From John MacGilvray, Colonsay.
THERE was before now a king of Eirinn, and he went himself, and his people, and his warriors, and his nobles, and his great gentles, to the hill of hunting and game. They sat on a hillock coloured green colour, where the sun would rise early, and where she would set late. Said the one of swifter mouth than the rest.
"Who now in the four brown 1 quarters of the universe would have the heart to put an affront and disgrace on the King of Eirinn, and he in the midst of the people, and the warriors, great gentles, and nobles of his own realm."
"Are ye not silly," said the king; "he might come, one who should put an affront and disgrace on me, and that ye could not pluck the worst hair in his beard out of it."
It was thus it was. They saw the shadow of a shower coming from the western airt, 2 and going to the eastern airt and a rider of a black filly coming cheerily after it.
As it were a warrior on the mountain shore,
As a star over sparklings, 1
As a great sea over little pools,
As a smith's smithy coal
Being quenched at the river side ;
So would seem the men and women of the world beside him,
In figure, in shape, in form, and in visage.
Then he spoke to them in the understanding, quieting, truly wise words of real knowledge; and before there was any more talk between them, he put over the fist and he struck the king between the mouth and the nose, and he drove out three of his teeth, and he caught them in his fist, and he put them in his pouch, and he went away.
"Did not I say to you," said the king, "that one might come who should put an affront and disgrace on me, and that you could not pluck the worst hair in his beard out of it!"
Then his big son, the Knight of the Cairn, swore that he wouldn't eat meat, and that he wouldn't drink draught, and that he would not hearken to music, until he should take off the warrior that struck the fist on the king, the head that designed to do it.
"Well," said the Knight of the Sword, the very same for me, until I take the hand that struck the fist on the king from off the shoulder.
There was one man with them there in the company, whose name was Mac an Earraich uaine ri Gaisge, The Son of the Green Spring by Valour. "The very same for me," said he, "until I take out of the warrior who struck the fist on the king, the heart that thought on doing it."
"Thou nasty creature!" said the Knight of the Cairn, "what should bring thee with us? When we should go to valour, thou wouldst turn to weakness; thou wouldst find death in boggy moss, or in rifts of rock, or in a land of holes, or in the shadow of a wall, or in some place."
"Be that as it will, but I will go," said the Son of the Green Spring by Valour.
The king's two sons went away. Glance that the Knight of the Cairn gave behind him, he sees the Son of the Green Spring by Valour following them.
"What," said the Knight of the Cairn to the Knight of the Sword, "shall we do to him?"
"Do," said the Knight of the Sword, "sweep his head off."
"Well," said the Knight of the Cairn, "we will not do that; but there is a great crag of stone up here, and we will bind him to it."
"I am willing to do that same," said the other.
They bound him to the crag of stone to leave him till he should die, and they went away. Glance that the Knight of the Cairn gave behind him again, he sees him coming and the crag upon him.
"Dost thou not see that one coming again, and the crag upon him!" said the Knight of the Cairn to the Knight of the Sword; "what shall we do to him?"
"It is to sweep the head off him, and not let him (come) further," said the Knight of the Sword.
"We will not do that," said the Knight of the Cairn; but we will turn back and loose the crag off him. It is but a sorry matter for two full heroes like us; though he should be with us, he will make a
man to polish a shield, or blow a fire heap or something."
They loosed him, and they let him come with them. Then they went down to the shore; then they got the ship, which was called AN IUBHRACH BRALLACH, The speckled barge. 1
They put her out, and they gave her prow to sea, and her stern to shore.
They hoisted the speckled, flapping, bare-topped sails
Up against the tall, tough, splintery masts.
They had a pleasant little breeze as they might choose themselves,
Would bring heather from the hill, leaf from grove, willow from its roots,
Would put thatch of the houses in furrows of the ridges.
The day that neither the son nor the father could do it,
That same was neither little nor much for them,
But using it and taking it as it might come,
The sea plunging and surging,
The red sea the blue sea lashing
And striking hither and thither about her planks.
The whorled dun whelk that was down on the ground of the ocean,
Would give a SNAG on her gunwale and crack on her floor,
She would cut a slender oaten straw with the excellence of her going.
They gave three days driving her thus. "I myself am growing tired of this," said the Knight of the Cairn to the Knight of the Sword, "It seems to me time to get news from the mast."
"Thou thyself are the most greatly beloved here, oh Knight of the Cairn, and shew that thou wilt have
honour going up; and if thou goest not up, we will have the more sport with thee," said the Son of the Green Spring by Valour.
Up went the Knight of the Cairn with a rush, and he fell down clatter in a faint on the deck of the ship.
"It is ill thou hast done," said the Knight of the Sword.
"Let us see if thyself be better and if thou be better, it will be shewn that thou wilt have more will to go on; or else we will have the more sport with thee," said the Son of the Green Spring by Valour.
Up went the Knight of the Sword, and before he had reached but half the mast, he began squealing and squealing, and he could neither go up nor come down.
"Thou hast done as thou wert asked; and thou hast shewed that thou hadst the more respect for going up; and now thou canst not go up, neither canst thou come down! No warrior was I nor half a warrior, and the esteem of a warrior was not mine at the time of leaving; I was to find death in boggy moss, or in rifts of rock, or in the shade of a wall, or in some place; and it were no effort for me to bring news from the mast."
