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Perthshire Ghost stories

Big Red-haired Duncan

The coffin of the dead man

Colin Campbell and the Ghost of Finn Glen

The Fairies of Callander

More fairy stories

The Fairies of Sith Challion

The fairies of the Black Sithein Bovain.

Urisks

Padarlan

The Breadalbane Urisks

Adi of Glenlochan

Caobarlan of Kenmore

The Devil

 

Big Red-haired Duncan

Long ago there lived a man in Glen Lochay near Killin who was a famous swordsman and whose reputation as a skilful and fearless pacifier of restless ghosts had spread much beyond his own neighbourhood. His name has come down to the present day as Donncha mor ruadh na feusag. Big red-haired Duncan with the long beard. His real name is supposed to have been Duncan Campbell; and his tomb-stone, on which the figure of a long-bearded Highlander is cut can still be seen in Killin Churchyard. It is related of him and the incident whose his absolute fearlessness, that one night when returning from home. a thoughtless ghost, not knowing the man it had to deal with, impertinently shouted to him, “Cha duine, duine na ourachd!” - “A man is not a man when alone.” Meaning that he was not brave when alone. Quite unmoved by the unexpected words and with a wholesome contempt of ghosts and their ways, Duncan replied “Is duine mise and cuideachd no ‘m’ourachd a bhiast!” - “I am a man in company or alone, you contemptible thing”

Hearing in his old age that a troublesome ghost haunted the vicinity of Tobar-na-reul or star-well, Duncan resolved at all hazard to force the ghost to speak on the way leading from Loch Vennachar to the Lake of Menteith and so rid the country of a nuisance. The word Tobar is the old gaelic for a well or a spring. A drover had been followed from Balgair market by robbers who robbed and murdered him near the spring. So the murdered man’s ghost kept watch and ward every night near the scene of the murder and prevented people from passing that way after night fall.

Duncan’s wife, observing him one day girding on his claymore, enquired where he was going. He answered - “To meet the ghost of the Tiobairt and get it to go to its rest.” She urged him to remain at home, but her pleading was in vain. He had made up his mind to go and go he would. Seeing that it was useless to argue further with him she took another course. Calling a young man to her, she instructed him to proceed with all possible speed along the west side of Glen Lochay to Killin, so that Duncan would not see him. On reaching Killin he was to visit a friend of hers to whom he would make known Big Duncan’s intended journey and the cause of it. The young man was in Killin before old Duncan, and fortunately found the friend at home. The latter who was a very astute and ready witted man, strolled leisurely along the road to meet Duncan. Expressing his surprise at seeing him armed in such a manner, he said “Caite am bheil thu dol mar so Dhonnachaidh?” - “Where are you going like this Duncan? Duncan replied, “Tha mi cluintinn gu’m bheil taibhse aig an Tiobairt tha cur dragh air gach neach a tha gabhail an rathaid sin semu run toirt orra bruidhinn is cur gu fors gu brath an deigh bheul na-h-oidche.” “I hear that there is a ghost at the Tiobairt and it is my intention to compel it to speak and make it rest in peace for ever.” The friend said, “Tut’ a dhuine, ‘s i taibhse Ghall da th’ann; Chan eil Gaidhlig aice san, is chan’eil Beurla agadsa, is cha’n urrainn duibh a cheile thuigsinn”  “Tut, man, it is a lowland ghost, it has no gaelic and you have no English; and so you cannot understand each other”   Duncan considered the matter for a minute and then said - “Tha thu ceart nis leoir, cha do smuainich mu air sin. You are quite right, I did not think on that.” He immediately returned to Glen Lochay much to the delight of his wife although his expedition had a most amusing termination. So far as is known Big Duncan never afterwards went in quest of ghosts. I do not know by what means the Tiobairt ghost was induced to go to rest, but there is no evidence that it still haunts the place.




The coffin of the dead man

Ghosts are reputed to have the power of  appearing in various shapes and forms, and in unlikely places, but it is questionable if any of them ever acted more sensibly than did the ghost which laid itself in an open coffin and showed the astonished onlooker that the coffin was too short for the corpse for which it was intended. A man had died and a country carpenter had measured the body and had made a coffin for it. Not having mountings for the coffin he set off for the nearest village to procure what was necessary. During his absence an old beggar-man came to his house soliciting shelter. The carpenter’s wife informed the old man that there was no room for him unless he would go to the workshop where an open coffin lay on the carpenter’s bench. Tired and footsore he gladly accepted the offer, notwithstanding that there was such a reminder of mortality near him. He was not long in bed when he saw a spectre clad in white glide up to the bench and place itself in the coffin over the end of which part of the unearthly visitant seemed to protrude. The man was amazed and not a little frightened by what he saw, still he was not inclined to leave his shelter and brave the inclemency of a winter night, and as the ghost did not interfere with him, he resolved to remain where he was. Later on the carpenter came home and brought the mounting into his shop making ready to fix it on the coffin. While thus engaged the beggar accosted him and said , “That coffin is too short for the corpse you intend to lay in it.” The carpenter much surprised said, “How can you possibly know that is the case?” “Because,” answered the beggar, “I saw the ghost of the dead man measuring the coffin by lying in it, and it was not long enough” The carpenter was somewhat dubious about the old man’s tale, but on reflection he thought there would be no harm in taking the measurement of the corpse again. On doing so he found that the man’s predictions were true and that the coffin required to be altered to admit the body. In some instances where the coffins were too small, and of which I have heard, the ghosts of the dead men evidently did not deem it part of their duty to warn the carpenter’s regarding the size of the coffins; they were not so mindful and considerate as the ghost that revealed itself to the old beggar man.


Colin Campbell and the Ghost of Finn Glen


The Ardeonaig ghost of which I am now to give an account, was of the mischievous and murderous order of ghosts, and it kept the countryside in fear for a long time, before it was vanquished by a brave gentleman of Clan Campbell. At the outset it may be as well to mention that Ardeonaig lies on the south side of Loch Tay some seven miles from Killin and that the ghost barred the road leading to Comrie through the farms of Dall and Glenlednock. Finnglen which the ghost haunted is now part of the farm of Dall.  Colin Campbell, the eldest son of the laird of Ardeonaig was a strong and brave young man, and a first rate swordsman and he had vanquished every one who had come to test him in the use of that weapon. Tradition has it that he was able to leap forward eighteen feet to meet a foe and that he could use the sword with either hand. It was a great pleasure to him to be deer hunting; and it was not often his equal could be found for following a deer over moor and mountain. Moreover he was so affable and generous and so humble in his manner, that he was highly esteemed by his father’s tenants in Ardeonaig. He went in and out of their houses like one of themselves and there was not a man of them but was ready at any time to do anything for his sake. 

