Cailleach Bheinn a’ Bhric

27 Jan

This is a story from K.W. Grant’s Myth, Tradition and Story from Western Argyll (1925, p10):

“Beinn a’ Bhric” – Trout Mountain – is in Lochaber. It’s presiding genius was a “Bean-shìdhe” – fairy woman. (Sìdh, the abode of the gods; not sìth, peace as so often rendered.)

The Cailleach tended her herds of deer in Glen Nevis, and often milked them there, especially in the “dead” months of winter. The huntsmen heard her song as she milked her deer; for all Highland milkmaids were wont, in times past, to charm the milk from the cattle by keeping time with their fingers to a ringing lilt. The song of the Cailleach was unlike that of every other milkmaid; it was peculiar to herself, and unique in every respect.

Sometimes the women folk accused her of driving her deer to the shore to feed on dulse, or upon the tender blades of their winter kale. This was no more than women’s gossip; the herds of the Cailleach loved not such pasturage.

It was known among the huntsmen that, as certainly as any one of them caught a glimpse of the Cailleach he might stay at home for that day, for he should have no “shooting-luck.”

Once when the tempests of late Autumn marched down the hills, a young hunter of stout heart, on hearing that the Cailleach was abroad, determined to brave her. From dawn till sundown, he hunted in the deer forest of Loch Tréig, the chosen haunt of the Cailleach, but never a trace of deer or roe did he light upon. When twilight came he betook himself for shelter to a hut built for that purpose by the huntsmen. As he gathered wood and leaves wherewith to light a fire on the hearth, he began out of sheer bravado to rhyme a taunt against the Cailleach, imitating her peculiar tune as he hummed the stanzas:-

The grizzled Cailleach, tall and stern,
Tall and stern, tall and stern;
The grizzled Cailleach, tall and stern,
Swift she glides o’er peak and cairn.

Cailleach Bheinn a’ Bhric horó!
Bhric horó! Bhric horó!
Cailleach Bheinn a’ Bhric horó!
Warder of the mountain well, etc.

The hunter had completed but a few stanzas when the Cailleach, lilting as was her wont, approached and saluted him.

“I am aware,” said she, “that thou hast wandered far to-day in search of game. I have come all the way from “Lagan-nam-féith” – Quagmire Hollow – since the first spark of fire fell on thy tinder, to give thee sure luck in hunting. To-morrow, as I milk my deer, watch thou, and whichever of the deer becomes restive, I will strike with the knob of my fetter. (A fetter was made of plaited horse-hair with a loop at one end and a knob of hard wood at the other for fastening it.) Note it well; take good aim, and thou shalt have good luck.”

The hunter obeyed; and from that day forward he never hunted in vain.

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Posted by on January 27, 2012 in Uncategorized


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