Glaistigs, &c.

[Newspaper Research Contents]


   ARCHIBALD MACDONALD, commonly known by the above patronymic, was perhaps the most perfect master of his hazardous profession [cattle-lifter] of any who ever practised it Archibald was by birth a gentleman, and proprietor of a small estate in Argyleshire, which he, however, lost early in life…  

   Availing himself of the credulity of his countrymen, he pretended to hold frequent intercourse with a spirit or genie, still much distinguished in the West Highlands under the appellation of Glastig. This he turned to excellent account, as the storied which his partisans fabricated of the command he had over the Glastig, and the connection between them, terrified the people so much that few could be prevailed upon to watch their cattle at night, and they thus fell an easy prey to this artful rogue. 

   Archibald’s father having died early, his mother afterwards married a second husband, who resided in a neighbouring island. When she died her son was out of favour with his stepfather, and he was refused the privilege of having the disposal of his mother’s remains, nor did he think it prudent to appear openly at her funeral. He, however, obtained accurate information of the place where her corpse was lying. In a dark night he made an opening in the thatched roof of the earthen hut, and the wakers being occupied in the feats of athletic exercise usually practised on these occasions, the body being excluded from their sight by a screen which hung across the house, Archibald carried it off to his boat like another Æneas. he also got possession of the stock of whisky intended for the occasion, as it lay in the same place – thus discharging the last duties of a pious son with little expense to himself. 


– Nairnshire Telegraph and General Advertiser for the Northern Counties, 20th March, 1867, p.4. 



… The following poem, or fragment, rather, of a poem, as it appears to us, was repeated to us a few months ago as Captain Campbell’s composition, but it is manifestly of a date long anterior to Para’ Mòr’s time, or even that of his father or grandfather before him. Such a poem was likely to be a favourite with so famous a hunter as he was, and hearing him often repeat it, and it being well known that he could, and frequently did, compose some excellent poetry himself, it was the most natural thing in the world that the people if Appin and Lochaber should attribute to him the authorship of this piece also. The truth is, that the fragment given below, which was taken down from the recitation of the late John Macgregor, Corran, a fine old Highlander only recently deceased, bears the clearest internal evidence of being at least several centuries old. It must have been composed, if not before the invention of gunpowder, at least before the time when guns and gunpowder came into general use in the Highlands, for the hunter-bard mentions the bow and arrows, with the indispensable hunting spear, as his only weapons of the chase. This, of itself, would seem to throw back the poem to a date at least three hundred years before Captain Campbell’s time, while many of the words used being long since obsolete, and the archaic turn of phrase in more than one verse, point very unmistakeably, we think, to an equally remote period. The reader, however, shall judge for himself. The “argument” of the poem, as we interpret it, may be stated thus. – 

   A hunter bard, returning in the evening from the chase, is met on a narrow footpath, at the top of Glen-Atha, by the Glaslig, a fierce, wild-woman, half-witch, half-demon, a character of considerable prominence in Highland superstition, powerful to work evil, not only by her incantations, spells, and charms, but by her prowess in actual fight, her dreadful teeth, long, sharp, and recurved as a crocodile’s, and her eagle-like claws, rendering her a dangerous customer to tackle, even by the stoutest heero. The hunter expostulates with her as to her right to obstruct his path, or annoy him in any way. She demands a portion of the venison he has that day killed, not as a favour, but as a right, with a threat that if he refuses, it will be all the worse for him. He does refuse, however, and emphatically tells her that she shall not have as much as the picking of the teeth of the dead stag, little as that would avail her. She raises her hand, as if to mesmerise and render him powerless, while she begins to speak the spell that, fully spoke, shall work him “mickle woe,’ but, before she has time to complete the incantation, Gruailleach, his gallant stag-hound (of the female gender), springs full at her throat, burying its fangs to the root, and to the farthest back in either jaw, in her shoulder, which makes her scream with pain and terror, and take to flight. The hunter thus escapes, but the hag breathes a poisonous breath into the eyes of the good hound, from the effects of which poor Gruailleach is for a long time afterwards stone blind. 

