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Isle of Skye: Latest Posts — Folklore

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Dun Edinbane (Broch)

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

Dun Torvaig (Ancient Village / Settlement / Misc. Earthwork)

A relative of Donald Murchison, who was employed as a herd boy on the farm of Scorybreck, fell asleep on a hill known as Dun Torvaig. Awaking from a heavy sleep, he found himself surrounded by fairies, and was a delighted spectator of their feasting and dancing. Meanwhile, in his home, he was mourned for as dead, and sad funeral feasts and loud wailing (and the latter is most heartrending) filled the house. What was the astonishment of the mourners when he arrived home, safe and well. Three weeks had elapsed, but he refused to believe it, and said, "It was the fine long sleep I had, but who would be sleeping the three weeks? It was but half a day I was after sleeping." He was safe and well certainly but never again the same lad, for he was ever distraught in manner, and ever sighing for the joys of the fairy-haunted Dun.
p203 in
Folk-Lore of the Isle of Skye
Mary Julia MacCulloch
Folklore, Vol. 33, No. 2. (Jun. 30, 1922), pp. 201-214.

Donald was one of Mary's informants - he did her garden for her and was the local postie. He had "the magnificent salary of four shillings a week [and] could read English and was fond of reading." When she went round his house for tea (she was "served with a courtesy worthy of a ducal palace") she couldn't help noting that his hearth was in the centre of the room and the cows were eating just through a door in the kitchen. I kind of feel she mentions these things to prove he's 'one of the folk' to her readers, rather than marvelling at the quaint way he lives.
Rhiannon Posted by Rhiannon
2nd May 2007ce

Dun Osdale (Broch)

In 'Skye - The Island and its Legends', Otta Swire has a lengthy account of the legend which states that this Dun is the source of the famous 'Fairy Cup' of Dunvegan Castle.

Condensed version -

A member of the Macleod clan, out at night searching for stray cattle, sees 'the door of Dun Osdale open and the Little People come out, a long train of them, and begin to dance on the green knoll near by'. He sneezes, and is dragged into the dun (abducted if you will!), by the fairies. Inside is lit by 'that strange green light associated with fairyland'. Although offered wine which forms part of the fairy banquet, in a beautiful cup, he knows better than to drink. His mother is a witch, and he knows that to eat or drink in the Dun will mean he's in the power of the Daoine Sithe. So he does the old tipping the drink inside his coat ruse, and once the fairies lose interest in him, makes his escape from the Dun with the cup.

Though chased by the fairies he makes it back home, where his mother puts a spell on him to protect him from the fairies. This spell has to be renewed every time he leaves the house. However, she forgets to put a spell on the cup.

The fairies put their own spell on the cup, which makes anyone who sees it or hears of it obsessed with aquiring it, even if they have to kill the owner. When, inevitably, the young man leaves the house without renewing his mother's spell, he is murdered for the cup by a friend.

On hearing of this, the chief of the Macleods orders the cup stealer hanged, and takes the cup into his possession, as the curse is now lifted. And to prove the story, the cup can still be seen at Dunvegan Castle.
Posted by Forgetful Cat
23rd June 2006ce

Heaven Stone (Holed Stone)

There is a holed stone here in the churchyard. If you're a spotless Christian, an atheist, or just feeling lucky - you may like to take the following test. Close your eyes, stick out your finger, and try to shove it into the hole. If you're successful first time, heave a sigh of relief, as you're off to heaven when you die. I'm afraid less co-ordinated people are going The Other Way.

The stone was also called the 'Trial Stone' as a similar 'pin the tail on the donkey' style test would tell the world if you were innocent or guilty of a crime.

(story mentioned in the Bords' 'Magical Atlas of Britain' among other places).

You can see a picture of the stone on geograph.

You might also find this hollowed stone seen on Canmore,"said to be a font or holy water stoup," so says the database. Does it look rather like a bullaun stone?
Rhiannon Posted by Rhiannon
7th July 2005ce
Edited 15th August 2013ce

Eyre (Standing Stones)

Legend has it that these two stones (and another now missing) formed a tripod that was used to support a giant cooking pot that provided feasts for heroes. follow that cow Posted by follow that cow
29th January 2005ce

Rocabarra (Standing Stone / Menhir)

