and a friend went to Ceilidh to the house of an old man who was
known to be a good story-teller. He was a man who firmly believed in
ghosts and everything connected with the supernatural.
We were not long
seated when we asked the old man to tell us a story. This he
consented to do on condition that each of us would give another
story when he finished. We agreed, and then the old man began the
In my younger days I
was a shepherd and I passed many a lonely day while thus occupied. I
had to go at a certain time of the year (lambing season) from the
house in which I was staying to another one, the reason being that
it was more suitable for my work. This house to which I was sent was
situated in a very picturesque but lonely place. The inmates of it
consisted of an elderly woman and her daughter ; they had come to
this house only the previous year; they were a respectable,
God-fearing pair, but there was something about them which did not
agree with them (of this you shall hear later on).
There were three
apartments in this house a kitchen, room and bedroom. I slept in a
bed in the room.
I was one day kept
busier than usual and on coming home I felt more inclined for rest
than for meat. However, I took a light supper and immediately after
retired to the room with the intention of going into bed at once,
but as there was a good fire bn, and a comfortable chair standing in
front of it, I thought I would sit down for a while. I sat down and,
as might be expected, soon fell asleep.
I might have passed
the night comfortable enough in this ludicrous position had not
circumstance willed otherwise. I slept in a chair for about four
hours, when, strange to say, I woke up. (You may be sure it must
have been some unusual thing that roused me from such a deep sleep.)
I was not, as is generally the case, in the least drowsy on
wakening; I rather felt in a nervous and excited moodsuch a feeling
as often follows the hearing of bad news. As I thus sat looking into
the almost extinguished fire I heard a most weird and unnatural
sound coming from somewhere in the room, but I could not exactly
tell whence it came. The sound was not loud but was piercing.
Strange to say, I
can never recall that night to mind, but I hear as plain as ever the
somewhat inarticulate sound. If it belonged to any language it was
Gaelic and was like the word Mathair* (mother).
For a short time I
lived in the hope that it was my own imagination that had bodied
forth the form of the thing unknown, but I soon thought otherwise,
for shortly after hearing the sound, the woman of the house came
into the room, ghastly pale, and asked me if I was well.
I told her there was
nothing wrong with me further than a little curiosity to know what
was the meaning of the sound I heard. She was surprised on hearing
that I only heard it once; she seemed to have heard the selfsame
I concluded from
what she told me that it must have been the first sound that wakened
me. I asked her if she heard such a sound at any other time; she
replied she did not but said she had seen a little incident or two
during the night which she thought had better never be repeated, and
do what I could she would reveal nothing. (So you see, my friends, a
most interesting part of the story died with the woman ; she ended
her days not far from there in a peaceful and happy manner.)
I asked her if she
and her daughter slept together, and she replied that she had just
left her quietly sleeping. After a little further talk we bade each
I was up early in
the morning, having passed a very wretched and uneasy night. As
usual I went up to the kitchen to have a cup of tea before taking my
usual turn round the hill. The blinds were still down on the windows
and all was still. At length I heard some one speaking in the
bedroom and I thought that, as usual, one of the women was rising to
get the tea ready for me. I heard the mother say A Mhairi eirich
(Mary get up). This sentence was repeated several times; at length a
dead silence ensued. The next thing I heard was *John, come here,
quick, come here, quick! I ran over to the bedroom and on entering
it, I saw the mother ghastly pale sitting by the bedside. She made
no attempt to speak but pointed to the bed, and when I approached
it, she burst into a flood of tears. It never dawned upon me till
now what might have happened. The mother had a hold of her daughter
s hand, which was stiff and cold as ice. I looked into the youthful
face that had been, the night before, oerspread with innocent
smiles and I saw that that which was, could be no more. The young
girl was dead.
The sound I heard
through the night came from the trumpet of the Unseen; its warning
notes sound but on very rqre occasions, but blessed are we that such
sounds are heard ; they are unaccountable, *but their beauty lies in
The old mans story
pleased us very much and we heartily thanked him for telling it.
My companion, seeing
his own turn had come, then began:
Well, my friends, my
story is not very long but it is quite true, for I myself played a
prominent part in it. I was only a young man of eighteen years when
I attended the Mull Market (at Sdlen) for the first time, but till
the end of my days I shall remember the dreadful night I passed
I got the horse,
which was sent with me, sold in the early part of the day, and since
I had nothing more to do I thought I would take a look round the
place. I walked for about eight miles down the country and when I
came back I was very tired.