   Here is the poem itself, written down for the first time in the month of June, last, and since then revised and rewritten more than once under favour of repeated recitations. – 


Feasgar dhomh tearnada a mhunaidh; 

‘Se ‘munadh air thus a b’anns’ leam: 

Thachair ‘an sid gun iarraidh oirre 

A chailleach Chrodhanach ‘sa ghleann rium. 


Bha mis’ am aònar anntle ‘m iubhar. 

Le ’m bholg, le ‘m dheadh ukior-laimh, S’ le ‘m ghàothar; 

Gruailleach a b’ ainm do’n ghalla 

Nach d’fhannaich orm riamh air aònach. 


Bu cholgarra, bu mhear, ‘S bu luath i; 

Cumachdail ‘o cluais gu h-earball; 

Broc, no ruadh, no’n làn damh biorach, 

Cha robh do’n chinneadh ud nach marbhadh. 


Ban-chompanach a b’ fhearr leam fhaicinn, 

Ri’m thaobh air faiche no’n frith sealgaich; 

‘Sa mhaduinn na ghleibheadh i ‘dh-iasad, 

Phaigheadh gu fiachail rol’n anmoch. 


“A chailleach chrodhanach udlaid, 

Rossal ‘us abhachdas searbh ort! 

Ciod uime a chachda’ tu’n ceum rathaid 

‘Am bràighe Ghlenn-Atha dhomh’ san’ anmoch?” 


“Thoir dhomhsa de’n t-shithionn, a fhleasgaich 

A mharbh thu ‘san fheasgar ‘sa gharbhlaich; 

Mìr mōr na mua’ sanndaich, 

‘S leam sid gun taing leat, a shealgair.” 


“Mìr mòr cha’n fhaigh thu uamsa, 

No mir beag suarach ge’d, ‘dh-iarradh; 

An damh ud a mharbh mi’ san fhireach, 

Cha’n fhaigh thu dheth crioma’ nam fiacal.” 


Thog i lāmh nan geasabh cruadh, 

Glaslig mhōr nan ioma ciabh; 

‘S bha fiaclan Ghruaillich gu’n-cùl 

‘Na, gualainn, a’s theich i le fiamh. 


Shèd i tōchd be h-anail bhréun 

‘An sùd na galla b’fhearr ‘bha bèo, 

‘Sann an teach an t’ sealgair thall, 

Bha Gruailleach dall fad iomad lò. 

[Original – as a lot of the text was indistinct for a good transcription.]

   To secure, if possible, the interest of the mere English reader in a very old and curious fragment that has interested ourselves extremely, we have thrown it into the form following. It is more of a paraphrase, however, than an exact and literal word-for-word translation; and although it is very likely that our excellent friend, Mr. J. F. Campbell, of “Leabhar-na-Feine” fame, and others, may be down upon us vi et armis, poker and tongs, because of the unliteralness of iyr rendering, we must just grin and bear it. Our object is simply to give the non-Gaelic reader some idea of the style and manner, and curious turns of phrase, in the original. As for the rest, it is quite as literal as the “Homer” of pope, the “Virgil” of Dryden, or any of the score of our “Horaces” in English verse that come in your way. A plain prose translation would have been an easy matter, but it would have lacked what artists call “effectiveness.” We prefer our own gingle. –  


One evening, as I bent my homeward way, 

From forest-chase – ‘twas pleasant pastime then 

In man’s full strength, to hunt the wary stag – 

The foul witch woman met me in the Glen. 


I was alone: I bore my bow and quiver, 

And my good ashen, brazen-pointed spear: 

Gruailleach, my trusty brach, was by my side, 

That never failed me while the chase was deer. 


High-couraged, keen, and swift of foot was she, 

Shapely from ear to tip tail; lightning-eyed; 

With badger, roe, or nimble-footed stag, 

She never made mistake on mountain side. 


Faithful companion in my hour of need, 

In mountain wilderness or far-stretched plain; 

Use her but well, and all your kindly care 

She never failed to pay in full again. 


“Wizen’d and withered witch! ill-favoured hag 

Whyt hus obstruct the hunter’s lonely way? 

