From Donald Shaw, old soldier, Ballygrant, Islay.
THERE were three men in the land of Ceann Coire, in Erin--that was Moorchug MacBreean, and Donachug MacBreean, and Breean Borr, their father. They got a call to go to dine in a place which they called MAGH O DORNA. They took with them threescore knives, threescore bridles, and threescore red-eared white horses. They sat at the feast, and no sooner sat they at the feast than they saw the maid of Knock Seanan, in Erin, passing by. Then out would go Moorchug, then out would go Donachug, and then out would go Brian Borr, their father, after them.
They were not long gone when they saw a great lad coming to meet them.
Brian Borr blessed him in the FISNICHE FAISNICHE--soft, flowing, peaceful words of wisdom.
He answered in better words, and if they were no better they were no worse.
"What man art thou?" said Brian Borr. "A good lad am I, seeking a master." "Almighty of the world against thee, beast! Dost thou wish to be hanged with a sea of blood about thine eyes! 'Tis long I would be ere I would hire thee at thy size." "I care not, may be Murachadh would hire me." He reached Murachadh. Murachadh blessed him in the
[paragraph continues] FISNICHE FAISNICHE--soft, flowing, peaceful words of wisdom. The lad answered him in better words, and if no better they were no worse.
"What man art thou?" says Murachadh. "A good lad am I, seeking a master," said he. "What wages will thou be asking?" "Two-thirds of thy counsel to be mine, 1 and thyself to have but one, till we come from chasing the maiden."
"If thou gett'st that," said Murachadh, "man got it not before, and no man will get it after thee, but sure if thou wouldst not honour it, thou wouldst not ask it."
When they had agreed he took a race after the maiden, and he was not long gone when he came back. "Almighty of the world against thee," said Brian Borr. "Dost thou wish to be hanged with a sea of blood about thine eyes? I knew he was without a gillie in the first of the day the man that hired thee, and had be taken my counsel he had not hired thee."
"I will not do a good turn to-day till the buttons come off my bigcoat." Then they got a tailor, and the tailor had not as much skill as would take the buttons off the greatcoat. Then he took shears out of the rim of his little hat, and he took the buttons off his greatcoat in a trice.
Then he took another race after the maiden, and he was not long away when he came back. "Almighty of the great world against thee," said Brian Borr. "Dost thou wish to be hanged with a sea of blood about thine eyes? I knew that he was without a gillie in the first of the day the man that hired thee, and had he taken my counsel he had not hired thee."
"I wont do a good turn to-day till the buttons go on the bigcoat again, for the women will chase me." They got a tailor, and the shears would not cut a grain, and the needle would not sew a stitch. Then he got shears and a needle himself out of the rim of his little hat, and he sewed the buttons on the bigcoat again. He took another little race after the maiden, and he was not long gone when he came back. "Almighty, &c. . . . ," said Brian Borr.
"I will not do a good turn to-day till the thorn in my foot comes out." Then they got a leech, but the leech had not skill enough to take the thorn out of the foot. Then he himself took out a little iron that he had in the rim of his little hat, and he took the thorn out of his foot, and the thorn was a foot longer than the shank.
"Oov! oov!" said Brian Borr, "that is a wondrous matter, the thorn to be longer than the shank." "Many a thing," said he, "is more wondrous than that; there is good stretching at the end of the joints and bones." Then he took a little race away, and he was not long gone when he came back, and he had a wild duck roasted on the fire, not a bit burned or raw in her, and she was enough for every one within. "This is the best turn thou hast done yet," said Brian Borr.
"I will not do a good turn to-day till I get a little wink of sleep." They went to the back of Knock Seanan, in Erin, behind the wind and before the sun, where they could see each man, and man could not see them. He slept there; and when he awoke, what but the maid of Knock Seanan was on the top of the hill! He rose, he struck her a blow of his palm on the ear, and he set her head back foremost. "Almighty, &c. . . . ," said Brian Borr.
"Set the head right on the maiden."--"If my master asks me that, I will do it, and if he does not ask, I will not do it to-day for thee."
"There she is," said Murachadh, "and do to her as thou wilt." Then struck he a fist on her, and he knocked her brains out. They were not long there when they saw a deer and a dog chasing it. Out after it went they, and the sparks that the hound sent from his toes were hitting Murachadh's gillie right in the face. The sparks that Murachadh's gillie sent from his toes were striking Murachadh right in the face, and the sparks that Murachadh sent from. his toes were hitting Donachadh right in the face, and the sparks that Donachadh sent from his toes were hitting Brian Borr right in the face. In the time of lateness Murachadh lost his set of men; nor father, nor brother, nor gillie, nor deer, nor dog, was to be seen, and he did not know to what side he, should go to seek them. Mist came on them.
