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p. 406



From the Brothers MacCraw, North Uist, 1859.

THERE was once, long ago, a scholar; and when he had done learning, his master said that he must now answer three questions, or have his head taken off. The scholar was to have time to make ready, and being in a great fright, he went to a miller who was the master's brother, and asked his aid.

The miller disguised himself and went instead of the scholar, and the first question put to him was this:--"How many ladders would reach the sky?"

"Now," said the narrator, "can you answer that?"

"One, if it were long enough."

"That's right." The second was:--

"Where is the middle of the world?"

So the miller laid down a rod, and he said:--"Here, set a hoop about the world, and thou will find the middle here."

The third was:--"What is the world's worth?"

"Well," said the miller, "the Saviour was sold for thirty pieces of silver, I am sure the world is worth no more."

"Oh," said the brother who was riding beside us, "that's not the way I have heard it. The second was,"

p. 407

"How long will it take to go round the world?" And the miller said:--

"If I were as swift as the sun and moon, I would run it in twenty-four hours."

And the third was:--

"What is my thought?"

And the miller answered:--

"I can tell: Thou thinkest that I am thy scholar, but I am thy brother, the miller."

This was told to me September 1, 1859, in North Uist, as I walked along the road. There are a great many similar wise saws current which are generally fathered on George Buchanan, the tutor of James VI.

The following are a few riddles of the same kind, collected at Gairloch, for Osgood Mackenzie, Esq., by Mr. Donald MacDonald:

1. Whether is older, the man or the beard?

The beard is the older, for the work of creation was all finished before the man, and the beard was on the goat before the man was.

2. What is the wood that is not bent nor straight?

Sawdust. It is neither bent nor straight.

This riddle forms part of a very long and curious story which I heard told at Inverary, at Easter, 1859, and which is written down.

3. What is the thing which the Creator never saw, and that kings see but seldom, and that I see every day?

There is but one Creator, for that he never saw his like. Kings are but scarce, for that they see each other but rarely; but I see my own like every day that I get up,--other sinners like myself.

The riddle is very well known; but this is another view of it.

p. 408

4. There were three soldiers coming home on furlough, and their three wives with them; they came to a river over which there was a ferry, but the boat would take with it but two together. The question is, how did they make the passage, for no one of them would trust his wife with another man, unless he was himself beside her?

Two women went over first, one went on shore, and the other came back with the boat, and she took the third with her, one of them went back and she stood beside her own husband, and the two husbands of the women who were over went back with the boat; one of them went on shore, and the wife of the man who was in the boat went into her along with him, and they went to the other side. His wife went on shore, and the man who was yonder came in the boat; then the two men went over; then there were three men over, and a woman; this woman took over the other women by the way of one and one; and there seem to be more solutions than one for the problem.

This puzzle, in various shapes, is well known, e.g. the Fox, the Goose, and the Bag of Corn.

(Gaelic omitted)


p. 409


The following are a few riddles, collected by Hector MacLean; most of them from a little school-girl in Islay:--


Row and noise and racket
About the market town,
It is no bigger than a flea,
An' money it brings home.
                             Lint seed.

St-ioram starum stararaich
Air feadh a bhaile mhargaidh
Cha mhoth' e na deargann
Is bheir e dhachaidh airgiod.
                   Fras lìn-Linseed.


Two feet down and three feet up,
And the head of the living in the mouth of the dead.
               A man with a porridge pot on his head.

p. 410

Da 'chas shìos 's tri chasan shuas
’S ceann a' bheo am beul a' mhairbh.
                H-aon agus poit air a cheann.


I see to me, over the hill,
A little one with a cut in his nose,
Two very long teeth in his jaw,
And a tatter of tow about his tail.
                             A hare.

Chi mi thugam thar a' bheinn
Fear beag 's beum as a shròin
Da fhiacaill fhada 'na chìr
’S cirb de bhlaigh lin ma thòin.


I see to me, over the fall,
A little curly hasty one;
A tuck of his shirt under his belt,
And the full of the world under his power.
         Death.--This portrait varies from the usual sketches.

Chi mi thugam thar an eas
Fear beag cuirneanach cas
Cirb d'a léine fo a chrios
’S làn an t-saoghail fo a los.
                        Am bàs.


