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Fulacht na Morrighna

And now for something slightly different…

There is a popular belief that the Morrígan is a war-goddess and not much more than that, but like any other deity, things are never as simple as they might seem. Aside from her associations with war and magic there are some intriguing references in popular lore and the medieval manuscripts that associate her with the Fulacht na Morrighna, or ‘The Spit of the Morrígan’, often simply referred to as the ‘Cooking Hearth of the Great Queen’ (or variations thereof…).

One of the Irish Triads tells us: “Three things that constitute a blacksmith, Neithin’s spit, the cooking pit of the Morrígan, the Dagda’s anvil,” and the following excerpt from Petrie’s ‘On the History and Antiquities of Tara Hill’ explores these connections in more detail, with another excerpt to come in the next post as well. Petrie here has been describing (at great length) the supposed layout of Tech Miodhchuarta, the legendary banqueting hall of Tara, the main political centre of the high kings of Ireland and a highly important ceremonial site. There are some obscure words that Petrie has been unable to translate, so just bear with it:

It appears from notices found in other MSS. that the spit at Tara was known by another name, partly derived from that of its inventor, namely, Bir Nechin, or Dechin, the spit of Dechin, who, according to these authorities, was the chief smith of Tara in the time of the Tuatha-De-Dananns; as in the following passage from the Leabhar Buidhe, H. 2. 16, col. 245.

The usual inneoin of the Daghda here.

Bir Nechin here: Nechin was the chief smith of Temur. He was the first smith who went into Teach Midchuarta, so that he sunk the spot where a fire should rise, and he made a spit with motion that it might reach the fire, and that it might coil into it durunn another time.

This spit, as well as one of another description, called Inneoin an Daghdha, or the spit of the Daghdha, is thus noticed in another ancient MS. in the same library, H. 3. 18, p. 433.

Inneoin of the Daghdha. There is no fixed situation for it, but it used to lie with the cinders and rise with the flame; and its leadhh used to be on the back of each man on the next day.

It was Goivnenn [Goibniu] that made the Bir Deichen. It was Drinne, the son of Luchair, who made the
Inneoin of the Daghdha; and it was thus: a stick at each end of it, and its axle was wood, and its wheel was wood, and its body was iron; and there were twice nine wheels on its axle, that it might turn the faster, and there were thirty spits out of it, and thirty hooks, and thirty spindles, and it was as rapid as the rapidity of a stream in turning: and thrice nine spits, and thrice nine cavities (or pots,) and one spit for roasting, and one wing used to set it in motion.

These cooking instruments, together with a third called Fulacht na Mor-righna, or the spit, or cooker, of the great queen, are also noticed in a fragment of the Brehon Laws in the same MS., and on the same page.

This is the druine dana which is due to the smith when his full remuneration is given him; viz. Bir Deichen, and Fulacht na Mor-righna, and the Inneoin of the Daghdha. Bir Deichen, i. e. a spit which belonged to Deichen, a smith who was at Temur; and it reached from the roof to the fire, in Teach Midchuarta, and the airigithe* of Teach Midchuarta used to be warmed on it, and it used to return into its purse on the next day.

Fulacht na Mor-righna. Three kinds of victuals on it, i.e. dressed victuals, and raw victuals, and butter; and the dressed food was not burned, and the raw food was dressed, and the butter was not dissolved, but as was proper.

The Fulacht na Mor-righna is also noticed in the MS., H. 2. 16, col. 245, as follows:

Fulacht na Mor-righna here, i.e. a piece of raw meat and another of dressed meat, and a bit of butter on it; and the butter did not melt, the raw was dressed, and the dressed was not burned, even though the three were together on the spit.

There went to her [i. e. Mor-righain] on one occasion nine persons, to request that an Inneoin
would be made for them, for they were outlaws, i.e. an Inneoin with nine ribs in it, and each of them carried his own rib in his hand wherever he went, until night, and they joined them all together on its posts when they met at the close of the day; and it used to be raised to the height of a man when it was desirable, and it was not higher over the fire at another time than a fist on the same posts, without breaking without diminishing: the reason was because its material was iron.

George Petrie, On the History and Antiquities of Tara Hill in Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy Volume XVIII, 1839, p213-214.