His father was married a second time to a woman who mortally hated the young man, because the estate would fall to him, and not to any of her own children at their father’s death. It was in her heart to find dome means of putting him out of the way; but she feared his father’s wrath and the wrath of the Ardeonaig people; for she was not ignorant of the great love they all bore him. As long as the young man was about the house she tried to make his life bitter to him in many a way, but more especially did she do so when his father was out of sight. He patiently bore all her evil treatment, for he understood why she behaved so ill to him; but he was sustained by the knowledge that he was beloved by his father and by the people. His stepmother was continually plotting to put death in his way, but she did not fall on a plan that was pleasant to her mind, and likely to be safe for herself. But at last she imagined that the thing she was in quest of had come her way, and it was not long before she found an opportunity of putting her eveil devices into practice. About that time a ghost that was seen after sunset in Finnglen caused great fear and horror amongst the inhabitants of Ardeonaig. The laird of Ardeonaig had a messenger called the post who was one night on his way home from Comrie or Crieff, and was torn to pieces by the ghost, and parts of him were thrown into a pool in Finnglen burn, and it is called the post’s linn or pool to the present day. The Ardeonaig people built shielings in Finnglen where they dwelt when the cattle and sheep were grazing in the glen in the warm summer months. They were forced to leave the shielings, for they were not allowed peace or rest by the monster that now haunted the bonny green glen. The shielings were cast down, the divot and stones were scattered hither and thither, bushes and heather pulled out by the roots, and the ground was torn up. According to all appearances the ghost had its habitation in a deep rocky den about the middle of the glen, and it is likely that the ghost had no power to destroy and do mischief except in a certain part of the glen. But alas, if a man or beast came near that part after night-fall, its life was ended in a fearful manner. In the quiet summer evenings mournful groans, roaring and dreadful noises were heard; and at other times there was a noise as if sledges were being dragged over the ground. And even when the wind was high, and when the storm howled the shriek of the ghost was heard above them all. Many were the opinions given by the people to account for the mysterious thing that had come to their neighbourhood; and they commonly believed that it was for a secret wrong done by some person then living that his spirit was condemned to s state of that sort. But the wise old men remained silent about the affair, for they thought that if was for some awful reason that so much power was bestowed on the ghost.

About that time the Laird of Ardeonaig went down to the Lowlands; and his wife then thought that she would have an opportunity of destroying Colin whilst his father was from home. She visited her closest and most trustworthy friends, and revealed to them her secret intentions regarding Colin. Then they settled among themselves that she would invite them all to a feast in the mansion house; and that they would make the ghost the subject of their conversation in order that they might find the means to incite Colin to meet the Ghost. The evening of the feast came and the woman’s relatives gathered, and ate and drank till they were satisfied. Then one or two of them began to speak of the frightful deeds of the Ghost; and of the fame and honour that would accrue to any man who would put a stop to them. One of the men turned to Colin and said - “What is the matter with you who are so famous for courage, bravery and hardihood when you do not confront the ghost and put it to rest? It is disgraceful to you how matters have gone. and as sure as you live you will lose your fame and also the esteem of men if you do not do something to rid the country of that monster. Colin understood their wiles and what they meant, but he spoke not a word, and in a short time he left the company, and retired to his own chamber full of grief and anxiety. He had little sleep during the night with remembering and thinking of the contemptuous language that was used to him. He was not accustomed to hear language of that sort; neither did the thought ever strike him that it was possible for any man to meet the ghost and live. He thought thus, “If I am killed by the ghost, that will be an advantage to my enemy, but a loss to the greater part of the people, and especially to her who has the love of my heart. But before it will be said of me that I am a coward, I will face the ghost, whether it be victory or death to me. Early the next morning he went to the house of Peter Fisher, Cragan, Ardeonaig. Peter was a wise old man, full of knowledge about the history of the Highlands, and about the battles that the Highland Clans fought against each other. Colin often visited his house in the long winter nights; and many a story did Peter tell about the doings of the fairies; and with his dreadful tales of ghosts, he would keep his listeners trembling with fear. At other times he would explain to them the names of every hill and place and he would give the reasons why they were so named. Worthy Peter was so full of tales of every kind that he was nicknamed “Para nan Sgeul” or Peter of the Tales. Colin found Peter standing at the end of his house looking at the clouds to see if he could understand what kind of day it was to be. Peter said to Colin, “What important business has sent you so early this way, Colin?” Peter saw that Colin’s face was gloomy and that he was not as cheerful as he usually was. Colin told how the case stood. After thinking for a while Peter answered him. “Indeed my gallant young man, your situation is difficult enough. If you intended to make an attack on men I would have no anxiety regarding you, even though it had been against our ancestors, the Fingalian heroes themselves you were to test the strength of your arm, and the sharpness of your sword; but it is an entirely different thing to oppose a ghost, for against it strength and a sword are without effect. It is not in your own might but in the strength of the Almighty that you must face the Ghost, for it may come against you in a form and in a manner against which your bravery would be in vain. He who in his great mercy set bounds to the destructive deeds of the ghost, is alone able to take it away when his mysterious purposes with regards to it are accomplished. But it may be that you will be the means of ridding the country of the Ghost, and that you will be able to reveal the cause for its appearance; for we have heard of many a Ghost that would put to rest by man. But as I said to you before, you must not go in your own strength, for it may come in the shape of a wild beast, and pound you to death in the twinkling of an eye. You must draw a circle about yourself with your sword and you must stand firmly in the centre of the circle putting your trust in the Almighty. You will do that when you approach the place where the Ghost is. Thus you can stand in that position against every form it may assume in your sight until such time as it will be transformed into the likeness of a man. Then you can converse with it and find out why it appears and what are the best means for putting it to rest. Now, you are like as if you were descending the face of a steep rock on a rope but with that Powerful Protector keeping a hold of the rope. If you will put your confidence in Him, He will guide you to the bottom; but if your confidence will forsake you, He will let you go and you will be broken in pieces. This is your position. Go, therefore and may He who rules the sun by day and the moon by night go with you. But you must take some person with you, and you will leave him with your greyhound, Siubhlach, at a little distance from you, and you will instruct him to let the dog loose if the ghost will be like to overcome you. I have heard old men say that a greyhound was a good protector if a man was going near ghosts. If I were as swift as I was on the day your father was born when I walked to Perth and back in one day, I would not be the last in following you up the glen. You will take Donald Ban (fair haired Donald), your own servant with you for he is a suitable man.”