I see to me, I see from me,
Two miles and ten over the sea,
The man of the green boatie,
And his shirt sewn with a thread of red.
                        The rainbow.

p. 411

Chi mi thugam, chi mi bhuam,
Da mhìle dheug thar a' chuain,
Fear a' choitilein uaine,
Is snàthainn dearg a' fuaghal a léine.
                         Am bogha frois.


Sheep small, and very small,
That have been thrice shorn of all,
On the hill that is furthest out,
Where every little saint will be.
                          The stars.

Caora mhion, mhionachag,
Air an treas lomachag,
Air an t-sliabh is fhaide muigh,
Far am bi gach ionachag.
                          Na reultan.


The bard, the bard, the Frenchman,
Behind the house a wheezing.
                                  The nettle.

(The meaning of this is not very clear.)

An fhile 'n Mile Fhrangach
Cul an tighe 's sreann aice.
                 An fheanndagach.


A bent crooked stick between two glens,
When moves the crooked bent stick
Then move the two glens.
                     Scales and balance.

p. 412

Maide crom cam eadar da ghleann,
Ma charachas am maide crom cam
Carachaidh an da ghleann.
                    Meidh is sgàlain.


Three red kine on the bank of the sea,
That never drank a drop of the water of Alba.
                       Three dogrose-hips.

Tri ba dearga 'chois na fairge,
Nach d' òl deur do dh' uisg' Alba riabh.
                         Tri mucagan failm.

There seems to be a pun in this Alba of Scotland or wandering.


Three spotted kine under a stone,
A drop of their milk never was milked.
                             Three snakes.

Tri ba breaca chois na leaca,
Nach do bhleodhnadh deur d'am bainne riabh.
                                 Tri nathraichean.


Four shaking and four running,
Two finding the way,
And one roaring.
      A cow--feet udder, eyes, and mouth.

Ceathrar air chrith 's ceathrar 'nan riuth,
Dithisd a' deanadh an rathaid
'S h-aon a' glaodhaich.
      A' bhò. Ceithir casan, ceithir ballain, da shuil 'a a beul.


A little clear house, and its two doors shut.
                                An egg.

p. 413

Tigh beag soillear 's a dha dhorusd dùinte.


Two strings as long as each other.
                   A river's banks.

Da thaod cho fhada.
       Da thaobh na h-abhann.


Rounder than a ball, longer than a ship.
                                 A clew.

’S cruinn' e na ball ’s fhaid' e na long.


I can hold it myself in my fist,
And twelve men with a rope cannot hold it.
                                 An egg.

Cumaidh mi fein a'm' dhorn e,
'S cha chum da fhear dheug air ròp' e.


A great crooked stick in yonder wood,
And not a thing in it,
     But clang bo clang.
                   A weaving loom.

Maide mor cam ’s a’ choill ud thall
’S gun aona mhìr ann
      Ach gliong bo gliong.
                      Beairt fhighte.

p. 414


It travels on the little meads,
It travels on the midden steads,
It travels on the lengthened riggs,
And home it cometh late at night.
                 The reaping hook.

Siubhlaidh e na leunagan,
Siubhlaidh c na breunagan,
Siubhlaidh e 'n t-imire fada,
’S thig e dhachaidh anmoch.
               An corran buana.


Clean sour (salt or of the field) water without brine or salt.
         Water in a field.--There is a pun which cannot be rendered.

Uisge glan goirt gun sàile gun salann.
        Uisg' ann an claiseachan a' ghoirt.


A rod in the wood of MacAlister,
And neither yew nor ivory,
Nor tree of wood in the universe,
And the deuce take him that it measures not.
                                  A snake.

Slat an coill Mhic Alasdair,
’S cha 'n iubhar i 's cha n' eabhar i,
’S cha chraobh de dh' fhiodh an domhain i,
’S an deomhan air an fhear nach tomhais i.

p. 415


A black cock is in yonder town,
Feather black, feather brown,
Feathers twelve in the point of his wing,
And more than threescore (thirsts) in his back.
       A bottle of whisky.--The pun is on "ite," a feather--or thirst.

Coileach dubh 'a a' bhail' ud thall,
Ite dhubh is ite dhonn
Da ite dheug am bàrr a sgeith
'S corr is tri fichead 'na dhriom.
              Botall uisge bheatha.


Guess-guess, whelp, son of the son of guessing,
Twelve chains in the very middle,
Four ties, guess-guess.
                          A team of horses.