The subject of fulachta (the plural form) is a complicated one, and in archaeology they refer to what are otherwise known as ‘burnt mounds,’ since that’s generally all that’s left of them. Most of them date to around the Bronze Age, but nobody is exactly sure what they were for. At the least they usually consist of a pit and an amount of burnt stones and charcoal, and as the name ‘fulacht’ implies, the most common theory is that they were outdoor cooking pits.

It’s notable that the last paragraph in the excerpt above specifically mentions outlaws approaching the Morrígan, since the fulacht themselves are generally found in places that are not associated with settlements; they are commonly called fulacht fiadh, the latter word meaning ‘wild’, possibly referring to the location of them, or else the wild meats (such as deer) that were cooked and then consumed in them. Outlaws were usually young men who left their tuatha to live outside of normal society (and therefore the law and protections that such status within the tuath brought with it), and made their living as hunters and warriors for hire (or brigandage). 

Many of the fulachta that have been found are large and could have been filled with hot water, which would then have been able to cook meat and any other ingredients added, and provide the perfect setting for a hungry band of hunters, warriors, or whoever else might have had the need to dine al fresco. The stones could have been heated in a fire and put in the water in order to heat it up and then maintain the right temperature as the stew cooked.

Other theories for these burnt mounds, however, suggests the possibility that they may have been used for brewing light ales (a theory which has been successfully tried out), or for dyeing cloth, for leather-working, or for bathing. If these fulachta were used for bathing, it may suggest a ritual/healing function akin to the use of sweatlodges (Tigh ‘n Alluis) in rural Ireland. 


Posted by on February 2, 2012 in Uncategorized


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Uruisg Choire-nan-Nuallan

It happened long ago that the king of Otlhilam came from the Tower of Athilam to the Glen of the Fawns and Roes to hunt, and his dwelling was

Under a linen covering laid over a birch branch . . .
In sight of the silken-flags in the mastheads of his ships.

And it happened on a day of the days, when they were out hunting, that the king’s son, Talamsan of the golden locks, strayed from the rest, when he was accompanied by only two gillies and his dog, Luran (Darling), and while they were seeking the way, evening came on them, and it happened that the way home took them through the Corrie-of-the-Howlings, and when they were going by the sheiling of the Carlin of the Mountain-foot, she was out, and said to them ‘Turn back, children, (for) the Corrie is not clear (empty) before you’.

‘None but a coward turns back, crooked carlin’, said Talamsan. ‘What cares Talamsan, son of the king of Othilam from the Tower of Athilam, for thyself or for all in the Corrie’.

‘High is thy rank, young hero, but the worst of men is he that will not take advice,’ said the Carlin.

The heroes went on through the Corrie of tlie Howlings until they came to The Hollow-of-the-Mounds (Sloc-nam-Meall), and there they beheld the loveliest maiden eye ever looked at.

Her fascinating blue eye was like a drop of honey
At the point of a garden sapling.
Like breast of swan or down of cana1
Was the hue of her shining bosom.

She had a willow wand in her right hand, and held her left hand behind her. The dog went a step before the men and then stood and began to bark at her.

‘Stop thy dog, Talamsan, the dogs of princes are usually held in a leash until the hunt begins’, said she.

‘Lie down, Luran,’ said Talamsan.

‘That is Luran of thy woe to-night,’ said the maiden who was no longer a maiden, but a howling, venomous, vindictive hag. The willow wand in her hand became an enchanting beetle, and a fiery, scaly serpent lay coiled in her bosom.

Her skin was like the hide,2
Of the grey buck of the cairns,
Which stands between the smith and the spark.
She would crack a nut
Between her nose and chin.

As soon as she got the dog’s name, she called him to her, and he would no longer give heed to his master. What he did was to attack the latter with the Urisk3 for it was the Urisk of the Corrie of the Howlings, handsome though she appeared at the first sight which they got of her.

When the gillies saw what happened, they fled home with the melancholy tale that the Urisk of the Corrie of the Howlings had killed Talamsan, the king’s son.

On the morrow, the king, accompanied by every man within some miles’ distance of him, set out in search of his son. They found the dog, Luran, dead, and without a fibre of hair on him. But they saw not the kings son nor an Urisk, (nor anything) but a new mound in the Hollow-of-the-Mounds.