"Thou great hero!" said the Knight of the Cairn, "try it."
"A great hero am I this day, but not when leaving the town," said the Son of the Green Spring by Valour.
He measured a spring from the ends of his spear to the points of his toes, and he was up in the cross-trees in a twinkling.
"What art thou seeing?" said the Knight of the Cairn.
"It is too big for a crow, and it is too little for land," said he.
"Stay, as thou hast to try if thou canst know what it is," said they to him; and he stayed so for a while. 1
"What art thou seeing now? " said they to him.
"It is an island and a hoop of fire about it, flaming at either end; and I think that there is not one warrior in the great world that will go over the fire," said he.
"Unless two heroes such as we go over it," said they.
"I think that it was easier for you to bring news from the mast than to go in there," said he.
"It is no reproach!" said the Knight of the Cairn.
"It is not; it is truth," said the Son of the Green Spring by Valour.
They reached the windward side of the fire, and they went on shore; and they drew the speckled barge up her own seven lengths on grey grass, with her mouth under her, where the scholars of a bio, town could neither make ridicule, scoffing, or mockery of her. They blew up a fire heap, and they gave three days and three nights resting their weariness.
At the end of the three days they began at sharpening their arms.
"I," said the Knight of the Cairn, "am getting tired of this; it seems to me time to get news from the isle."
"Thou art thyself the most greatly beloved here,"
said the Son of the Green Spring by Valour, and go the first and try what is the best news that thou canst bring to us."
The Knight of the Cairn went and he reached the fire; and he tried to leap over it, and down he went into it to his knees, and he turned back, and there was not a slender hair or skin between his knees and his ankles, that was not in a crumpled fold about the mouth of the shoes.
"He's bad, he's bad," said the Knight of the Sword.
"Let us see if thou art better thyself," said the Son of the Green Spring by Valour. "Shew that thou wilt have the greater honour going on, or else we will have the more sport with thee."
The Knight of the Sword went, and he reached the fire; and he tried to leap over it, and down he went into it to the thick end of the thigh; and he turned back, and there was no slender hair or skin between the thick end of the thigh and the ankle that was not in a crumpled fold about the mouth of the shoes.
"Well," said the Son of the Green Spring by Valour, "no warrior was I leaving the town, in your esteem; and if I had my choice of arms and armour of all that there are in the great world, it were no effort for me to bring news from the isle."
"If we had that thou shouldst have it," said the Knight of the Cairn.
"Knight of the Cairn, thine own arms and armour are the second that I would rather be mine (of all) in the great world, although thou thyself art not the second best warrior in it," said the Son of the Green Spring by Valour.
"It is my own arms and array that are easiest to
get," said the Knight of the Cairn, "and thou shalt have them; but I should like that thou wouldst be so good as to tell me what other arms or array are better than mine."
"There are the arms and array of the Great Son of the sons of the universe, 1 who struck the fist on thy father," said the Son of the Green Spring by Valour.
The Knight of the Cairn put off his arms and array; and the Son of the Green Spring by Valour went into his arms and his array.
He went into his harness of battle and hard combat,
As was a shirt of smooth yellow silk and gauze stretched on his breast;
His coat, his kindly coat, above the kindly covering;
His boss covered; hindering sharp-pointed shield on his left hand,
His head-dress a helm of hard combat,
To cover his crown and his head top,
To go in the front of the fray and the fray long lasting
His heroes hard slasher in his right hand,
A sharp surety knife against his waist.
He raised himself up to the top of the shore; and there was no turf he would cast behind his heels, that was not as deep as a turf that the bread covering tree 2 would cast when deepest it would be ploughing. He reached the circle of fire; he leaped from the points of his spear to the points of his toes over the fire.
Then there was the very finest isle that ever was seen from the beginning of the universe to the end of eternity; he went up about the island, and he saw a yellow bare hill in the midst. He raised himself up
against the hill; there was a treasure of a woman sitting on the hill, and a great youth with his head on her knee, and asleep. He spoke to her in instructed, eloquent, true, wise, soft maiden words of true knowledge. She answered in like words; and if they were no better, they were not a whit worse, for the time.
"A man of thy seeming is a treasure for me; and if I had a right to thee, thou shouldst not leave the island," said the little treasure.
"If a man of my seeming were a treasure for thee, thou wouldst tell me what were waking for that youth," said the Son of the Green Spring by Valour.
"It is to take off the point of his little finger," said she.
He laid a hand on the sharp surety knife that was against his waist, and he took the little finger off him from the root. That made the youth neither shrink nor stir.
"Tell me what is waking for the youth, or else there are two oft whom I will take the heads, thyself and the youth," said the Son of the Green Spring by Valour.
"Waking for him," said she, "is a thing that thou canst not do, nor any one warrior in the great world, but the warrior of the red shield, of whom it was in the prophecies that he should come to this island, and strike yonder crag of stone on this man in the rock of his chest; and he is unbaptized till he does that."
He heard this that such was in the prophecy for him, and he unnamed. A fist upon manhood, a fist upon strengthening, and a fist upon power went into him. He raised the crag in his two hands, and he struck it on the youth in the rock of his chest. The one who was asleep gave a slow stare of his two eyes and he looked at him.
"Aha!" said the one who was asleep, "hast thou come, warrior of the Red Shield. It is this day that thou has the name; thou wilt not stand long to me."
