Written down by Hector MacLean, schoolmaster at Ballygrant, in Islay, from the recitation of “Ann MacGilvray, a Cowal woman, married to a farmer at Kilmeny, one Angus Macgeachy from Campbelltown.” Sent April 14, 1859.
The Gaelic of this tale is the plain everyday Gaelic of Islay and the West Highlands. Several words are variously spelt, but they are variously pronounced – falbh, folbh, tigh, taighe, taighean. There is one word, Tapaidh [Resilient], which has no English equivalent; it is like Tapper [Brave] in Swedish.
I have a great many versions of this tale in Gaelic; for example, one from Cowal, written from memory by a labourer, John Dewar. These are generally wilder and longer than the version here given.
This has some resemblance to an infinity of other stories. For example – Orpheus, Cupid and Psyche, Cinderella’s Coach, The Lassie and her Godmother (Norse tales), East o’ the Sun and West o’ the Moon (ditto), The Master Maid (ditto), Katie Wooden Cloak (ditto), The Iron Stove (Grimm), The Woodcutter’s Child (ditto), and a tale by the Countess d’Aulnoy, Prince Cherie.
If this be history, it is the story of a wife taken from an inferior but civilized race. The farmer’s daughter married to the Flayer “FEANNAG,” deserted by her husband for another in some distant, mythical land, beyond far away mountains, and bringing him back by steady, fearless, persevering fidelity and industry.
If it be mythology, the hoodie may be the raven again, and a transformed divinity. If it relates to races, the superior race again had horses – for there was to be a race in the town, and every one was to be at it, but the stranger who came over the hill; and when they travelled it was in a coach, which was sufficiently wonderful to be magical, and here again the comb is mixed up with spells.
There is a stone at Dunrobin Castle, in Sutherland, on which a comb is carved with other curious devices, which have never been explained. Within a few hundred yards in an old grave composed of great slabs of stone, accidentally discovered on a bank of gravel, a man’s skeleton was found with teeth worn down, though perfectly sound, exactly like those of an old horse. It is supposed that the man must have ground his teeth on dried peas and beans – perhaps on meal, prepared in sandstone querns. Here, at least, is the COMB near to the grave of the farmer. The comb which is so often found with querns in the old dwellings of some pre-historic race of Britons; the comb which is a civilized instrument, and which in these stories is always a coveted object worth great exertions, and often magical.