One James MacQueen, who lived at Tirneagan, near Kilmeny, but who is not living now, gave this to one Flora MacIntyre, at Kilmeny, who told it to Hector MacLean. – May 1859.
This story is not like any other that I know. It is one of a kind which is common, in which mortals alone plat a part. Some are humorous, and some free. One such has been versified by Allan Ramsay, page 520, vol. 2; and is nearly the same as Tom Totherhouse, the Norse tale.
The expensive funeral was once truly highland; and the invitation to all the world characteristic. It used to be told of one such funeral party, that they dropped the coffin out of a cart on the way over a strand, and never found it out till they got to the churchyard. They returned and finished the funeral, but went home afterwards very drunk; the sons shouting “Horo! it’s the carlin’s wedding.” The funeral dinner was within my memory, and still may be, a solemn feast. Such toasts as “Comfort to the distressed,” and “The memory of the deceased,” were drunk in solemn silence; and the whole matter was conducted with gravity and decorum, but with profuse and necessary hospitality, for the funeral guests had often to travel great distances, and the coffin had to be carried many miles. No Highlander, if his friends can help it, is buried anywhere but at home; coffins may be seen on board the steamers, conveying to the outer islands the bodies of those who have died on the main land. It is a poetic wish to be buried amongst friends, and one that is in full force in the Highlands to this day. The curse of Scotland may occasionally intrude even on such solemn occasions; but a funeral is almost always decorously conducted. In some places, as I am told, a piper may still be seen at the head of the funeral procession, playing a dirge. There is no want of reverence, but death is treated as an ordinary event. I have seen a man’s tombstone, with a blank for the date, standing at the end of his house, while he was quite well.
It was lately said of a man who went home to die, “He took his own body home;” and so he did.
There is something mythological about the old woman who will not rest, because enough has not been laid out on her funeral. It may be some remnant of a notion of purgatory; but I suspect it is something heathen.
Romans had to pay their passage, perhaps Celts had to do so likewise.