"Two thirds of thy fear be on thyself, and one on me," said the Warrior of the Red Shield;, thou wilt not stand long to me."
In each other's grips they went, and they were hard belabouring each other till the mouth of dusk and lateness was. The Warrior of the Red Shield thought that he was far from his friends and near his foe; he gave him that little light lift, and he struck him against the earth; the thumb of his foot gave a warning to the root of his ear, and he swept the head off him.
"Though it be I who have done this, it was not I who promised it," said he.
He took the hand off him from the shoulder, and he took the heart from his chest, and he took the head off the neck; he put his hand in the dead warrior's pouch, and he found three teeth of an old horse in it, and with the hurry took them for the king's teeth, and he took them with him; and he went to a tuft of wood, and he gathered a withy, and he tied on it the hand and the heart and the head.
"Whether wouldst thou rather stay here on this island by thyself, or go with me?" said he to the little treasure.
"I would rather go with thee thyself, than with all the men of earth's mould together," said the little treasure.
He raised her with him on the shower top of his shoulders, and on the burden (bearing) part of his back, and he went to the fire. He sprang over with the little treasure upon him. He sees the Knight of the Cairn
and the Knight of the Sword coming to meet him rage and fury in their eyes.
"What great warrior," said they, "was that after thee there, and returned when he saw two heroes like us?"
"Here's for you," said he "this little treasure of a woman, and the three teeth of your father; and the head, and hand, and heart of the one who struck the fist on him. Make a little stay and I will return, and I will not leave a shred of a tale in the island."
He went away back; and at the end of a while he cast an eye behind him, and he sees them and the speckled barge playing him ocean hiding.
"Death wrappings upon yourselves!" said he, "a tempest of blood about your eyes, the ghost of your hanging be upon you! to leave me in an island by myself, without the seed of Adam in it, and that I should not know this night what I shall do."
He went forward about the island, and was seeing neither house nor tower in any place, low or high. At last he saw an old castle in the lower ground of the island, and he took (his way) towards it. He saw three youths coming heavily, wearily, tired to the castle. He spoke to them in instructed, eloquent, true, wise words of true wisdom. They spoke in return in like words.
They came in words of the olden time on each other; and who were here but his three true foster brothers. They went in right good pleasure of mind to the big town.
They raised up music and laid down woe;
There were soft drunken draughts
And harsh, stammering drinks,
Tranquil, easy toasts p. 462
Between himself and his foster brethren,
Music between fiddles, with which would sleep
Wounded men and travailing women
Withering away for ever; with the sound of that music
Which was ever continuing sweetly that night.
They went to lie down. In the morning of the morrow he arose right well pleased, and he took his meat. What should he hear but the GLIOGARSAICH, clashing of arms and men going into their array. Who were these but his foster brethren.
"Where are you going?" said he to them.
"We are from the end of a day and a year in this island," said they, "holding battle against MacDorcha MacDoilleir, the Son of Darkness Son of Dimness, and a hundred of his people: and every one we kill to-day they will be alive to-morrow. Spells are on us that we may not leave this for ever until we kill them."
"I will go with you this day; you will be the better for me," said he.
"Spells are on us," said they, "that no man may go with us unless he goes there alone."
"Stay you within this day, and I will go there by myself," said he.
He went away, and he hit upon the people of the Son of Darkness Son of Dimness, and he did not leave a head on a trunk of theirs.
He hit upon MacDorcha MacDoilleir himself, and MacDorcha MacDoilleir said to him,
Art thou here, Warrior of the Red Shield?"
"I am," said the Warrior of the Red Shield.
"Well then," said MacDorcha MacDoilleir, "thou wilt not stand long for me."
In each other's grips they went, and were hard belabouring
each other till the mouth of dusk and lateness was. At last the Knight of the Red Shield gave that cheery little light lift to the Son of Darkness Son of Dimness, and he put him under, and he cast the head off him.
Now there was MacDorcha MacDoilleir dead, and his thirteen sons; and the battle of a hundred on the hand of each one of them.
Then he was spoilt and torn so much that he could not leave the battle-field; and he did but let himself down, laid amongst the dead the length of the day. There was a great strand under him down below; and what should he hear but the sea coming as a blazing brand of fire, as a destroying serpent, as a bellowing bull; he looked from him, and what saw he coming on shore on the midst of the strand, but a great toothy carlin, whose like was never seen. There was the tooth that was longer than a staff in her fist, and the one that was shorter than a stocking wire in her lap. She came up to the battle-field, and there were two between her and him. She put her finger in their mouths, and she brought them alive; and they rose up whole as best they ever were. She reached him and she put her finger in his mouth, and he snapped it off her from the joint. She struck him a blow of the point of her foot, and she cast him over seven ridges.
"Thou pert little wretch," said she, "thou art the last I will next-live 1 in the battle field."
The carlin went over another, and he was above her; he did not know how he should put an end to the
carlin; he thought of throwing the short spear that her son had at her, and if the head should fall off her that was well. He threw the spear, and he drove the head off the carlin. Then he was stretched on the battlefield, blood and sinews and flesh in pain, but that be had whole bones. What should he see but a musical harper about the field.
"What art thou seeking?" said he to the harper.
"I am sure thou art wearied," said the harper; "come up and set thy head on this little hillock and sleep."
He went up and he laid down; he drew a snore, pretending that he was asleep, and on his soles he was brisk, swift, and active.
