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Carmina Gadelica, Volume 2, by Alexander Carmicheal, [1900], at


Saighead-sith, fairy arrow. This is the name given by the people to the flint arrow-heads so much prized by antiquaries. Some of these are very small and well fashioned. They are said to have been thrown by fairies at the sons and daughters of men. The writer possesses one which was thrown at a girl at Lochmaddy. The girl went out at night to the peat-stack for a creel of peats. She was aware of something whizzing through the silent air, passing through her hair, grazing her ear, and falling at her feet. Stooping down in the bright moonlight, she picked up a fairy arrow. The girl never again went out at night.

The people say that a fairy arrow, especially the arrow of the fairy queen, cannot be safeguarded against the wiles of the fairies. The writer can confirm this in his own experience, having unaccountably lost, despite all possible care, the smallest

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and most beautifully shaped and coloured arrow-head he has ever seen, and that within a few hours after getting it!


Samh, fat, rich, productive, flock, fold, herd, fish, cruive, odour; 'samh eisg,' fish odour; 'samh trom eisg,' heavy odour of fish, that heavy odour from a great body of fish in the sea. Other meanings of 'samh' are sorrel, garlic, clown, foul person. A place in Morvern is called 'Samh-airidh,' sorrel sheiling, from 'samh,' sorrel, and 'airidh,' sheiling. It is mentioned by Dr Norman Macleod in his playful song to his father's beadle:--

'Chan eil cleireach ’s an duthaich
Co math riut air stiuradh--
An am tarruinn a curs air Duthaich a Cheo
An sin canaidh gach maraich "is ramhath do ghabhail,"
A Ruaraidh bhig Shamhairidh,
            Ho hi ri, ho ro!'


There is no clerk in the country
So good at the steering--
When thou settest her course for the Land of the Mist
Then all seamen shout 'splendid thy sailing,'
Little Rory of Savary,
             Ho hi ri, ho ro!


Samh, a god, a giant, a strong person. Derivatives are 'samhan,' a dog, a little giant; 'samhanach,' a great giant, a monster; 'mharbhadh to na samhanaich,' thou wouldst kill the giants.


Samhainn, Samhuinn, Oidhche Shamhainn, Oidhche Shamhna, Hallowtide, Hallowmas, Hallowe’en. This is one of the seasons when innumerable mystic rites are practised. Supposed to be from 'samh-f huin,' summer-end.


Scan, probably some animal.


Seachd, seven. Seven is one of the sacred numbers so frequently occurring in the poems, proverbs, and phrases of the people.

'Seachd seachdaine gu brath
Eadar Casg is Inid.'


Seven weeks till doom
Between Pasch and Shrove.

'Da sheachd bliadhna aois cait:--
Seachd bliadhna aoibhinn, ait,
Seachd bliadhna troma-cheannach,
  Gola-cheannach, cadalach.


Two seven years age of cat:--
Seven years lightsome, glad,
Seven years heavy-headed,
Big-headed, sleepy.

'Sannt nan seachd seann sagart,
Ann am fear gun mhac gun nighean.'


The greed of the seven old priests,
In the man without son, without daughter.

'Seachd bliadhna cuimhne na ba,
Gu la bhratha cuimhne an eich.'


Seven years the memory of the cow,
Till doomsday the memory of the horse.

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'Taigh seachd ceathail ur threabhachais
Taigh rath, sheilbh is shonachais.'


A house of seven couples newly set up,
A house of prosperity, possessions and joyousness.

'Seachd bliadhna romh ’n bhrath,
Thig muir thar Eirinn ri aon trath,
’S thar Ile ghuirm, ghlais,
Ach snamhaidh I Chaluim chleirich.'


Seven years before the day of doom,
The sea will come over Erin in one watch,
And over Islay, green, grassy,
But float will Iona of Columba the cleric.

'Tha gath a ghaoil cho guineach
Ri sleagh nan seachd seang.'


The dart of love is as piercing
As the spear of the seven grooves.

'Seachd,' seven, expresses perfection, completeness, as 'seachd sgith,' utterly tired, 'seachd searbh,' the height of bitterness, 'seachd sath,' perfect satiation. Hence its use in the following phrases:--'seachd beannachd ort,' seven blessings on you; 'seachd mallachd ort,' seven cursings on you; 'seachd seacharain seilg ort,' seven hunt wanderings on you, 'seachd gloir,' seven glories, 'seachd deamhain,' seven devils, 'seachd sagairt,' seven priests, 'seachd sitheach,' seven fairies.

Many more examples of the number seven could be given, but the following will suffice. It was taken down in 1860, with much more old lore, from Kenneth Morrison, cottar, Trithion, Skye. Kenneth Morrison, old and blind, had much native intelligence and interesting lore. I love to think of his calm face, of his kindly smile, and of his warm welcome.

'Seachd sgadain,
Sath bradain;
Seachd bradain,
Sath roin;
Seachd roin,
Sath muc mhara bheag;
Seachd muca mara beag,
Sath muc mhara mhor;
Seachd muca mara mor,
Sath cionarain-cro;     [crothain
Seachd cionarain-cro,  [crothain
Sath mial mhor a chuain.'


Seven herrings,
Feast of salmon;
Seven salmon,
Feast of seal;
Seven seals,
Feast of little sow of ocean; [whale
Seven little sows of ocean,
Feast of large sow of ocean;
Seven large sows of ocean,
Feast of 'cionarain-cro';
Seven 'cionarain-cro,'
Feast of great beast of ocean.

(I do not know what 'cionaran-cro' is unless it be the 'kracken,' nor what 'miol mhor a chuain' is unless it be the great sperm-whale. 'Sow,' and 'sow of the sea,' is the ordinary term for the whale.