Colin took the advice of Para nan Sgeul, and went to Tom Adhar to see Donald Ban. They called him Donald Ban of the hamper, because it was he who carried the Laird’s baggage from place to place. Donald dwelt in the highest situated house in Ardeonaig, When Colin reached the house, Donald informed him that a deer had gone up the side of the hill, and that they should pursue it. But Colin said - “I am going a hunting in another fashion, and you must go and make yourself ready, for it is my intention to cross the hill to Glen Lednock to see the girls that are so renowned for their beauty. They are fair as the dew which falls on the flowery mead; and their beauty and modesty gain for them the respect of many men.” Colin gave utterance to these fine words in order to conceal his set purpose from Donald, for he did not at all wish that Donald should yet know what he was to attempt. After that they went forward. and when the were ascending the hill above Ardeonaig near the mouth of the glen, Colin saw the maid, whom his heart adored, walking on the beech on the Lawers side of the Loch. She was the daughter of the Laird of Lawers, an old family of Clan Campbell; and she was as famous for her beauty as Colin was for his valour. Colin stood here and there, and he took many a long sad look at where she was, for the thought came into his mind that this was the last sight he would get of her in this world. But Donald was keeping the Ghost in remembrance and he was in a hurry to go on so that they might be through the glen before the sun would set. Now the sun had gone down behind Ben Lawers, and the shadow of the summer evening had fallen on Finnglen as the men advanced. Fear took possession of Donald and he understood in a moment why Colin was making such a journey, and he vehemently refused to go further in his company. Colin frowned and said, “I did not imagine that you were such a great coward, or that you would forsake me at the present time. But on my word, if you retreat one step my sword will certainly pierce your heart.” Then Colin revealed his whole design to him and said, “Stand you here and keep my dog by the rope; but if you see me on one knee, or notice that I am harassed by the Ghost, the let go Siubhlach.” Donald was silent, but Colin went near the den in which the Ghost abode. He stood on a green level spot, which is called the Ghost’s meadow to the present day and then remembering old Peter’s advice he drew a circle with his sword within which he bravely stood. In a very short time he heard mournful wailing and weeping proceeding from the den, and the sound was ever coming nearer to him. The he saw the likeness of a great black beast coming roaring and howling in his direction. The horrible thing went round and round the circle in which Colin stood, and like a mad beast it tore up the ground foaming at the mouth with rage.  But it was not able to get near Colin. At last when the Ghost had grown weak with its fury, it stood still. Then Colin implored it to appear in the likeness of a man. In the twinkling of an eye what appeared but the form of Donald MacPherson, a man who had died a short time before that, and a man whom Colin had known well. No sooner did Colin see that happen than he leapt from the circle, understanding  that it must be victory or death. With all his strength he took a death hold on the Ghost, but the excessive fury of the Ghost deprived Colin of his vigour in a moment and he fell on to one of his knees. He then shouted for Siubhlach and Donald Ban let it go. The Ghost saw the dog and said, “Keep your dog from me and I shall let you off.”  Colin replied, “I will not, unless you go and rest in your grave,” The Ghost, - “My body is already in the grave;  there is nothing here but my spirit..” Colin said, “Go then to the place of spirits, and return no more.” The Ghost - “Allow me to go to Ailsa Craig to sink the ships that sail on the sea.” Colin - “Depart to your own place or my dog will be at you,” The Ghost - “Allow me to dig up the churchyards.” Colin - “I will not; begone to your own place or my dog will be at you.” The Ghost - “Allow me to go to the North Country for a month.” Colin - “To your own place quickly, or I shall let my dog at you.” The Ghost - “Keep back your dog and hear my voice.” It let Colin go and said in a mournful voice, “I killed a man near this place a little while before my death, and his body and the spade with which I killed him are buried at the foot of that knoll. And I am condemned to trouble men until my guilt will be made known to them. Duncan MacNab, Socach and I were building a shieling in the glen, when he told me that he had gone out one winter morning, many years before the day on which he related the story, to see if the sheep were safe in the fold. What did he notice on the snow but the entrails of one of his best wethers. In a great rage he drew his sword and followed the track in the snow to a cave on the summit of Creag Uchdaig . In he went without fear or awe, but when he beheld the awful appearance of the robber, his courage and strength deserted him. The robber threw him down in a twinkling. Duncan begged for mercy and the thief asked him how he came there. Duncan said that he was passing by and losing his way, had seen footsteps which he had followed into the cave. The robber made Duncan swear by the Almighty that he would not reveal to any man what he had seen. If he had not sword, the robber would without doubt have killed him. The robber counselled Duncan not to be so bold as to come to the cave again. “For”, said he, “When you came in I was as ready to take your life as I would that of a moor-cock.” Duncan gave his word, and the robber permitted him to rise, and set food before him, and after that gave him liberty to go home. Duncan kept his promise for he was a truthful man, and he did not reveal that matter to any man until a long time after the thief had left the district. I was in a fury against Duncan because he had not told sooner about the thief who had stolen many a sheep; and so in my inhuman wrath I split Duncan’s head with my spade. Take his body with you, bury it in his father’s grave, and make my guilt publicly known, and I shall no more trouble men.”

After saying that the Ghost went round about the knoll seven times and the disappeared in a blue flame. Colin found the body and spade in the place indicated by the Ghost, and he went and told the sad news to the people of Ardeonaig. They came and identified the body as that of Duncan MacNab. Until then they did not know where he had gone to, or what had befallen him. The body was buried in the father’s grave and the country was no longer disturbed by the Ghost, for it was seen no more. Colin’s fame spread far and near, and every man esteemed him. After that, his stepmother never dared to conspire against him.


The Fairies of Callander



Well, once upon a time, as the old writers have it, a  man called Peter dwelt somewhere to the east of Callander. Peter was famous in his own day as a miller, carpenter and contractor. Peter was a man of large ideas and was not afraid of difficult jobs, so he undertook to build Stirling Castle, but was at a loss to get enough men for the work. In his dilemma a friend and neighbour of his visited him and offered him assistance. The friend who was a fairy master said to Peter. “Have you got men to build the castle?” “No”, was the reply. “Well”, said the fairy-master, “I can supply you with thousands of willing workers, but you must keep them constantly at work, or else they may kill you.” Peter willingly agreed to these conditions and he and the fairy-master went to survey the proposed site for the castle. The little workers were set to their allotted tasks and in twenty four hours, or in two nights time the building of Stirling Castle was completes by them. That performance was even more wonderful than the construction of Tom-na-cessack by the Callander fairies in the days of yore. But I am not afforded the pleasure of thinking that the fairies constructed Tom-na-cessack, for I was gravely assured by a Callander friend that the Picts and not the fairies were the real builders of that mound. He also said that the hillock in Little Leny was formed by the Picts. I did not thank him for his information. I would prefer to think of Tom-na-Cessack as the work of the fairies.

As soon as Stirling Castle was finished the fairy-master said to Peter, “What other work have you got for the Fairies?” The reply was “I intend to make a road from Stirling to Perth.” The fairy-master said, “Then have your swiftest horse saddled and ride to Perth as fast as you can on the night that the fairies start road-making, and you will find that the work will be nearly finished and the shovels and tools of the workers will be ringing against your horse’s heels ere you will reach Perth.” It was a true prophecy. Peter had his horse ready for that fateful night and vaulting into the saddle he rode with all possible speed towards Perth, Notwithstanding his fast riding the shovels continually clanged against the horse’s heels. Just as Peter was  entering Perth hundreds of tiny shovels clattered against his horse’s heels, and the road was made and the fairies were in Perth almost as soon as their employer. Peter was resourceful and ingenious and as he no longer needed the services of the fairies he devised a plan whereby they would be kept continually employed and would be prevented from doing mischief to himself or any other person. Michael Scott the wizard of Balwearie when he had no further work for the imps or demons under his control sent them to the seashore to make ropes of the sand. Great men like Michael and Peter often think alike, so Peter send his fairies down east to Broughty Ferry to make ropes of the sand there. Doubtless of you visit Broughty Ferry sands by pale moon light you will see the fairies still busy at their endless task.