"Thou art dreaming," said the harper.
"I am," said he.
"What sawest thou?" said the harper.
"A musical harper," he said, "drawing a rusty old sword to take off my head."
Then he seized the harper, and he drove the brain in fiery shivers through the back of his head.
Then he was under spells that he should not kill a musical harper for ever, but with his own harp.
Then he heard weeping about the field. "Who is that?" said he.
"Here are thy three true foster brothers, seeking thee from place to place to-day," said they.
"I am stretched here," said he, "blood and sinews, and bones in torture."
"If we had the little vessel of balsam that the great carlin has, the mother of MacDorcha MacDoilleir, we would not be long in healing thee," said they.
"She is dead herself up there," said he, and she has nothing that ye may not get."
"We are out of her spells forever," said they.
They brought down the little vessel of balsam, and they washed and bathed him with the thing that was in the vessel; then he arose up as whole and healthy as he ever was. He went home with them, and they passed the night in great pleasure.
They went out the next day in great pleasure to play at shinty. He went against the three, and he would drive a half hail down, and a half hail up, in against them.
They perceived the Great Son of the Sons of the World coming to the town; that was their true foster brother 1 also. They went out where he was, and they said to him--
"Man of my love, avoid us and the town this day."
"What is the cause?" said he.
"The Knight of the Red Shield is within, and it is thou he is seeking," said they.
"Go you home, and say to him to go away and to flee, or else that I will take the head off him," said the Great Son of the Sons of the Universe.
Though this was in secret the Knight of the Red Shield perceived it; and he went out on the other side of the house, and he struck a shield blow, and a fight kindling.
The great warrior went out after him, and they began at each other.
There was no trick that is done by shield man or skiff man,
Or with cheater's dice box,
Or with organ of the monks,
That the heroes could not do p. 466
As was the trick of CLEITEAM, trick of OIGEAM, 1
The apple of the juggler throwing it and catching it
Into each other's laps
Bloodily, groaning, hurtfully.
Mind's desire! umpire's choice!
They would drive three red sparks of fire from their armour,
Driving from the shield wall, and flesh
Of their breasts and tender bodies,
As they hardly belaboured each other.
"Art thou not silly, Warrior of the Red Shield, when thou art holding wrestling and had battle against me?" said Macabh Mhacaibh an Domhain.
"How is this?" said the hero of the Red Shield.
"It is, that there is no warrior in the great world that will kill me till I am struck above the covering of the trews," said Macabh Mor. 2
"The victory blessing of that be thine, telling it to me! If thou hadst told me that a long time ago, it is long since I had swept the head off thee," said the Warrior of the Red Shield.
"There is in that more than thou canst do; the king's three teeth are in my pouch, and try if it be that thou will take them out," said Macabh Mor.
When the Warrior of the Red Shield heard where the death of Macabh Mor was, he had two blows given for the blow, two thrusts for the thrust, two stabs for the stab; and the third was into the earth, till he had dug a hole; then he sprung backwards. The great warrior sprung towards him, and he did not notice the
hole, and he went down into it to the covering of the trews. Then he reached him, and he cast off his head. He put his hand in his pouch, and he found the king's three teeth in it, and he took them with him and he reached the castle.
"Make a way for me for leaving this island," said he to his foster brethren, "as soon as you can."
"We have no way," said they, "by which thou canst leave it; but stay with us forever, and thou shalt not want for meat or drink."
"The matter shall not be so; but unless you make a way for letting me go, I will take the heads and necks out of you," said he.
"A coracle that thy foster mother and thy foster father had, is here; and we will send it with thee till thou goest on shore in Eirinn. The side that thou settest her prow she will go with thee, and she will return back again by herself; here are three pigeons for thee, and they will keep company with thee on the way," said his foster brothers to him.
He set the coracle out, and he sat in her, and he made no stop, no stay, till he went on shore in Eirinn. He turned her prow outwards; and if she was swift coming, she was swifter returning. He let away the three pigeons, as he left the strange country; and he was sorry that he had led them away, so beautiful was the music that they had. 1
There was a great river between him and the king's house. When he reached the river, he saw a hoary man coming with all his might, and shouting, "Oh, gentleman, stay yonder until I take you over on my back, in case you should wet yourself."
"Poor man, it seems as if thou wert a porter on the river," said he.
"It is (so)," said the hoary old man.
"And what set thee there?" said he.
"I will tell you that," said the hoary old man; "a big warrior struck a fist on the King of Eirinn, and he drove out three of his teeth, and his two sons went to take out vengeance; there went with them a foolish little young boy that was son to me; and when they went to manhood, he went to faintness. It was but sorry vengeance for them to set me as porter on the river for it."
"Poor man," said he, "that is no reproach; before I leave the town thou wilt be well."
He seized him, and he lifted him with him: and he set him sitting in the chair against the king's shoulder.
"Thou art but a saucy man that came to the town; thou hast set that old carl sitting at my father's shoulder; and thou shalt not get it with thee," said the Knight of the Cairn, as he rose and seized him.
"By my hand, and by my two hands' redemption, it were as well for thee to seize Cnoc Leothaid as to seize me," said the Warrior of the Red Shield to him, as he threw him down against the earth.
He laid on him the binding of the three smalls, straitly and painfully. He struck him a blow of the point of his foot, and he cast him over the seven highest spars that were in the court, under the drippings of the lamps, and under the feet of the big dogs; and he did the very same to the Knight of the Sword; and the little treasure gave a laugh.