Tomh tomh a chuilean 'ic 'ic Thomh.
Da shlabhraidh dheug 'san teis meadhoin
Ceìthir cheanghail tomh tomh.
                   An t-seisreach.

(Seisreach means, literally, a team of six horses; and this . seems to be the sense of the puzzle.)


A little bit cogie in yonder wood,
Its mouth below, and it spills no drop.
                       A cow's udder.

Miodaran beag 's a choill ud thall,
'S a bheul foidhe, 's cha doirt e deur.
                             Uth na boine.

p. 416


A little gold well in the midst of this town,
Three golden ends and a cover of glass.
                                 A watch.

Tobaran òir am meadhon a bhaile so
Trì chinn oir is comhla ghloine ris.


Clattering without, clattering within,
A box four-cornered, and brimful of clattering.
                          A weaver's shuttle.

Gliogaran a muigh, gliogaran a stigh,
Bocsa ceithir chearnach 's e làn ghliogaran.
                                         Spàl figheadair.


No bigger it is than a barleycorn,
And it will cover the board of the king.
            The stone (apple) of the eye.

Cha mhoth' e na grainean eorna
'S comhdachaidh e bord an righ.
                         Clach na suil.


A small wife come to this town,
And well she makes a "drandan;"
A cap of the chochullainn on,
And yellow coat of blanket.
                       A bee.

Bean bheag a' tigh 'n do 'n bhaile so,
'S gur math a ni i dranndan,
p. 417
Currachd do 'n cho, chullainn urra,
’S còta buidhe plangaid.


A small wife coming to this town,
And creagada creag an her back,
Feet on her, and she handless,
And loads of chaff in her chest.
                           A hen.

Bean bheag a' tigh 'n do 'n bhaile so,
’S creagada creag air a muin,
Casan urra 's i gun làmhan
’S ultachan càthadh 'na h-uchd.


A shaving upon the floor,
And well it makes a humming,
A yard of the Saxon yew,
And bow of the yew of France.
                    The Fiddle.

Sliseag air an urlar,
'S gur math a ni i dranndan,
Slat 'n iubhar Shasunnach,
A 's bogha, 'n iubhar Fhrangach.
                          An fhidheal.


It came out of flesh, and has no flesh within,
It tells a story without ever a tongue.
                              A pen.

Thainig e a feoil 's cha n' eil feoil ann
Innsidh e naigheachd 's gun teanga 'na cheann,

p. 418


A golden candlestick on a two-leaved board,
Guess it now, come quickly guess it.

Coinnlear òir air bord da shliseig,
Tomhais a nis e, 's tomhais gu clis e.
                            Am Bàs.


A black horse and a brown horse, sole to sole,
Swifter is the black horse than the brown.
                   Water and the mill wheel.

Each dubh is each donn bonn ri bonn,
’S luaithe 'n t-each dubh na 'n t-each donn.
                  An t-uisge 's roth a' mhuilinn.


Twelve brethren in one bed,
And no one of them at the front or the wall.
              Spokes of the spinning-wheel.

Da bhrathair dheug 'san aon leaba,
’S gun h-aon din aig a' bheingidh na aig a bhalla.
                          Roth na cuibhealach.


Three whales so black, so black, three whales coloured, coloured,
Whale in the east, whale in the west, and punish him that guesses not.

Tri mucan dubha, dubha, tri mucan datha, datha;
Muc an ear, 's muc an iar, 's pian air an fhear nach tomhais e.
                                             Na tonnan.

p. 419


A small house out in the West,
And five hundred doors in it.
                         A sieve.

Tigh beag 'san aird an iar
’S coig ciad dorus air.


It is higher than the king's house,
It is finer than silk.

’S aird e na tigh an righ,
’S min' e na'n sioda.
                    An toit.


The son on the house top,
And the father unborn,
              Smoke before flame.

Am mac air muin an tighe
’San t-athair gun bhreith.
        An toit ma'n gabh an gealbhan.


A man went eyeless to a tree where there were apples,
He didn't leave apples on it, and he didn't take apples off.
             There were two, and he took one.

Chaidh fear gun suilean 'ionnsuidh craobh air an robh ubhlan
Cha d' fhag e ubhlan urra 's cha d' thug e ubhlan dith.
          ’Se da ubhal a bh' air a' chraoibh 's thug e h-aon leis.

p. 420


Totaman, totaman, little black man,
Three feet under, and bonnet of wood,
             (A potato) pot with the lid in.