The king returned home sadly (and) sorrowfully. He had of children but Talamsan and one daughter, brown-haired Slender-eyebrow (Caol-mhala), and Slender-eyebrow vowed that she would never marry any man but one that would kill the Urisk of the Corrie-of-the-Howlings.

Spotted-knee (Breac-ghlùn) son of Torquil, king of Dunadd in Ireland, heard of the vow which brown-haired Slender-eyebrow made. That was Spotted-knee of the seven battles, and seven victories, and seven heroes used to fight on each hand of him.

On a day of the days he landed at the Channel-of-the-Boats (Amar-nan-Eithear) and in the evening ascended the steep hill, and since he had only a Carlin (as he thought) to encounter he did not think it worth while taking his heroes with him, but he took the Swift-footed Slender-houghs (Easgadach).

Who would overtake the swift March wind,
But the swift March wind would not overtake him.

Passing the hill-pasture bothy of the Carlin of the Mountain-foot, the Carlin was out and said: ‘Turn back, children, (for) the corrie is not clean before you.’

‘Go thy way’, Crooked Carlin’, said Spotted-knee, ‘none but a coward turns back. What cares Spotted-knee, son of Torquil, king of Dunadd of the five gables in the north of Ireland, for thyself or all in the Corrie!’

‘High is thy rank, Brave Man, but worthless is he that takes not advice’ said the Carlin.

When Spotted-knee reached the Corrie-of-the-Howlings he beheld the fairest maiden eye ever gazed on, —

Beyond every maiden in appearance,
Surpassing (all) the women of Ireland.

She had a willow wand in her right hand, and said In him, ‘What is thy whence, and which is thy whither? What is the cause of thy journey and travelling?’

‘I am’, said he, ‘Spotted-knee, son of Torquil, king of Dunadd of the five gables in the north of Ireland, and I am going to the Corrie-of-the-Howlings to kill the Urisk of the Hollow-of-the-Mounds at the request of brown-haired Slender-eyebrow, daughter of the king of Othilam in the Tower of Athilam.’

Said the Maiden ‘Is it love of maiden or hatred of Urisk that brought Spotted-knee from Erin? If it be hatred of Urisk, his steel will bend against her breast; if it be love of maiden, slippery is the hold of an eel (by) her tail. There are eight nobles with earls in the Tower of Athilam to night.

Slippery is the threshold in the door of a Tower,
More slippery than that is love for the dead.

I am the daughter of king Stout-spear (Garbh-shleagh) in the Hall-of-Luxury (Talla-nan-Sógh), and my father’s nobles are enjoying a sumptuous-feast to night. Send thy gillie to invite thy heroes, and let all of you come to the Hall-of-Luxury, and you will find such entertainment as thou never hadst on the soil of Erin.’

‘Go, Slender-houghs’ said Spotted-knee, whispering in his ear, ‘hasten hither the heroes, but let them be in their armour.’

Away went Slender-houghs, but before he had barely gone the Maiden changed her form, and Spotted-knee knew that it was the Urisk he had. Her willow wand became an enchanting beetle, and Spotted-knee drew his spear —

Which was beating on the Urisk’s beetle.
And drawing echo from the cliffs of the bens.

But when Slender-houghs and the heroes returned, they found no king’s Son, nor Maiden, nor Urisk — nor anything but a new mound in the Hollow-of-the-Mounds.

But this is what happened on a certain day —

When the yellow crested birds sang
Their sweet pipe-music,

that Young Farquhar of the chase came with his hounds in a leash, when he was passing the summer-pasture bothy of the carlin at the mountain-foot in the evening, the Carlin was out and said —

‘Turn back, children; the Corrie is not clean before you.’

‘No one ever returned who did not forsake, gentle Nurse of the shelling’ said Farquhar. ‘Wilt thou not come with me seven steps? Give me thy blessing and send me away, and I’ll sleep this night under the shade of the Elm in the Glen of the fawns and roes with my three red-haired gillies and my two greedy (eager) hounds.

And my little rough-haired bitch of the sharp-tusk,
That will bring blood on the deer at every bite.’

The Carlin answered:

‘Did Farquhar cast a longing look
Towards the maiden of mildest eye?’

‘I asked neither maiden nor renown’ said Farquhar. ‘I am going to the Ben of venison and hunting to chase the buck, the badger and deer before the sun rises to-morrow.’

