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Recorded from the Rev. Thomas Pattieson of Islay.

 

YEARS ago there lived in Crossbrig a smith of the name of MacEachern. This man had an only child, a boy of about thirteen or fourteen years of age, cheerful, strong, and healthy. All of a sudden he fell ill; took to his bed and moped whole days away. No one could tell what was the matter with him, and the boy himself could not, or would not, tell how he felt. He was wasting away fast; getting thin, old, and yellow; and his father and all his friends were afraid that he would die.

 

At last one day, after the boy had been lying in this condition for a long time, getting neither better nor worse, always confined to bed, but with an extraordinary appetite,–one day, while sadly revolving these things, and standing idly at his forge, with no heart to work, the smith was agreeably surprised to see an old man, well known to him for his sagacity and knowledge of out-of-the-way things, walk into his workshop. Forthwith he told him the occurrence which had clouded his life.

 

The old man looked grave as he listened; and after sitting a long time pondering over all he had heard, gave his opinion thus–“It is not your son you have got. The boy has been carried away by the ‘Daoine Sith,’ and they have left a Sibhreach in his place.” “Alas! and what then am I to do?” said the smith. “How am I ever to see my own son again?” “I will tell you how,” answered the old man. “But, first, to make sure that it is not your own son you have got, take as many empty egg shells as you can get, go with them into the room, spread them out carefully before his sight, then proceed to draw water with them, carrying them two and two in your hands as if they were a great weight, and arrange when full, with every sort of earnestness round the fire.” The smith accordingly gathered as many broken egg-shells as he could get, went into the room, and proceeded to carry out all his instructions.

 

He had not been long at work before there arose from the bed a shout of laughter, and the voice of the seeming sick boy exclaimed, “I am now 800 years of age, and I have never seen the like of that before.”

 

The smith returned and told the old man. “Well, now,” said the sage to him, “did I not tell you that it was not your son you had: your son is in Brorra-cheill in a digh there (that is, a round green hill frequented by fairies). Get rid as soon as possible of this intruder, and I think I may promise you your son.”

 

“You must light a very large and bright fire before the bed on which this stranger is lying. He will ask you ‘What is the use of such a fire as that?’ Answer him at once, ‘You will see that presently!’ and then seize him, and throw him into the middle of it. If it is your own son you have got, he will call out to save him; but if not, this thing will fly through the roof.

 

The smith again followed the old man’s advice, kindled a large fire, answered the question put to him as he had been directed to do, and seizing the child flung him in without hesitation. The “Sibhreach” gave an awful yell, and sprung through the roof, where a hole was left to let the smoke out.

 

On a certain night the old man told him the green round hill, where the fairies kept the boy, would be open. And on that night the smith, having provided himself with a bible, a dirk, and a crowing cock, was to proceed to the hill. He would hear singing and dancing and much merriment going on, but he was to advance boldly; the bible he carried would be a certain safeguard to him against any danger from the fairies. On entering the hill he was. to stick the dirk in the threshold, to prevent the hill from closing upon him; “and then,” continued the old man, “on entering you will see a spacious apartment before you, beautifully clean, and there, standing far within, working at a forge, you will also see your own son. When you are questioned, say you come to seek him, and will not go without him.”

 

Not long after this, the time came round, and the smith sallied forth, prepared as instructed. Sure enough as he approached the hill, there was a light where light was seldom seen before. Soon after a sound of piping, dancing, and joyous merriment reached the anxious father on the night wind.

 

Overcoming every impulse to fear, the smith approached the threshold steadily, stuck the dirk into it as directed, and entered. Protected by the bible he carried on his breast, the fairies could not touch him; but they asked him, with a good deal of displeasure, what he wanted there. He answered, “I want my son, whom I see down there, and I will not go without him.”

 

Upon hearing this, the whole company before him gave a loud laugh, which wakened up the cock he carried dozing in his arms, who at once leaped up on his shoulders, clapped his wings lustily, and crowed loud and long.

 

The fairies, incensed, seized the smith and his son, and throwing them out of the hill, flung the dirk after them, “and in an instant a’ was dark.”