He thought he would go into the wood to gather nuts till the mist should go. He heard the stroke of an axe in the wood, and he thought that it was the man of the little cap and the bio, bonnet. He went down and it was the man of the little cap who was there. Murachadh blessed him; in the fisniche foisniche, soft flowing peaceful words of wisdom; and the youth blessed him in better words; and if no better they were no worse. "I am thinking, then," said the lad, "that it is of the company of Murachadh Mae Brian thou art." "It is," said he. "Well! I would give thee a night's share for the sake of that man, though there should be a man's head at thy belt." Murachadh feared that be would ask him to put the faggot on his back, and he was right feared that he would ask him to carry the axe home for its size. "Good lad," said he, "I am sure thou art tired enough
thyself after thy trouble and wandering. It is much me to ask thee to lift the faggot on my back; and it is too much to ask thee to take the axe home."
He went and he lifted the faggot of fuel on his own back, he took the axe with him in his hand; they went the two to the house of that man; and that was the grand house! Then the wife of that man brought up a chair of gold, and she gave it to her own man; and she brought up a chair of silver, and she gave it to Murachadh; she brought up a stoup of wine, and she gave it to Murachadh, and he took a drink out of it; he stretched it to the other, and after he had drunk what was in it he broke it against the wall. They were chatting together, and Murachadh was always looking at the house-wife. "I am thinking myself," said the man of the house, "that thou art Murachadh Mac Brian's self."--"Well, I am."--"I have done thee two discourtesies since thou camest to the house, and thou hast done one, to me. I sat myself in the chair of gold, and I set thee in the silver chair; I broke the drinking cup; I failed in that I drank a draught from a half-empty vessel. Thou didst me another discourtesy: thou art gazing at my wife there since thou camest into the house, and if thou didst but know the trouble I had about her, thou wouldst not wonder though I should not like another man to be looking at her." "What," said Murachadh, "is the trouble that thou hast had about her that man had not before, and that another man will not have again after thee?"--"Sleep to-night and I will tell thee that to-morrow."--"Not a cloud of sleep shall go on mine eye this night till thou tellest me the trouble that thou hast had."
"I was here seven years with no man with me but
myself. The seanagal (soothsayer) came the way one day, and he said to me, if I would go so far as the white Sibearta, that I would get knowledge in it. I went there one fine summer's day, and who was there but the Gruagach of the island and the Gruagach of the dog setting a combat. The Gruagach of the island said to me, if I would go in before her to help her, that she would give me her daughter to marry when we should go home. I went in on her side, I struck a fist on the Gruagach of the dog, and I knocked her brains out. Myself and the Gruagach of the island went home, and a wedding and a marriage was made between myself and her daughter that very night; but, with the hero's fatigue, and the reek of the bowl, I never got to her chamber door. If the day came early on the morrow, 'twas earlier still that my father-in-law arose shouting to me to go to the hunting hill to hunt badgers, and vermin, and foxes. At the time of lifting the game and laying it down, I thought that I had left my own wife without a watchman to look on her. I went home a hero, stout and seemly, and I found my mother-in-law weeping; and I said to her, 'What ails thee?' 'Much ails me, that three monks have just taken away the woman thou didst marry thyself.'
"Then took I the good and ill of that on myself, and I took the track of the duck on the ninth morn. I fell in with my ship, and she was drawn her own seven lengths on dried dry land, where no wind could stain, or sun could burn, or the scholars of the big town could mock or launch her. I set my back to her, and she was too heavy; but I thought it was death before or behind me if I did not get my wife, and I set my pith to her, and I put her out. I gave her prow to the sea, and her stern to the land; helm in her stern, sails in her prow,
tackle to her ropes, each rope fast and loose, that could make port and anchorage of the sea isle that was there. I anchored my ship, and I went up, and what was there but the three monks casting lots for my wife. I swept their three heads off, I took my wife me and I set her in the stern of the ship; I hoisted the three speckled flapping sails against the tall tough splintery masts. My music was the plunging of eels and the screaming of gulls; the biggest beast eating the beast that was least, and the beast that was least doing as she might. The bent brown buckie that was in the bottom of ocean would play haig on its mouth, while she would cut a slender corn straw before her prow, with the excellence of the steering. There was no stop or rest for me, while I drove her on till I reached the big town of my mother and father-in-law. Music was raised and lament laid down. There were smooth drunken drinks, and coarse drinks drunken. Music in fiddle-strings to the ever-healing of each disease, would set men under evil eye, and women in travail, fast asleep in the great town that night. With the hero's fatigue and the reek of the bowl, I slept far from the wife's chamber.
