The Three Soldiers – Notes, pp.193-198.

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Got this tale from a young lad of the name of James McLachlin, who is at present in my own employment. I have had the preceding tale from him also. He has had them from an old woman that lives somewhere up the way of Portaskaig, who, he says, can repeat several more, and to whom I intend immediately to apply.

May 27, 1860. – After speaking to the old woman MacKerrol, I find that, from age and loss of memory, she is unable now to tell any of the tales she was wont to repeat.


Another version of this has been sent by Mr. Osgood Mackenzie from Gairloch. It was recited by HECTOR MACKENZIE at Dibaig; and it was written by ANGUS MACRAE at Dibaig. This Dibaig version tells how –

There was a soldier, by name Coinneach Buidhe, Kenneth the Yellow, in the army of old, and he belonged to Alba. He deserted, and his master sent a “corpailier” after him; but the corporal deserted too; and so did a third. they went on till they reached the “yearly wood,” in America. After a time, they saw on a certain night, alight which led them to a large house; they found meat and drink, and all that they could desire. They saw no one for a year and a day, except three maidens, who never spoke, but called in at odd times; and as they did not speak, the soldiers were silent.

At the end of the year the maidens spoke, and praised them for their politeness, explained that they were under spells, and for their kindness, gave to the first a cup that would be ever full, and a lamp of light; to the second, a table-cover on which meat was ever; and to the third, a bed in which there would ever be rest for them at any time they chose; and besides, the “TÍADHLAICEAN” would make any one who had them get anything he wished. They reached a certain king, whose only daughter pretended to be fond of Kenneth the Yellow, and wheedled him till he gave her the TÍADHLAICEAN, when she ordered him to be put in an island in the ocean. When there alone he grew hungry, and ate “abhlan,” and a wood like thatch grew through his head, and there remained till he ate “ABHLAN” of another kind, when the wood vanished. He got off in a ship with “ABHLAN” of each sort, and reached the big town of the king where he had been before, where he set up a booth. On a certain day a fair lad came in to sell ABHLAN, and through him the other kind were sold to the king’s daughter, and a wood grew on her head. Kenneth the Yellow got back the TÍADHLAICEAN, and found his two companions AGUS BHA IAD UILE TUILLEADH ANN AM MEAS AGUS SOIRBHEACHADH GUS A CHRIOCH. And they were all after in worship and prosperousness till the end.

This is manifestly the same story shortened, and made reasonable. It is very well written and spelt according to rule.

I have another version of this told by Hector Boyd, fisherman, Castle Bay, Barra, who says he learned it from John MacNeill, who has left the island; and from Neill MacKinnon, Ruagh Lias. In this the three soldiers are English, Scotch, and Irish. The two last desert; and the first, a sergeant, is sent after them. They persuade him to desert also, and they come to a castle. The Irishman acts the part of John in the Islay version; and the first night they eat and go to sleep, and find dresses when they wake. In the morning they get up and put on their dresses; and the board was set over with meat and with drink, and they took theit TRATH MADAIN, breakfast. They went to take a walk without. The Englishman had a gun, and he saw three swans swimming on a loch, and he began yo put a charge in his gun. The swans perceived him, and they cried to him, and they were sure he was going to shoot at them. They cam eon shore and became three women. “How are these dresses pleasing you?” said they. “The like will be yours every day in the year, and your meat as good as you got; but that you should neither think or order one of us to be with you in lying down or rising up.” And so they remained for a year in the castle. One night the Irishman thought of the swans, and in the morning they had nothing but their old dresses.

They went to the loch; the swans came on shore, became women, and gave a purse that would always be full fo gold and jewels, to the Englishman; a knife to the Scotchman, and whenever it was opened he would be wherever he wished; and to the Irishman a horn, and when he blew in the small end there would be a thousand soldiers before him; and when he blew in the big end none of them would be seen.

They go to a big town, and build a house on a green hill with money from the purse; and when the house was built, one about went to the town to but meat. The Irishman fell in love with the king’s daughter, and was cheated out of his magic horn; borrowed the purse, and lost that; and then, by the help of the knife, transported himself and the king’s daughter to an island which could hardly be seen in the far ocean. And there they were, and there they stayed for seventeen days, eating fruits. One day he slept with his head on her knee, and she looked at her hands and saw how long the nails had grown; so she put her hand in his pocket and took out the knife to pare them. “Oh,” said she, “that I were where the nails grew on me,” and she was in her father’s house. Then he found red apples and grey apples; and no sooner had he eaten some of the red apples than his head was down, and his heels were up, from the weight of the deer’s horns that grew on his head. Then he bethought him that one of the grey apples might heal him; and he stretched himself out with his head downwards, and kicked down one of the apples with his feet, and ate it, and the horns fell off him. Then he made baskets, and filled them with the apples; climbed a tree, saw a ship, tore his shirt and waved it on a stick, and was seen.