"Death wrappings be upon thyself said the king to her. "Thou art from a year's end meat companion, and drink companion for me, and I never saw smile or
laugh being made by thee, until my two sons are being disgraced."
"Oh, king," said she, "I have knowledge of my own reason."
"What, oh king, is the screeching and screaming that I am hearing since I came to the town? I never got time to ask till now," said the hero of the Red Shield.
"My sons have three horses' teeth, driving them into my head, since the beginning of a year, with a hammer, until my head has gone through other with heartbreak and torment, and pain," said the king.
"What wouldst thou give to a man that would put thy own teeth into thy head, without hurt, without pain," said he.
"Half my state so long as I may be alive, and my state altogether when I may go," said the king.
He asked for a can of water, and he put the teeth into the water.
"Drink a draught," said he to the king.
The king drank a draught, and his own teeth went into his head, firmly and strongly, quite as well as they ever were, and every one in her own place.
"Aha!" said the king, "I am at rest. It is thou that didst the valiant deeds; and it was not my set of sons!"
"It is he," said the little treasure to the king, "that could do the valiant deeds; and it was not thy set of shambling sons, that would be stretched as seaweed seekers when he was gone to heroism."
"I will not eat meat, and I will not drink draught," said the king, "until I see my two sons being burnt tomorrow. I will send some to seek faggots of grey oak for burning them."
On the morning of the morrow, who was earliest on his knee at the king's bed, but the Warrior of the Red Shield.
"Rise from that, warrior; what single thing mightest thou be asking that thou shouldst not get," said the king.
"The thing I am asking is, that thy two sons should be let go; I cannot be in anyone place where I may see them spoiled," said he. "It were better to do bird and fool clipping to them, and to let them go."
The king was pleased to do that. Bird and fool clipping was done to them. They were put out of their place, and dogs and big town vagabonds after them.
The little treasure and the Warrior of the Red Shield married, and agreed. A great wedding was made, that lasted a day and a year; and the last day of it was as good as the first day.
From John M'Gilvray, labourer, Baile Raomainn, Colonsay, aged seventy-two years. Says he learnt it from his father, Farquhar M'Gilvray, and that he heard him tell it since he remembers anything.
Farquhar M'Gilvray, his father, was a native of Mull, and there learnt this tale in his boyhood. He served nine years in the army, in North America, and subsequently settled in Colonsay. He died near about forty years ago, about seventy-five years of age.
Ballygrant, Islay, July 7, 1860.
I was uncertain how to class this story--whether to consider it as a mock heroic or a romance--and if the latter, to what period it belongs.
The island with fire about it might be a tradition of Iceland. There is something of the same kind in the Volsung tale, as given in the introduction to Norse Tales; but that also might be founded on the wonders of Iceland when they were first discovered.
The language of the story is a good example of the way in which these tales are repeated in the Highlands. Words all but synonymous, and beginning with the same letter, or one like it,
are strung together; there are strange names for the heroes, roundabout phrases to express simple ideas, and words used which are seldom heard in conversation, and which are hard to translate.
The story is a good illustration of the manner in which such popular tales are preserved by tradition--how they change and decay. Its history may throw some light on the subject; so I give it.
The first incident was first sent to me by my kind friend Mrs. MacTavish from Port Ellen, in Islay, and may be taken to represent that portion of a popular tale which fixes itself in the minds of the well educated, and which would be transferred from one language to another. It is the beginning of Ursgeul Righ Eilean a Bhacruidh, and is thus told:--
"This king was out hunting with a number of attendants, when his son said, 'Where is there the man in Ireland, Scotland, or the four quarters of the globe that would dare strike my father with his fist in the midst of the company who now surround him;" or in Gaelic, 'Caite am bheil am fear an Erin no an Albuin no an ceitheir ranna ruadh an domhain,' etc., etc. (the words translated four quarters of the globe literally mean the four reddish brown divisions of the universe. This phrase, therefore, in translation fits itself to the knowledge of the person who uses it, and loses its originality in the new language).
"He had scarcely uttered these words when a dark cloud appeared in the north, and a rider on a black horse, who struck the king with his fist, and knocked out one of his front teeth, and took the tooth away with him. The king was downcast at the loss of his tooth, when his son said, 'Let it cost me what it will, but I will not rest till I recover your lost tooth;' or, as it is expressed in Gaelic, 'Cha d' theid ruith as mo chois, na lodan, as mo bhroig, gas am faigh me t' fhiacil' (literally, running shall not go out of my foot, nor puddle out of my shoe, till I get thy tooth). Having said this he went off and travelled a great way.
So here again the original is better than the translation.
The incidents which follow are not the same as in the Knight of the Red Shield, but they end in the recovery of the lost tooth. The king's son goes to three houses, where he finds three sisters, each of whom gives him a pair of magic shoes, which return home when they have carried him seven years' journey in one day. The last sister is young and lovely; she lowers him over a rock
in a basket to light her brother, who is a giant with three heads. He cuts off a head each day; fires a pistol shot at the foot of the rock as a signal to be hauled up each evening, for this giant never fought after sunset; he is cured with magic balsam by the lady each night, and goes out fresh each morning. The giant's third head leaps on as often as it is cut off, but an eagle comes over the prince, and tells him to hold the sword on the neck till the marrow freezes, which he does, and the giant is killed. He takes his spoil from a castle, finds the tooth in a drawer, returns home with the beautiful lady, and marries her. "And the festivities on the occasion continued for a year and three days, and they lived long and happily together."