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'A Thi thug Ionah gu tir
A broin na muice le sith,
Thoir gu cala mi fhin
    ’S mo lod.'


Thou Being who didst bring Jonah to land
From the belly of the sow with peace,
Bring Thou to a haven myself
    And my load.)

'A subsequent day was appointed for the coronation of Rienzi. Seven crowns of different leaves or metals were successively placed on his head by the most eminent of the Roman clergy; they represented the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost.'--Gibbon's Decline and Fall.


Seachda siona, seven elements. The surface meaning of this expression is clear, the intended meaning obscure. (Vol. i. p. 6.) 'Sion,' 'sian,' is an element. Thus construed, the 'seachda siona,' seven elements, would probably be fire, air, earth, water, snow, ice, and wind--perhaps lightning.

'Latha nan seachd sian.'


Day of the seven elements.

'Oidhche nan seachd sian.'


Night of the seven elements.

[paragraph continues] --when all the elements are let loose.

'Deireadh nan seachd sian ort.' The end of the seven elements be upon thee--a malediction. ['Sian' here may mean storm, tempest.]


Sealbh, means, possessions, luck, Providence. Sometimes the word is confined to corn, sometimes to flocks, and sometimes it includes the whole possessions.


Searcan, seircean, another name for 'meac-an-dogh,' burdock. The people held the burdock in high esteem, using an extract of the root in pulmonary complaints.


Searrach, foal. There is much superstition connected with the foal, as also with the horse. If the first foal seen for the season is facing the beholder it denotes good luck; if walking towards the beholder, coming luck; if running towards the beholder, immediate luck. If the contrary, ill luck, ill news, death. The foal of an old mare is said to be more active than that of a young mare.

'Nighean bantraich dha ’m bi crodh,
Mac muilleir dha ’m bi min,
Searrach seann laireadh air greigh,
Triuir is meanmnaich air bith.'


The daughter of the widow of flocks,
The son of the miller of meal,
The foal of the old stud mare,
Are the three most merry of heel.


Seathan, La Fheill Sheathain, John, the Day of the Feast of St John.

'Eoin' is the Biblical form of John, and 'lain' the secular

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form except in the popular lore, where the old form of 'Seathan' is retained.

'La Samhna theirear gamhna ris na laoigh,
La Fheill Sheathain theirear aighean riu na dheigh.'


On Hallow Day the calves are called stirks,
On St John's Day they are called queys.

'La Fheill Sheathain is t-samhraidh
Theid a chuthag dh’a taigh geamhraidh.'


On St John's Day in summer
The cuckoo goes to her winter house.

The cuckoo is said to leave rather earlier than St John's Day, and the more approximately correct form is--

'La leth an t-samhraidh,
Theid a chuthag dh'a taigh geamhraidh.'


On Midsummer Day,
The cuckoo goes to her winter home.

'"Gug-gug," urs a chuthag,
Air La buidhe Bealltain,
"Gug-gug," urs i rithist,
Air La leth an t-samhraidh,'


'Gug-gug,' said the cuckoo,
On the yellow Day of Beltane,
'Gug-gug,' said she again,
On Midsummer Day.

'A Sheathain, a Sheathain chridhe,
Is tric a bha mi ’s tu mire,
De mu bha cha b'ann aig an teine,
Ach gle ard am braigh nam fireach.'


Thou John, thou John beloved,
Oft wert thou and I dallying,
And if we were it was not by the fire,
But very high on the mountain crest.

The surname Maclean, like many Gaelic surnames, is of ecclesiastical origin, being an abbreviation of 'Mac gille Sheathain,' the son of the servant of St John.


Seile, placenta, after-birth of a hind. Gaelic has different names for the placenta of different animals.


Seillean mor, big bee, bumble bee. The first bumble bee seen in summer is secured and kept for luck.


Seing, seang, roebuck; called also 'seang-f hiadh,' 'fiadh-seang,' slender deer; 'seang-bhoc,' 'boc-seang,' slender buck; 'caol-bhoc,' 'boc-caol,' slim buck; 'ruadh-bhoc,' 'boc-ruadh,' red buck.


Sgarta falaich, sgairte falaich, a rift, a rent, a cleft, a cave, a recess in a rock in which to hide or to shelter.


Sgeimineach, sgeiminidh, beauteous, polished, lustrous, probably from 'sgeimh,' beauty.


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Sgeo, haze, fog, vapour.

'A ghealach gheal gun smal, gun sgeo.'


The white moon without spot, without haze.

'Tha’n sgeo a sgaoileadh thar nam beann,
’S tha mis an ceo dha t’ionndrain,
Cha till thu ghaoil dha m’theasd a nall,
’S cha toill mi dhol dha d’ ionnsuidh.'


The haze is spreading over the hills,
And I in a mist am missing thee,
Love thou shalt not return hither to rescue me,
Nor may I win thither to thee.

'Sgeo' occurs in place-names. Sgeobost is variously called 'Sgeabost,' 'Sgebost,' 'Sgiabost,' 'Sgibost,' all forms of 'sgeo,' haze, and 'bost,' Norse for house. 'Sgitheanach' is from 'sgi,' a case of 'sgeo,' and the termination 'anach,' full of. Of old, Skye was known as 'Clar-Sgi,' Haze-land. The sea between Skye and Uist, now called the Little Minch, was known as 'Cuan-Sgi,' Haze-ocean. [These explanations are improbable.]


Sgonn, sgonnag, a block, a little block, as 'sgonn cabair,' block of wood; 'sgonn cloiche,' block of stone; 'sgonn gille,' a block of a lad; 'sgonn arain,' a block of bread. 'Sgonn,' 'sgonnan,' 'sgonnag,' is the base of the couple imbedded in the wall of a house. Scottish 'bùgar.' 'Clach mhor bhun sgonnaig' is the upright flag-stone at the base of the couple as a partition to prevent cows injuring one another. In some places this upright stone is called 'stāll,' a stall.