The skipper was under an oath that he would never leave a man in extremity. They came on shore for him, and were terrified at his beard, thinking that he was the evil spirit. When he got on board, a razor was got, and (as the narrator said) SHEUBHAIG E he was shaved. The ship sailed straight to the king’s house. The lady looked out of a window. He sold her a red apple for a guinea. She ate it, the horns grew, and there were not alive those who could take her from that. They thought of saws, and they sent for doctors; and he came, and then there is a scene in which he pretends to read a divining book, and tries saws on the horns, and frightens the lady and recovers the lost gifts. Then he went to his friends, and they went to the swans; and the spells went of them, and they married them.

The story is very well told, especially the last scene; but it is too like the Islay version to make it worth translating at full length.

I have another story, from a Ross-shire man, now in Glasgow, which begins in the same manner, but the incidents are very different.

This story has a counterpart in German, Der Krautesel; and it has a very long pedigree in Grimm’s third volume. It seems to be very widely spread, and very old, and to belong to many languages; many versions are given. In one a soldier, one of three, eats apples in a forest, and his nose grows right through the forest, and sixty miles beyond it; and the king’s daughter’s nose is made to grow, exactly as horns are made to grow on the princess in the Highlands; and she is forced to give up the things which she had got from the soldiers; and which are a purse, a mantle, and a horn of magic power.

In another version, it is a young huntsman who changes a [witch] and her daughter into donkeys, by giving them magic cabbages, which had previously transformed him.

The swans in the third version seem to belong to Sanscrit, as well as to Norse and other languages. In “Comparative Mythology,” by Max Muller, Oxford Essays, 1856, a story is given from the Brâhmana of the Yagurveda, in which this passage occurs –

“Then he bewailed his vanished love in bitter grief; and went near Kurukshetra. There is a lake there called Anyatahplaksha, full of lotus flowers; and while the king walked along its border, the fairies were playing there in the water in the shape of birds; and Urvasi discovered him, and said, ‘That is the man with whom I dwelt so long.’ Then her friends said, ‘Let us appear to him,'” etc., etc.

The rest of the Eastern story has many Western counterparts, such as “Peter Wilkins and the Flying Ladies,” and a story which I have from Islay. The incident of birds which turn out to be enchanted women, occurs in a great many other Gaelic stories; and is in Mr. Peter Buchan’s “Green Sleeves” (see introduction); and, as I am told, in the Edda.

BAILECLIATH is Dublin, and takes its Gaelic name from a legend. The name should be Baile àth Cliath, the town of Wattle Ford; either from wattled boats, or a bridge of hurdles; and as it appears, there was a weaver, or tailor, residing at Ath Cliath, Wattle Ford, who got his living by making creels or hurdles, CLIATHAN, for crossing the river. There was a fluent, gabby old man, who was a friend of his; and from his having such a tongue, the maker of the creels advised him to become a beggar, as he was sure to succeed. He began, and got plenty of money. He wore a cap or currachd, and all the coin he got he buried under a stone, at the end of the wattle bridge. The bridge maker died; the beggar got ill and kept his cap on, and never took it off; and when he was dying he asked his wife to bury him in it; and he was buried with his cap on. The widow’s son found out about the buried treasure, and dug it up; but the beggar’s ghost so tormented the boy, that he had to go to the minister, who advised them to build a bridge with the money; so they built DROCHAID ATH CLIATH, and there it is to this very day.

I do not know which of the Dublin bridges is meant, but the story was got from a woman at Kilmeny in Islay, and this is a mere outline of it. It is known as the story of the red-haired beggar, Am Bochd Ruagh.

Bailecliath is a great place in Gaelic songs.

The story of the Three Soldiers is one of which I remember to have heard a part in my childhood. I perfectly remember contriving with a companion how we would have given the cruel princess bits of different kinds of apples, mixed together, so as to make the horns grow, and fall off time about; but I cannot remember who told me the story. The version I have given is the most complete, but the language of the Barra version is better.

There are two or three inconsistencies. They travel on the towel which had the commissariat, and do not use the locomotive whistle at all. But there are touches of nature. The mason’s labourers thought the time had passed, but the adventurer did not find his time so long; and he alone remembered the day.

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