Gypsy Folk Tales, by Francis Hindes Groome, , at sacred-texts.com
It is hard to conceive how stories told by Welsh Gypsies should have been derived from West Highland folk-tales; of the alternative notion that the West Highland folk-tales may have originally been derived from Gypsies we get one pretty strong confirmation--the identity of Campbell's 'Knight of Riddles' (No. 22) and the Turkish-Gypsy story of 'The Riddle' (No. 3). Reinhold Köhler, in Orient and Occident, ii. 320, failed to find in all Europe's folklore any parallel to the latter, the essential, half of the Gaelic story; but the knight's daughter's plaid there is clearly the Highland version of the princess's chemise in the Gypsy story. Campbell, too, is sore put to it how the Rhampsinitus story can have found its way to Dumbartonshire (i. 352), or a tale from Boccaccio to Islay (ii. 14), or one from Straparola to Barra (ii. 238). But all three stories are known to the Gypsies; there, then, is a solution of Campbell's perplexities. So that if Campbell's stories and the Welsh-Gypsy stories had stood alone, I should, I believe, have urged that alternative notion. But they do not, for in several cases the Welsh-Gypsy stories resemble Irish Gaelic versions a great deal more closely than they do the Scottish ones. Thus, in Mr. Curtin's Myths and Folklore of Ireland 1 (1890) is 'The Son of the King of Erin and the Giant of Loch Lein,' pp. 32-49, a variant of Campbell's 'Battle of the Birds'; the following brief abstract of it will show how exactly it tallies with our 'Green Man of Noman's Land' (No. 62)--Prince plays cards with giant, and wins two estates. Plays again, and wins golden-horned cattle. Plays again, and loses his head, so has to give himself up to giant in a year and a day. On his way to giant's he lodges with three old women, sisters, each of whom gives him a ball of thread for guide. Near the giant's castle he comes on a lake, in which giant's three daughters are bathing. He seizes the clothes of the youngest one, and to get them back she promises to save him from danger. The giant sets him tasks--to clean stable, to thatch stable with birds' feathers (no two alike), and to bring down crow's one egg from a tree covered with glass, nine hundred feet high. The youngest daughter helps him in all three tasks, for the third task making him strip the flesh from her bones, and use the bones as steps for
climbing. Coming down, he misses the last bone, and she loses her little toe. The prince goes home, and is to be married to the daughter of the King of Lochlin [Denmark], but the giant and his daughter are invited to the wedding. Then, as in Campbell's tale, the giant's daughter 'threw two grains of wheat in the air, and there came down on the table two pigeons. The cock pigeon pecked at the hen and pushed her off the table. Then the hen called out to him in a human voice, "You wouldn't do that to me the day I cleaned the stable for you."' So, too, the hen reminds the cock of the second and third tasks 1; and, awakened at last to remembrance, the prince weds the giant's daughter.
Clearly, the readiest explanation of the likeness between 'The Green Man of Noman's Land' and the Scottish and Irish stories would be that these last are both derived from Gypsies; but then of Gypsies in Ireland our knowledge is almost nil. In a letter of 8th February 1898, Mr. William Larminie, of Bray, Co. Wicklow, the author of West Irish Folk-tales (1893), writes:--'I have never heard of Irish Gypsies proper. They seem never to have settled in the country for some reason.' On the other hand, three or four English-Gypsy families of my acquaintance have certainly travelled Ireland during the last thirty years; Simson's History of the Gipsies (1865) contains allusions on pp. 325-8, 356-8, etc., to visits of 'Irish Gipsies' to Scotland; and, according to a note by Mr. Ffrench of Donegal in the Gypsy Lore Journal for April 1890, p. 127, 'there are two tribes of Gypsy-folk in Ireland. The first are real Gypsies; the second are what are called "Gilly Goolies," and are only touched on the Gypsies, i.e. have a strain of Gypsy blood in their veins, and follow the mode of life followed by the Gypsies.' Moreover, the Irish novelist, William Carleton (1794-1869), in his Autobiography (1896), i. 212, shows that 'Scottish gipsies' did visit mid-Ireland about 1814 and earlier. 'My eldest married sister, Mary,' he writes, 'lived (about the period when I, having been set apart for the Church, commenced my Latin) in the townland of a place called Ballagh, Co. Roscommon, remarkable for the beauty of its lough. It was during the Easter holidays, and I was on a visit to her. At that time it was not unusual for a small encampment of the Scottish gipsies to pass over to the north of Ireland, and indeed I am not surprised at it, considering the
extraordinary curiosity, not to say enthusiasm, with which they were received by the people. The men were all tinkers, and the women thieves and fortune-tellers--but in their case the thief was always sunk in the fortune-teller.' And he goes on to describe how he had his own fortune told with a pack of cards by one of the women, 'a sallow old pythoness.'
One may not build upon so slight a superstructure, though at the same time it should be borne in mind that nothing, absolutely nothing, was known of the Welsh Gypsies till 1875. Where, however, as in England, Gypsies have certainly been roaming to and fro for centuries, nothing seems to me likelier than the trans-mission by them of folk-tales. For I know by frequent journeyings with them how the Gypsy camp is the favourite nightly rendezvous of the lads and lasses from the neighbouring village. All the amusement they can give their guests, the Gypsies give gladly; and stories and songs are among their best stock-in-trade.
lxxviii:1 It is a great pity Mr. Curtin has not specified when, where, and from whom he got his stories; all we are told is that they were collected by him 'personally in the West of Ireland, in Kerry, Galway, and Donegal, during the year 1887.' It is almost incomprehensible that he never alludes once to Campbell's collection.
lxxix:1 These two birds, which recur also in Norse, Swedish, and German versions of the story (Orient and Occ. ii. 108-9), at once recall the parrot and the mainá in 'The Bél-Princess' (Maive Stokes's Indian Fairy Tales, pp. 149-150) whose discourse revives the prince's recollections. See also p. 412 of Mrs. Steel's Wide-awake Stories.