Everywhere, in the Highlands, the red-deer are associated with the Fairies, and in some districts, as Lochaber and Mull, are said to be their only cattle. [...] In other parts of the Highlands, as in Skye, though the Fairies are said to keep company with the deer, they have cows like those of men. In Skye, Fairy cattle are said to be speckled and red (crodh breac ruadh), and to be able to cross the sea. Superstitions of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, by J G Campbell (1900).
It is not on every place that they graze. There were not above ten such spots in all Skye. The field of Annat (achadh na h-annaid), in the Braes of Portree, is one. When the cattle came home at night from pasture, the following were the words used by the Fairy woman, standing on Dun Gerra-sheddar (Dun Ghearra-seadar), near Portree, as she counted her charge:
"Crooked one, dun one,
Little wing grizzled,
Black cow, white cow,
Little bull black-head,
My milch kine have come home,
O dear! that the herdsman would come!"
To complicate matters, MacGregor (The Peat-Fire Flame, 1937) mentions this story, but also another which is clearly based in exactly same area, and has the same rhyme, but this time the fairy cows are being called back to the sea, rather than to the Dun:
[...] the faery cows that once came ashore at the Great Rock of MacNicol, on the farm of Scorribreac, in Skye. On this occasion, the entire herd was intercepted in its attempt to return to the sea, by the scattering of earth on the strip of land separating it from the water. In the Highlands and Western Isles it was held that a sprinkling of earth taken from a burying-ground was most efficacious in such circumstances.
Toward the evening of the day on which the faery cattle came ashore at Scorribreac, a voice from the sea was heard calling them back by name. And the names by which they were called were taken down at the time. These names, of course, were in the Gaelic; and the Gaelic rhyme by which they are remembered is still known among those interested in these matters. The rhyme illustrates, moreover, that these faery cows varied considerably in colour. One was brown; and another was black. There was a red one, and a brindled one, and so on. In response to the voice from the sea, the whole herd ultimately returned to its watery element.
Posted by Rhiannon
11th December 2013ce
Edited 11th December 2013ce