Two of the teeth and two of the adventurers have dropped out of sight, the island with fire about it is exchanged for a high rock, and the magic shoes, which are so common in all popular tales, take the place of the magic boat.
The story then in this form is wholly different from the Knight of the Red Shield, and yet its groundwork is manifestly the same. Incidents remain, and style and accessories change.
The incident of the king on the hill and the rider in the shower has come to me from a great many sources, and is followed by adventures which very with every narrator, but which have a general resemblance.
John MacDonald, travelling tinker, gives the incident as the beginning of a story called Loircean na luaith--Little Shanks in the Ashes, which was written down by Hector Urquhart. It is very like the Colousay version; but instead of the rider on the black horse--
"One looked hither and one thither, and they saw a head coming in a flame of fire, and another head coming singing the song of songs (or? St. Oran). A fist was struck on the door of the mouth of the king, and a tooth was knocked out of him, and there was no button of gold or silver on the coat of the king but showered off him with the shame. The head did this three years after each other, and then it went home."
This then is the view of the incident taken by a wild harum-scarum strolling character, without any education at all, but with a great deal of natural wit; and his father, aged about eighty, told me a story with the incident of three old men who lived on separate islands, and sent a wandering hero on his way, with what I then took to be CURRACHD, a cap, but which I now
believe to be CURRACH a corracle, which did the same as the magic shoes. Here again are the incidents, but told in a different manner.
The remainder of the story of Loircean is nearly the same as the Knight of the Red Shield, but with great variations. The king's son, who is a knight, RIDERE; COCAIRE CLAON RUADH, a red skulled cook; and SHANKS IN THE ASHES go off together, and play the part of the king's two sons and the son of the Green Spring.
They climb the mast. The despised one succeeds. The voyage is there, but only two or three lines of the descriptive passage, the first and the last. "They set her prow to sea and her stern to shore; and she would split a grain of hard corn with the excellence of the steering." But while much is left out, much is preserved which is lost elsewhere.
"When Loircean leaped on board the barge, and shook the ashes off him, he all but blinded the five fifths of Eirinn, and there fell seven bolls of ashes on the floor of the barge."
"They sailed further than I can tell you or you can tell me."
"'Oh, lads,' said Loircean (from the top of the mast), 'there is an island here before, and it is in a red blaze of fire. It is not in our power to go nearer it than seven miles, for the barge will go on fire if we do; and it is in this island that my father's teeth are, and you must leap on shore.'"
When he leaps on shore. "'Now, lads,' said Loircean, 'if you see the fire growing Smaller at the end of nine days and nine nights, you may come on shore; but if you do not see it'--
And saying this he gave a dark spring (DUILEUM) on shore, and every handful he drove out was scorching those who were in the ship."
And then follow a wholly different set of adventures which are very curious, and give glimpses of forgotten manners with the same characters appearing. The fearful old woman, with the marvellous teeth; the gigantic warriors, of whom there are three with many heads; and three lovely ladies, who are found under ground, and carried off by the cowards. The story ends with the replacement of the king's lost teeth, and the punishment of the knight and the cook; and Loircean married the three ladies at once.
Again the very same incident is the beginning of Iullar og Armailteach Mac Righ na Greige, Young Heavenly Eagle, Son
of the King of Greece, which was sent by John Dewar, and which he got, in Glendaruail, from J. Leitch, shoemaker, in 1860, and in 1817 from "one Duncan Campbell on Lochlong side, who is now working there as a roadman."
The three adventurers who go after the king's two teeth and a bit of his jaw are UBHAR, ATHAIRT, and IULLAR, and they go through a vast number of adventures with giants, monsters, and magical people of various sorts, which are also very curious. But still they set off in a boat, and for the same reason. The descriptive passage of the voyage is there in nearly the same words, but with variations; two are cowards; the one whom they despise is the true hero, and poetical justice is done at the end. The king's teeth are restored and his jaw mended; the brave lad marries a beautiful Greek lady whom he has rescued, and he turns out to be the king's only legitimate son, and he gets the kingdom, while the others are degraded--one to be a swineherd and the other a groom.
It is clearly the same story, but a different part of it; except the sailing passage, which is almost identical, it is told in different words. The names are all different, the scene is different, the adventures are different, but yet it is a remnant of the same story without doubt.
John Mackenzie, Fisherman, near Inverary, repeated another story to Hector Urquhart, in which the plot is much the same, in which a bit of the sailing passage occurs, in which the three adventurers are IULLIN, IUAR, and ARST, sons of the king of Greece, and their object the possession of the daughter of the king under the waves. The adventures which follow are again different, but like the rest, and they link the story to another set of adventures, which generally belong to the story of "Nighean Righ Fuidh Thuinn,"--adventures and exploits some of which are attributed to Fionn and Ossian and Conan in Mr. Simpson's book of Irish stories.