Then said the Nurse of the shelling — I’ll go with thee seven steps, and give thee seven blessings, —

Farquhar son of Art, son of Allin (Beautiful)
Daughter of the king of Mann in the Ocean,
Who came over the waves of Innis-Orc (Orkney Isle),
Son of the father who never took tribute
Even from a foe without mercy.

Here is to thee my straight staff4 of the three branches4 of the undecaying apple-tree, which a Monk planted and which a Monk cut on the south side of the enclosing wall of the chapel, and which a Monk blessed three times, and before which will bend the edge of the bronze (weapon), if its stroke be struck by the wicked. Put off the garter of thy left foot, and put a loan5 of it round the bitch’s neck, take a drop of blood from the right ear of (each one) of the two dogs, and call none of them by his name from the time the sun goes down until the bird tastes the water next day, and my blessing be with thee, and be gone.’

Farquhar went away with his gillies and his dogs, and the ‘sorag’6 (murmur?) of the night sang him music, when he reached the Hollow of the Mounds, there met him a maiden, and fair was her appearance —

Her smooth, full bosom
Was like purest snow on the ground.
The tip of her breast
Was like the briar-rose in the bud.
In the warm shelter of the bosky grove.

A willow wand was in her right hand, and the dogs began to bark at her.

‘Stop thy dogs, hero’ said she.

‘I’ll neither incite nor hinder them’ said Farquhar. The dogs had every hair on their bodies standing on end as straight as the bristles of the (wild) boar. The maiden assumed an angry look and transformed herself into an Urisk as terrible and even more terrible than she was either to Talamsan or to Spotted-knee.

‘If thou wilt not stop them, I’ll stop them’ said she, as she attacked one of them with the beetle.

Farquhar drew his spear, and the beating began. If there was no howling in the Corrie-of-the-Howlings before, there was abundance of it there that night between the dogs and the Urisk.

At every bound Bruid (Goader) took
He returned with blood on his mouth.
At every wound Speach (Wasp) gave
The Urisk gave a scream-of-two-screams.

The fiery scaly serpent sprang from the bosom of the Urisk, and attacked Farquhar. But he struck her with the staff of the Nurse-of-the-Shieling, and she went into a coil, and then she swelled and burst.

With the echo of a sound which sent a tremor
On every hoof in the Glen.

Then she went into a flame of fire, which set the Urisk on fire along with her, and in the twinkling of an eye Farquhar had nothing (left) but a small heap of ashes.

He went under the shelter of the birch, and sleep came upon him, for he was tired, and at day-break he was awakened by Brionn (Brindled) licking his forehead. Then sang

The yellow crested birds
Their sweet pipe-music,

and when Farquhar looked about him, he saw that there were many heaps of strange stones in the Hollow-of-the-Mounds. He struck the apple-tree staff on one of the heaps and the heap turned into a man, and Farquhar fled. ‘Fly not with tlie apple-tree (staff) of virtues, Farquhar’ said the man; ‘there is need of thee still in the Hollow-of-the-Mounds’.

Farquhar returned and struck the staff on mound after mound, on every mound in the Hollow-of-the-Mounds, and every mound became a warrior, until nine companies of nine heroes were standing at his side, and among them was Talamsan, the son of the king of Othilam, and Spotted-knee, the son of king Torquil, and Farquhar took them all to the Tower of Athilam.

And he got the king’s daughter and two obeisances,
And his dwelling in the Tower of Innis Stoth (Island of Spray).

And it they have not died since, they are alive still.

James MacDougall, ‘Uruisg Choire-nan-Nuallan‘ in Zeitschrift für celtische Philologie, 1897, pp328-341.



1 Cotton grass

2 The buckskin apron of a smith, which gave protection from the forge sparks

3 The Urisk, though generally a surly man is here a frightful Hag. But she resembles the Glastick more than one of her own tribe.

4 ‘Staff of the three branches.’ Two of the branches grew on opposite sides of the third branch so as to form a T like figure or cross.

5 Coingheall ‘a loan’. Farquhar was asked to put his leather garter as a temporary belt round the bitch’s neck. This, it was thought, would prevent her from siding with the Urisk.

6 ‘Sorag of the night.’ I have never met this word before, and I am not certain of its meaning.