No-one knows the precise whereabouts of Rocabarra ("stone of the sea-tangle top"), so the national grid reference for this site is intended to give the rough area rather than the precise location. Indeed, according to Otta F. Swire (Skye: The Island and its Legends, 1961, pp.120-1), Rocabarra has only ever been glimpsed twice by human eyes: once by St. Columba, who was saluted by it, and once by a person about whom Swire remains completely silent. There is a saying: "When Rocabarra appears again the world is due for destruction", although a different folk tradition says that the stone is the Isle of the Blessed, its coming heralding a golden age. The only clue Swire gives as to its location is to say that it is "in this Loch Dunvegan". TomBo Posted by TomBo
1st July 2004ce

The Weeping Stone

"In Duntulm Bay lies Tulm Island and beyond it, in clear weather, Fladdachuan, Fladda of the Ocean, can be seen. In olden times this was a sacred spot, held by many to be Tir-nan-Og, the Isle of Perpetual Youth, which lay in the west; here it is always summer and the sun never sets. The puffins recognized its sacred nature and never began any venture until they had circled the island three times sunwise; this they did also on arriving in Skye and before leaving it. It was held by some to be the reason why in Skye people used to turn three times sunwise before starting a new enterprise. The Druids held it in veneration and St. Columba caused a chapel to be built there. On its altar lay a black stone which some say was the original altar stone of the Druids and which was known as the Weeping Stone because it was always wet. Until fairly recently fishermen used to land on the island and pour three handfuls of seawater on the stone to procure favourable winds or to stop bad floods. The Weeping Stone no longer exists, or at least is no longer to be found where the altar once stood."

- Otta F. Swire, Skye: The Island and its Legends, 1961, pp. 56-7.
TomBo Posted by TomBo
1st July 2004ce

Old Man of Storr (Natural Rock Feature)

"Storr is the highest point (2,360 feet) of the long ridge of mountains which form the backbone of Trotternish... At its foot stands the 'Old Man of Storr' who, unfortunately, lost his head in a very severe storm half a century ago but is still a stately and impressive pinnacle. Once, in early medieval times, when the dispute about the date of Easter reached Skye, a priest, dissatisfied with the information to his hand, desired to go to Rome and hear for himself what the Pope had to say about the proper date for Shrove Tuesday. He was a magician. At early dawn he arose and climbed the Storr Rock; there on the brink of the precipice he watched the sun rise and made certain potent spells as it appeared above the earth. These spells not only called up the Devil but transformed him into a horse. The priest leaped on to his back and away to Rome. But the Devil knows a lot about spells and he knew (and the priest knew too) that it was his right to ask what questions he would and the priest must answer them, and answer them truly; yet if the priest mentioned the name of God the magic would be undone, the Devil would vanish in a puff of brimstone and the priest would be left in the sea or in some foreign land, as it might happen. All through that mad ride the Devil propounded questions which required the name of God as an answer, and always the priest answered fully and truly but succeeded in never using the sacred name. So he reached Rome and the Pope in safety, satisfied his conscience as to the proper date to keep Shrove Tuesday, and returned in safety to Skye. How he succeeded in laying the Devil, always the most difficult part of the business, is not known, but tradition has it that the Devil was so greatly impressed by the priest's diabolical cleverness that on being bidden farewell he went quietyl, merely replying (in Gaelic): 'Till we meet again.'"

- Otta F. Swire, Skye: The Island and its Legends, 1961, pp. 39-40.

Storr is also mentioned briefly in The Modern Antiquarian:

"Natural monoliths such as the huge needle-like Pinnacles, near the legendary Old Man of Storr on the Isle of Skye, filled the Neolithics with a deep sense of awe, followed by an underlying determination to imitate them." (p. 113)
TomBo Posted by TomBo
30th June 2004ce

The Maidens (Natural Rock Feature)

"The Maidens themselves are three great rocks rising up out of the sea, a mother and her two daughters. At their feet the mermaids sit and comb their hair: very few see them but many hear their soft, unforgettable singing. Once a man lay long on the cliff top, watching the kites circling overhead and listening to the hum of the bees. Slowly the hum changed to a mermaid's song and he looked down and saw a mermaid and three seals on the rocks below. Somehow he got down the cliff unseen and caught, not the mermaid but one seal, a half-grown calf; as he held it the water round him boiled as with fish and out of it rose the heads of many mermaids. The one whom he had seen on the rocks still had a comb in her hand. She called to him and bade him release the baby seal and she would reward him. He agreed and asked for her golden comb as a reward. This she refused, but offered him instead three wishes, which offer he accepted but got no good of the wishes. One never does.