Sgōth, sgāth, shade, shelter, a concealment hut for sportsmen.


'Sgoth,' a steep rock, an abrupt hill, a bank of cloud, an overhanging haze, a place-name in Uist and Harris. A form of 'sgath,' and cognate with 'sgeo'--

'La sgothach air muir ’s air tir,
Co nach comhnadh le mac mo righ?'


A cloudy day upon land and sea,
Who would not aid the son of my king?


Sguan, slur, slander, gossip.


Sgulanach, flippant, flippancy, evil speaking, a shallow person; from 'sgul,' 'sgulan.'


Sian, soft music, soft sorrowful music, generally applied to the fairy music heard in the fairy knoll.


Sian, seen, a charm, incantation, magic enchantment.

'Sonas nan seachd sian.'


The joy of the seven spells.

--possibly used in derision.


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Sic, sicean, silc, silcean, silean, a particle, a small grain, an infinitesimal quantity; 'sicean sioil,' a small grain of seed.


Sionn, siunn, siann, siannt, mysterious, probably akin to 'sian,' a charm.

An island near Easdale, another near Appin, and another near Moidart, is called 'Sionna.' Islands near Lewis, a hill in Islay, a hill in Ardnamurchan, and a loch near Kilmun, are called 'siannt,' where 'siannta' means sained, sacred. 'Holy Loch' in Corval is 'an Loch Siannta.'


Sionn, light, brightness, lurid light; hence the region of lurid light. 'Domhnach sionnaich,' bright Sunday, 'teine sionnachain,' phosphorescence, the rainbow-like brightness seen in spindrift on a clear sunny day. 'Cur teine sionnachain ’s an speur'--sending phosphorescence into the sky.


Sith, sithich, fairy, fairies; 'siodha,' 'siodhach,' fay, fairy; 'bean sith,' 'sitheag,' female fairy, 'sitheach,' 'sifir,' 'sifire,' 'sifreach,' male fairy. The fairies entered largely into the lives and folklore of the Highland people. They lived in the green knolls and round hillocks, and only occasionally appeared to mortal eyes.

In October 1871, the late J. F. Campbell of Islay and the writer were storm-stayed in the precipitous island of Miunghlaidh, Barra. We occupied our time in listening to the folklore of the people by whom we were so kindly treated. One of these was Roderick MacNeill, known as 'Ruaraidh mac Dhomhuil,' Roderick the son of Donald, a famous story-teller and a man wondrously endowed mentally and physically. MacNeill was then ninety-two years of age. He had never been ill, and never had shoes on, and never had tasted tea. His chest was as round as a barrel, and measured forty-eight inches in circumference. He had been an extraordinary 'rocker' after birds, moving about on precipices of eight hundred feet sheer down to the sea, where a goat or even a cat might hesitate to go. So powerful was the man that wherever his fingers could get insertion in the crevices of the rock he could move his body along the face of the precipice without any other support.

One of the many tales he told us was that of the origin of the fairies, which I condense:--

The Proud Angel fomented a rebellion among the angels of heaven, where he had been a leading light. He declared that he would go and found a kingdom of his own. When going out at the door of heaven the Proud Angel brought 'dealanaich

p. 353

dheilgnich agus beithir bheumnaich,' prickly lightning and biting lightning, out of the door-step with his heels. Many angels followed him--so many that at last the Son called out, 'Father! Father! the city is being emptied!' whereupon the Father ordered that the gates of heaven and of hell should be closed. This was instantly done; and those who were in were in, and those who were out were out; while the hosts who had left heaven and had not reached hell, flew into the holes of the earth 'mar na famhlagan,' like the stormy petrels.

These are the fairy folks--ever since doomed to live under the ground, and only permitted to emerge when and where the King permits. They are never allowed abroad on Thursday, that being Columba's Day, nor on Friday, that being the Son's Day, nor on Saturday, that being Mary's Day, nor on Sunday, that being the Lord's Day.

'Dia eadar mi ’s gach siodha,
Gach mi-run ’s gach druidheachas,
An diugh an Daorn air muir ’s air tir,
M’ earbs a Righ nach cluinn iad mi.'


God be between me and every fairy,
Every ill wish and every druidry,
To-day is Thursday on sea and land,
I trust in the King that they do not hear me.

On certain nights when their 'bruthain,' bowers, are open and their lamps are lit, and the song and the dance are moving merrily, the fairies may be heard singing light-heartedly--

'Chan ann a shiol Adhaimh sinn,
’S chan Abram ar n-athair,
Ach shiol an ainghil uabharaich,
Chaidh fhuadach a flathas.'


Not of the seed of Adam are we,
And Abraham is not our father,
But of the seed of the Proud Angel,
Driven forth from heaven.

Many things are named after the fairies, indicating the manner in which they dominated the minds of the people. 'Breaca-sith,' fairy marks, livid spots appearing on the face of the dead or dying; 'marcachd shith,' fairy riding, paralysis of the spine in animals, alleged to be brought on by the fairy mouse riding across the backs of the animals while lying down; 'piob shith,' fairy pipe, elfin pipe, generally found in under-ground houses; 'miaran na mna sithe,' the thimble of the fairy woman, foxglove; 'lion na mna sithe,' lint of the fairy woman, fairy flax, said to be beneficial in certain illnesses; 'curachan na mna sithe,' coracle of the fairy woman, the shell of the blue valilla, are a few examples of things called after the little 'people of peace.'