Night was now
approaching and I felt very hungry as well as tired. Being a
stranger I knew not where to seek lodgings. I saw a dark-looking
house, not far away, which was not very inviting, but one will go
anywhere when hungry, so up I went and knocked at the door. A
nice-looking woman answered the knock, and when I told her how
matters were, she said that I was welcome to spend the night there.
She told me to go in and sit at the fire till she would get
something ready for me.
The people were very
kind to me, and I spent a very happy evening with them. When bedtime
came I was shown to my room. Before leaving they told me I would
have a companion sleeping in the same room. I said it was all right.
When I went into the room I found there were two bedsmine was the
nearer to the door. What surprised me most on entering was to see my
companion lying asleep on the bed with all his clothes on. I thought
nothing more of him, but soon undressed and went to bed, taking care
beforehand to put my waistcoat, which contained all my money, under
I was very drowsy,
but do what I would I could not sleep. I was about two hours in bed
when I heard my companion in the other bed moving, but I could not
make out whether he was getting up or not, as that side of the room
was rather dark. Soon, however, I saw him slowly approach the window
with something in his hand which he was examining. When ho reached
the window, he took hold of a belt that was hanging there, and then
I heard sounds like those the razor makes when getting stropped. I
concluded at once he was getting his razor ready for some dark work,
but I could not say whether it was for myself or not. I was
terrified, however, and began to move restlessly in bed. When he
heard me moving he stopped, but as soon as all was quiet he again
began. This went on for some time.
At last I saw him
approach my bed. Matters were quite clear now. He meant to take my
life, for I saw the glitter of the razor in his hand. I sat up in
bed, and when he saw this he hastily retreated, thinking perhaps I
would lie down again, but I could not stay any longer. I seized my
waistcoat, and without taking the rest of my clothes, ran from the
room as quickly as my legs could carry me. I wakened the people and
told them everything, but they didnt believe me, it seems, for they
did all in their power to get me back to bed again. I was obstinate
and would not go back.
I told them to get
my clothes for me, for I would not enter that room again for
anything. When I dressed, I left the house and spent the rest of the
night in the open air.
In the morning I
told some of those who were at the market of my experience, but they
only shook their heads and would (perhaps they could) give no
I have been at the
market every year since, but 1 have neither seen nor heard anything
about my would-be assassin or those in whose house I slept that
night. You may easily guess that I have no wish to meet either of
This story surprised
us very much. We never thought that such an attempt to take a mans
life would be made in the Highlands. We congratulated him for having
escaped. My turn now came. I told them I had no story about myself,
but that I would give them one I heard from an old man. gave
it in his own words which were as follows :
In my younger days
people thought me a very wild and reckless fellow. I possessed the
faculty of second-sight. Everything I saw I told at once, and
whatever I told turned out to be true. It was on account of having
this power, I believe, that people classed me among the bad.
There was one man in
particular who always made fun of me and my ghost stories. He would
not believe them. He even went so far as to say that such a thing as
second-sight did not exist. I did not argue with him, but I
determined to convince him of it, and in the end I was successful.
One day, I remember
it well, he met me and asked me his usual question, Well, my lad,
have you any ghost-story to-day? Yes, I replied, I saw a funeral
to-day for the third time at the same place. I recognised every man
there except one. You walked in front with another man, whom I did
not know. At this he only laughed, and told mo I was foolish to
believe in such a thing. I then told him that if he would meet me
next day, at the same hour and at the same place, I would prove to
him it was quite true. He readily promised to do so, for he thought
that he could prove I was mistaken.
We reached the place
at the same time and we were not long there till I saw the funeral
coming up the road. I asked him if he saw it, but he, after looking
about him, replied he did not. I then placed my hand upon his
shoulder (it is believed that, if a person gifted with second-sight
touches another on the shoulder, that person acquires the same
power) and again asked him if he saw it. This time he said he did.
I told him to study
the men as they passed, and tell me if he knew them all. Just as the
two in front were passing us he said, I see you there in front with
another man who is a stranger to me. Do you know him? Yes, I
replied, for he is no other than yourself.