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Posted by on January 27, 2012 in Uncategorized


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Lore concerning the Cailleach Bheur

“The word Beur, taken simply as it stands, signifies a peak, point, or pinnacle, and may without straining be taken to mean, in its plural form of ‘Bheur’ (mountain) ridges.

The hag of the ridges, would be a suitable enough appellation for the genius of the mountain tops. There, on the topmost ridges, do the dark herds of Cailleach Bheur congregate. Thence rush the floods in fleecy foam, and snowy cascades leap, for dark clouds and dark billows are her herds of deer; her sheep and goats are fleecy clouds, and also white-crested waves, or seething waters of hill and plain.

The manner in which the word ‘beur’ is used is illustrated in the following quotation:

leis an dionaiche long,
A’ gearradh a h’astar feadh thonn
Gun chùram mar theine nan speur
Troimh bheàrna beur nan neul-

Whose taut barque
Cleaves with a fearless prow unerring her way thro’ the bilow,
Like a lightning flash that shoots thro’ the gaps of the jagged cloud ridges.

None of these surmises concerning the origin of the name is quite convincing or satisfactory.

The sphere of the Cailleach’s influence, and the actions attributed to her are the following: –

With her mallet – ‘farachan’ – or pestle – ‘slachdan’ – she beats and pounds the earth till all growth is destroyed; Nature has become torpid.

But about the middle of January Nature shows signs of reviving, and the sun has begun his returning journey. The Cailleach gets alarmed, and summons the ‘faoiltich,’ wolflings, or wolf-storms; ‘faol,’ a wolf. Those storms last until the middle of February.

Then follows the third week of February – ‘trì lathan gobaig,’ three days of ‘shark-toothed,’ bitter, stinging east winds; and ‘trì lathan feadaig,’ three days of ‘plover-winged,’ swift, fitful blasts, careering, rainy winds that are ‘the death of sheep and lamb, and get the strong cattle bogged till the flood rolls over their heads.’

Here are the Gaelic words for those last lines.

‘S mise ‘n fheadag luirigineach luath;
Marbhaidh mi ‘chaora, marbhaidh mi ‘n t-uan;
Cuiridh mi a’ bho’ mhòr ‘s an toll
Gus am bi an tonn thar a ceann.

Then comes the last week of the month, ‘Seachdain a’ Ghearrain.’ The name is variously interpreted. Some have supposed it to mean a week of sighing, moaning winds, from ‘gearan,’ complaining. Others take it to denote ‘Ploughing Week,’ from ‘gearran,’ a colt. A third party surmise that the name comes from ‘geàrr-shion,’ short, sudden squalls. But those who suggest this rendering place the week between the 15th of March and the 11th of April. Ploughing week is probably the true interpretation.

The first week of March is marked by temporary blasts of foul weather and flying showers – ‘Sgarraichean na Feill Connain‘ – St. Conan Storms. The second week is marked by tempestuous weather, squally and inclement, ‘Doirionn na Feill Padruig‘ – St. Patrick gales.

Then the Cailleach becomes desperate over her want of success. Despite her efforts to keep the earth hard by beating it with her mallet, despite her storming, the grass waxes, buds appear, and the blossoms peep from beneath their hoods. The Cailleach exclaims

Dh’fhàg e shios mi, dh’fhàg e shuas mi;
Dh’fhàg e eadar mo dhà chluais mi;
Dh’fhàg e thall mi, dh’fhàg e bhos mi;
Dh’fhàg e eadar mo dhà chois mi!

Shootings her and sprouting there,
It eludes me everywhere;
Overhead and underfoot
Bud and blade blossom shoot.

The brave, little wild duck taunts the Cailleach – “Despite thy shrivelling, stinging-cold little March, I and my twelve are yet alive!’ ‘Just wait a little!’ exclaims March, or the Cailleach – for here they are synonymous; she borrows three days from February, and the result is thus described in Scotch: –

The first day it was win’ an’ west,
The neist day it was snaw an’ sleet,
The third day it sae hard did freeze,
The wee birds nebs stuck tae the trees.

The Cailleach tries to chase away her son – the sun, wooing the young Spring – but he escapes with his bride. She causes the wild duck and her brood to perish with cold, and in so doing puts out her own eye. Baffled and defeated on every hand, and fleeing before her enemies, the wintry storms of the Cailleach sink into a calm as the returning sun shines forth and the warm winds blow.

