From the Rev. Thomas Pattieson, 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
[paragraph continues] 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.
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.
The gentleman who has been kind enough to send me this tale, does not say from whom he got it, but I have heard of the
[paragraph continues] Islay smith, who could make wonderful swords, all my life, and of the "Swords of the Head of Islay." The Brewery of Eggshells, and the Throwing of the Fairy Changeling into the Fire, are well-known popular tales in collections from Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and, I think, Brittany. The man carried into the hill and there remaining for a long time, is also an incident common to many races, including the Jews, and one which I have heard in the Highlands ever since I can remember, though I do not remember to have heard any of the peasantry tell it as a story.
The belief that "the hill" opened on a certain night, and that a light shone from the inside, where little people might be seen dancing, was too deeply grounded some years ago to be lightly spoken of; even now, on this subject, my kind friend Mrs. MacTavish writes--"You may perhaps remember an old servant we had at the manse who was much offended if any one doubted these stories--(I remember her perfectly). I used to ask her the reason why such wonders do not occur in our day, to which she replied, that religious knowledge having increased, people's faith was stronger than it was in the olden time. In the glebe of Kilbrandon in Lorn is a hill called Crocan Corr--the good or beautiful hill where the fairies even in my young days were often seen dancing around their fire. I sometimes went out with others to look, but never succeeded in seeing them at their gambols.
"Are you aware that ------'s mother was carried away by the fairies--(I know ------ well). So convinced were many of this absurdity, which I remember perfectly well, that it was with difficulty they got a nurse for his brother ------, who being a delicate child, was believed to have been conveyed away along with his mother, and a fairy left instead of him during his father's absence * * * The child however throve when he got a good nurse, and grew up to be a man, which, I suppose, convinced them of their folly. Mr. ------ minister, of ------ had some difficulty in convincing a man whose wife was removed in a similar manner (she died in childbed), that his son, a boy twelve years of age, must have been under some hallucination when he maintained that his mother had come to him, saying she was taken by fairies to a certain hill in Muckairn, known to be the residence of the fairies.
"If any one is so unfortunate as to go into one of these hills, which are open at night, they never get out unless some one goes in quest of them, who uses the precaution of leaving a GUN or
[paragraph continues] SWORD across the opening, which the fairies cannot remove. A certain young woman was decoyed into one of these openings, who was seen by an acquaintance dancing with the merry race. He resolved on trying to rescue her, and leaving his gun at the entrance, went forward, and seizing the young woman by the hand, dragged her out before they could prevent him. They pursued them, but having got her beyond the gun, they had no longer power to keep her. She told him she had nearly dropped down with fatigue, but she could not cease dancing, though she felt it would soon kill her. The young man restored her to her friends, to their great joy."
(I remember exactly the same incident told of a hill called Bencnock in Islay, and one similar of another hill called Cnock-donn.) "When poor women are confined, it is unsafe to leave them alone till their children are baptised. If through any necessity they must be left alone, the Bible left beside them is sufficient protection.
"Many were the freaks fairies were guilty of. A family who lived in Gaolin Castle, Kerrera, near Oban, had, as they supposed, a delicate child; it was advancing in years but not growing a bit; at length a visitor from Ireland came to the castle, and recognized her as the fairy sweetheart of an Irish gentleman of his acquaintance. He addressed her in Gaelic or Irish, saying--'THA THUSA SIN A SHIRACH BHEAG LEANNAN BRIAN MACBRAODH.'--There thou art, little fairy sweetheart of Brian MacBroadh. So offended was the elf at being exposed, that she ran out of the castle and leaped into the sea from the point called RUTHADH NA SIRACH, the fairies' point, to this day.
"Fairies were very friendly to some people whom they favoured, but equally mischievous where they took a dislike. A hill in the farm of Dunvuilg in Craignish was one of their favourite haunts, and on a certain occasion they offered to assist an honest tenant's wife in the neighbourhood, for whom they had a kindness, to manufacture a quantity of wool she had for clothing for her family. She was very glad to have their services, and being always an active race, they set to work directly, repeating 'CIRADH, CARDADH, TLAMADH, CUIGEAL, BEARTIGHE GU LUATH BURN LUAIDH AIR TEINE CORR IONNDRAIDH MHOR MHAITH BEAN AN TIGHE FHIN.' Teazing, carding, mixing, distaff, weaving loom, water for waulking on the fire, the thrifty housewife herself is the best at sitting up late.
