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Scottish Traditional Tales
The Greenbank Pony (The Flayed Horse)


Tom Tulloch, sub-postmaster at Gutcher, makes an interesting contrast to a better-known Yell storyteller, the late Brucie Henderson (for whom see Tocher 1:246-56 and an obituary by John Graham in New Shetlander:121). Where Brucie was also striving for dramatic effect and would freely invent circumstantial details to add weight to his stories, Tom prefers to be what Campbell of Islay called "a register", reproducing the tale as exactly as possible in the way he heard it, and his efforts are concentrated on using the Yell dialect with its many Norse and old Scots words as it was generally spoken fifty years ago. In spite of the difficult vocabulary and accent Tom's delivery is so clear that he should not be hard to follow. This story in any case has few Shetland words: it is one of a vast range of local, mainly comic anecdotes which any chance mention of a subject may prompt Tom to begin. I wish this recording was able to include the sly twinkle in his eye as he tells them.

This particular anecdote is in one way very local: it was, he believes, invented or at least adapted by a brother of his own, who often told it, and of course the family involved and their farm would be named to a North Yell audience. Versions are current in other parts of Shetland, but the setting is not usually in the storyteller's home parish, and I have heard more than one which made the scene Yell. The tale is certainly still part of the living tradition in Shetland. Its origin, however, is more likely to be sought in Ireland, where many versions have been collected and other tales of sheepskin grafts and repaired horses suggest a matrix into which it fits (see Seán Ó Súilleabháin:641, No. 18 and cf. 595, No. 29, 586, No. 1911) The barrel of porter suggests that the tale reached Shetland fairly direct from Ireland: a Gaelic version from Uist, for instance, adapts the theme further and the horse is actually killed by the Evil Eye, but brought back to life by a white witch's remedy. -AJB

THIS STORY WAS telled aboot the men here in North Yell 'at hed a . . . a big croft or a small fairm, and they hed a . . . a horse an a geeg. An they were north wan day at Greenbank licensed premises, and they gud into the shop and - most likely gettin aerands - in all probabeelity hed a dram an spent a good bit o time. And they left the horse tied to somthing ootside o the shop, an they were saeveral kigs or baarels o poarter there. And the horse got very impaetient wi waetin, an he wis stampin wi his feet an he brook in the heid o wan o this kigs o poarter; and the horse no doot was likely thristy and hungry boath and he drank this keg o poarter.

And when the men was raedy they cam oot o the shop and they got i the geeg, but they werena gone very far when they saa 'at they were somthing, ir t'owt at they were somthing serious 'at ail't the horse. But they proceeded on their wey fir hom, an gie't the horse his time; but efter a while the horse collapsed completely an entirely. An they unbuck-led him oot o the geeg an they cam to the conclusion 'at the horse wis deid. An to mak the best o a bad job they turn't to an they flay't the horse an gud hom cairryin his skeen.

An efter they were been hom for a while, the - it might til ha' even ha' been the following moarning, they heard some commotion aboot the hoose an they lookit forth what this wis, and then this wis the flay't horse strampin aroont the doors; but he appear't to be very cowld. An very short afore this they were been killin saeveral sheep to saut by fir winter flesh, and they turned oot to the bright idea 'at they would tak this sheep skeens an pit it to the horse in place o his own hide. And they gud an they pat on the skeens ipae the horse and they grew on and . . . the same as if it been his owen skeen. But it wis a more profitable horse then as ever, fir they roo'd him every year and they got the equivalent o five or six fleeshes aff o him. An they were very disappointit when the horse died be owld age!



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