Received June 9, 1859.
An old man, of the name of Angus MacQueen, who lived at Ballochroy, near Portaskaig, in Islay, “who could recite Ossian’s Poems,” taught this more than forty years ago (say 1820) to James Wilson, blind fiddler in Islay, who recited it to Hector MacLean, schoolmaster, Islay.
The Gaelic is dictated and written by Islay men.
I have another version of this tale, written by Hector Urquhart, told by John Campbell, living at Strath Gairloch, Ross-shire, received June 27, 1859. It is very well told. It varies a little from the Islay version, but the resemblance is so close, that to print it entire would be repetition. It contains many characteristic phrases which the other has not got, so I give this abstract. The Gaelic is as it came to me.
THE “SGEULACHD” OF THE WIDOW’S SON. – There was once a widow’s son, and he was often stalking (SEALG). On a day of days and he stalking, he “sits” at the back of a knoll, before the sun and behind the wind (RI AGHAIDH GREINE ‘S RI CUL NA GAOITHE), and there came the way a youth, like a picture (OGANACH DEALBHANACH), riding a blue filly (FAILORE GORM), and he sits beside him. They played at ca rds, and the widow’s son won, and when evening came the youth said, “What is the stake of thy gaming?” (CE DHE BUIDH DO CHLUICHE?) and he said, “the blue filly under thee.” He took her home, and she changed into the finest woman thatman ever saw. Next day he went stalking, and on coming home in the mouth of night (AM BEUL NA OIDHCHE), he learned that the big giant had taken away his sweetheart – CHA NEIL COMAS AIR AS EISE ACH NA BO MHISE BO TREASA CHA MHEALLADH EISE FAD I. “There is no help for it,” said he, “but were I the stronger, he would not allure her far.”
DH’ ERICH MAC NA BANNTRICH. The widow’s son arose, ‘S CHAIDH E NA CHRIOSIBH IALLA S’ NA IALLA GAISGICH, and he went into his belts of thongs and his thongs of warrior, ‘S DH’FHALBH E LE CEUMANIBH GU TUISLEAG DOMH MHEANMNACH, and he went with leaping strides, cheerful to me (or? Doimhainneachd – of deepness) S’ DHEANADH E MILE THORAN NA SLEIBH LEIS NA H UILLE CEUM A DHEANADH E, and he would make a thousand knolls of the hill with every step he made, ‘S B’ FHEAR DHA NAMHAID A SHEACHANADH NA TACHAIRT AN LATHA SIN RIS, and his foe had better avoid him than meet that day with him. He saw a little hut “in the mouth of night,” and though far away, not long to reach it, AIR A THUBHADH LE ITEAGAN GARBHA NAN EUN A MUIGH S LE ITEAGAN MINE NAN EUN A STEACH, thatched with coarse feathers of the birds without, and with fine feathers of the birds within, AGUS RUITHAG AN T UBHAL BHON DARNA CEAN DHON A CHIN EILE LE CHO COMHRAD S’A BHA E, and the apple would run from one end to the other end, so even it was. He went in and found no man, but two great fires on the fire-place (CHAGAILT) on the floor. SUIL DA DUG E, glance that he gave he saw a falcon coming in with a heath hen in her claws, and the next glance it was , GILLE BRIAGH BUIDH, a braw yellow lad, who spoke as in the Islay version, entertained him and told him in the morning to call on SEABHAG SUIL GHORM GHLENNA FEIST – the blue-eyed falcon of Glen Feist. Next day it was the same, and he came, AIR CIARADH DON FHEISGAR, at the turning-dun of the evening, to a second hut, thatched like the other, S’ BHA SNATHNEAN BEAG SUARACH SIODA CUMAIL DION A SHROMA RIS, and there was a little sorry silken thread, keeping the thatch of its back on. DOBHRAN DONN, otter brown, come in with a salmon, and became a man, and spoke as the other, and told him in the morning to call on DOBHRAN DONN SRUTH AN T’ SHIUL – Brown otter of sail stream. The third day was the same, the hut was the same, but that there were two great fires on each fire-place, and there came in, MADADH MOR, big dog, with a hare by the throat, who became the finest man, AIR AN DUG E ROSK RIAMH, he ever turned face to; who said as the others did – “It was late when the big giant went past with thy sweetheart on his shoulder.” At pareting he told him to call on MADADH GLAS DRIOM AN T-SHLEIBHE – grey dog of mountain black in time of need. That night he sawm TIGH MOR GEAL AN AN GLEANN FADA FAISICH, a big white house in a long desert glen, and saw his sweetheart with a golden comb in her hand, and she would take a while at combing her hair, and a while at weeping, and when she saw him she said – “My pity, what brought thee here? the giant will kill thee.” “Two shares of fear on him, and the smnallest share on me,” said the widow’s son.
