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Isle of Skye: Latest Posts — Folklore

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Carn Liath, Kensaleyre (Chambered Cairn)

A piece of pasture land enclosed with an old dyke. the site of a bloody contest between the Macleods & Macdonalds, a large cairn situated close to the east of it is said to contain the bones of the slain. it is situated a little to the west of Kensaleyre Inn Property of Lord Macdonald It means Bloody Fold.

Revd. John Darroch & Revd A. Martin Angus MacPherson - Scotland's Places
drewbhoy Posted by drewbhoy
31st July 2019ce

Eyre (Standing Stones)

The most interesting feature of the Kensaleyre stones, apart from their superb location by the loch, is the story told about them in Skye folklore.

The stones are also known by their Gaelic name Sornaichean Coir' Fhinn. The name relates to an old legend that the mythical warrior Finn, or Fingal, and his band of hunters used the stones to suspend a cooking pot over a fire. The pot was so large that it held a whole deer, which Fingal used to make venison stew.

Kensaleyre Standing Stones, Skye
History, tourist information, and nearby accommodation
drewbhoy Posted by drewbhoy
30th July 2019ce

The Table, Quiraing (Natural Rock Feature)

It's certainly not labouring the point to assert that fairies play a significant role in the myth, legend and folklore attributed to the wondrous Isle of Skye. From 'The Fairy Bridge' (on the approach to Waternish).. to Dunvegan's 'Fairy Flag'.. to the 'Fairy Pools' at the head of Glen Brittle.. to Uig's 'Fairy Glen', the wee folk appear to hold the island in their thrall, even in today's space age of digital communications. Neither must we forget supernatural creatures at the other end of the scale, such as The Old Man of Storr standing proud - if a little ragged these days - beneath The Storr (appropriately enough), summit peak of the Trotternish Ridge.

But what of The Quiraing, arguably the most 'other-worldly', bewitching landscape of shattered, Jurassic rock formations in the whole of the UK, forming the eastern flank of the otherwise ordinary Meall na Suiramach at the northern extremity of said ridge? Created by an immense landslip during time immemorial - and (apparently) still a work in progress upon Mother Nature's 'to do list' - this is a place to let your mind run riot, a secret rock garden of gigantic proportions... or a mountainous topography in miniature? Guess how you view it depends upon your point of view. Whatever, The Quiraing is just the locale to potentially spy all sorts of enchanted goings on.

Consequently, it comes as rather an ironic surprise, if not disappointment, to discover the paucity of such intriguing tales that still pervade the very essence of this island elsewhere. No giants, fairies, elves or goblins. However, all is not lost. Assuming cows dispensing UHT milk are your thing? If so, literary scholar/poet Nevil Warbrook relates the following (never underestimate the power of a milk-white cow, as they say):

"'Quiraing’, so I am informed by the owner of the Staffin Guesthouse, the one-time Staffin Inn that appears in volume one of Acts of the Servant... [by Sir Tamburlaine Bryce MacGregor], ... approximately translates as ‘Pillared Fortress’, which seems appropriate. Among the pillars are several with their own names, such as The Prison, a towering mass of stone evocative of a castle keep complete with turrets, and The Needle, a jagged one-hundred and twenty foot spire. At the centre of the Quiraing, and perhaps most extraordinary of all, is a steep-sided miniature plateau named The Table. Perfectly level and grass covered it was used once to hide cattle during clan wars and more recently has hosted games of Scottish hockey, or ‘shinty’. Winding between the pillars of rock are chasms filled with boulders and scree which make ascending into the Quiraing not for the faint-hearted.

The only tale I can find concerns a milk-white cow said to graze on the grassy Table at dawn on Mid-summer’s day and who would only yield milk to a virgin maiden over sixteen years of age.

Her milk was said to taste exactly as the drinker wished and never soured and for many decades the cow appeared once a year and was milked by the fairest virgin maiden of the surrounding parishes. It all ended badly when a tinker up from Glasgow heard the tale while selling his wares in Portree and lay in wait on Midsummer night to claim the milk for himself. After ravishing the maiden and leaving her for dead on the slopes, he disguised himself with a wig and climbed into the Quiraing. There he found the cow but as soon as he tried to milk her she caught him on her horns and tossed him into Staffin Bay where he drowned. The maiden recovered but the cow never appeared again. Exactly which year this was no one can say. In some accounts it was in the time of King James the First of Scotland and in others it was ‘before my father drew breath’ but all agree the tinker was a Glaswegian."
26th June 2019ce

Duntulm (Stone Fort / Dun)