Many other versions of the story have been sent, or told, or mentioned to me. A gentleman in South Uist repeated some of the descriptive passages with variations, and said he remembered a man who came to his native island, Tyree, and who used to repeat the story to admiring audiences, about thirty years ago. Old Donald MacPhie, at the Sound of Benbecula, repeated part of the descriptive passages, and gave me the outline of a very similar story. On repeating the boat passage to a native of Cantyre
whom I found as assistant light-keeper at the point of Ayre, in the Isle of Man, he first stared in dumb astonishment at the unexpected sound of his own language; and then exclaimed--"Well, I have heard those very words said by my father when I was a child!" In short, the incidents and the measured prose passages with which they are garnished are scattered in fragments over the whole West Highlands of Scotland, and the less instructed the narrator the more quaint and complete his version is.
The conclusion seems unavoidable that these are the fragments of some old romance traditionally preserved, and rapidly fading away before the light of modern times.
If further evidence were required, it is not wanting. The very words of the boat passage, and a great deal that is not in any version of it which I have got, is in the "Fragment of a Tale, page 17th," lent me by my friend Mr. Bain, and referred to in the Introduction. It proves that the passage was in existence about the beginning of this century at all events, and that it was then thought worthy of preservation.
There are many other similar passages in the manuscript tale of which I have found no trace hitherto amongst the people, and which have probably died out with the old race, or emigrated with them to America.
I have been permitted to have access to other manuscripts belonging to the Highland Society. They are nearly all poetry. One is marked MS. poems collected in the Western Highlands and Islands by Dr. John Smith; and from it I copy this
"The following poems being compiled from various editions will often appear inelegant and abrupt, it being sometimes necessary to take half a stanza or perhaps half a line from one to join to as much of another edition.
"In order to complete the sense, and to supply many defects in the versification, recourse has frequently been had to the tales or ursgeuls which generally accompany the poems. As these tales, although they have the appearance of prose, were composed in a particular kind of measure, they are set down in the form of verse, but without any alteration in the arrangement of the words. This, it was thought, would give the
work a more uniform appearance than if it had been a mixture of prose and verse, as one is apt to suppose it on hearing some parts of it repeated.
"As these pieces were, for the most part, taken down from oral recitation, frequent mistakes may have been made in the proper division of the lines, and in the assigning of its due quantity to each. A matter to which the poets themselves do not always seem to have been very attentive, their measure often varying as their subject changes.
"As those who recited ancient poems took frequently the liberty of substituting such words as they were best acquainted with, in room of such as were foreign or obsolete, a few words that may perhaps be considered as modern or provincial may occur in the course of these compositions. To expunge these words, when none of the editions in the editor's hands supplied him with better, was a task which he did not consider as any part of his province. He hopes that, with all their imperfections, the poems have still so much merit as to give the reader some idea of what they had once been. We have only the fragments of the ruin, but they may serve to give an idea of the grandeur of the edifice."
This then is the statement of the collector's plan of action.
The following note shews the spirit in which the best of them worked in these days. I think it was a mistaken spirit that caused the Ossianic controversy, and threw discredit on Highland literature. Still, as it is openly and fairly stated, it is fair to believe what is asserted by a gentleman and a clergyman, and for my part I implicitly believe that Dr. Smith of Campbeltown really did what he tells us, and that these poems are what they purport to be,--patched versions of oral recitations, with portions left out.
"DIARMAID.--This poem is generally interlarded with so much of the ursgeuls or later tales as to render the most common editions of it absurd and extravagant. But the fabulous dross of the fifteenth century is easily separated from the wore precious ore of the ancient bards."
Of part of this same story of Diarmaid, Mrs. MacTavish writes in 1859:--
"A dan or song which I heard an old ploughman of my father's sing very near sixty years since. He had a great collection
of tales and songs, and often have I stood or sat by him in winter when kiln-drying corn, or in summer when building a peat stack, listening to what was to me so fascinating in those days. And then follows the story of how Diarmaid was killed by pacing bare-footed against the bristles of a boar which he had killed, and the lament of Diarmaid's love, and the music to which it used to be sung; and this same story of Diarmaid and the boar was sung to me by Alexander MacDonald in Barra, in September 1860, together with other long Gaelic poems. And whatever may be said or thought of MacPherson's collection, this at least is genuine old poetry, and still known to many in the Highlands.
The story, then, of the Knight of the Red Shield, or whatever its real name may be, seems to be one of the tales which were despised by the collectors of former days, and which have survived many of the poems which were fading away about eighty years ago, and which are now very nearly but not quite extinct.
Hector MacLean sent me first a version which he got from an Islay man, Alexander Campbell, farmer at Mulreas. He named his authority, "an old man still living in Colonsay, who frequently comes to Islay, and is welcome for the tales he recites."
The old man did come, and his version of the story being more complete, is given, though Campbell's version was the same shortened. It is said that it was written down by desire of the late Captain Stewart of Colonsay, and that it was noticed amongst his papers after his death.
I might have tried to reconstruct this tale from the materials which I have, but I have given without alteration the best version which came to me. I may some day try to fuse what I have into a whole; at all events, here is the clew for any other who may be disposed to work out the subject, and the best account I can give of the story.
"BEARRADH EOIN AGUS AMADAIN." This phrase is explained to mean clipping the hair and beard off one side of the head. The idea is taken from clipping one wing of a bird, and the punishment was probably inflicted at some period, for the phase occurs several times in Gaelic tales.