               

More fairy stories


Not many years ago there lived in the neighbourhood of Killin a man who was in the habit of recounting his wonderful adventures with the white horse of the fairies. When coming home one night from Kenmore market and just as he was passing Sithean Lawers, he heard most enchanting music proceeding from the knoll. In passing, whenever one comes across the place name Sithean, one will find a fairy knoll. Gaelic speakers call fairies Sithichean, daoine sith - ‘men of peace’ and sluagh beag -’little folk’. Unable to resist the temptation he gradually went nearer and nearer the fairies place of abode till at last he was fairly among them. According to the man’s account they received him most kindly and gave him one of their white horses to carry him home. Several of the fairies accompanied him riding gaily by his side. The fairy horses went through the air at a speed almost equalling that of lightning. In a few minutes he found himself far past Killin and above a house at Clifton, Tyndrum, some twenty five miles westward from Lawers. He was right above the wide chimney of the house and he could obtain glimpses of light footed dancers as they went through the sprightly hooloachans and reels and he could hear their hearty shouts and the snapping of their fingers as they went through the various evolutions of the dance. His fairy companions cautioned him against making any noise and threatened to throw him down the chimney should he disobey. For a time all went well, but like Tam O’Shanter he grew so interested in what was going on that he quite forgot the conditions imposed on him, and also forgot where he was. He shouted ‘Hooch’ with all his might and at the same moment the fairy horse threw him off its back, and he went feet foremost down the wide old-fashioned chimney, and alighted in the midst of a wedding party much to their surprise and alarm, for at first they mistook him for Auld Nick. He remained in their pleasant company till daylight when he returned home at his leisure thanking the fairies for the pleasure they had so unexpectedly given him.      

As is well known fairies as well as brownies could act as millers when occasion required, or when they were in the mood to do so.

A miller returning home late one night, heard the mill wheels going and all the noise betokening the making of meal. Suspecting who the millers were, and being a cautious, prudent man he opened the mill door and said aloud, “Take care of wood, iron and stone, and remember to keep my dues”. Having uttered these words he shut the door, and went contentedly to bed knowing that everything would be right in the morning. Nor was he disappointed. The mill floor was swept, and everything was in its proper place when he entered the mill next morning; and even his own share of meal was put in a lippie. He handed the meal to his wife and told her to keep it separate from the other meal and to use it first. She did so and there was no sign of it diminishing. At last she remarked to her husband. “That is the strangest meal I ever saw in my life. I use it daily and it does not seem to become less in quantity.” Her husband said - “You had better see if it is still there” The woman went and quickly returned saying in surprised tones, “It is all away!” Her husband in an aggrieved voice answered, “If you had not spoken of it that meal might have lasted for ever!” Inquisitiveness is not always profitable, not even in dealing with the fairies.

That fairies and evil spirits could not abide the mentioning  of the name of the Deity was well known to those who were versed in fairy lore.  The following is an illustration of that remarkable trait in the case of the fairies. A man who dwelt on the north side of Loch Tay heard that his kinswoman, the wife of one of the tenants of  Cloichrain on the south side was dangerously ill. So he resolved to visit her. He was ferried across to Ardeonaig in the dusk of the evening and wended his way westward through the wood called Coille-chromadain. As he was passing over a bridge he saw a little woman, with a green cap on her head, sitting on one of the parapets. She briskly asked him, “cait am bheil thu dol a nochd?” - ‘Where are you going tonight?’ He replied “Dh amharc mo bhan a charaid a tha ro thinn” - ‘To see my kinswoman who is very ill’. She said “Tha I nis fhearr nise.” - ‘She is better now’. “Ach cait am bheil thu dol a chur seachad na h-oidche seo?” - ‘But where are you to pass this night?’  He answered “Ann an tigh mo bhan a charaid” - ‘In my kinswoman’s home’. “Ach cait am bheil thusa dol a bhi a nochd?” ‘But where are you to be tonight?’ She replied “Aig Aird-na-murchain” - ‘At Ardnamurchan’. He was so astonished at the little woman’s answer that he ejaculated. “Gu’m glaidheadh Dia sinn!” - ‘May God keep us!’ In an instant his little companion disappeared in blue flames. He found his relative as the fairy had said. It is somewhat surprising that the fairy should have vanished in such a manner, but such is the story as told by old Robert Campbell, Carie.


The Fairies of Sith Challion

The next tale has to do with the doings of the fairies of Cnoic an tiobaairt - the knowes of the well near Sith Challion.

Once upon a time there was a man in that district who had an intense desire to see the fairies. He was a handsome, courageous and a sensible man. Beforehand he settled in his own mind what time and in what manner he would approach the knowes that the fairies haunted. The knowes are situated in a spot that is cold enough and exposed enough in the winter time, for it is near the towering Sithchallion. But the man I have mentioned went there on a warm summer night, and he reached the Tiobairt about midnight. He took up a position close to the place which the country’s gossip indicated as the scene of the fairies revels. In a short time he heard sweet music, as well as the sound of dancing coming from the fairy knowes. His heart was full of gladness and he thought that he himself might contribute to the entertainment by giving an impromtu song in a melodious tenor voice. The tune was like that of “Alasdair Mac Alasdair” and the words were the strange ones -
                “Di-luain ‘s Di-mairt.
                Di-luain ‘s Di-mairt.
                Di-luain ‘s Di-mairt.
                ‘S Di-ciadain.”

                “Di-luain ‘s Di-mairt.
                Di-luain ‘s Di-mairt.
                Di-luain ‘s Di-mairt.
                ‘S Di-ciadain.”

In English these are the prosaic words, Monday and Tuesday, etc and Wednesday. The fairies were so charmed with the fine singing that they swarmed out around the man and with shouts to show how pleased they were they drew him into their banqueting hall where they began to sing with right good will:

                “Di-luain ‘s Di-mairt.
                Di-luain ‘s Di-mairt.
                Di-luain ‘s Di-mairt.
                ‘S Di-ciadain.”

Nimbly and gracefully the danced to the tune. The man was received by them with great cordiality and their abode was lighted by scores of little lamps of every kind of colour, and they themselves were clad in green. The time was passed with mirth and joy, and the man was pleased and thankful; but all pleasure comes to an end, and it behoved him to leave the pleasant company of the fairies, although he did it somewhat unwillingly.

When one of his neighbours heard what had happened to him and how kindly he had been received by the fairies, the neighbour’s heart was filled with envy and nothing would satisfy him by that he himself should also go to the Tiobairt knowes. He was a feckless kind of man but was as headstrong as a Highland bull. But what was he to sing? that was the question which must be answered. Then said the first man, try them with “Dirdaoin” - that is Thursday. The poor blockhead, quite pleased, went away to seek the company of the fairies, and perhaps his voice was not very musical. Be that as it may, who could sing “Dir-daoin sweetly and melodiously? When he reached the fairy knowes, the fairies were dancing heartily and hilariously and singing with great glee.

                “Di-luain ‘s Di-mairt.
                Di-luain ‘s Di-mairt.
                Di-luain ‘s Di-mairt.
                ‘S Di-ciadain.”

                The great fool began to roar at the top of his voice -

                “Dir-daoin, Dir-daoin, Dir-daoin.”