In place-names 'sith' is very common. 'Gleann-sith,' Glen-shee,

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in Perthshire, is said to have been full of fairies. The screech of the steam whistle has frightened them underground. 'Sithean a Bhealaich,' fairy knoll of the pass, is the name of a place at 'Bealach Rosgairt' (Fhrosgairt), Benmore, South Uist. Scarcely a district in the Highlands is without its 'sithean,' fairy knoll, generally the greenest hillock in the place. 'Feadan dubh Chlanna Chatain,' the black chanter of the Clan Chattan, is said to have been given to a famous Macpherson piper by a fairy woman who loved him. The Mackays have a flag said to have been given to a Mackay by a fairy sweetheart.

The famous fairy flag at Dunvegan is said to have been given to a Macleod of Macleod by a fairy woman. The Mac-Crimmons of Bororaig, the famous pipers of the Macleods of Macleod, had a chanter called 'Sionnsair airgid na mna sithe,' the silver chanter of the fairy woman.

As 'Iain Og,' young John MacCrimmon, was practising in 'Slochd nam piobairean,' hollow of the pipers, at Bororaig, the lovely fair

'Thug do mhaise ’s ceol do phioba,
Leannan siodha air do thoir,
Sinim dhuit an sionnsair airgid,
A bhios binn gun chearb fo d’ mheoir.


Thy beauty and the music of thy pipe,
Have brought a fairy sweetheart to thee,
I hand thee now the silver chanter,
That will be melodious ever under thy fingers.

The story of young John and his fairy sweetheart is very fine and highly poetic.

A family in North Uist is known as 'Dubh-sith,' Black fairy, from a tradition that the family have been familiar with the fairies in their fairy flights and secret migrations.

Donald MacAlastair, aged seventy-nine, crofter, Druim-a-ghinnir, Arran, told me the following story on the 28th of August 1895:--

'Bha na sifri a fuireach ’s an tom agus bha nabuidh aca agus bhiodh an duine dol air cheilidh do thaigh nan sifri. Bha an duine a gabhail beachd air doigh nan sifri agus a deanamh mar bhiodh iad a deanamh.

'Thog na sifri turas orra gu dol a dh’ Eirinn; agus thog an duine air gu falbh leo. Rug a chuile sifri riamh air geo-astair, agus chaidh e casa-gobhlach air a gheo-astair, agus a nunn cuan na h-Eire bha iad muin air mhuin a chuile glun diubh ann an tiota, agus a nunn cuan na h-Eire bha an duine as an deoghaidh casagobhlach air geo-astair mar aon do chacha. Dh’ eubh sifri

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beag biteach, bronach, an robh iad uile deas agus dh’eubh cacha wile gu’ robh, agus dh’eubh an sifri beag--

"Mo righ air mo cheann,
Dol thairis am dheann,
Air chirean nan tonn,
  A dh’ Eirinn."

[paragraph continues] "Lean mise," orsa righ nan sifrean, agus a mach a him iad nunn air muir a chuile mac mathar dhiubh casa-gobhlach air a gheo-astair. Cha robh fins aig MacCuga air thalamh ciamar a thilleadh e a thir a mhuinntiris a rithist ach leum e air a gheo-astair mar a chunnaic e na sifrean a deanamh, agus dh’ eubh e mar a chuala e iadsan a g’eubhach agus ann an tiota bha e air ais ann an Arainn. Ach fhuair e a leoir dhe na sifrich an turas sin fhein, agus cha d’fhalbh e riamh tuilleadh leo.'

'The fairies were dwelling in the knoll, and they had a near neighbour who was wont to visit them in their home. The man used to observe the ways of the fairies and to do as they did. The fairies took a journey upon them to go to Ireland, and the man took upon him to go with them. Every single fairy caught a ragwort and went astride the ragwort, and they were pell-mell, every knee of them, across the Irish ocean in an instant, and across the Irish ocean was the man after them, astride a ragwort like one of the others. A little wee tiny fairy shouted and asked were they all ready, and all the others replied that they were, and the little fairy called out

"My king at my head,
Going across in my haste,
On the crests of the waves,
To Ireland."

[paragraph continues] "Follow me," said the king of the fairies, and away they were across the Irish ocean, each mother's son of them astride his ragwort. Macuga (Cook) did not know on earth how he would return to his native land, but he leapt upon the ragwort as he saw the fairies do, and he called as he heard them call, and in an instant he was back in Arran. But he had got enough of the fairies on this trip itself, and he never went with them again.'

The fairies were wont to take away infants and their mothers, and many precautions were taken to safeguard them till purification and baptism took place, when the fairy power became ineffective. Placing iron about the bed, burning leather in the room, giving mother and child the milk of a cow which had eaten of the

p. 356

[paragraph continues] 'mothan,' and similar means were taken to ensure their safety. Sometimes the watching-women neglected these precautions, and the mother or child or both were spirited away to the fairy bower. Many stories are current on this subject.

Sometimes the fairies helped human beings with their work, coming in at night to finish her spinning or her web for the house-wife, or to thresh his corn or fan his grain for the houseman. On such occasions they must not be molested nor interfered with, even in gratitude. If presented with a garment they will go away and work no more. This method of getting rid of them is sometimes resorted to, as it is not easy always to find work for them.

'Bean chaol a chota uaine ’s na gruaige buidhe,' the slender woman of the green kirtle and the yellow hair, is wise of head and deft of hand. She can convert the white water of the rill into rich red wine, and the threads of the spider into a tartan plaid. From the stalk of the fairy reed she can bring the music of the lull of repose and peace, however active the brain and lithe the limb; and she can rouse to mirth and merriment, and to the dance, men and women, however dolorous their condition. From the bower in the green hillock could be heard the pipe and the song and the voice of laughter as they 'sett' and reeled in the mazes of the dance. Sometimes a man seeing the wonderful light and hearing the merry music, would be tempted to go in and join them, but woe to him if he omitted to leave a piece of iron at the door of the bower on entering, for the cunning fairies would close the door, and the man would find no egress. There he would dance for years, but to him the years were as one day--while his wife and family mourned him as dead. 'But faith is dead, and such things do not happen now'--so said my courteous informant.