She had laid it as crosses and as spells on the giant, not to come near her for a day and a year, and they were together in the giant’s house till evening.
She hid him, and had a long talk with the giant when he came home, who was wheedled, as in the other story, into telling first that hsi life (BETHA) was in (CARN GLAS UD THALL) yonder grey cairn. The lady was addressed as NIGHINN RIGH CHOIGE MUGH – O daughter of king of COIGE MUGH, which kingdom is not within my geographical studies.
The giant came home, and found the grey cairn dressed out and ornamented, and after a deal of persuasion, gave out that his life was in SEANN STOC DARRICH – an old oak stump on the bank of yonder river. So the next day that was dressed out, and when he came home he said, “Do thou make the stock braw, BRIAGH, every day.” On the third day they split the oak stump with an axe, and a hare leaped out. “There now is the giant’s life away,” said the king’s daughter, “and he will come without delay and kill thee, and not spare me.” Grey dog of mountain back was called, and brought the hare, and a salmon leaped out into the river. Brown otter of sail stream brought the salmon, and a heath hen sprang out. Blue-eyed falcon of the Glen Feist brought the bird, and the giant came roaring – “King’s daughter, let me have my life and thou shalt have the little chest of gold and the little chest of silver that is in yonder grey cairn.” The widow’s son answered, “I will have that, and I will have this;” and he seized the axe, and the stock fell, and the giant was dead. And the widow’s son and the daughter of King Coige Mugh, in Erin, staid in the house and the land of the giant, and their race was there when I was there last.
The warrior’s dress of thongs is remarkable, and something like it is described in another tale. There is a curious picture at Taymouth of a man, supposed to be the Regent Murray, in a Highland dress, which may be the dress described. The upper part is composed of strips of some ornamental material, which might be stamped gilded leather; the rest of the dress is a linen shirt, with ruffles, and a plaid wrapped about the body in the form of a modern kilt, and belted plaid; he wears stockings and shoes of a peculiar pattern: the head-dress is a bonnet with an ostrich plume; the arms, a dirk and a long ornamented gun.
There is another picture at Dytchley, in Oxfordshire, which represents an ancestor of Lord Dillon in an Irish costume. The dress consists solely of a very short garment like a shirt, coloured, and very much ornamented with tags, which might be leather. The gentleman is armed with a spear, and the dress is probably a masquerade representation of a real Irish dress of some period.
I would here remark that the personages and places in all these tales are like the actors in a play and the scenes. The incidents vary but little, but the kings and their countries vary with every version, though there is a preference for Erin, Ireland; Lochlain, Scandinavia, or rather Denmark and Norway; and Greuge, the Greekdom, Greece.
I have a third version of this written by MacLean, told by Donald MacPhie, in South Uist. The old man was very proud of it, and said it was “the HARDEST” story that the transcriber had ever heard. He told me the same.
As often happens with aged reciters, when he repeated it a second time slowly for transcribing, nearly all the curious, “impassioned, and sentimental” language was left out. This is MacLean’s account and it entirely agrees with my own experience of this man, who is next thing to a professional reciter (see introduction). This version is the most curious of the three. I hope some day to get it better-copied, so I do not abstract it now. It is nearer the Ross-shire version than the Islay story, and carries the scene to Greece from Ireland. The reciter is 79, and says he learned it in his youth from an old man of the name of John MacDonald, Aird a Mhachair.