The enraged Cailleach is defeated, she flings her mallet under a holly, where never a blade of grass can grow thereafter, so powerful is the magic influence to deaden growth.

This brings us to ‘Latha na Caillich’ – Old Wife’s Day – the 25th day of March (old style), the date of the Caileach’s overthrow, the flinging down of her mallet, and her punishment in being turned into stone.”

K. W. Grant, Myth, Tradition and Story from Western Argyll, 1925, p5-6.

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Posted by on January 27, 2012 in Uncategorized


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The baobhan sìth – ‘fairy furies’ (2)

Four men from Strathmore, who were hunting among the hills, sought shelter one night in the shieling at Airigh nan Guthach, between Loch Droma and Braemore. To while away the time, one of them supplied vocal music puirt-a-beul while the others danced. One of the dancers ere long gave utterance to a wish that they had partners. Presently four young women came into the hut. After some introductory conversation, partners were appropriated, one of the women seated herself by the musician, and dancing was resumed, and was now carried on with much more vigour and enjoyment.

After some time spent thus, one of the men observed drops of blood falling from one of his companions. Concealing the alarm that the sight caused him, he told his partner that he wished to go outside for a little. She did her utmost to induce him not to go, and only when he proposed to let her hold an end of his plaid while he was without did she give a reluctant consent. Outside he pinned the free end of his plaid to the turf wall of the hut, and fled for his life. When his flight was discovered, his partner started in pursuit. Her companions spurred her on, calling ” Cha bu tu do mhathair air t’ aois. A Stiana chaoil, nach beir thu air!” “You are not your mother at your age. Slender Christina, can’t you catch him!” Christina wailed back “Chaill mise mo dhubhach, ‘s dh’ ith thusa do dhubhach!” “I have lost my dubhach, and you have eaten your dubhach.” Before she could overtake the fugitive, he found refuge in a horse fold at Fasa-grianach. Once he got in alongside of the horses she was powerless to harm him. When daylight came he gave the alarm, and a party of friends and neighbours went to the shieling, and found only the lifeless remains of the other hunters. The creatures with whom they had associated had sucked the blood from their bodies.

The story is told with some or other of the following differences. The number of the men was three. They were on their way home over the Dirrie Mor to Lochbroom. They sought shelter in the hut from a storm. One of the dancers or the musician chanced to lower his glance, and saw that the women had hoofs. The musician stopped the music in his alarm, and his companions thereupon fell lifeless corpses. He started up to flee for his life. The woman at his side laid hold of his plaid to detain him. He threw off the plaid and fled. Her response to the incitement of her companions is “Mise ‘s mo dhubhach, mise ‘s mo dhubhach” “I and my dubhach, I and my dubhach!”

In a “Guide to Ullapool and Lochcarron,” published a few years ago, the name of the shieling is given as Airigh mo Dhubhach, and is derived from the wail of the mothers of the dead men “airigh mo dhubhach” ‘shieling of my sorrow’ but the name, as we have heard it, is Airigh nan Guthach. The word dubhach, so far as could be ascertained, is obsolete, and its meaning unknown. The reference, however, is evidently to the blood sucked from the victims by the hags, and the term is doubtless to be compared with dubhaith, a pudding, and duthatch, great gut, anus, sausage.

Rev. Robertson, ‘Folklore from the West of Ross-shire,’ in Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Inverness Vol XXVI, 1907, pp268-269.
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Posted by on January 27, 2012 in Uncategorized


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The baobhan sìth – ‘fairy furies’

A notion was prevalent among the people of Lewis, and of the Highlands and Islands generally, that it was imprudent to wish — or rather to express a wish — for anything at any time of the night without simultaneously invoking the protection of the Deity.

If the invocation were forgotten or neglected they believed that their wish would be granted in some terrible manner. Probably this superstitious belief originated in the following and kindred stories.