Sleabhag, sleibheag, spleacan, spleicean, mattock. This small mattock is used in digging up carrots and the roots of native plants used by the people in dyeing and tanning.


Sleamhnan, stye, inflamed tumour on the eyelid. It is variously called 'seamhnan,' 'sleamhran,' 'sleamhnagan,' 'sleamhragan,' 'leamhnan,' 'leamhran,' 'leamhranan,' 'leamhnadan,' 'neamhnad,' and 'neonad.'


Sleamhnanachd, leamhnanachd, exorcism of the stye, removing the stye by occult power.


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Sliom, buttercup. The buttercup was used as a poultice for swelling, especially swelling in the sole of the foot.

'Tha’n carrsa fo’n ghobhair ghlais,
’S cha tig bailc am bliadhn oirre.'


The buttercup is under the grey goat,
And no cusp shall come this year upon it.

The buttercup was believed to possess magical as well as medicinal powers.


Sliosrach, slope, declivity; from 'slios,' a slope.


Slisneach, a plant like the 'slan-lus,' 'sla-lus,' 'la-lus,' self-heal and ribwort.


Sluagh, 'the host,' the spirit-world. The 'hosts' are the, spirits of mortals who have died. The people have many curious stories on this subject. According to one informant, the spirits fly about "nan sgrioslaich mhor, a sios agus a suas air uachdar an domhain mar na truidean'--in great clouds, up and down the face of the world like the starlings, and come back to the scenes of their earthly transgressions. No soul of them is without the clouds of earth, dimming the brightness of the works of God, nor can any win heaven till satisfaction is made for the sins of earth. In bad nights, the hosts shelter themselves, 'fo sgath chuiseaga bheaga ruadha agus bhuaghallain bheaga bhuidhe'--behind little russet docken stems and little yellow ragwort stalks. They fight battles in the air as men do on the earth. They may be heard and seen on clear frosty nights, advancing and retreating, retreating and advancing, against one another. After a battle, as I was told in Barra, their crimson blood may be seen staining rocks and stones. ('Fuil nan sluagh,' the blood of the hosts, is the beautiful red 'crotal' of the rocks melted by the frost.) These spirits used to kill cats and dogs, sheep and cattle, with their unerring venomous darts. They commanded men to follow them, and men obeyed, having no alternative.

It was these men of earth who slew and maimed at the bidding of their spirit-masters, who in return ill-treated them in a most pitiless manner. 'Bhiodh iad ’gan loireadh agus ’gan loineadh agus ’gan luidreadh anus gach lod, lud agus lon'--They would be rolling and dragging and trouncing them in mud and mire and pools. 'There is less faith now, and people see less, for

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seeing is of faith. God grant to thee and to me, my dear, the faith of the great Son of the lovely Mary.' This is the substance of a graphic account of the 'sluagh,' given me in Uist by a bright old woman, endowed with many natural gifts and possessed of much old lore. There are men to whom the spirits are partial, and who have been carried off by them more than once. A man in Benbecula was taken up several times. His friends assured me that night became a terror to this man, and that ultimately he would on no account cross the threshold after dusk. He died, they said, from the extreme exhaustion consequent on these excursions. When the spirits flew past his house, the man would wince as if undergoing a great mental struggle, and fighting against forces unseen of those around him. A man in Lismore suffered under precisely similar conditions. More than once he disappeared mysteriously from the midst of his companions, and as mysteriously reappeared utterly exhausted and prostrate. He was under vows not to reveal what had occurred on these aerial travels.

I took down several stories of persons who went with the 'hosts.' Here is one of the stories of the 'hosts' summarised:--The beautiful daughter of a king of France was taken up by the 'hosts,' and carried about in the air, over lands and seas, continents and islands, till they came to the little island of Heistamal, behind Creagorry, in Benbecula, where they laid her down in such an injured state that she died from the hard treatment; not, however, till she had told about the lands to which she had been carried, and of the great hardships she had endured while travelling through space. The people of the island buried the princess where she was found.

The 'sluagh' are supposed to come from the west; and therefore, when a person is dying, the door and the windows on the west side of the house are secured to keep out the malicious spirits. In Ross-shire, the door and windows of a house in which a person is dying are opened, in order that the liberated soul may escape to heaven. In Killtarlity, when children are being brought into the world, locks of chests and of doors are opened, this being supposed, according to traditional belief, to facilitate childbirth.


Smeoirn, arrow-head, arrow-point, the destructive end of the arrow. [The dictionaries make 'smeoirn' the butt end.]

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'Mis an gaisgeach gun ghioraig--am bas,
Leis an coingeis an slan no’m breoit,
A thilgeas an gath nach teid cama no cearr,
Co cinnteach ri earr na smeoirn.' [gais


I am the hero without panic--death,
To whom is indifferent the whole or the frail,
Who will throw the dart that will not bend nor stray,
As certain as the end of the arrowhead. [point

'Bogha dh’iubhar Easragain,
Ite firein Locha Tréig,
Ceir bhuidhe Bhaile nan gaillean,
Smeoirn o’n cheard MacPheidirean.'


Bow of the yew of Easragan,
Feather of the eagle of Loch Treig,
The yellow wax of Baile-nan-gaillean,
Arrow-head from the craftsman MacPheidirean.