Out the fairies rushed in scores and dragged him with them, mercilessly pinching him and pushing him before them. At the same time they shrieked “O nach robh faim air do theangaidh!” - ‘Oh that there was a hem on your tongue!’ They brought him into the presence of their queen and compelled him to kneel before her. When he rose to his feet there was a hump on his back and the fairies drove him with much ill will out of the cave. To the day of his death he had cause to remember the doings of the fairies.

The third neighbour would not be warned by what had happened to the second man. No, let the matter be as it would, he must go to pay the fairies a visit. He was a bold, fearless and stubborn man, and it was not his to take warning by what had happened to other men. Whatever would come in his way he was ready to meet it. He asked, “Ach ciod a sheinneas mise chum gu’n coisinn mi deadh ghean dhaoine beaga na h-uamha?” - ‘But what shall I sing in order to gain the good will of the little men of the cave?’. The first man answered ‘You might try - Friday and Saturday‘

                “Di-haoin ‘s Di-sathuirn
                Di-haoin ‘s Di-sathuirn
                Di-haoin ‘s Di-sathuirn
                ‘S Di-domhnuich.”
               
The third man set out on his quest with great good will, and whistling merrily. No sooner had he arrived at his destination than he raised his voice and sang cheerfully without fear or trembling.

                “Di-haoin ‘s Di-sathuirn
                Di-haoin ‘s Di-sathuirn
                Di-haoin ‘s Di-sathuirn
                ‘S Di-domhnuich.”
               
Alack-a-day! What an uproar he caused among the fairies! The music ceased, the dancing stopped and out they leaped upon him, pulling him by the hair and beard. After ill-using him in various ways, they plucked out one of his eyes, kicked him vigorously and sent him head over heels out of the cave. Each one of the fairies yelled, “Gabh sin ablaich! gabh sin ablaich gun naire!”  - ‘Take that brat, Take that shameless brat!’ He had sorely annoyed them by using the word “Di-domhnuich” - ‘The lord’s day or Sunday’ for that word was prohibited among them. The hump-backed man and the One-eyed man remembered all of their lives what befell them when they sought the companionship of the fairies.


The fairies of the Black Sithein Bovain

In the days of auld lang syne when Auchlyne in Glendochart was occupied by many small tenants, the fairies of Shian-dubh or the black fairy knowe, Bovain were famous throughout the length and breadth of Breadalbane. They resided in a high wooded knowe that is situated about half a mile west from Bovain farm house. If there was a sick child in the neighbourhood the fairies were blamed, for was it not a changeling? and had they not carried away the real child and put a poor peevish creature in its place? Assuredly it was so. There was no doubt about the matter. Although they played many bad pranks on the people, the miller of Auchlyne was willing to bestow his blessing on them, because of the clean clever work they did for him in the night time. If a man had earned their good will, they often assisted him by threshing his corn for him. Besides those fairies were skilful physicians and many a disease they cured, but at times they compelled the sick folk or their friends to enter into covenants which were not all easy to keep. A boy was ill in one of the houses of the glen, and his mother was in great trouble of mind on his account. She would almost do anything in order that his health might be restored to him. The boy’s state of health was not hidden from the fairies; and on a certain evening one of them entered the house. Before he would heal the boy, he made the mother promise that she would accompany him to the black fairy house and stay with him there. He also stipulated that she should not call on God for deliverance. It was very hard on her, but so great was her love for the boy that she consented. The boy was cured, and the time came when she must go with the fairy, but the poor woman was not at all willing to do so. The boy was at the other side of the room; and in a moment it flashed on her mind how to gain her own liberty, and at the same time not to  break her promise. Turning to the boy she said - “Nam bithinnsa ‘nad’aite fhir tha thall theirinn - Dia le mo mhathair!” - ‘If I were in your place you that are over yonder I would say - God be with you mother!’ No sooner had she uttered these words than the fairy disappeared up through the chimney and the fairies never molested the woman and her son after that.

One of the Auchlyne tenants whose name was Donald expected an addition to his family in a short time. He thought that he should follow the old Highland custom by providing whisky for the joyful occasion. On a certain night accompanied by his neighbour John , he went to the village of Killin to buy a keg of whisky. We do not know, and we shall not enquire how long the two worthies remained at the public house, nor is it our business to find out of anything stronger than water was drunk by them. Be that as it may, the men were lively and merry when they left Killin with the keg on the shoulder of one of them, and on the way home they sang songs heartily. If there were happy men in the country they were the men. Each of them carried the keg in his own turn, but when they approached the black fairy knowe, Donald had the keg on his shoulder. Whatever was the cause their courage rose higher and higher as they proceeded homewards. They feared neither hobgoblin, nor fairy, not ghost; they were too courageous to heed such trifles! Perhaps we may venture to suggest that in their case the poets words were verified, ‘Wi’ tuppeny we fear no evil. Wi’ uisquebeath we’d face the devil’

The sithean-dubh was right before them, and issuing from it were strains of sweet music which came to their ears with a seductive appeal. They were drawn nearer and nearer the fairy knowe until they at last reached an open door in the side of the knowe and they saw a brilliantly lighted hall in which scores of little beings were dancing the reel of Tulloch gleesomely, and with greater agility than is possible to any earthly dancing master that ever wore dancing shoes. What music was there! Music from chanters and from fiddles; and music from many other instruments which the sons of men know nothing of. The two men stood and gazed with astonishment at the beautiful objects that were in the hall, and at the quick turns of the dancers. Thus they remained a long, long while but Donald was more insistent on hearing and seeing the fairies than was his companion. The latter thought that it was high time for them to go home and he said ‘Come home Donald; we are long enough here’. Donald replied, ‘Stop a little; what is the great hurry? We never heard and never saw anything like this before.’ Vain was John’s attempt. Donald would not move. It was his opinion that they had been only a minute or two at the fairies door but John understood that hours had passed since they came to the knowe. He was not an irritable man, but at length he was angry and said. “Mur tig thu, fuirich far am bheil thu gu bliadhna na brathisge!” - ‘If you will not come, stay where you are till the year never!’ After so saying he went home and left Donald and the key. Next day there was no small disturbance among Donald’s friends and relatives because he had not returned home. “Where did you leave Donald?” they asked John. “I left him among the fairies in the Sithein dubh” He answered. When day after day passed and Donald came not home, the people were somewhat doubtful about John’s story and they whispered to each other that John should be brought to trial for the affair. The whispering duly came to John’s ears and he said to Donald’s friends, “Meddle not with me for a year and a day from the time when Donald vanished, and if I do not bring him back safe and sound then you are at liberty to bring me to trial or to do whatsoever you will with me. “they agreed to that, and the time passed. John did his utmost to help Donald’s family all the time, and Donald’s wife and children did not miss him so severely on that account. At last the long expected night came and John left his house with an uneasy mind, for he is not by any means sure how his journey might end. He approached the knowe and he heard the sweet music of the fairies, but he was greatly afraid that the door might not be open and that Donald might not be seen or found. However every thing was favourable: whom did he see but Donald himself and the keg still on his shoulder, but not a drop of whisky was in it for the fairies had sucked it dry! John used the means that were efficacious in such a state of matters and then he reached the spot where Donald stood glowering as if he had newly come to that place. John seized hold of Donald’s arm and said to him “Come home at once and give over your foolishness,” Donald’s answer was “You are in a mighty hurry when you will not permit one to enjoy the company of the fairies for a minute or two.” “For a minute or two!” shouted John “Senseless man! I have suffered too much for your sake already and out of this you must go” At the same time he pulled Donald with him and the door was shut behind them. Then Donald said, “You are the most troublesome and the most impatient man I ever saw, Why could we not stay a little while to hear the music and to watch the dancing?” “You poor fool!” John replied, “are you of the opinion that you have been only a short time here? You will remember why we went to Killin for the keg of whisky? Well then the child is now running about the house, and if you will not believe your own eyes I do not know how to deal with you. Besides look down on that field and what you will see there will prove that for a twelvemonth you have been no better than a pitiful spectre among the fairies” Donald’s family and friends received him with joy and gladness and there was much rejoicing because of his return from fairyland. Donald’s story was told and retold in many a house in the Glen; and as long as he lived, and many generations after his death men would speak of him as Domhnull nan sithichean - Donald of the fairies.