Slide No: 30 Duntulm Castle

Nine miles from Uig is Duntulm Castle, and one way it leads over a long slope of land called "the garden of Skye". On the verge of Loch Snizort the stack of Scudburgh is seen standing like a lighthouse. Duntulm Castle, originally the site of a "dun", once was the stronghold of pirate Norsemen, anterior to the Norwegian invasion of Harold Harfager. It is a considerable ruin perched upon a precipitous cliff, and still has an imposing look. The castle built by the chiefs of Clan Donnel in the twelfth century, remained the home of the MacDonalds till they moved to Mugstadt. "Big Donald with the blue eyes", Lord Of The Isles and grandson of Donald Gorm, who lost his life besieging Eilan Donan Castle in Loch Duich, at one time starved a kinsman to death in the dungeon of Duntulm. This kinsman having conspired against his uncle, wrote to an accomplice in Skye, and by the same opportunity sent a friendly letter to Donald Gorm, but in transmit the letters passed into the hands of one who could not read, and this person handed to Donald Gorm the one that revealed his nephew's treachery. He was immediately captured, carried to Skye, and immured in Duntulm; there he was starved to death, after first being supplied a meal of salt food, and daily after this to mock his thirst, a covered drinking cup was lowered to him, which on being uncovered, was found empty.

Destination St Kilda 'From Oban to Skye and The Outer Hebrides'

George Washington Wilson and Norman Macleod

Edited by Mark Butterworth
drewbhoy Posted by drewbhoy
14th February 2017ce

Dun Gerashader (Stone Fort / Dun)

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.

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!"
Superstitions of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, by J G Campbell (1900).

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.
Rhiannon Posted by Rhiannon
11th December 2013ce

Beinn na Cailleach (Cairn(s))

A very slightly different version is given by Archibald Geikie in his 'The story of a boulder: or, gleanings from the note-book of a field geologist' (1858 p149):
The top of Beinn na Cailleaich is flat and smooth, surmounted in the centre by a cairn. Tradition tells that beneath these stones there rest the bones of the nurse of a Norwegian princess. She had accompanied her mistress to "the misty hills of Skye," and eventually died there. But the love of home continued strong with her to the end, for it was her last request that she might be buried on the top of Beinn na Cailleaich, that the clear northern breezes, coming fresh from the land of her childhood, might blow over her grave.
And in 'the Gentleman's Magazine' for the first half of 1841, King Haco of Norway's wife, or his nurse, is named specifically. As the article says, "this is a point, however, which, I suspect, we must leave the old ladies to settle between them." I guess suffice to say that the hill hides an auld wife, and an important one - or at least one with Connexions.
Rhiannon Posted by Rhiannon
15th November 2007ce

Dun Flodigarry (Broch)

A midwife of Flodigarry was attending a confinement, when, one day, a message came for her to go some distance away. She [agreed to] the summons and found herself inside a fairy mound. She begged to be allowed to go, but the fairies refused to let her till she had performed two tasks. She was provided with a spindle, some wool, and some meal in a girnal. When the wool was all spun, and the meal made into bread, she might go. She toiled very assiduously to get all finished up, but it was of no avail. The wool and the meal remained undiminished. Despairing of ever seeing her home again, she begged of a fairy who was alone with her to tell her what to do. The fairy was moved by her prayers and told her to spin the wool as the sheep eats grass.

[Here the writer says This instruction has no meaning, so I suspect there has been some mistranslation from the Gaelic, which is of course, the language in which all these stories were originally told. Thus she misses the point entirely, because it's
surely a riddle the midwife has to solve? She continues..]

At all events the midwife understood, and soon finished that task. As to the meal, the fairy told her that she must take some of the dough and form a cake with it. This cake she must bake in front of (before?) the others, and eat it entirely herself. [Again some critical point has been missed, as she says:] In this way the task was done.

The fairies saw she must have had help from one of their own number, but she stoutly refused to tell. They were therefore forced to allow her to go. Joyfully she sped back to her "case," and on arriving at her patient's house she found it full of music and merrymaking. Astonished, she asked a bystander what it all meant. "A wedding," was the surprised answer.
"Whose wedding will it be?" she queried impatiently. What was her surprise to find it was the wedding of the very child she had helped to bring into the world, for she had been absent more than twenty years.
p207-208 in
Folk-Lore of the Isle of Skye
Mary Julia MacCulloch
Folklore, Vol. 33, No. 2. (Jun. 30, 1922), pp. 201-214.
Rhiannon Posted by Rhiannon
3rd May 2007ce

Dun Borve (Broch)

An old man in Borve was very much later than his neighbours in cutting his corn. One day he was standing looking at it, and he said aloud, "This corn is ready to be cut." Waking next morning this easy-going old gentleman saw, to his amazement, his corn cut and put up in stooks.