Another version says:--



'Bogh a dh’iubhar Easragain,
  Sioda na Gaillbhinn,
Saighead a bheithe an Doire-dhuinn,
  Ite firein Loch Treige.'


Bow of the yew of Easragan,
  Silk of Gallvinn,
Arrow of the birch of Doire-donn,
  Feather of the eagle of Loch Treig.

'Doire-donn,' brown grove, is in Glenorchy.

'Easragan' is in Airdchattan, near the priory where Bruce held his first parliament, at which meeting Gaelic was the language used.

Margaret Campbell, daughter of Colin Campbell of Inver Easragan, was the wife of John Macaulay, minister of Lismore, and the paternal grandmother of Lord Macaulay. She was much beloved in Lismore, and her husband the reverse. Old men in the island described John Macaulay as:--'Duine rag, danarra, ceannlaidir, ceannsgallach--a huile duine cearr, ach esan a mhain ceart'--A man obstinate, opinionative, dogmatic, domineering--all men wrong, he alone right. A fellow-student said of Lord Macaulay:--'l wish I were as cocksure of anything as Tom Macaulay is of everything.' The infallibility would seem to have been inherited.

Loch Treig is in Lochaber. 'Baile nan gaillean,' 'Baile nan gaillbhinn,' is said to be Dun-chaillionn--Dunkeld, famed for honey, beeswax, and silk. 'Clann Pheidirean' (Patersons) had their forge at Creagan Corrach, Fearrlochan, in Benderloch, about seven miles across Glensalach from Easragan. They were famous armourers, their swords being celebrated for their high finish and excellence. The native home of the 'MacPheidireans' was on the north side of Lochfyne, where they had been numerous.


Smeola, the poetic name of the 'smeor,' 'smeorach,' thrush, mavis.


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Snaoth, snaodh, snaogh, leader, chief, king. The people say that all creatures have a 'ceann-snaoth,' head-chief. A certain fish is 'ceann-snaoth nan iasg,' the head-chief of the fish; a certain bird is 'ceann-snaoth nan ian,' the head-chief of the birds; a certain cow or bull, 'ceann-snaoth nan ni,' the head-chief of the nowt; a certain horse, 'ceann-snaoth nan each,' the head-chief of the steeds; and a certain deer, 'ceann-snaoth nam fiadh,' head-chief of the deer.

A townland in South Uist is called 'Snaothaisbhal.' The place stands prominently on the bank of the river Hough, which is here crowded with salmon like sheep in a pen. These salmon may be seen moving about in the shallow water, guided in their movements by a leader. Hence, according to local etymology, the name of the farm--the fell of the leadership.

On the low-lying townland of Hough-beag on the opposite side of the river are the ruins of the house of Neill MacEachain, father of Marshal Macdonald, Duke of Tarentum. MacEachain was the patronymic of this sept of the Macdonalds. After his escape to France with Prince Charlie, Neill MacEachain reverted to his clan-name of Macdonald.

When Marshal Macdonald visited Britain in 1825 he went to see his relatives, then as now numerous in South Uist. On coming in sight of the river Hough, he raised his arm and exclaimed, 'That's the river Hough! I know it from my father's description. Many a salmon my father killed there.' Marshal Macdonald treated his numerous relatives with kindly consideration, bestowing money on the more distant and annuities on the more near. He carried away potatoes from his father's garden, and earth and stones from his father's house. He cultivated the potatoes in his own garden in France, and at his death the earth and stones were, at his request, placed over his heart and buried with him.


Soir, sear, east, eastern.

'Soir is siar an deigh nan con.'


East and west after the hounds.

A farm in North Uist, now a lop-sided island, is called 'Bailesear,' easter-townland. The other side, which was called 'Bailesiar,' wester-townland, lies submerged under the Atlantic. The ruins of the houses of the submerged townland are occasionally seen under favourable conditions of tide and atmosphere.


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Sola, soladh, food, broken food--whelks, cockles, limpets, mussels, and other shell-fish broken and thrown into the sea to attract fish. The Lady Amie, wife of John, Lord of the Isles, sent men round the islands to make hollows in the rocks in which the people might break shell-fish and prepare bait. Such pits are called 'toll solaidh,' bait holes. These mortars resemble cup cuttings, for which antiquarians have mistaken them.


Somh, somha, convert, convince, controvert, overturn, upset, render of no avail; cf. 'soim,' Windisch's Wörterbuch.


Soplachan, wisp, tuft, sustenance; a handful of corn in the ear given to a weak animal; from 'sop,' wisp. Sometimes the 'soplachan' is suspended from a stake beside the animal, sometimes from the neck of the animal to enable it to nibble at the wisp while lying down. Mrs Clark, Torr-an-damh, makes effective use of this term:--

'Is tu mo Shoplachan brollaich,
Is tu mo Charaide soghar,
Is tu too Brathair is sine,
  Tric is minic dha m’ chomhnadh.'


Thou art the Sustenance of my breast,
Thou art my bounteous Friend,
Thou art my elder Brother,
  Oft and oft befriending me.


Sorchar, sorachar, brightness, a clear man, from 'sorch,' clear, and 'fear,' a man, the reverse of 'dorchar,' 'dorachar,' darkness, a dark man. The initials d and s are often in opposition, as 'dorch,' dark, 'sorch,' clear; 'doilleir,' obscure, 'soilleir,' light; 'dolas,' grief, 'solas,' joy; 'doirbh,' difficult, 'soirbh,' easy; 'dubhailc,' vice, 'subhailc,' virtue; 'duathar,' darkness, 'suathar,' lightness; 'dolair,' withhold, 'solair,' provide; 'dochair,' wrong, 'sochair,' right.