Another phrase, which occurs in this and other stories, probably gives a true picture of the hall of a chief in former days. A man is said to be bound with the binding of the three smalls (wrists, ancles, and small of the back), and cast under the board, under the dripping of torches, and the feet of big dogs, and there
was not one in the company but cast a bone at him as he lay, and the wicked knight is kicked over the rafters. The hall meant, then, would seem to have been a large room without a ceiling, full of men and big dogs, and lighted with dripping torches; the scene of feasts, which consisted of flesh rather than. potatoes; while the prisoners, bound hand and foot, lay on the floor.
In this, as in the great majority of Gaelic stories, the scene is laid in Ireland, but it seems probable that the customs of the Western Isles of Scotland and of Ireland were once nearly identical.
A version of this story, under the name of "The Son of the Green Spring by Valour," was repeated to me by an old man, Alexander MacNeill, in Barra, on the 10th of September, 1860.
The story contained less of the measured prose, and more incident than the Colonsay version. The hero is represented as sitting with his feet in the ashes, like "Boots" of the Norse Tales. He is the son of the Red Ridere, and goes off in the boat with the king's two sons to recover the king's teeth. When the feat of climbing the mast occurs, he runs up "faster than a mad woman's tongue." He has CLACH BHUAIDH, a stone of victory, with which he slays his foes. There is the magic island with fire about it, the lady and the sleeping warrior; he is left by the king's sons, goes to a small house where he finds no man, but food for three--wine and wheaten loaves. He takes a little from each portion, like the hero of many popular tales in many languages, and gets into one of three beds. Three sorely wounded men come in, and cure themselves with magic balsam, and discover him, and on the morrow he goes to fight for them. These warriors are enchanted princes, the rightful heirs of this fiery island, compelled for twenty years to contend daily with armies, and giants, and monsters. They have lost their mother, and some one has stolen their sister, who turns out to be the lady whom the hero had already rescued. They tell him what he will have to encounter, but he goes on and overcomes everything, and his coming had been foretold. Armies of enchanted warriors fall, six hundred fall heroes; three giants with several heads; "tri cruitairean na cruite bige;" the three harpers of the little harps, who could set the whole world asleep; the son of darkness, son of dimness; and a terrible old carlin, who as usual was the worst of all.
He takes a warrior by the legs and kills the others with his head; he drives his victory stone through the heads of the giants, and of MacDorcha Mac Doilleir. When the harpers come, he gnaws his fingers till his mouth is full of blood, to keep himself awake, and at last he kills the magic harpers with their own harps. When the old carlin arrives she comes over the sea with a magic cup to revive her dead warriors and her sons; she puts her finger into his mouth and he bites it off. She has a tooth for a staff, and a tooth as, brod griosach, a poker, one eye in the midst of her face, one leg; and her heart, her liver, and her lungs could be seen through her mouth when it was opened. She is, in short, the same mythical carlin who so often appears, on whom the tellers of stories expend their powers in describing all that is hideous and monstrous. The hero cuts her head off, it leaps on again, he cuts it off again, and it flies up into the skies; he holds the sword on the neck, and looks up, and sees the head coming down and aiming at him; he leaps to one side, and the head goes four feet into the earth, and the victory is gained. The three warriors carry him home and bathe him in balsam, and he recovers. He raises their father and mother from the dead, and they promise him their daughter and realm. He gets a brown mare, recovers the king's teeth, returns to Ireland with a magic shoe, rides into the hall, presents the magic cup with the teeth in it to the king, saying, "I have travelled Christendom with my brown mare, and I have found out the king's teeth." He looses his father, the Red Knight, in whose stead he had set off, ties the knights to his shoe-ties and marries the fair lady, who is the daughter of the king of the town under the waves.
In short, it is manifest that this Gaelic story, now told by the poorest of the inhabitants of the western coasts and isles of Scotland, and very widely spread, is the ruin of some old romance, similar to those of the middle ages.
It is surely worth attention, though it is not strictly "true."
Certain persons, in a place which I abstain from naming, so zealous in the cause of "truth," that they assured a simple old man, who had repeated a number of stories to one of my collectors, that he would have to substantiate every word he had uttered, or suffer punishment for telling falsehoods. I found him in great perturbation, evidently expecting that I had arrived
for the purpose of calling him to account, and I had some trouble in setting his mind at rest. He repeatedly assured me that he only told what others had told him. In this instance, as it seems to me, "truth" might well say, "keep me from my friends."
451:1 Probably a corruption, ruadh for roth, the four quarters of the wheel or circle of the universe.
451:2 That is against the sun, which is unlucky according to all popular mythology.
452:1 Roineagan, small stars, minute points of light.
454:1 These words would bear many translations according to dictionaries, such as the spotted stately woman, the variegated abounding in bows. The meaning seems to be a gaily painted boat.
456:1 The whole of this is drawn from the life of boatmen. The feat of climbing the mast of an open boat under sail is far from easy, and I have seen it done as a feat of strength and skill.
458:1 MHACAIBH MHOIR MHACHAIBH AN DOMHAIN; who this personage may he I cannot even guess.
458:2 DALLA CHRANN ARAIN, a plough.
463:1 ATH BHEOTHAICHEAS; there is no such verb in English, but to next-live expresses the meaning.
465:1 DEARBH CROMHALTA; this must mean something besides true foster brother.
466:1 These may mean the pen trick-the trick of writing; but I am not certain.
466:2 From which it appears that he was too tall to be reached by the other.
467:1 In another version pigeons were his foster brothers transformed.