The next morning he was met by a man about four feet high and dressed in blue clothes. (This probably meant for green, as my informant, Donald Murchison, while working in the garden always called grass "that blue sing.") The old man asked the stranger where he had come from. "From Dun Borve," answered the little man, "and want pay for cutting the corn."
"What pay?" queried the old crofter.
"A few potatoes and a little pot," was the reply.
This seems a floating reminiscence of the demands of the much-dreaded tinkers, for, of course, potatoes were entirely unknown in the days when this story was first told. However that may be, the demands in this case were acceded to, and now hardly a day passed without the little man or his still less wife appearing with new requests.

The nuisance became quite intolerable, and the old man beat his brains for a means whereby he might put a stop to it. He at last hit on a plan. One day, when his troublesome visitors were as usual asking for something, he suddenly called out, "Dun Borve is on fire with all in it, dog or man." Instantly the fairy disappeared and from that time troubled the ingenious old man no more.

But at Portree Market he once more saw the little man. Unwisely, he spoke to him, and the fairy said, "How will you be seeing me?"
"With this eye," said the old man.
Instantly the fairy put spittle in the eye indicated, and, though the old man retained the normal use of it, the supernormal power disappeared.
p205-6 in
Folk-Lore of the Isle of Skye
Mary Julia MacCulloch
Folklore, Vol. 33, No. 2. (Jun. 30, 1922), pp. 201-214.
Rhiannon Posted by Rhiannon
3rd May 2007ce

Dun Edinbane (Broch)

And the Dun is surely the location for this story too. And if it isn't it should be.
A well-to-do couple in the neighbourhood of Edinbane had but one lack in their prosperity - they had no child. But, at length, to their pride and joy, the wished-for child arrived. A bountiful harvest demanded all hands at work, and the mother carried her infant out, and left it comfortable and apparently safe inthe charge of a young girl. But the latter was heedless and false to her trust, and she left the sleeping infant to the many dangers which menace infant life.

During her absence the fairies, attracted by the beauty of the human child, stole it, leaving in its place a peculiarly unattractive infant of their own species. From that time the healthy child "dwined," always wailing and refusing to eat. After all ordinary means had been tried and had failed the mother consulted a "wise man." This person bade the mother listen if she could hear the crying of her own child, which she soon perceived to be coming from a little hill.

By the advice of the wise man the mother took the fairy child near this hill and slapped it hard. Immediately a voice was heard exclaiming in anger, "Throw her out her own ugly brat," and the fairy child disappeared, leaving, at her feet, her own comely infant.
p204-205 in
Folk-Lore of the Isle of Skye
Mary Julia MacCulloch
Folklore, Vol. 33, No. 2. (Jun. 30, 1922), pp. 201-214.
Rhiannon Posted by Rhiannon
2nd May 2007ce

This just has to be the location of the following story.
Two hunchbacks lived at Edinbane, about fourteen miles from Portree. One of these fell ill, and asked his comrade in misfortune to go and feed his herd of cattle, the beautiful shaggy creatures one still sees in the Highlands. As the neighbour, a kindly, merry man, proceeded on his mission, he heard sounds coming from a small hill, and, listening, he heard a voice chanting continuously, "Monday, Tuesday."
With a sudden impulse he joined in, "Wednesday, Thursday."
A voice inquired, "Who will be adding nice verses to my song?"
"A hunchback bodach," the man replied.
"Come in to my house," said the voice, and the hunchback obeyed.
An old fairy man greeted him, and in gratitude for the addition to his song he took off the disfiguring hump.

We can picture the neighbour's astonishment when the transformed hunchback returned home. Jealousy consumed him, and the next day he hurried to the same place and heard the same song, which now included the nice new verses. Jealous of his neighbour's good fortune, for he was a sullen, discontented man, he joined in, "Friday, Saturday."

But this did not have the desired effect, for a wrathful voice demanded, "Who will be spoiling my nice song?" and the fairy man emerged and dragged him inside. With somewhat arbitrary cruelty he added the neighbours hump to that already on his back and drove him out.
p203-4 in
Folk-Lore of the Isle of Skye
Mary Julia MacCulloch
Folklore, Vol. 33, No. 2. (Jun. 30, 1922), pp. 201-214.
Rhiannon Posted by Rhiannon
2nd May 2007ce
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