Three men were hunting in the hills of Kintail. Having had but little success, and being reluctant to return home empty-handed, they agreed to pass the night in one of the shielings or huts, of which there were many on the moors. (‘Shielings,’ says my informant, ‘much larger than those to be met with in Lewis.’) Having lit a fire in the shieling they cooked some venison, of which they made a repast. After their meal they pulled some dry grass and moss and spread it on the floor to serve as a bed. Two of them sat on one side of the fire and the third at the other side began playing the trump (Jew’s-harp). One of the two began to talk of their unsuccessful day’s toil, but added that they would not grumble at their ill success were they now with their sweethearts. His comrade agreed with him heartily, and at the same time expressed a wish that their three sweethearts should be with them in the shieling.

Immediately three tall, handsome young women made their appearance, two of whom crossed over to the two men, the third remained with the musician. The fire was dimly burning, and the man could not see how things were going with his comrades and their two strange visitors, but he noticed to his consternation a stream of blood flowing towards the fire from the place where they were, and looking at the same time at the woman who sat by him he observed that her feet were not like human feet but like the hoofs of a deer.

His fears were terribly aroused, and he wished heartily to make his escape. He made an excuse to the woman that he must go out for some water to drink, but she offered to go herself. He declined and rose to go out. He no sooner made a movement to the door than the woman got up, and endeavoured to lay hold of him before he reached the door, but he escaped and ran with all possible speed towards the nearest human dwelling.

The woman pursued him with a speed equal to his own. At length he reached a glen which was inhabited, and there the woman gave up the chase, and exclaimed several times: ‘Dhith sibhs’ ur cuthaich fein ach dh’fhag mo chuthaich fein mise.’ You ate your own victims (?), but my victim (?) escaped from me.

On the day following the people of the glen went to the shieling, where they found the mangled remains of the two men, their throats cut, their chests laid open, and their hearts torn away. I asked my informant who these women were. He wondered at my ignorance, and replied that they were ‘Baobhan Sith’ (Fairy Furies). He often related similar stories.

Carmichael, Celtic Review Volume V, 1905, pp163-165.
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Posted by on January 27, 2012 in Uncategorized


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Cailleach Bheinn a’ Bhric

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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The Cailleach and the hunter

From The Emmet, 1823:

The Cailleach…had the most unlimited power over the elements. When a hunter kindled a fire in a sheeling to warm his benumbed limbs, after the fatigues of the chase, this sublime being although in a mountain of Perthshire strode in a moment from hill to hill, and was with the hunter at his blazing fire in a twinkling, though it had been kindled by him in the distant mountains of Ross-shire. She always attempted to destroy him whom she thus so unexpectedly and unwelcomely visited; and the means which she had recourse to for this purpose were various. She was much afraid of a dog and a loaded gun; and as these were companions which every hunter had along with him, she was not so successful in the trade of slaying as she naturally wished. The following song was sung by her one evening to scare a hunter from killing her deer. As the hunter was in the act of levelling his piece at a large stag that grazed in a green meadow between two mountains, she suddenly made her appearance on the frowning brow of a large precipice, and recited or sung as follows, and it almost is unnecessary to mention, that the hunter made the decentest speed possible towards the low grounds, when the last strain came rolling to his ear on the evening breeze…

Tiny hunter cease to roam,
O’er the piny heights where I make my dwelling;
Tempt the roaring foam,
Of ocean when high the trouble waves are swelling,
But here where I hold my sway,
O’er deep glen and mountain gray,
Dare not venture night or day –
Tiny mortal roam not here!
I am monarch of the deer,
Which bound over all these green mountains;
I partake of their cheer,
The crystal stream so clear,
And the cresses that fringe the blue fountains:
Tis I that deform heaven’s face with the storm,
And sublime on the dark clouds career.
I revel ‘mid the elemental war,
At rest within my misty car,
And send my voice in hollow moans afar,
Down the dusky glen among the dwellings of men;
And fill them with terror and fear!
Cease, then, my piny heights to climb,
Pollute not my green knoll of thyme,
Where I hold my august court,
And with my fairy subjects sport,
When the moon at her noon,
Pours her silver stream of light,
O’er the blue bosom of the silent night!
Tremble mortal, at my power,
Leave my sacred dominion!
Ere I cause the heavens lower,
And whelm thee with a fearful shower,
For sport to my fairy minions!
Hence away! child of clay,
Go tempt the roaring foam,
Of ocean, when high the troubled waves are swelling;
But ne’er again stray where I hold my sway,
O’er the piny heights that I make my dwelling!
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Posted by on January 27, 2012 in Hunting, Scotland, Weather


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