 

For a year and a day the boy never did a turn of work, and hardly ever spoke a word; but at last one day, sitting by his father and watching him finishing a sword he was making for some chief, and which he was very particular about, he suddenly exclaimed, “That is not the way to do it;” and taking the tools from his father’s hands he set to work himself in his place, and soon fashioned a sword, the like of which was never seen in the country before.

 

From that day the young man wrought constantly with his father, and became the inventor of a peculiarly fine and well-tempered weapon, the making of which kept the two smiths, father and son, in constant employment, spread their fame far and wide, and gave them the means in abundance, as they before had the disposition to live content with all the world and very happily with one another.

 

The walls of the house where this celebrated smith, the artificer of the ‘Claidheamh Ceann-Ileach,” lived and wrought, are standing to this day, not far from the parish church of Kilchoman, Islay, in a place called Caonis gall..

 

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Many of the incidents in this story are common in other collections; but I do not know any published story of the kind in which the hero is a smith. This smith was a famous character, and probably a real personage, to whom the story has attached itself.

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From “Popular Tales of the West Highlands Vol. 2”

ISBN: 978-1-907256-06-6

URL: http://www.abelapublishing.com/cg_ptotwh2.html

 

As I was a-walking one morning in the spring,
I heard a young ploughman so sweetly to sing,
And as he was singing these words he did say,
No life is like the ploughman’s in the month of May.

The lark in the morning rises from her nest,
And mounts in the air with the dew on her breast,
And with the jolly ploughman she’ll whistle and she’ll sing,
And at night she’ll return to her nest back again.

If you walk in the fields any pleasure to find,
You may see what the ploughman enjoys in his mind;
There the corn he sows grows and the flowers do spring,
And the ploughman’s as happy as a prince or a king.

When his day’s work is done that he has to do,
Perhaps to some country walk he will go;
There with a sweet lass he will dance and sing,
And at night return with his lass back again.

Then he rises next morning to follow his team,
Like a jolly ploughman so neat and so trim;
If he kiss a pretty girl he will make her his wife,
And she loves her jolly ploughman as dear as her life.

There’s Molly and Dolly, Nelly and Sue;
There’s Ralph, John, and Willie, and young Tommy too ;
Each lad takes his lass to the wake or the fair,
Adzooks! they look rarely I vow and declare.

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From Scottish Fairy and Folk Tales

ISBN: 978-1-907256-93-6

URL: http://www.abelapublishing.com/cg_sfft.html

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(Recorded from Ann MacGilvray, Islay.–April 1859)

 

THERE was ere now a farmer, and he had three daughters. They were waulking(1) clothes at a river. A hoodie came round and he said to the eldest one, ’M-POS-U-MI, “Wilt thou wed me, farmer’s daughter?” “I won’t wed thee, thou ugly brute. An ugly brute is the hoodie,” said she. He came to the second one on the morrow, and he said to her, “M-POS-U-MI, wilt thou wed me?” “Not I, indeed,” said she; “an ugly brute is the hoodie.” The third day he said to the youngest, M-POS-U-MI, “Wilt thou wed me, farmer’s daughter?,” “I will wed thee,” said she; “a pretty creature is the hoodie,” and on the morrow they married.

 

The hoodie said to her, “Whether wouldst thou rather that I should be a hoodie by day, and a man at night; or be a hoodie at night, and a man by day?” “I would rather that thou wert a man by day, and a hoodie at night,” says she. After this he was a splendid fellow by day, and a hoodie at night. A few days after they married he took her with him to his own house.

At the end of three quarters they had a son. In the night there came the very finest music that ever was heard about the house. Every man slept, and the child was taken away. Her father came to the door in the morning, and he asked how were all there. He was very sorrowful that the child should be taken away, for fear that he should be blamed for it himself.

 

At the end of three quarters again they had another son. A watch was set on the house. The finest of music came, as it came before, about the house; every man slept, and the child was taken away. Her father came to the door in the morning. He asked if everything was safe; but the child was taken away, and he did not know what to do for sorrow.