He said it was all
an illusion and that he would not believe it. In a fortnight,
however, both of us attended a funeral. We had to pass the very spot
where we met that day, and as we passed it we were together in
front, just as we saw before. I drew his attention to this, and it
was then and not till then, that he believed in second-sight; and
till his dying day he was never heard to say anything against it.
The night was now far
advanced, and since we had a good distance to go, we thought it time
to set out for home. The old man made us promise, before leaving,
that we would be back again soon. It was late when we reached home,
but we were quite happy. We enjoyed our Ceilidh very much.
I was one night on
Ceilidh in Big Johns house, and there were others also, and they
had the following talk: Alastar Mor began to speak about the weather
and the good days there were to-day and yesterday.
Good days, said
Lachlan, turning to Alastar Mor, if you were out, not sitting there
at the fire, you would not say to me that there are good days.
Then poor Alastar
shut his mouth when he saw that he was checked, and did not say a
word all the night. But that silence did not last long, when Big
John himself began to speak about another matter, and he said :
I think it is a good
thing they are doing in putting up that Post Office, for many is the
time I would be going to send away a letter, and the long distance I
was from the other Post Office, I would not send it away, but now I
may go with it any time I like, I will only have to pay a Id. for a
letter going to any place in Britain.
That is true, said
Ewan; but I remember a time when I would have to pay Id. for a
letter that would be going to Glasgow.
You and yours, said
Big John. If you would say another Id. along with that, you would
be more like the thing, for I remember a time I sent a letter to
Mary to Glasgow, and it cost me a Is., and you say it only cost you
Then Ewan, getting
I only paid 1d. for
it, though you would pay a £1.
Then Big John got so
angry that he threatened to send Ewan out of the house unless he
would stop arguing with him like that. Then when Donald Ban heard
this, he rose up and told them to stop their gabbling, and that
it was better for them to be quiet and to speak about something
else. Then they stopped, and no one said a word about the Post
Office all that night. Then Donald Ban himself began to speak about
the steamboat and how very often she was now coming to the island,
that he himself remembered a time when she would only come once in
I remember, said
Big John, putting in a word once more, a time when there was no
steamboat at all coming here, but only small smacks that would be
leaving here in the beginning of summer, and perhaps they would only
be back here about the beginning of winter.
That is true, said
Hector; for I remember a time that I went to Glasgow with fish in
young Lachlans boat, and we took a month to go there and six weeks
to come back.
*How, how would we
be if there was no steamboat coming here at all? said Charles.
We would be well
enough off, though we would never see the steamboat, said Hector.
Yes, indeed we
would, said Finlay; for our fathers were well enough off, and they
would not know a steamboat from a bull's foot, and they were alive
as well as us.
That was a living
indeed, said Big John, when they would not get anything of what we
now enjoy, but were going from place to place like the Red Indians.
Then they stopped
speaking about the steamboat, and every one gave his own opinion
I was reading in the
paper, said Duncan, about the fearful massacre committed by the
Turks in Armenia, where a great number of good men were killed.
That is dreadful,
said Big John, for Britain to be allowing the like of that.
You and the like may
be saying so, but if you were looking before you as the rulers of
this kingdom do you would not say so, said Duncan.
I would only care a
little to be reading everything like, if I was thinking that I could
overcome him, said Hector.
Oh, what would you
do if you were to march face to face with your enemies? said
Would I not do as
much as you would? said Hector.
No, nor three in
your township, said Duncan. What great work have you done? said
Hector; when three could not do it.
If you have seen so
much of the world as I did, you would have reason to be boasting,
What have you seen?
said Hector. Is it because you were for a little time in America
you are boasting?
You were not there
itself, said Duncan, getting angry; and said to Hector not to be
so stupid as to think that he was a fool.
What else are you
but a fool? said Hector.
Then they began to
quarrel and gabble, but no one said nothing to them, till they
stopped at their own free will, and nothing more was said about the
Then one would begin
to talk of America, another one would be telling stories about
India, and so on, till at last every one was gnawing a bone for
himself. One would say, that is not true. Another one would say,
better be quiet with your nonsense, till at last every one was
against each other. But who came in while they were thus disputing
but Calum, and when he heard them he told them to stop their
mumbling, that it was better for them to speak about a thing they
know, or that an old story will no be the worse. But every one said
that he had not an old story to tell, but that Calum himself might
I may do so, said
Calum. And I will tell you a story that I heard from my
grandfather, and it is as follows :
Once upon a time,
long, long ago, there were elves living in Corn-Bray, and people
would be alway hearing them playing the bag-pipe and dancing. My
grandfather was one night coming home from Ceilidh, and when he was
passing Corn-Bray, he heard the elves playing and dancing. He said
to himself that he would go over to hear the music. Then he went
over and sat on the side of the Bray, and the music was so
delightful to him that he was willing to rise up to dance.