The largest of the Maidens, in shape and general appearance, is not unlike the statues of Queen Victoria seated when seen from the sea. She is the Mother (Nic Cleosgeir Mhor) and is said to be perpetually weaving, while one daughter fulls or thickens and the other does nothing at all. Perhaps they are shadows of the old Norse Fates, the Nornir, two of whom spun the threads which are the lives of men, but the third did nothing except cut them when she chose, for she is blind."

- Otta F. Swire, Skye: The Island and its Legends, 1961, pp. 150-1.

Swire remarks that Sir Walter Scott referred to these mighty rock formations as "The Choosers of the Slain" and "The Riders on the Storm", and suggests that he may have been aware of a tradition connecting this region of Skye with the Norse Valkyries, or Choosers of the Slain:

"One night - it was the eve of that Good Friday upon which the Battle of Clontarff was fought in 1014 - a farmer who had been on the cliff top in search of a strayed beast found all the world suddenly dark and, looking up for the cause of the shadow, saw the twelve Valkyries hovering on their swans' wings over Healaval. They were weaving their dreadful web of death upon a loom of lances and the weights of the loom were men's heads. As they wove they sang (the translation by Gray is of a Caithness version of their song):

Horror covers all the heath
Clouds of carnage block the sun;
Sisters, weave the web of death,
Sisters, cease, the work is done.
The song ceased and the farmer saw the Valkyries tear the web into pieces and fly off with them, one half to the north, one half to the south, 'denoting the rending of the ancient faith'. There is no record of the Valkyries being ever seen again in Skye."

- Ibid., pp. 151-2.

A different tradition names the largest Maiden Ran, after:

"the wife of the Norse godling or Vanir called Hler or Ygg or Oegir. It was Oegir's custom to lift his hoary head from the waves when about to call up a storm, to the undoing of ships. When she saw this sign his wife, Ran, made ready and sat fishing for sailors, whose spirits she imprisoned, until for her evil practices she and her maidens were themselves imprisoned in these stones. But they are neither dead nor helpless, for always Macleod's Maidens have been known to contain evil spirits who are wreckers of ships and drowners of men."

- Ibid., p. 152.

The Maidens' reputation as ship-wreckers is, according to Swire, entirely justified, and many sailor's lives have been lost there, not least (yet not only) because of one Campbell of Ensor, a smuggler and wrecker who "used the 'Black Skerries' at the Maidens' feet for his false lights".
TomBo Posted by TomBo
30th June 2004ce

Dun Flodigarry (Broch)

"Not far from the house is a small mound and so green is its grass that none can doubt the fairies dance there. Indeed, their music has often been heard: once, a man joined them in the dance and disappeared, but was rescued when, exactly one year later, his brother flung a knife so that it stuck in his clothing. He believed he had only danced for an hour."

- Otta F. Swire, Skye: The Island and its Legends, 1961, p. 48.

The "house" to which Swire refers is Flodigarry House, "now a hotel", and the only ancient site marked nearby on the map is "Dunflodigarry", which I suspect to be a broch. Perhaps this is the "mound" which Swire mentions (it is certainly close enough to the hotel: its national grid reference is the one I've used for this site). However, there are hints of a wider prehistoric significance to this landscape, since Swire also describes two suspiciously "holy" sounding wells: "Near Flodigarry House, and not far from the shore, are two wells. Once there was only one spring here and from it the people of the township drew their water" (Ibid). These people, however, were half of them Christian and half pagan, and a bitter quarrel sprang up over the well, "each faction trying to prevent the other from using it". They appealed to St. Turog, a hermit resident on nearby Flodigarry Island, to resolve the dispute, and the saint agreed, meeting with them at the well. The people, however, became so furious in recounting their grievances to the saint that they "fell upon one another with sticks and stones", causing the hermit to hit the well with his staff, so that it dried up, and return to his island. Several days later a sheepish-looking deputation of people implored St. Turog to return their well, which they promised to share between them peacefully in future. The saint separated the people into two groups, pagan and Christian, and used his staff to create a well for each of them:

"The people were delighted and surrounded the old man with shouts of joy. Then he bade them, lest they forget their folly, to go sunwise round each well on the first day of each month before filling their vessels and drop into the well an offering of gratitude for the water. This they promised to do ever after. The two springs sometimes overflow into the rock-pools below. Where one overflows can still be found holy relics, sacred medals and little carved crosses; below the other the finds are quite different, being beads, carved shells, and curios; but below both are small coins."

- Swire, op. cit., p, 49.
TomBo Posted by TomBo
30th June 2004ce
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