If it was early that the day came on the morrow, 'twas still earlier that my father-in-law arose shouting to me to go to the hunting hill to hunt badgers, and vermin, and foxes. At the time of lifting the game and laying it down, I thought that I had left my own wife without a watchman to look on her. I went home a hero, stout and seemly, and I found my mother-in-law weeping. 'What ails thee to-night?' 'Much ails me, that the wet-cloaked warrior has just taken away the bride thou didst marry thyself.'
"Then took I the good and ill of that on myself, and I took the track of the duck on the ninth morn. I fell
in with my ship; I set my back to her, and she was too heavy: and I set my pith to her and I put her out. I gave her prow to the sea, and her stern to the land; helm in her stern, sails in her prow, tackle to her ropes, each rope fast and loose, that could make a choice port and anchorage of the big town of the wet-cloaked warrior. I drew my ship her own seven lengths on dried dry land, where wind could not stain, or sun burn her; and where the scholars of the big town could not play pranks or launch her. I left my harness and my spears under the side of the ship; I went up, and a herd fell in with me. 'What's thy news to-day, herd?' said I to him. 'Almighty, etc.,' said the herd, 'if my news is not good, a wedding and a marriage between the wet-cloaked warrior and the daughter of the Island Gruagach: and that there is neither glad nor sorry in the realm that is not asked to the wedding.' 'If thou wouldst give me the patched cloak on thee, I would give thee this good coat that I have on, and good day besides for that.' 'Almighty, etc . . . . .' 'That is not the joy and wonder that I have to take in it before the sun rises to sky to-morrow." I struck him a blow of my fist in the midst of his face, and I drove the brains in fiery slivers through the back of his head, I put on the patched cloak, and up I went, and the men had just assembled to the wedding. I thought it was lucky to find them gathered. I went amongst them as falcon through flock, or as goat up rock, or as a great dog on a cold spring day going through a drove of sheep. So I would make little bands of large bands, hardy 1 castles which might be heard in the four airts of heaven,
slashing of blades, shearing heroic shields, till I left not one would tell a tale or withhold bad news; how one would be one-legged, and one one-handed; and though there were ten tongues in their heads, it is telling their own ills and the ills of others that they would be. I took with me my wife, and I set her in the stern of the boat. I gave her prow to sea and her stern to land; I would make sail before, and set helm behind. I hoisted the three speckled flapping sails against the tall tough splintery masts. My music was the plunging of eels and the screaming of gulls; the beast that was biggest eating the beast that was least, and the beast that was least doing as she might; the bent brown buckie that was at the bottom of the sea would play HAIG! on her great mouth, as she would split a slender oat stubble straw with the excellence of the steering.
"We returned to the big town of my father-in-law. Music was raised, and lament laid down. There were smooth drunken drinks and coarse, drinks drunken. Music on strings for ever healing each kind of ill, would set wounded men and women in travail asleep in the big town that night. With the hero's fatigue and the reek of the bowl, I never got to my bride's chamber that night.
If it was early that the day came on the morrow, earlier than that my father-in-law arose shouting to me to go to the hunting hill, to go to hunt brocks, and vermin, and foxes. At the time of lifting the game, and of laying it down, I thought that I had left my own bride without a watchman to watch over her. I went home a hero, stout and seemly, and I found-my mother-in-law weeping. 'What ails thee?' said I. 'Much ails me,' said she, 'that the great hero, son of the King of SORCHA (light), has just taken the bride that
thou didst wed, away; and he was the worst of them all for me.' Let it be taken well and ill, that was for me. I took the track of the duck on the ninth morn. I fell in with my ship; I set my back to her, and she was too heavy for me; I set my back to her again and I set her out. I gave prow to sea, and stern to land; I'd set helm in her stern, and sails in her prow, and tackles in her middle against each rope that was in her loose and fast, to make choice port and anchorage of the big town of the great hero king of Sorcha. I drew my ship her own seven lengths from ebb, on dry land, where wind would not stain, and sun would not burn, the scholars of the big town could make neither plaything or mocking, or launching of her.
