Track 5 (CD2) THE
FIDDLER O’ GORD George Peterson,
George P.S. Peterson is
retired teacher in Brae in the North Mainland of Shetland,
uncomfortably close to the new oil terminal for a staunch Shetland
patriot. His loyalty is particularly to his native small island of Papa
Stour, once the seat of the Norse governor of Shetland but now sadly
depopulated: he is concerned to preserve all aspects of its culture,
from place-names and history to fiddle tunes and the famous Papa Stour
Sword Dance and mummers' play. He belongs to too young a generation to
have heard much storytelling as a child, but he likes to tell stories
from many sources in pure Shetlandic to his children and others, and
does so very vividly, painting the scenes he sees in his mind's eye with
a sure stroke.
This story is included as
an example of this technique, though not handed down entirely by word of
mouth. It belongs to Sandness, where George Peterson's father was born,
and is actually recreated, along with the associated "trowie
tune", from a version sent in to the Shetland News many
years ago by a Shetland emigrant to New Zealand. It combines four themes
more often found as separate stories both in Shetland and mainland
Scotland. The first is the story of the fiddler who learns a tune from
the trows, here combined with the second, also very widespread in
Shetland, of the fiddler who is invited to play at a fairy wedding. The
third and most important is the legend of the man who goes into a fairy
hill, usually to join a dance, and does not notice the passing of time.
This has been told as a local legend of almost every parish in the
mainland Highlands, in Orkney - where George Mackay Brown and Peter
Maxwell Davies made an opera of it - and in several parts of Shetland.
In the Highlands he usually goes in to dance with a jar of whisky
strapped to his back, and yet is not tired when he comes out after a
year or more: in Shetland he is sometimes carrying a creel of fish,
which remains fresh, and this is probably implied here. Most often the
fiddler emerges or is rescued by the companion who saw him go in after a
year, but there are a few parallels to the much longer period in this
version. This fourth "Rip van Winkle" theme, where the hero
returns after a century or more and crumbles to dust on discovering the
truth, is more often associated in Shetland with the "Don
Juan" legend (AT 470A) where a young man who has invited a skull to
his wedding is carried off by its owner to the other world: but the
Orcadian claim that Washington Irving got the basis of Rip van Winkle
from his parents, who emigrated from the isle of Shapinsay, seems to be
based on a version of the fairy hill story! -AJB
THIS IS A STORY
fae the district o Sandness, which is near Papa Stour. The croft was
occupied by a man 'at güd away one night, away to the craigs to fish -
fir fish. So he was comin horn one night, wi his büddie o sillocks an
waand, and as he passed a certain knowe, he wis awaar 'at they were a
light sheenin oot an he güd up tö examine this, an he saa 'at . . .
the trows wis dancin inside. So he güd in, bein a fiddler, an the knowe
closed up behint him, until they were noathing left to shaa any doorway.
An his fokk that night
waetit fir him to come horn wi the fish, an he niver like to corn, and
all night they waeted an i the moarnin they were a search party gud oot
an they lookit, huntit the coast an they fand no sign o him. An time gud
by and it was pitten doon 'at he wis geen ower the craig and the sea was
teen him and the tide was taen his boady.
So time güd by an
eventually his faimly grew up an moved awey, and his name wis forgoaten.
And the time cam when they were a whoale century wis passed fae that
thing happened: they were a new faimly livin i that croft. So one night
i the haert o the winter the owld granfaither was settin at the fire,
the son an his wife was settin i the shairs an their bairns wis playin
them aroond the flöir, when the door oapened an they appeared a oald
man i the door, cled in rags wi a long quite baerd, cairryin in his
haand a fiddle. And of coorse the bairns dey laached at this, they
t'oucht this wis a man 'at wis silly. He cam in ower the flöir an he
says, 'What are you doin here? This' my house!' And dey t'oucht it a
graet joke and they laached at him, and they made a fül o him -
everyboady but the old granfaither settin at the fire, smoakin his pipe.
And he says, 'What are
you doin here? Dis' my house: you've got to get oot o hit. Quhaar's wir
And every time he would
say his [piece] then the young eens laached at him; till at last the
owld grandfaither spaekin fae the fireside says, 'Well, quat is your
name?' An he telled him his name.
'Well, they wir,' he
says, 'dey were a man o that name 'at used to bide here long, long afore
my day, but,' he says, 'he . . . he disappeared one night, an never cam
And be noo da laachin
fell silent, an everyboady was awaar 'at they were something queer goin
on here. So this figure i the door says, 'Well, quere is my fokk den?'
And the old grandfather
fae the fireside says, 'Your fokk is aal däid.'
'Well then,' he says, 'if
that's the case, then,' he says, 'A'll go an join them.' An he turned
him an güd oot. Now they were one growin lad among the faimly 'at wisna
laached at him, and he rase an güd furth efter this aald man, an he
güd oot an he followed efter him, an he creepit up t'row the yaird
among the keel to watch him. An this old fellow wi the fiddle goes [?owre]
up aroond to the back o the yaird daek, quhar they were a wal, an he
lifts the fiddle til his neck, an he looks up ower the knowe to quar the
Merry Dancers was sheenin i the northern sky, he lifts the fiddle til
his neck and he plays a tune aince or twice ower. And the boy inside the
yaird daek watchin aal of a sudden saa him collapse.
An the boy oot ower the
yaird daek an he ran, and he cam to the spok whar the man wis faan at
the side o the wal, and there he fand the remains of a man that was been
däid fir a hunder year, an a peerie fiddle. And he aalways minded that
tune; and when that boy grew up he could play that tune, and that tune's
been handed doon to this day.