'Sorchar' may mean Christ, 'the Light of the World,' or Michael, 'the Light of the Mountains' (vol. i. p. 66). A belief prevails among Highlanders that every person is attended by an angel of light or by an angel of darkness--by a good or by a bad angel; that during sleep the soul of the good accompanied by the angel of light ascends to the gates of heaven there to foresee the bliss awaiting the good and brave; and that the soul of the bad accompanied by the bad angel descends to the gates of hell, there to listen to the wailing of those who had followed evil courses and wicked ways.

There is a story told of a man whose soul returned after wandering through the regions of time and space. The soul alighted on the face of the man, in the form of a bee or a butterfly, and was about to enter its home in the body through

p. 362

the pathway of the mouth when a neighbour killed it. One version of the story says that the body of the man died when his soul was killed; another version says that the body of the man lingered long in the land after the soul was dead, busying itself up and down the earth, carrying the substance of the dead soul in its left and the shadow of its withered heart in its right hand.

Probably this is not the only instance of the body existing after the soul is dead.


Speach, a stone, a doorstep, a flat stone in a byre door, a certain stone in a byre drain. 'Speach na bathcha,' the doorstep of the byre. Dim. 'speachag.' 'Tilg speachag air a bhoin,' throw a stone at the cow. A form of 'spitheag,' a little stone.


Speach, a claw, a hoof, an animal, perhaps akin to 'speir,' a shank.

'Cuir a staigh an speach.'
'Cuir a mach na speich.'


Send in the cattle.
Send out the herds.

The word occurs in the following song:--

'Thaine na Cait oirnn,
Thaine na Cait oirnn,
Thaine na Cait oirnn,
  Thainig iad oirnn!

A bhristeadh a steach,
A thogail nan creach,
A spuilleadh nan speach,
A struilleadh nan each,
A rusgadh nam meach,
  Thainig iad oirnne!'


The Cats have come upon us,
The Cats have come upon us,
The Cats have come upon us,
  They have come upon us!

To break in upon us,
To lift the spoil,
To steal the kine,
To strike the steeds,
To strip the meads,
  They have come upon us!


Spisniche, prop, pillar, column, support.


Srābh, strābh, falling water. 'Srabh uisge,' water pouring as from the roof of a house.


Srol, strol, satin, gauze, gossamer, filament. 'Srol' was used for carpets, flags, banners, dresses, winding-sheets, and other purposes. The word occurs in many old songs and sayings. A song taken down in the island of Miunghlaidh, Barra, says:--

'Siud mar dh’ orduichinn-se dhusa--
Nighean righ le corr ’s le cusbar,
Le sioda, le srol, le susban,
Le or righ, le or cusbann.'


That is what I would ordain for thee--
The daughter of a king with worth and gear,
With silk, with satin, with substance,
With king's gold, and with foreign gold.

The following lines were sung in Miunghlaidh by a cottar girl, whose white teeth, red lips, blue eyes, fair hair, Celtic features,

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lithe form, and graceful movements would have done for Minerva. They are said to have been composed by a woman in Barra, who had been lifted by the 'hosts,' and carried about in the air, visiting many places and seeing many scenes, among them her brother's funeral:

'Bha mi anns ’s gun chach ga m’ fhaicinn,
Treis dha m’ chas dhomh, treis dha m’ each dhomh,
’S O! treis am strol uain am pasgadh.'


I was there but others not seeing me,
A while on my foot, a while on my horse,
And oh! a while in my green satin folded.

'Strol' is mentioned in a song said to have been composed by a girl in Barra, whose relatives were massacred by the Norsemen, and she herself carried away captive:--

'Tha m’ athair ’s mo mhathair
Air an caramh ’s a chro,    [’s an fhoid
’S tha mo phiuthar ’s mo bhrathair
Air am fagail ’s an strol.'


My father and my mother
Are laid in the bier,       [sod
And my sister and my brother
Are left in the shroud.

The word occurs also in 'Bron Binn,' one of several Arthurian ballads current in the isle:--

'Strol is sioda fo a da bhonn.'


Satin and silk under her two soles.


Stapag, Scots 'stappack,' a mixture of meal and cream, or of milk, or of cold water. An old lullaby (cf. p. 239) says:--

'Stapag bhuirn, stapag bhainne,
Stapag bhuirn gheobh mo leanu,
’N uair a bheireas an crodh laoigh
Gheobh mo ghaol stapag bhainne.'


A stappack of water, a stappack of milk,
A stappack of water will my child get,
When the calving cows shall bear
My love will get a stappack of milk.

The north end of the island of Skye is called Trotarnis, Trondarnais, Thrond's peninsula. The district is fertile and was once abundant in corn. It was the granary of the Macdonalds of the Isles, whose land it was. The Macleods of Duirinish facetiously called the district of Trotarnis, 'Duthaich nan stapag,' the country of the stappacks; 'Am fearann stapagach,' the land of the stappacks. The Macdonalds retorted, calling Duirinish 'Duthaich nam mogais,' 'Duthaich nam mogan,' the country of the footless stockings; 'Am fearann mogasach,' and 'Am fearann moganach,' the land of the footless stockings.


Staing, stance, site, situation, moat, ditch, fort, stronghold, an impregnable position, a sacred enclosure, a sacred ring; gap in a wall, rock, or mountain; distress, difficulty.

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It occurs in place-names, as Staing at the foot of Ben-Ledi. Is-staing, a place-name in Killtarlity, is shortened from Inis-staing, meadow of the 'stang.'


Stear, stearr, steair, a pole like the butt of a salmon-rod, used in killing birds. The 'steairear,' 'stearair,' pole-man, sits on the edge of the cliff, his legs overhanging the Atlantic several hundred feet below. As the bird flies within reach overhead the man strikes it with the pole. The stunned bird tumbles down behind and is thrappled by a dog, and laid with the others.