Totaman, totaman, duine beag dugh,
Tri chasan foidhe, agus boinneid air de dh' fhiodh.
                                    Poit agus brod iunte.


I went to the wood and I sought it not,
I sat on a hill and I found it not,
And because I found it not, I took it home with me.
                       A thorn in the foot.

Chaidh mi 'n choille 's cha d' iarr mi e,
Shuidh mi air cnoc 's cha d' fhuair mi e,
’S o'n nach d' fhuair mi e thug mi leam dachaidh e.
                                    Bior ann an cois.


A waveless well, it holds its fill of flesh and blood.
                           A tailor's thimble.

Tobar gun tonn, cumaidh e ’làn de dh' fhuil 'a de dh' fheoil.
                                           Meuran tailleir.


Blacky, blacky, out at the door and a human bone in her mouth.
                                 A shoe on a foot.

Dubhag, dubhag mach an dorusd 's cnaimh duine 'na beul.
                                           Bròg air cois.


Red below, black in the middle, and white above.
                  Fire, griddle, and oatcake.

p. 421

Dearg foidhe, dugh 'na mheadhon, 's geal as a chionn.
                      An gealbhan, a' ghreideal, 'a an t-aran.


I can go over on a bridge of glass,
And I can come over on a bridge of glass,
And if the glass bridge break,
There's none in Islay, nor in Eirinn,
Who can mend the bridge of glass.

Theid mi nunn air drochaid ghloine,
’S thig mi nall air drochaid ghloine
’S ma bhrisdeas an drochaid ghloine
Cha 'n 'eil an Ile na 'n Eirinn
Na chàras an drochaid ghloine.


A brown stag in the hill, and his car on fire.
                                  The gun.

Damh donn 's a' bheinn 's a chluas ra theinidh.
                                    An gunna.


I will go out between two woods,
And I will come in between two lochs.
                     A pair of pails.

Theid mi mach eadar dha fhiodh,
’S thig mi stigh eadar dha loch.
                         Na cuinneagan.


A green gentlewoman behind the door.
A broom, usually made of a bunch of some plant.

Bean nasal uaine cùl an doruisd.
                           An gais sguabaidh.

p. 422


Wiggle waggle about the river,
Iron its head, horse its neck,
Man its tail.
                    A fishing-rod.

Driobhal drabhal feadh na h-abhann, iarunn a cheann
each a mhuineal duin' a thòn.
                               Slat iasgaich.


A sharp sharp sheep, and her entrails trailing.
                             A big needle.

Caora bhiorach bhiorach, 's a mionach slaodadh rithe.
                                   Suathad mhor.


A red red sheep, red mad.
                The tongue.

Caora dhearg dhearg, air an dearg choitheach.
                                 An teanga.


I have a puzzle for thee:
It isn't thy hair, and it isn't thy locks,
It isn't a bit of the bits of thy trunk,
It is upon thee, and thou art no heavier.
       The man's name.--The Gaelic expression being, 'What name is upon thee?"

Tha toimhseagan agam ort,
Cha n' c t-fhionna 's cha 'n e t-fhalt,
Cha n' e ball de bhallaibh do chuirp,
’S tha e ort 's cha truimid thu e.
                               Ainm duine.

p. 423

Got these puzzles, riddles, or toimseagain, from Flora MacIntyre, and a little girl, Catherine MacArthur, at Ballygrant, twelve years of age.


AIR AN T-SLIAIBH IS FHAIDE MUIGH, the farthest off hill or mountain.

BEUM, a piece or bit.

BLAIGH LIN, linen cloth.

BREUNAGAN; this word may mean every filthy piece of ground over which the sickle passes.

CATHADH, gen. of càith, corn seeds.

CIR, the fore-part of the jams.

COITILEAN, a garment somewhat of one piece, serving as the whole clothes; or perhaps a little boat or skiff, which suggests the form of the rainbow.

CAS, fast.

CUIRNEANACH, curled in ringlets.

FHILE or Ile, or perhaps eibheal or eibhle, an ember.

IONACHAG may be aonachag, from aon, a solitary little thing.

LOMACHAG, a bareness, from lom.

LOS, power of destruction.

It will be observed that these riddles are all of a peculiar kind, such as the well known--

Polly with a white pettiecoat and a red nose,
The longer she stands, the shorter she grows."

J. F. C.


Next: LI. The Fair Gruagach, Son of the King of Eirinn