What is thine errand here? the sun is set, 

And night succeeds the swiftly-fading day. 


“Give me,” quoth the hag, with threatening look, 

“Of dainty venison a goodly share; 

Her proper portion may not be withheld, 

O hunter bold! from longing woman’s prayer.” 


“Nor goodly share, nor portion large or small, 

Shalt have of me, thou evil-omened crone: 

Of all I killed in forest-chase this day, 

Not ev’n the picking of the smallest bone!” 


Her lean right hand was raised to work me ill, 

An evil spell her tongue had almost said, 

When Gruailleach sank her fangs, ev’n to their roots, 

In the hag’s shoulder: then she screamed and fled. 


She breathed an evil breath into the eyes 

Of my good brach, ere yet she fled away; 

And in my halls, where other dogs saw well, 

Gruailleach was blind for many an after day. 

Every reader knowing anything of our older Gaelic ballad poetry, will, we think, agree with us that this poem must be referred to a date long, long before Captain Patrick Campbell’s time. The subject-matter or theme, as well as the language and mode of treatment, seem to us to point to a date not later than the middle of the sixteenth century, nor is there any reason at all, that we can see, why it should not be referred to an even earlier period. That the poem is fragmentary and incomplete, struck us from the very first, and an old man, to whom we repeated the verses a few days ago, clearly recollected some of the lines and phrases, and said that the dialogue between the hag and hunter was, as he used to hear it when a boy, much longer than in our version, and very curious – the best part, he thought, of the poem. A few elucidatory notes may not be unacceptable even to the Gaelic reader. 

   The Glaslig, Glasnig, or Glaistig, was, in Highland superstition, a sort of she-devil or hag, worse than Hecate and the other three witches in “Macbeth” rolled into one, constantly going about under various forms, and might and main engaged in all manner of evil. She is called “Crod-honach,” hoofed, or rather cloven-hoofed, because she frequently appeared in the shape of a goat, and even in her most human shape, was easily known by her cloven, Pan-like feet. All belief i the existence of the Glaslig is not yet, perhaps, extinct in some of our remoter glens. 

   5th stanza. “Rossal ‘us abhachdas ort!” is, we were informed by the reciter, an old form of imprecation or curse amongst the Highlanders, meaning judgment, followed by immediate punishment, or as if we should call for sentence and speedy execution against sone notorious and hopelessly irreclaimable malefactor. 

   Am braighe Ghlenn-Atha. At the top of Glen-Atha. We do not know any glen so called at the present day. Perhaps it may be Glenō, at the foot of Ben Cruachan, in Upper Lorne. 

   6th stanza. “Mìr mōr na mua’ sanndaich,” &c. The allusion here is, we think, to the fact that it was considered stingy and mean in the extreme – wrong even – in hunter or fisher to refuse a female, especially a married woman, a share, if asked, of the produce of the chase or angle. 

   7th stanza. The hag asks for venison, and is refused; and, perhaps, no refusal was ever more thorough and emphatic. You shall not have so much as the picking of the teeth of the stag I killed on yonder mountain” says the hunter; and whoever has examined the clean, polished, ivory-teeth of the stag, must acknowledge that they afford but poor “picking,” yet even that the hunter assures the hag she shall not have. 

   8th stanza. “Geas-abh” is an old word meaning enchantment, spell, &c. “Tha e fo gheasabh” – he is under the power of enchantment. 

   The poem, altogether, is very curious. Captain Patrick Campbell deserves credit for having preserved it, and planted it, so to speak, in the district. He was not the author. He was, however, an excellent Gaelic poet, and we may by and by present our readers with some specimens of composition unquestionably his own. 

     April 6, 1874. 

– Inverness Courier, 9th April, 1874, p.3. 