While he was sitting
there for a time, he looked at the top of the Bray, and saw a small
red light there. And it happened when he saw it that he was amazed,
his knees were trembling, and he could not leave the place where he
was. But having regained his strength he said to himself that he
would go up to where he saw the light, though he would never come
crawled up on his knees, he sat near the light, and having looked
down through it, saw how things were going on in the Bray. The piper
was sitting on the bench with his back against the wall.
The good wife of the
house was grinding corn with the little mill, and four were dancing
on the floor with pretty good spirits. When he saw this he longed to
be with them, and he thought lie would call, to try if he would get
in. Then he cried to them to let him in, but when the elves heard
this, they told the piper to cease playing. Then he stopped, but
they heard nothing more.
My grandfather was
seeing everything that was going on, but at last he saw them
arranging in order of battle, and every one putting his sword into
the scabbard, though they were not higher than bottles. But let that
be as it might, he fled as quickly as he could and made for home.
But he was not far,
far away when he saw the small host coming after him. Then he ran as
fast as he could. But though he would run, they would fly, till at
last he was wearied out and could not go further, but remained where
he was. Then they came and gathered around him, and 200 of them took
hold of him and put him on their shoulders. But he was not long
there when they began to fall under their burden, but the more of
them that would fall the more he would laugh. For he was thinking to
himself if they would all tire out, he might get off without
punishment, and above that, that he would get all the valuables of
And that was so, for
every one of them was tired out, and my grandfather got off, and
away he went to the Bray. But when he reached it the black cat was
grinding com with the little mill, with a bad turn in his nose, and
therefore he came home.
That is now my
story, said Calum, and it is now time for us to go home, and let
Big John take his supper.
Therefore, we came
home after we heard Calums story, every one to his own home.
The next gives a good
specimen of the kind of conversation that may be supposed to take
fishermans house is naturally near the seashore, and it is a great
resort for Ceilidh in that part of the island. Every winter night
excepting Sunday nights it is crowded with young and old telling
stories, and often a sharp dispute arises among them. It was in this
particular house that the following conversation took place.
Dougalds house, I found him sitting on a chair by the fireside
leisurely smoking his pipe. As soon as he saw me, he asked me to
come forward to the fire. I did so, but I was not long talking to
the good old man when John the tailor, Hugh the smith, Lachlan
MacCallum and a lot of boys who came with them to hear the stories
which were sure to be told, entered the house unceremoniously. When
they were all seated around the fire, and when the old men lighted
their pipes, John the tailor said to Dougald, Have you been
Dougald: Yes, but I
was not much the better of that. It would be the same to me
supposing I went up to the top of the house and began fishing
John the tailor:
Well, I think that it was a very good fishing day to-day.
it was; but when I was leaving my house, who met me but Mary
Cameron, and I might be sure that I would catch nothing.
John the tailor: Did
she inquire of you whether you minded your hook, Dougald?
Dougald; No, nor
whether I had my line. She never opened her mouth, and, believe me,
it was better for her that she didnt at that moment; but she cast a
glance towards me over her shoulder, which meant that I would as
well remain at home.
John the tailor: And
why did you not say to her that you would give her a fish or two if
you would be lucky?
Dougald: I would
rather be ploughing the Northern Sea for a week in vain than do
Then one of the young
lads that were in lifted up his head (he was fishing that day with
Dougald) and said, By Jove, Dougald, you were in the blues when you
were smashing the dog-fish against the boat. You nearly knocked out
my brains twice when you were swinging one of them around your head
to make sure of its death.
Dougald: Indeed, I
was very angry, my lad ; but that is no wonder, for, whenever I
would let down my line, no sooner did it reach the ground than I
felt a splendid hug; but when I drew it up to the surface, it would
be a dog-fish, or worse, a king-fish, and very often they would cut
the line and go away with the hook; but, believe me, every one that
came within my grip would hardly cut a line any more.