Urisks

[Folklorist John Gregorson Campbell distinguished between the English brownie, which lived in houses, and the Scottish ùruisg or urisk, which lived outside in streams and waterfalls and was less likely to offer domestic help.The ùruisg enjoyed solitude for mostof the year, but around the end of the harvest, he became more sociable, and hovered around farmyards, stables and cattle-houses. . He was usually seen only by those who possessed second sight. He is said to have been jolly, with flowing yellow hair, wearing a broad blue bonnet and carrying a long walking staff. ]


The urisks or uruisgean were entirely different from the fairies. They were according to popular accounts usually bigger and stronger than ordinary mortals and had a rougher aspect. They generally frequented deep rocky streams, but some times their abode was in a lonely corrie or near a fresh water loch. It is hardly necessary to remind you of the famous Coire nan uruisgean at Loch Katrine side where the urisks held their Mod or general assembly annually. All the Scottish urisks  met there to commune together and to transact their business whatever it was. The urisks of districts had their own council meetings at certain places but the assembly at Coire nan uruisgean represented their parliament. Some people have ignorantly translated Coire nan uruisgean as the corrie or dell of the ghosts. Now the urisks were not ghosts whatever else they were. They had more in common with the Lowland brownies than with spectres. Some of the later urisks may have been fugitives from justice or outlaws like the Ettrick shepherds “Brownie of Bodesbeck” and doubtless some of the early hermits and saints came to be spoken of by later generations as urisks. Breadalbane had a notable array of urisks and the names of many of them sound rather strange to modern ears. Mark the following names:
                Peallaidh an Spiat
                Slochdaill na cuirt
                Bruinidh an easain
                Babaidh an Lochain
                Is Buinidh an Eilein
                Padarlan a Fearnan
                Peadragan Patragan
                Triubhas dubh a Fartairchill
                Fuath Coire ghanhnain
                Cas-luath-Leitir 
                Amlagan dubh
                Is catan-ceann-liath
                Is uruisg-dubh mor Eas amhlagan

It is impossible to translate or explain many of these names, nor can we now discover where the owners of some of these remarkable names resided. Peallaidh an Spuit means Paddy or Paladius of the waterfall and Aberfeldy was named after him. That uruisg had his abode near the upper falls and Bruinidh an Easain dwelt near the lower falls of the Moness or Aberfeldy burn. Of course every one knows that the falls have been made famous by Burns in his song “The Birks of Aberfeldy”. If report belies them not these two uruisgs did not respect the Eighth Commandment, but went down when it suited them and took away surreptitiously what belonged to the villagers. Indeed honesty does not seem to have been a prominent feature in the character of the Breadalbane urisks. The deeds of the urisks bearing the formidable names of Slochdail na cuirt, Peadragan Patragan, Babaidh an Lochain, Amhlagan dubh, Catan-ceann-liath and Uruisg dubh cannot now be described by the historians of the urisks for the good reason that popular tradition has failed to bring a record of them down to our days.               

There still exists a legend regarding Triubhas dubh a Fartair-chill or ‘Black breeks from Fortingall’. It is as follows. Triubhas dubh dwelt at Eas allt Odhar. Allt Odhar is the name of a stream which separates Glenlyon House Farm from Fortingall. Well when one of the Glenlyon lairds lived at Tullich mhullin or Glenlyon House, the shepherds went out one day to the hills to gather the sheep, but could not do so owing to the mist. The laird was greatly disappointed at their failure and said that he would consult Triubhas dubh about the matter. Accordingly he paid a visit to Eas Allt Odhar where he found the urisk to whom he told how the shepherds had failed to gather the sheep. As soon as Triubhas dubh understood what was expected of him he set off to the hill like a grey hound and was not long in gathering the sheep down and putting them in the fank. He then went where the laird was and asked him to come to the fank to see if all the sheep were gathered. the laird could hardly believe that Triubhas dubh could have gathered the sheep in so short a time. However he went to the fank to satisfy himself and to please the urisk. Great was his surprise at finding that all the sheep were in the fank and two other small animals among them. So he said, “You have got all the sheep right enough and there are two beasts more than the number”. Triubhas dubh replied “Thus an da dhiabhul bheag ghlas sin. tuilleadh dragh dhomh na thug an corr uile!” - ‘These two little grey deils gave me more trouble than all the others did.” He had taken in two mountain hares along with the sheep! So Triubhas dubh had remarkable bodily qualities. He was wonderfully swift, had great endurance and possessed very keen eyesight. Truly there were giants in those days.


Padarlan

Padarlan frequented a deep rocky stream which separates Fearnan district from that of Lawers. The burn is called Allt Ohadarlan or Padarlan’s burn to the present day. Several stories about Padarlan and his doings are still current among the people on the north side of Loch Tay. One of them runs as follows.