The bird that thus flies overhead is the puffin, in St Kilda called 'buite,' and in Miunghlaidh 'buigire.' A day with a strong inland wind is selected for this work. 'Steaireadh' is eminently dangerous, a slight swerve, a false stroke, causing destruction.


Steill, shelf, bracket.

'Thoir an gunna thar na steill.'


Take the gun off the bracket.

'Cuir an cuman air an steill.'


Place the pail upon the shelf.


Stic, imp, demon. 'Droch stir,' evil imp; 'stic an donais,' imp of the devil; 'stic an deamhain mhoir,' imp of the great demon; 'stic taighe,' house imp; 'stic starsaich,' doorstep imp, generally applied to a quarrelsome woman, occasionally to a quarrelsome man.


Stiom, snood. The snood was a narrow white band of silk, satin, linen, or wool worn round the head of maidens. The snood was the badge of the maiden as the kertch was that of the matron. Frequent mention is made of the snood and the kertch, and s

'Laighinn sumhail an luib do bhreacain,
Thigeamaid am maireach dhachaidh,
Chuirinn stiom mo chinn am pasgadh,
’S chairinn am breid ban ’s an fhasan.'


I would lie slenderly in the folds of thy plaid,
We would on the morrow come home again,
I would put the snood of my head in folds,
And I would arrange the white coif in fashion.


Stiomach, snooded; 'stiomag,' a maiden, in contradistinction to 'breideag,' a wife.


Streafon, sreafan, streadhon, streathan, streadhon, fringe, frill, fragment, beard, thin beard.

'Streafon stiallach a ghille ruaidh.'


The ragged beard of the red fellow.


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Streafon, tallow, thin tallow. 'Streafon na caora,' tallow of the sheep.

'Streafon glas na caora duibhe.'


The watery tallow of the black sheep.


Streafon, filament, film, the film that covers the bone; membrane, the membrane covering the calf and other animals in utero; carpet. The term occurs in an Arthurian ballad obtained in Uist in 1865:--

'Chunnas an righinn a sheinn an ceol,
An cathair dh’ an or a staigh,
Streafon sioda fo da bhonn,
Bheannaich mi fein ga gnuis ghlain.'


I saw the damsel who sang the melody,
In a chair of gold within,
A carpet of silk beneath her two soles,
I myself blessed her pure countenance.


Stringlein, stringleir, strangles, a disease which affects, but is not confined to, horses. Although neither so dangerous nor so disagreeable as glanders, strangles is infectious and odorous. The people say that strangles was rare and glanders unknown in the Highlands before the introduction of Lowland horses. Highland horses, cattle, and sheep being hardier, are less liable to disease than the softer Lowland breeds.


Strūan, strūthan, strūdhan, is the name applied to the cake made on St Michael's Eve and eaten on St Michael's Day.

Sruban = merenda (afternoon meal)--Windisch's Wörterbuch.

Sruan, five-cornered shortbread cake--(M‘Alpine).


Suaircein, the name of a bird.


Sūith, sūithe, soot. (Vol. i. page 284 ff.)

Eggs set are marked with soot to distinguish them from eggs which may be intruded. Should a stray egg become mixed with the setting it is later in being hatched, and the chicken is called 'isean deire linn,' chick after brood. Such an occurrence is a bad omen for the eldest daughter of the family, and a sign that she will not be married, or if married that she will be childless. The girl concerned examines the nest daily to see that no such egg is intruded.

In some places girls used to make bannocks of soot and salt, and place them under their pillows on Hallow Eve, that they might dream of their lovers.


Suil, droch shuil, eye, evil eye. When a person admires or covets a thing, the owner says, 'Fluich do shuil ma lean e rithe'--Wet your eye lest it sticks to it, i.e. in case you have the evil eye, and the thing becomes yours or dwindles away.

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Sul, sult, fat, fatness, condition, good condition; derivatives of 'sul'--'sultan' and 'sultag.' The first is applied to a fat little boy or male beast, the last to a fat little girl or female beast.

A Gaelic conundrum says--

'Muc dhubh ’s a choill,
Gun sul, gun saill,
Gun ghuth, gun chainn,
Gun friodhan crain,
Gun luibhean caim,
Gun cheann cnaimhe.


A black sow in the copse,
Without fat, without blubber,
Without voice, without speech,
Without bristle of pig,
Without curved joint,
Without end of bone.




[paragraph continues] This description is not wholly accurate, the black snail being not only fat but nutritious. In Cornwall and elsewhere it is used in consumption, and with good results.

Probably the badger is the animal meant. (Vol. i. p. 314.) The flesh of the badger was eaten and prized in olden times. In her beautiful lament at leaving Alban, Deirdire says--

'Iasg is sieng is saill bruic
Fa hi mo chuid an glend Laigh.'


Fish and venison and flesh of badger,
These were my food in Glen Laigh.

The harvest moon is variously called 'gealach gheal an abuchaidh,' the ripening white moon; 'gealach fin na Feill Micheil,' the fair moon of the Michael Feast; and 'gealach bhuidhe nam broc,' the yellow moon of the badgers. The badger is then in best condition, before he retires to his winter retreat. When the badger emerges in spring, he is thin and emaciated. He never comes out in winter, unless upon a rare occasion when a dry sunny day may tempt him out to air his hay bedding. The intelligence with which the badger brings out his bedding, shakes it in the sun, airs it in the wind, and carries it back again to his home, is interesting and instructive.

The badger is now rare in Scotland, being only seen occasion-ally in the Highlands and on the Border.

From the fact that all grazing animals are then in best condition, October is called 'mios sultain,' month of fatness.


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