 

Again, at the end of three quarters they had another son. A watch was set on the house as usual. Music came about the house as it came before; every one slept, and the child was taken away. When they rose on the morrow they went to another place of rest that they had, himself and his wife, and his sister-in-law. He said to them by the way, “See that you have not forgotten anything.” The wife said, “I FORGOT MY COARSE COMB.” The coach in which they were fell a withered faggot, and he went away as a hoodie.

Her two sisters returned home, and she followed after him. When he would be on a hill top, she would follow to try and catch him; and when she would reach the top of a hill, he would be in the hollow on the other side. When night came, and she was tired, she had no place of rest or dwelling; she saw a little house of light far from her, and though far from her she was not long in reaching it.

 

When she reached the house she stood deserted at the door. She saw a little laddie about the house, and she yearned to him exceedingly. The housewife told her to come up, that she knew her cheer and travel. She laid down, and no sooner did the day come than she rose. She went out, and when she was out, she was going from hill to hill to try if she could see a hoodie. She saw a hoodie on a hill, and when she would get on the hill the hoodie would be in the hollow, when she would go to the hollow, the hoodie would be on another hill. When the night came she had no place of rest or dwelling. She saw a little house of light far from her, and if far from her she, was not long reaching it. She went to the door. She saw a laddie on the floor to whom she yearned right much. The, housewife laid her to rest. No earlier came the day than she took out as she used. She passed this day as the other days. When the night came she reached a house. The housewife told her to come up, that she knew her cheer and travel, that her man had but left the house a little while, that she should be clever, that this was the last night she would see him, and not to sleep, but to strive to seize him. She slept, he came where she was, and he let fall a ring on her right hand. Now when she awoke she tried to catch hold of him, and she caught a feather of his wing. He left the feather with her, and he went away. When she rose in the morning she did not know what she should do. The housewife said that he had gone over a hill of poison over which she could not go without horseshoes on her hands and feet. She gave her man’s clothes, and she told her to go to learn smithying till she should be able to make horse shoes for herself.

 

She learned smithying so well that she made horseshoes for her hands and feet. She went over the hill of poison. That same day after she had gone over the hill of poison, her man was to be married to the daughter of a great gentleman that was in the town.

There was a race in the town that day, and everyone was to be at the race but the stranger that had come over to poison hill. The cook came to her, and he said to her, Would she go in his place to make the wedding meal, and that he might get to the race.

 

She said she would go. She was always watching where the bridegroom would be sitting.

She let fall the ring and the feather in the broth that was before him. With the first spoon he took up the ring, with the next he took up the feather. When the minister came to the fore to make the marriage, he would not marry till he should find out who had made ready the meal. They brought up the cook of the gentleman, and he said that this was not the cook who made ready the meal.

 

They brought up now the one who had made ready the meal. He said, “That now was his married wife.” The spells went off him. They turned back over the hill of poison, she throwing the horse shoes behind her to him, as she went a little bit forward, and he following her. When they came, back over the hill, they went to the three houses in which she had been. These were the houses of his sisters, and they took with them the three sons, and they came home to their own house, and they were happy.

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1 – Washing clothes – also known as waulking: in addition to washing by hand the women would also lay the clothes on rocks and walk on the cloth during washing (usually at a river)

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Written down by Hector Maclean, schoolmaster at Ballygrant, in Islay, from the recitation of “Ann MacGilvray, a Cowal woman, married to a farmer at Kilmeny, one Angus Macgeachy from Campbelltown.” Sent April 14, 1859.

 

The Gaelic of this tale is the plain everyday Gaelic of Islay and the West Highlands. Several words are variously spelt, but they are variously pronounced–falbh, folbh, tigh, taighe, taighean. There is one word, Tapaidh, which has no English equivalent; it is like “Tapper” in Swedish.

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From “Popular Tales of the West Highlands” collated and edited by John Campbell – better known as “John of Islay”

ISBN: 978-1-907256-02-8

URL: http://www.abelapublishing.com/cg_ptotwh1.html