The principle on which gaming is carried on in this and in other tales is peculiar. The stake is rather a ransom, for it is always settled after the game is decided.
The game played is TAILEASG, which Armstrong translates as sport, game, mirth, chess, backgammon, draughts.
This story resembles in some particulars –
- The Gaelic tale published by Dr. MacLeod, printed page 30, Leobhar Nan Cnoc. 1834
- The Sea Maiden, in present collection, and the stories referred to in the notes.
- The Giant who had no Heart in his Body. Norse Tales. 1859.
- The Seven Foals, where a horse advises his rider. Norse Tales.
- Dapplegrim, where the same occurs, where there are two horses, and where the rider hides about the horses. Norse Tales.
- Fortunio, where the horse also advises his rider.
- This also resembles a part of the “Arabian Nights,” where the Calender is changed into a monkey, and the princess fights a genius in various shapes.
- “The Ball of Crystal,” Grimm, where the power of an enchanter is in a crystal ball, in an egg, in a fiery bird, in a wild ox.
- The Three Sisters, page 52, where a little key is found in an egg, in a duck, in a bull. This book is an English translation (1845) of Volks Märchen, by Musaeus, 1872. Said to have been published in English in 1790.
- Another version of the Sea Maiden recited to me in South Uist. The soul of the Sea Maiden was in an egg, in a goose, in a ram, in a wild bull, and was got by the help of an otter, a falcon, a wolf and a lion.
Lempriere – Ægyptus – Kneph or Knouphis – A God represented as a ram. He was the soul of the world; his symbol a circle, in the centre of which is a serpent with the head of a hawk, or a globe with a serpent turned round it. Together with mind, the primitive matter was given, both produced from the same great principle, existing in it from all eternity, imperishable. The primitive matter was given, both produced from the same great principle, existing in it from all eternity, imperishable. The primitive matter was rude and shapeless when the spirit imparted to it the power of motion, and gave it the form of a sphere. This became the sphere or egg of the world which Kneph let fall from his mouth, when he wished to form all things.
It is warmly contended by Irish writers that the religion of the Celts, and the Celts themselves, came from Phœnicia and Carthage.
If this story be mythological, here is something like it.
We have the hawk, ram, and a bird; and in the Inverary version we have a fish and the egg, with the life of bird, beast, fish, and man in it.
There is a place called Lok Maaien-ker, in Morbihan, Brittany, a long, dark, underground passage, at the end of which are certain rudely sculptured stones. On one of these is something which bears some faint resemblance to the snake, who appears in the next tale.
There is one word in this tale, “SEANG,” which is not given in dictionaries as a substantive. Sing, applied to an Indian prince, means lion, and the beast here described might be one. Seang, as an adjective, means thin, slim, slender, gaunt, and is the root of Seangan, an ant.
In Pritchard’s “Celtic Nations,” by Latham, 1856, a Dacota word is quoted – “SUNGKA,” which originally comprehended the idea of Dog, Fox, and Wolf.
The word GRUAGACH, which here means some male personage, generally means a maiden. It also means “A female spectre of the class of Brownies to which the Highland dairymaids made frequent libations of milk – rarely THE CHIEF OF A PLACE.” – Armstrong dic. This word, which has not its common meaning, may help to trace the language. The root is GRUAG, the hair of the head.
A Gruagach used to haunt Skipness Castle, and is still remembered there as a supernatural female who did odd jobs about the house for the maids, and lived in the ruin.
“There was also a Gruagach in Kerrisdale, in Gairloch, in Ross-shire, once upon a time.”
This may be the same word as Groac’h or Grac’h, a name given to the Druidesses, who had colleges in an island near the coasts of Brittany (p. 155, vol. i., Foyer Breton). The story given has many incidents common to the Gaelic stories.
The sword of light is common in Gaelic stories; and stripped of supernatural qualities, the whole thing seems very like an account of some race contending with another, whose chief wore long hair, who had horses and bright (steel?) swords, to which extraordinary virtues were attributed, and who were at the same time beset by savages who lived in caves, and were assisted by other savages represented by creatures.