The boy: But I dont
think, Dougald, that you were at the height of your rage until
Donald the shoemaker flung the anchor of the boat out into the sea,
and when we looked, it had not been fastened to the boat at all, but
had only a small bit of rope attached to it.
was going right against me. I nearly lost my senses.
Hugh the smith: Did
you really lose the anchor, Dougald?
the very anchor that you yourself made for me a few days ago. That
stupid fellow, the shoemaker, flung it out of the boat while the
rope that was bound to it was not fastened to the boat at all. But
what crowned my annoyance was the thought that all my misfortunes
happened to me on account of Mary Cameron.
John the tailor: And
do you really believe, Dougald, that all these calamities happened
to you on account of meeting that poor old creature, Mary Cameron?
Dougald: Certainly I
do. Do you not believe it yourself?
John the tailor:
Indeed, I do not.
Dougald: Do you
believe the Bible, then?
John the tailoi':
Every word of it.
Dougald: Well, if
you believe every word of the Bible, you must admit that witches
existed at one time, for the Bible plainly shows us that they
existed in the time of King Saul. And how now were they done away
John the tailor:
Saul himself did away with them all except one.
Dougald: That is
true as far as the kingdom of Israel was concerned; but I believe
that they were in other kingdoms as well as in Israel.
John the tailor:
That may be true, but they dont exist now.
Dougald: Do they
not? When did they leave the world?
John the tailor: I
cannot say, indeed, but, for myself, I dont believe that there is
such a thing as a witch in existence.
Dougald: I fully
believe that there is some supernatural power or other in Mary
Camerons eye, for if that were not the case, she could not have
spoiled my fishing three times in succession ; and, supposing there
was no other witch on the face of the earth, as long as Mary Cameron
lives I will not deny my faith in witches, and I will believe as
long as I live that it will be far better for any poor fisherman who
chances to meet her when he goes a-fishing to return to his house
for that day, anyway.
John the tailor:
Seemingly, Dougald, there is no use in arguing with you about her.
Dougald: No, as long
as you do not admit that she has an evil eye.
Hugh the smith: Now,
tailor, do you believe the wonderful things that happened in Janies
Hendersons house about half a century or at least forty years ago?
John the tailor: I
was not in this island at all at that time nor a long while after
it, and therefore I did not see these things myself, on which
account I cannot be certain of their truth, and I always like to be
very sure of anything before I believe it.
Hugh the smith:
Well, you need not doubt their truth, for I saw them with my eyes.
John the tailor:
Well, Hugh, you can tell us some of the astounding things that you
The boys were greatly
delighted with the conversation of the old men, and when they heard
that Hugh was about to tell these wonderful things they closed in
nearer him, so that they would catch every word he would say.
Hugh the smith:
Well, you all know the deserted place in which James Hendersons
house was built, and as it was thus out-of-the-way, there werent
many going to Ceilidh in it; but it began to be rumoured that
miraculous things were happening in it, and indeed, I did not
believe them at first myself; but as my companions kept telling me
that they themselves saw unnatural things, I thought that I would go
also and see for myself if such things were true, and accordingly,
on a certain night I and a friend of minewho is dead long agoset
off for James house. On going in, James himself asked us to come
forward near the fire, a request to which we readily complied.
James wife and her servant were washing, while another lass was
holding fast a large bed-cover on the top of the clothes that were
washed for fear that they would disappear ; but in spite of the big
bed-cover and the efforts of the girl, when the clothes were
counted, a blanket was missing. A search for the blanket began at
once, but when they could not find it by any means, it came with a
vehement sweep from the ceiling, as black as soot, and mixed with
the other washed clothes until it dirtied the whole lot of them,
leaving the washerwomen no other alternative but to begin to wash
the clothes a second time. My friend and I were thunderstruck with
amazement; but what horrified us the most was the following affair.
James Hendersons walking-stick was in a corner of the house among
other things. I heard some rumbling noise in the corner, and on
turning round, behold, the walking-stick was hopping about in the
corner; but it did not stop there: it began to advance from the
corner to the middle of the floor, and danced and leaped fearfully
all over the house. I was never in my life so dreadfully frightened,
and my friend was quite as bad. Not one soul inside the house had
the courage to take hold of the stick and stop its antics, but when
Fortune saw it fit, after a quarter of an hours dancing and
manoeuvring, the walking-stick returned to the corner whence it
came, and stood steady with one end naturally inclined to the wall.
John the tailor: Ha,
ha ! the walking-stick was only giving you a reel.