"I went up and a beggar fell in with me. 'What's thy tale to day, A beggar?' 'Mighty of the world be against thee! dost wish to be hanged with a sea of blood about thine eyes; great and good is my tale; wedding and a marrying between the great hero, son of the king of Sorcha, and the daughter of the island Gruagach; and that there is neither glad nor sorry in the land that is not called to the wedding.' 'If thou wouldst give me thy cloak, I would give thee good pay and this good coat that I have on for it.' 'Mighty of the world, thou beast, dost wish to be hanged with a sea of blood about thine eyes?' 'That is not the wonder and joy that I am to get from it, before the sun rises in heaven to-morrow.' I struck him a blow of my fist in the midst of his face, and I drove the brain in flinders of flame through the back of his head. The bride knew somehow that I would be there, and she asked that the beggars should first be served. I sat myself amidst the beggars; and each that tried to take bit from me, I gave him,
a bruise 'twixt my hand and my side; and I'd leave him there, and I'd catch the meat with the one of my hands, and the drink with the other hand. Then some one said that the big beggar was not letting a bit to the heads of the other beggars. The bride said, to be good to the beggars, and they themselves would be finished at last. When all the beggars had enough they went away, but I lay myself where I was. Some one said that the big beggar had laid down drunk. The man of the wedding said, to throw the beast out at the back of a hill, or in the shelter of a dyke, till what was in his maw should ebb. Five men and ten came down, and they set their hand to lifting me. On thy two hands, oh Murachadh; but it was easier for them to set Cairn a Choinnich in Erin from its base, than to raise me from the earth. Then came down one of the men that was wiser than the rest; I had a beauty spot, and there never was man that saw me once but he would know me again. He raised the cap and he knew who it was, That fortune should help you here to-night! 'Here is the upright of Glen feite, the savage 1 Macallain, pitiless, merciless, fearless of God or man, unless he would fear Murachadh Mae Brian.' When I myself heard that, I rose to put on my tackling for battling and combat; I put on my charmed praying shirt of satin, and smooth yellow silk stretched to my skin, my cloudy coat above the golden shirt, my kindly coat of cotton above the kindly cloak, my boss-covered hindering sharp-pointed shield on my left side, my hero's hard slasher in my right hand, my spawn of narrow knives in my
belt, my helm of hardness about my head to cover my comely crown, to go in the front of strife, and the strife to go after it; I put on my hindering, dart-hindering resounding mail, without a flaw, or without outlet, blue-grey, bright blue, "LEUDAR LEOTHAR." Lochliner, the long-light and high-minded; and I left not a man to tell a tale or withhold bad news. If there was not one on one foot, and one one-handed, and though there were ten tongues in their heads, it is telling their own ills, and the ills of the rest that they would be. I took my bride with me, I set her in the ship, I hoisted the three speckled flapping sails against the tall tough splintery trees. My music was the plunging of eels and screaming of gulls; the beast that was biggest eating the beast that was least, and the beast that was least doing as it might; the bent brown buckie that was in the bottom of the sea she would play Haig on her mouth as she would split a slender oat stubble before her prow, with the excellence of the steering. Twas no stop or stay for me, as I drove her on till I reached the big town of my father-in-law."
"That was my first rest, Murachadh, and is it wondrous that I dislike any man to be gazing at her?" "Indeed, it is not wonderful," said Murachadh. Murachadh lay down that night, and he found himself on the morrow in the tower of CHINNECOIRE in Erin, where were his father and his grandfather; and the deer and the dog, and his father and his brother, were in before him.
This tale was taken down in May 1859, from the recitation of Donald Shaw, then aged sixty-eight, a pauper, living at Ballygrant in Islay, who was in the 42nd Highlanders at Waterloo. He served in the army about three years. He said that he had learned it from one Duncan MacMillan, a Colonsay man, well advanced in years, about fifty years ago. On the 6th of July, Hector MacLean wrote:--"Shaw died a few days ago, and so far as I can ascertain, there is none in Islay, Jura, or Colonsay, that can recite the same tale now."
I have only met with one man who knew it by this name; MacPhie, at the Sound of Benbecula, a very old man, who gave me the outline of it. Some of the language is exceedingly difficult; some words none of us can make out; and MacPhie's version, and most of his stories, were full of such language.
The tale then is found in Islay and South Uist, and traced to Colonsay, and is certainly about fifty years old. I have several other tales which resemble it in some degree.
The little hat with everything in it, and the great coat and buttons, are Irish. There is much communication between Ireland and the Isles at this day. The language spoken on the opposite coasts is all but identical, and this is probably common to Ireland and the Isles.