"In the heat of their operations an envious neighbour came to the door crying--'DUNBHUILG IRA THEINE,' Dunvuilg on fire! Dunvuilg is on fire! Dunvuilg is on fire! was re-echoed by all the little company. 'M UIRD IS M' INNEAN! M' UIRD IS' M' INEANN! MO CHLANN BHEAG S' MO DHAOINE MORA! MO CHLANN BHEAG S' MO DHAOINE MORA!'--'Dunvuilg on fire; my hammers and my anvil--my hammers and my anvil; my little children and my grown men--my little children and my grown men!' and they all scampered off, but not till they had nearly finished the housewife's web.
There is a field in the farm in which I was born, said to have been the scene of fairy operations. They were seen at work, and heard encouraging each other with 'CAOL ACHADH MHAIDH BUANADH GU TETH.' The corn in the field was found in stooks in the morning.
"It is quite common to remark, that the fairies are at some meal as the time of day may indicate when there is rain with sunshine, but I never heard the reason why.--(In England it is the d---l beating his wife.)
"The night following the 13th of May, or May-day, old style, is a particularly busy season with both fairies and witches. Then every herd and dairy-maid and cannie housewife uses various arts to ward off the many evils the enemy has the power of inflicting. One device which I have seen used was putting a little tar in the right ear of each cow beast in the byre; but all these charms or giosragan, as they are called, had always some reason. Tar has a disinfecting quality, as is well known, and used to he put on clothing under the arms when a person had to go into a house where there was any infectious disease."
The Dunbhulaig story is all over the Highlands, and there seem to be many places so called. Mr. John MacLean, Kilchamaig, Tarbert, Argyle, has sent me a version which varies but little from that told by Mrs. MacTavish. The scene is laid on the Largie side of Kintyre. The farmer's wife was idle, and called for the fairies, who wove a web for her and shouted for more work. She first set them to put each other out, and at last got rid of them by shouting "Dunbhulaig on fire!" The fairies' rhyme when working was--
"Is fad abhras 'n aon laimh air dheradh,
Ciradh cardadh tlamadh cuigel, p. 64
Feath a bhearst fithidh gu luath,
'S uisge luaidh air teine
Obair, obair, obair, obair,
Is fad abhras 'n son laimh air dheradh.
[paragraph continues] Which Mr. MacLean translates freely--
"Work, work, for a single hand
Can but little work command,
Some to tease, and card, and spin;
Some to oil and weave begin;
Some the water for waulking heat,
That we may her web complete.
Work, work, for a single hand
Can but little work command."
The rhyme, when they depart in hot haste, is--
"Mo mhullachan caise m'ord a's m innean,
Mo bhean 's mo phaisde s' mo gogan ima,
Mo bho a' mo gobhair s' mo chiste beag mine,
Och, och, ochone gur truagh tha mise!"
Freely translated thus by Mr. MacLean--
"My wife, my child, alas, with these,
My butter pail and little cheese,
My cow, my goat, my meal-chest gone,
My hammers too, och, och, ochone!"
[paragraph continues] Or more closely thus--
"My mould of cheese, my hammer, and anvil,
My wife and my child, and my butter crock;
My cow and my goat, and my little meal kist;
Och, och, ochone, how wretched am I!"
I heard another version of the same story in Lewis from a medical gentleman, who got it from an old woman, who told it as a fact, with some curious variations unfit for printing. And my landlady in Benbecula knew the story, and talked it over with me in September this year. The versions which I have of this story vary in the telling as much as is possible, and each is evidently the production of a different mind, but the incidents
are nearly the same in all, and the rhyme varies only in a few points. Dunbhulaig is the same in Kintyre, Lorn, Lewis, and Benbecula. I am not aware that the story has ever before been reduced to writing.
The Man in the Hill is equally well known in Kirkcudbright, but the hill, has become a mill, and the fairies Brownies. The fairies of Kirkcudbright seem to have carried off children, like the Island Elves; to have borrowed meal, like those of Sutherland, and to have behaved like their brethren elsewhere. The following four stories were got for me by the sisters of Miss Mary Lindsay, who has lived so long with us as to have become one of the family.