Gypsy Folk Tales, by Francis Hindes Groome, , at sacred-texts.com
'I spent the month of August this year (1890) at Crinan Harbour, in Argyllshire, and there came for a few moments across a family of "Tinklers," who are, I fancy, worth following up for the sake of getting from them a stock of words. I was one morning on my way to the post-office at Crinan, and, lying at the slip in front of the office, I saw a good-sized boat, which I knew did not belong to the place. I crossed the road, and went down to see who the owners were. To my surprise, I found they were a party of "Tinklers." On questioning them they told me that they always went about in this manner, sailing from place to place on the West Coast and among the Islands, and making and mending pots and pans. They had just put in for provisions, and were on the point of sailing for Scarba. The boat was a good-sized fishing smack, three-quarter decked, rigged, if I remember rightly, with a big lug-sail and jib, and a small lug aft, but on this point I am not quite certain. The party consisted of three men and two women, with two or three children. They were stunted in appearance, and quite young; the women reddish-haired, the men rather darker.
'On a venture, I asked whether they spoke "Shelta," 1 as I was anxious to learn something of this language, of which I knew nothing. One of the men said that they did speak it, and, on being questioned, gave the names of several common objects mentioned by me. Unfortunately, I had neither pencil nor paper with me, and was therefore unable to make any notes, and, the words being entirely strange to me, I could not retain them. The only word I can remember is yergan = "tin."
'One of the men suddenly said, "But we have another language, which I do not think any one knows but ourselves; it is not in any books." "What do you call a 'boat' in your language?" I said. To my great astonishment, he replied, "Bero." On my then asking for the words for "man," "woman," and "child," he gave mush or gairo, monisha, and chavo. Feeling now tolerably sure of my ground, I said, "Kushto bero se duvo." He stared at me as if I had been a ghost, and, on my continuing with a few more words, he called to
one of the women in the boat and said, "Come here, I never saw anything like this. Here is a gentleman knows our language as well as we know it ourselves." I continued asking the names of various common objects, such as "fire," "water," the names of animals, parts of the body, etc., and soon noticed that for each they had two or three names, one being always good "Rommanis," the other, I presume, "Shelta." But my surprise was greatest when, on asking the name for a "hen," the answer was "moorghee," and then, as an afterthought, "kanni." Now, can any one tell me where they got this word "moorghee" from? I have never met with it among any "Rommani foki" of my acquaintance, but know it only as the common Hindustani name for a fowl. Is it an old word which has been lost by others, but retained by this family? Or have they picked it up from some one of their number who has been in India soldiering?
'Another surprise was in store for me. On asking them where they got this language from, one of the men said, "We got it from our grandfather. He could speak it much better than we can," and then volunteered the information .that this grandfather was a keeper to the Duke of Argyll, and had supplied Campbell of Islay with many of the Sgeulachdan in his Highland Tales. This must be either the John M‘Donald, travelling tinker, referred to by Mr. MacRitchie in his article on the "Irish Tinkers and their Language" (Oct. 1889, p. 354), or a relation of his. An account of this family will be found in the notes to the tale of the "Brown Bear of the Green Glen" (Popular Tales, vol. i. pp. 174-175). It mentions that the father had served in the Forty-Second. Had he brought back this word moorghee with him from India? One of the sons is mentioned as being a keen sportsman. No hint is given, however, of their knowing any language but Gaelic. It would probably have astonished Campbell of Islay to find that they were masters of four tongues--Gaelic, Shelta, English, and Rommanis. It may be noticed that the accounts of occupation do not quite tally, as these tinklers distinctly stated that their grandfather was one of Argyll's keepers. I should like to know whether any of the sons did actually hold such a post. This is all I could learn in an interview of, at the most, twenty minutes.'
Dr. Ranking, my friend for a quarter of a century, has a thorough knowledge of Rómani; I would trust his judgment as I would trust my own. I have never myself come across any Tinklers of the West Coast, but I have met scores in the Lothians and in the Border Country, and my observations on these tally closely with Dr. Ranking's. The Lowland Tinklers have little or nothing of the
[paragraph continues] Gypsy type, though they have a marked type of their own--a bleached, washed-out, mongrel type; their language has sunk to a mere gibberish, without the least trace of inflection, as different from the Welsh-Gypsy dialect as Pidgin-English from the English of Tennyson. None the less, side by side with such thieves' cant as mort, woman, dell, girl, beenlightment, daylight, ruffie, devil, and patri, clergyman, that gibberish contains two or three hundred good enough Rómani words, as chúri, knife, drom, road, paúni, water, gad, shirt, and dústa lóvo, plenty money. Nay, a curious point is that it retains a few Rómani words which have been almost or wholly lost in the English and Welsh Gypsy dialects--shúkar, beautiful, háro, sword, klísti, soldier, kálshes, breeches, and pówiski, gun. On the other hand, Scottish thieves' cant shows a much larger admixture of words of Rómani origin than does the English. We possess no early specimens of Scottish Rómani, but Scotland two centuries since would seem to have had as true Gypsies as any Stanleys or Boswells or Herons south of the Border. But the persecution of the race as a race lasted a hundred years longer in Scotland than in England, and it is probable that, whilst many of its chief members were hanged or drowned or transported to America, others fled southward--one finds to-day the Gaelic Gilderoy ('red lad') a Christian name among English Gypsies, and such surnames as Baillie, Gregory, and Marshall. Those who remained behind must have intermarried largely with Scottish vagrants, Irish vagrants, gangrel bodies generally: the Gypsy stream broadened out, and became correspondingly shallow. Nowadays, then, it is difficult to say of the Faa-Blyths, Taits, Norrises, Baillies, Douglases, or any other of the Tinklers I have met, whether they are more Gypsies or Gentiles; English Gypsies assuredly would not regard them as Gypsies. Still, they have all a dash of the Gypsy, stronger or weaker; and with these boat-dwelling Tinklers, whom Dr. Ranking describes, the dash was decidedly stronger. There can hardly be any doubt that the grandfather whom they spoke of as a keeper to the Duke of Argyll, was John MacDonald the younger, who at Inverary in 1859 had an ambition to become an underkeeper. 1
lix:1 See for this Celtic secret jargon the article 'Shelta,' by Mr. J. Sampson, in vol. ix. of Chambers's Encyclopædia (1892), p. 389.
lxi:1 So I had written when I learned, through the kindness of Lord Archibald Campbell, that John MacDonald the younger, known variously as 'John Fyne,' 'Long John,' and 'Baboon,' got a cottage on the Argyll estate, but was never either a keeper or an under-keeper in the Duke's employ. He was, however, a keeper for a short while on the neighbouring estate of Ardkinlas. 'Long John,' writes Lord Archibald, 'as far as I know, had no Rómani. His daughters still tramp the country.' I may add here that Mr. Arthur Morgan, of the Crofters' Commission, who knows the Highlands as few, is strongly of opinion that the tinkers are not Celts: 'the Highlanders never regard them as such.' This though they speak Gaelic, but much intermixed with odd words.