There is something like it in Mr. Simpson's book; and some of his words resemble words in this story, and seem to have puzzled the Irish translators as much as they have puzzled me. The phrase, "As a falcon through a flock of birds," is in Mr. Simpson's work. The man with the bundle of wood is something like the giant in Grimm's Valiant Tailor. The servant who drew a thorn longer than his leg out of his foot, may be some supernatural
personage. The measured prose descriptions of sailing, arming, and fighting, are common all over the West Highlands amongst the eldest and poorest men, and similar passages occur in manuscripts.
For descriptions of costume and for language, the tale is very curious, and worth the labour bestowed on it, which is considerable. I have endeavoured to translate closely, and at the same time to imitate this tale; but it is a very weak attempt, I well know.
The manners described are partly those of the day. The politeness and discourtesy in the house of the man with the little hat, are purely Highland. The breaking of the tumbler is a mark of great respect; no meaner lip should touch the glass drained to an honoured guest; but the glass must be first filled and emptied--no half cups are allowed. The best seat should be the guest's. The telling of the story in the evening is the real amusement of the poorer classes now, and used to be much more common.
The description of the sailing of a boat amongst the fish and birds is true to nature; so is the expression the track of the duck; none but a man familiar with the habits of birds on a sea-coast could think of such a phrase. Ducks feed on shore, and return to the sea at daylight.
The experience of the old soldier probably makes the drink wine, not whisky; and Sibearta is probably white Siberia, derived from the same source; If not, I can make nothing of it.
The dress described may be the old dress of the Isles, as depicted on tombstones, with a cotton coat slipped in. In an account of the Danes and Norwegians in England and Ireland, by J. J. A. Worsaae, London, 1852, it is stated that Magnus Barfod sat himself at the helm while his ship was drawn over the Peninsula of Tarbet (draw-boat); acquired the sovereignty of the Western Isles; and adopted the dress generally worn there. "They went about the streets (in Norway) with bare legs, and wore short coats and cloaks, whence Magnus was called by his men, Barfod or Barbeen (barefoot or barelegs), says the Icelandic historian, Snorro Sturleson, who, as well known, lived in the first half of the thirteenth century. It is remarkable enough that this is the oldest account extant of the well-known Scotch Highland dress, whose antiquity is thus proved."
The tale might be taken partly from the Odyssey. The man disguised as a beggar, going to a wedding where his own wife
was the bride, and where he knocks out the brains of a beggar with a single blow, and makes a general slaughter afterwards, is very like Ulysses, Penelope, Irus, and the Suitors, but similar incidents are common in popular tales. There is a story in the Decameron which somewhat resembles the incident of the wife carried away. On the whole, I think this story is a remnant of an old bardic composition, of which very little remains.
The word GRUAGACH is here used both for a maiden and for a woman with a daughter; it usually means a maiden, rarely a chief; sometimes it seems to mean a conjuror, or philosopher, or instructor; often the being called Brownie. It probably means any one with long hair; from GRUAG, the hair of the head.
ALLABAN ANRADH, painful, wandering.
ATHAR NA POIT, the evil effect of drinking
BEART NA BUIL, tackle in her ropes.
BROCHD AGUS OLC, badgers and evil creatures, vermin.
BUCAIDACH, pimply, boss covered, or perhaps hollow.
CALA AGUS ACARSAID, port and anchorage.
CNOCK SEANAN, (?) Hill of Jewels, from sean or Seun, a jewel.
CRANNA FADA FULANNACH, trees or masts, long-enduring.
FILE, MILE, soft, fluent.
FISNICHE FAISNICHE, words whose meaning is lost in the islands; probably Irish; perhaps knowing, delaying, that is wise, eloquent.
LEUDAR LEOTHAR LOCHLANNACH, (?) perhaps a description of the man; the epithet Lochlannach is the only one of the three which is comprehensible, and this line probably belongs to something else.
LORG NA LACH, the track of the duck; path, towards the sea.
LURACH, a coat of mail, also a patched cloak.
MAGH O DORNA, (?) plain of pebbles, from dornag, a stone, that can be held in dorn, the fist.
NEAM-A-LACH, (?) not to be found in dictionaries.
PLUBARSAICH, an expressive word for plunging about.
210:1 "Da dhrian de d' comhairle." I am not sure of this translation.
216:1 I cannot make sense of this phrase.
219:1 FEAMANACH,--Feaman means a tail, but whether this means the man with the tail or not, I do not know.