Hugh proceeds: You
neednt mock me, tailor, for it was a dreadful thing. My friend and
I stayed some time longer, and then we proceeded homeward with our
hearts almost leaping out of their places with fear. When that dread
left us a week afterwards, we proposed to go there a second time.
Suiting the action to the word, we went, and, on sitting down, we
saw James wife, who was knitting a stocking, with blood trickling
down from a red gash that was on her head. We asked of those that
were in before us what was the reason of this. They told us that, a
little while before we went in, she was baking, and when she was
finished, that the griddle sprang up and struck her in the head,
thus cutting her. I was staring at the woman on account of my
astonishment at what had happened, and as sure as death, I tell you
that one of the knitting-pins which she was using, sprang out of her
hand and struck up in the ceiling, and fell down on the floor
twisted like a hair-pin. That is not all I saw. No sooner had this
happened than an ember from the fire glanced past us and went among
the bedclothes, and probably the house would have been on fire had
clever lads not been in, who stopped it. After the fire had been put
out, and when nothing of importance was happening, we were about to
leave for our homes, but we were abruptly stopped. One lad was
sitting on a low stool, and, by Jove, a bowl that was on the table
came with incredible speed and broke in atoms between his feet, but
not harming him in the least. That was scarcely over when a peat
came whizzing through the kitchen door and struck in the fire,
scattering it in all directions through the house. It was also said
that that night a vessel containing a considerable quantity of cream
overturned of itself all of a sudden. However, we went home, and we
would imagine that peats were chasing us through the fields, but we
came off unhurt.
James Henderson was
always thinking that this evil was following either himself or his
wife, and to prove this suspicion he said to his wife one day, We
will go away from home to-day and travel in different directions,
and we shall see which of us this evil follows. *Quite so. I have
to go home with Mrs. Hugh Browns spinning wheel, said his wife.
After a short while James left his house and went one way, and his
wife left and went another way, having Mrs. Browns spinning wheel
on her shoulder. She did not go very far when the sickle which she
herself placed at the back of the barn door came whizzing through
the air and cut off a part of the wheel of the spinning apparatus,
but spared herself. She at once returned home and her husband also,
but nothing met him. So it seemed that the evil followed his wife,
and not James.
These things were
going on for some time afterwards, but I do not at present mind of
any more of them, only that it was rumoured that James' wifes
fathers ghost was seen about the house by some gifted with
second-sight, and to keep him in the grave that they had to fasten
and cross and recross chains over it. Do you believe that, tailor?
But the tailor did
not find it such an easy matter to believe these things as the smith
imagined, and accordingly he said, You, smith, can tell a story so
pleasantly and so real-looking that you almost persuade me to
believe those things. I do not indeed doubt that they happened, but
I doubt and disbelieve that their author was an evil spirit, as
you believe, and, to throw some light on the matter, I will tell you
a story which I believe has a great affinity to the story which you
have told about James Hendersons house.
I do not quote the
story, which, however, possesses for the folk-lorist the special
interest of being a local adaptation, with nearly all the incidents
complete, of the Big Claus and Little Claus, well known to all
readers of Hans Andersen and Grimm. A consciousness of its foreign
element is displayed in the fact that the story is located on the
These few specimens
go further than any mere second-hand description to make one realize
the Ceilidh. At certain times of the year there is work to be
finished, and, like the frequenters of a Bee in America, those
gathered at Ceilidh will take their share in mending nets, patching
sails, twisting heather ropes, or whatever occupation may be to the
fore. The Ceilidh is the substitute for the newspaper, the library
and the public-house. It is for Ceilidh that the rhymes of old time
were made, as in Greece for the festivals of the gods and heroes,
which keep alive for us even now the contemporary accounts of island
history. It was at Ceilidh that the bards of bid recited their poems
and satires; it is Ceilidh that has preserved the tales of Ossian,
so that to this day one may listen to endless stories of Fingal and
Graine and Cuchullin. It is for Ceilidh that for centuries past the
people have strung together the legends of their island homes, so
that every hill and loch and glen and shealing has its own
traditions. Whole sheaves of them lie before me written down at
first hand. Many collected by Campbell of Islay, many by Campbell of
Tyree, have been published and are dear to all students of Highland
folklore, but many more have never yet seen the light, full as they
are of interest to the historian and anthropologist alike.