   Sir, – I have read with no little interest the account by your “Nether-Lochaber correspondent,” in a recent issue of your paper, of the Glaistig Superstition, as well as Mrs Mary Mackellar’s notes of “Cuilleach na-beinne-bric.” with the verses of the latter I have been familiar from an early age. The perusal strongly reminds me of a similar superstition connected with Glen-Urquhart, where I lived for ten years. Between Corriemonie and Glenmoriston, a lonely hill district of some fourteen miles, is a dismal hollow and a lake, with a little isle in the centre, and a precipitous impending hillock close by. tradition makes this the abode of such another unearthly vixen as Glaistig is described. She made the Clan Macdougall the peculiar objects of her attentions; one of whom details (also in verse) a bloody encounter with her. I have in vain questioned my memory, but regret to say that the following is all it can furnish me:- 

“Cha t-eid mis ho ro ‘n ’rathad, 

Beul oidche no latha; 

Chaneil deagh bhean an tighe so chradhaich.” 

[“I will not go before the road, 

Mouth of night or day; 

The good lady of this house is not sad.”] 


“Bha i trom air mo chinneadh, 

Ga’m maibhadh sga milleadh, 

Gu’n cuireadh sealbh spiorad nis’ fearr oirn.” 

[“She was heavy on my clan, 

Forgive me for my misfortune, 

May we possess a better spirit.”] 

It is upwards of thirty years since I visited the locality, for the first and last time, in company with a celebrated poacher. The loneliness of the place, the singular legend, and the plaintive melody of the verses, made an indescribable impression on my imagination. Let me hope that some one connected with that district, whose memory is more retentive, will furnish you with a better account of “Cuilleach Loch Cradhaich,” than that of your humble servt., 

A. F.      

   Your Nether-Lochaber correspondent, who seems to know everything, may be able to throw some light on these superstitions. 

– Inverness Courier, 14th May, 1874, p.6. 

GLAISTIG LIANACHAIN. – Can anyone tell me anything regarding “An Gille-dibh-mor MacCuaraig,” who met with this “glaistig?” It would appear MacCuaraig was a blacksmith. Is MacCuaraig the Gaelic for Kennedy in the district referred to? The encounter between the blacksmith and the glaistig is graphically described in a poem given in Macpherson’s “Duanaure.” 


– Highland News, 20th May, 1899, p.11. 


   Who, with the breath of the heather and the scent of the dewy birches and pungent pines of the Braes of Lochaber in their nostrils, could sit and write of London or its doings? I know I can’t. Though there are plenty of Macdonalds here, aren’t the hearts of the best of them buried in the misty corries of their native glens, and what matters the rest of them. It is of my native glen and its people I wish to tell; not the “great” people – the doughty warriors, daring hunters, or the sweet-voiced poets. No, their fame has come down to us in story and in song; their names are household words among the clan. But who knows of the little people that live in the knolls and in the burn, in the lakes and in the tarn? The “Daoine sith,” the “Glaistig,” the “ùruisg,” the “Bocans,” that are as much children of the clan as the songs and the legends, the poetry and romance that have grown with the heather on the braes, and will live as long as Cloinn Domhnuill and the Gaelic inhabit the glens and no longer. It is not the men fo yesterday, who have “treked” into the heart of Lochaber with their lowlands ways and tongues to fill the places of better men, who can tell you. What do they know of what is only told in whispers of sweetest Gaelic, and that only to those who are flesh of their flesh and bone of their bone? I heard i sitting by the glow of the peat fires in my clansmen’s dwellings, as I watched the blue smoke curling in elfin forms round the blackened “slabhraidh” and vanishing into the blackness above. Perhaps some scattered sons of Lochaber may read about these friends of his childhood and tell the pretty stories about each which cannot be written here. 

… An energetic little sprite was the Glaistig, caught by young Kennedy of Liannochan, who built for him, in a single night, a moated, fortified castle on the moor, at the price of her freedom, but with the witchery of her race she tried to carry him off with his castle to fairyland. However, other kind fairies had provided him with counter charms which defeated her evil intentions, and she went off in a blue flame over the shoulder of Finnisgeig, leaving behind her the curse which left the hearth of Liannochan desolate… But one I know has left – Glaistig or Sìthche, Tàcharan or Uruisg, whatever it may be 0 for its mission no longer lies there; the white grey bird that never failed to sit on the window-sill of the Keppoch who was doomed to die. That is the only child of Lochaber that I never wish to see again. 

– Highland News, 23rd December, 1899, p.9. 

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