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This is the best known of all Gaelic tales. It is the infant ladder to learning a chain of cause and effect, and fully as sensible as any of its kind. It used to be commonly taught to children of five or six years of age, and repeated by school boys, and it is still remembered by grown-up people in all parts of the Highlands. There are few variations. In one version the crow was a light bird; in another a gull was introduced, which advised the use of the sand to stuff the riddle.
The tale has sixteen steps, four of which contain double ideas. The English house that Jack built has eleven. The Scotch old woman with the silver penny has twelve. The Norsk cock and hen a-nutting twelve, ten of which are double. The German story in Grimm has five or six, all single ideas. All these are different. In Uist the actors are Biorachan mor agus Biorchan Beag; in Sutherland, Morachan agus Mionachan.
The speech of the Hoodie is always a very close imitation of his note. In another version she says, “CUIR CRIADH RIGHIN RUADH RIS – Put tough red clay to it;” and the gull said, “CUIR POLL BOG RIS – Put soft mud to it;” which is rather the speech of some other bird. There are several rare words in this; for example, “Gadhar,” a dog.
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