On a certain day one of the tenants of Baile an suaim, Lawers, mounted his horse and rode away to Kenmore or perhaps to a more distant place to transact some business. Probably he may have visited some public house for the old Highlanders did not believe in total abstinence. However that may have been, he was returning in good spirits and his grey horse passed Fearnan at a quick trot. The farmer was persuaded in his own mind that there was not an urisk on either side of Loch Tay that could catch him. Night had fallen ere he reached Padarlan’s burn, and as there was no bridge over the burn there he rode his horse at the gallop through the ford, vainly imagining that neither Padarlan nor any of his tribe could lay hand on him. Swift as was the horse something lightly sprang with acrobatic dexterity on the saddle behind the man and shouted in his ears. “Bo! a bhodaich” - ‘Boo! old man!’ The bodach was not at all frightened and he said, “Bo thu fhein!” - ‘Boo! yourself’. At the same time he swung his plaid around about the creature that was behind him and then he quickly tied the ends of the plaid tightly across his own chest. We may be sure that the farmer did not linger on the way home, and that the grey horse had to do his speedy utmost. When Baile an suaim was reached he said to one of his menservants, “take hold of this thing that is behind me and carry it carefully to the kitchen.” The plaid and its contents were carried  into the house, but what was in the plaid but a young urisk. The farmer was a wily and a resolute man and he well knew that Padarlan would be there in search of the young urisk in a very short time. Therefore he ordered the door to be shut and firmly barred, and though he was a very strong man and very brave he immediately put the ploughshare in the fire in case of what might happen. A while after that Padarlan came raging to the door and struck it fiercely yelling out, “Thoiribh mach dhomh mo leanabh.” - ‘Give me out my child’. The folk inside the house listened but said nothing. Padarlan at last went to the window and said. “Thoiribh dhomh an paisde” - ‘Give me the child’. The farmer replied. “You must promise that you will leave the district before you will get your child.” Padarlan said. “Theid mi do’m Charn-dearg” - ‘I will go to the Red Cairn. The man replied. “Cha dean sin an gnothuch; feumaidh tu an duthaich fhagail gu buileach ‘s gu brath, no chan fhaigh thu an paisd” - ‘That will not do, you must quit the country entirely and for ever, else you will not get the child.’ Padarlan said, “I shall submit. I shall leave the country and shall never more return. Now hand me the child through the windows. The farmer complied. Then Padarlan said, “Thoir dhomh crathadh de do laimh san dealachadh a bhodaich.” - ‘Give me a shake of your hand at parting auld carle.’ The man replied, “Ni mi sin le’m uile chridhe, Phadarlain” - ‘I will do that with all my heart Padarlan’ What did the crafty auld carle do but give the urisk the hot end of the ploughshare while he himself held the cold end. Padarlan grasped the ploughshare firmly and twisted it round and round till it was like a corkscrew. When Padarlan had finished that job he said, “Beanachd leat a bhodaich; is cruaidh agus tioram do ghreim!” - ‘Farewell auld carle, hard and dry is thy grip’. So Padarlan left the country and has never returned.


The Breadalbane Urisks

The Breadalbane urisks held periodical meetings in certain parts of the district and if we call the meeting of the urisks at Loch Katrine side their general assembly we may designate the gatherings to which all the Breadalbane urisks came as the presbytery meetings. Their meeting places were at Fearnan, and at Fortingall, and in a sheep house at Calelochan near Kenmore. Thither they resorted at dead of night to settle their own affairs. They had no desire that any man should see or hear what was done or said by them at those conferences. It is said that they finally flitted from Breadalbane because an inquisitive shepherd tried to spy on their actions. He had noticed that at intervals of time a light appeared in the sheep house at Calelochan, so he resolved to hide in the sheep house in order to see what was going on, for he understood that the urisks had the light and he wished to know what kind of creature they were. He quietly and secretly climbed up on the couples and there he crouched in a dark corner waiting for the coming of the urisks. The appointed hour came and they came trooping in. Peallaidh stood at the door and saluted each urisk by name as they entered the house. The shepherd heard twelve names mentioned and among these were Triubhas dubh, Cas-luath, Uisdean and Mairtean. The urisks lighted pieces of fir and began to speak without delay. The shepherd crawled a little out of his dark corner, but the couples creaked and one of the urisks said. “De e sid?” - What are you?” Another answered - “O tha logaistean an t-seann tighe” - ‘O it is the spirits of the old house’. As ill luck would have it, when the shepherd attempted to obtain a better view of what was going on below him, he accidentally displaced a smearing stool which fell with a thud on the heads of the urisks. One of them looked up and saw the shepherd and cried. “Tha mi ag aithneach air a mhaoile gur daoine na logaistean!” - ‘I know by the bald head that the spirits are men!’ That caused no small commotion among them. The light was quickly extinguished and out they rushed hurriedly. They were in a fury and were so disgusted at men’s shameless inquisitiveness that they withdrew from Breadalbane in a body for good. For good or evil no urisk has been seen in Breadalbane since that eventful night. We may conjecture that the urisks went further north for their dialect was not the same as that used by the Loch Tayside people. The urisks said “sid” - you or that, while the natives of Breadalbane said and still say, ‘sud’. That word alone denotes a difference in Gaelic dialect as did the word Shibboleth in Hebrew.


Adi of Glenlochan


An urisk that dwelt in Lower Glen Lochay near Killin was well spoken of. As long as thrashing had to be done he would come punctually every night to the barn, and the work was finished before the people rose in the morning. Food was placed every evening in the barn, and he well deserved it. An industrious urisk would still be a boon and a blessing to many farmers who cannot easily get servants.

Among the good urisks Adi of Glenlochan takes a high place. Glenlochan is the name of the pass between Glenquaich and Auchnafree in Upper Glenalmond.  Adi’s cave is at the foot of a rock near Loch mhullinn in Glenlochan. Adi is mentioned in Annie Swan’s novel “Sheila”. In that book he is called ‘Adam of the Glen’. He was  very helpful and was very kind in his manner. He spent many a night grinding corn in the mill that was on the Glenlochan burn. The old men said that it was he who first brought sheep to Glenquaich and Glenalmond. Besides, he was credited with being a skilful sheep doctor.

On a certain occasion Adi understood that one of the women of Glenalmond would require the services of a midwife so he took a horse from a stable and trotted to Glenquaich for that useful woman. He found the mid-wife and she sat on the pillion, behind him. When they were in the middle of Glenlochan and the night was very dark she said to Adi - “Tha eagal orm roimh Adi, Ghlinn lochan.” - ‘I am afraid of Adi of Glenlochan’. He replied, “Na gabh eagal sam bith; cha ghabh e gnothuch riut” - ‘Fear not at all, he will not interfere with you’. Again and again, she said the same thing. At last he said, “Cha bhi Adi nis fhaigsa dhuit nochd na tha e aig a cheart am so.” - ‘Adi will not be nearer you tonight than he is at the present time’.

Adi could wield the flail vigorously and he used to thrash in a barn on the farm of Alltruie, Glenquaich. Of course he did the thrashing at night. His sole reward was a bowl of porridge and milk. One night the guid-wife said to him, “Adi Ghlinnlochan an gabh thu brochan teth? Fhregair esan mur bhi eagal mo losgadh, ghabhainn sgobag dheth” - ‘Adi of Glenlochan will you take hot porridge?’ - ‘If it were not that I fear the scalds I would take a spoonful of it’.


Caobarlan of Kenmore


Caobarlan was so named because he exercised himself at night by throwing stones and mud balls at passers by. He resided at Lag an tairibh dhuibh - the dell of the black bull near Drummond Hill, Kenmore. Now Caobarlan performed two praiseworthy deeds ere he left the district, and they deserve to be told. Long ago there was a clever, thrifty woman in Fearnan who had a nasty husband that troubled her with his laziness and incivility. The woman’s cow strayed some nights into Drummond Hill wood, and at that time of night Drummond Hill wood resounded with the fearful and unearthly noises made by Caobarlan. The cow happened one night to remain very late in the wood; and the despicable and lazy man would not go a step to look for her; indeed he utterly refused to search for the animal. With fear and trembling the good woman herself had to go in pursuit of the senseless beast; and when she reached the place where Caobarlan dwelt the mantle of the bard descended on her and she began to versify.
                “Beannachd air t-anam  Fhir tha ‘san alltan.
                Moch na mo anmoch, Asd cha gha’um all sgath.”

                “Blessing on thy soul,  Dweller by the burnie.
                Early or late,  I shall not fear thee.”

On hearing these words Caobarlan rose out of his den and thanked the woman sincerely for the blessing she bestowed on him. He then said, “‘Se beannachd o neach de shliochd Adhaimh an t-aon ni ris an robh mi feitheamh cho fada” - ‘It was for a blessing from one of Adam’s race that I have waited so long.’  He then asked if he could help her in any way. She informed him that she was searching for the cow, and that her husband refused to look for it. Caobarlan replied - “Mata, tha do bho ann an lag thall an sid, is tha laogh grinn dubh tairbh na coise”. - ‘Well your cow is in a hollow over there, and there is a fine black bull calf at her feet.’ That is how the hollow was called ‘Lag an tairbh dhuibh. The hollow of the black bull/ Caobarlan assisted the woman to drive the cow home. Then he gave the cowardly and despicable husband a good thrashing. After that night Caobarlan was never more seen in the land of the living.


The Devil


The Catastrophe that befell Captain MacPherson of Bailechrain and his men in the forest of Gaick on the 31st December 1800 was commonly attributed to infernal agency by the Highlanders; and in the Perthshire Highlands it was told in horrified tones how on a former hunting expedition the Captain was heard and seen by one of his men conversing one night with the Devil who had the voice and form of a he goat. The monkish miracle plays of medieval times may be held responsible for the horns and hoofs with which the popular imagination of later times animated the figure of the devil when he was supposed to make a personal inspection of his “snug little farm - the earth”. According to the then popular opinion it was Auld Nick and not such a natural cause as an avalanche of snow that swept the unfortunate men to destruction.

There is a legend in connection with Tigh an righ, or King’s House, on the Black Mount which tends to show that the Devil could sometimes condescend to take a hand at cards. One Saturday night a company of young men were drinking and playing cards in the inn. This they continued to do till a late hour when heated by drink and ill-luck at play one of them began to swear awfully. One young man was so frightened by the wild language that he stopped playing, but the swearer declared with a frightful oath that he would continue to play even though the Enemy of Mankind himself should come to play with them. Shortly after that boasting, a man of a darkish hue of countenance stepped quietly into the room and asked permission to play with them. That was granted and the stranger sat and played with the noisy crew. The landlord came into the room and happening to glance under the table saw something that revealed to him the character of the stranger. With rare presence of mind, the landlord said nothing, but went to another part of the house from which he returned with a large bowl full of water in his hands and with the family bible under his arm. Approaching the group of players he said solemnly, “Tha mi-fhein a smuaineachadh, a chlann, nach bu mheisd sibh a bhi air ‘ur baisteadh” - ‘I am thinking children that you would be none the worse of being baptised’. After saying these words he began to sprinkle them with water in the name of the Trinity. As soon as the holy names were uttered the dark visaged stranger vanished in blue flames through the wall of the house. So the card playing ended abruptly. As a confirmation of the truth of the tale ‘tis said that no mason is able to make water tight that part of the wall through which Black Donald so quickly passed - the rain always oozes through! Card playing was believed to be very favourably looked at by the devil and cards were called the Devil’s books; and his occasional appearances among card players was not considered miraculous at all. So firmly had that belief established itself in men’s minds that sometimes very trifling and purely mundane incidents tended to frighten people.

About thirty years ago a rather ludicrous thing happened at Tirarthur farm house near Killin. The worthy farmer, some of his friends and one or two of his servants were one night having a quiet game of cards in the kitchen. So intent were they all on their game that they heeded not and paid no attention to it, though they heard the kitchen door being opened. But we may imagine their horror and terror when a black haired, black-bearded dark skinned man mounted on a black pony demanded a hand of cards. In their fright and confusion they thought that Satan himself had come among them. However they were relieved on finding that it was only one of the Carie crofters who had thus unceremoniously intruded on them. He had been imbibing a little freely in the Killin hotels and that accounted for his escapade. Till quite recently the marks made by his horse shoes were visible on the kitchen floor.

Perhaps Auld Nick never assumed a stranger guise than that which was attributed to him by the terror stricken imagination of the Glenquaich people of auld lang syne. He haunted one of the houses in the form of a gigantic rat, and his tail was constantly coming through the chinks in the walls and through the cracks in the floor. To quote the poet - “Backwards and forwards switched his long tail, as a gentleman switches his cane.” Many were the plans and devices adopted  for getting rid of the unwelcome infernal visitor, but none was successful. By day and night the dreadful rat unceasingly played his pranks; and there was no rest for the hapless family. Latterly it came to their knowledge that there was a godly man in the north who was renowned  for exorcising evil spirits and for removing spells. It would appear that the poor Glenquaich folk were not sufficiently conversant with the dark ways and subtle wiles of the de’il to cast him out. However, the good man from the north knew how to deal with the fiend, and was not long in ridding the house of the loathsome presence. He never afterwards appeared in that house in the form of a monstrous rat. whether he appeared in any other  form or not.

In olden times men delighted in telling stories about the outwitting and discomfiture of the Enemy of mankind by mere mortals like themselves. The following tale seems to have been a special favourite with former generations of Perthshire Highlanders.

A beautiful young woman once lived in the neighbourhood of Dunkeld and her company was eagerly desired by all the eligible young men in the district but she refused all their advances and would not listen to their sweet words. Yet every evening she met by appointment an aristocratic looking stranger who escorted her along the banks of the river or walked with her through the woods and up the hillsides.  She fell deeply in love with the stranger and he professed to love her with an undying love. Her cup of bliss seemed  to be full to the brim when one night he asked her to faithfully promise that she would go away with him and be his for ever. She joyfully agreed to his proposal and the night and the hour for their departure were fixed. When parting with her strange lover after the compact had been made betwixt them she thought she noticed something inhuman about him. Sick at heart with horror she managed to stagger home: but sleep and rest were denied her for she was tormented with the thought that she had sold herself to the Evil One. In her distress she visited the minister of the place and confessed to him all that had happened. He counselled her what to do and advised her to come to the church on the night appointed for her departure. She did so and found the minister and several other good men awaiting her there. Then those men began to read the Bible and engaged in prayer for her and with her. So the night was passed until near the fateful hour at which the young woman had promised to go away with her lover. The people inside the church then heard most unearthly noises outside and they proceeded with their devotional exercises. As the hour was about to strike an awful voice was heard outside the church saying to the young woman, “Fulfil your promise and come away.” The good minister went to the door and informed the fiend that the woman would be ready to accompany him as soon as the candle which the minister held in his hand would burn down to the socket. The Prince of Darkness agreed to these terms but little did he conceive by what means the minister would thwart him. On hearing that the fiend was to abide by that agreement the good man quietly swallowed the whole candle thus for ever preventing it from burning down to the socket. When Auld Nick understood that he was balked of his intended victim he howled with rage as he left the outside of the church. So the maiden was saved from his infernal devices.

Witches and warlocks were considered to be the loyal allies and beloved pupils of Satan, and cruel laws were made against the poor creatures suspected of being witches and wizards. It is computed that about one hundred thousand persons were put to death in Germany alone during the three or four hundred years in which the laws against witchcraft were enforced. Scotland seems to have been prolific in witches, for within its bounds three or four thousand  miserable witches were burned or otherwise put out of existence. The last person burned in Scotland for supposed witchcraft was a weak minded old woman named Janet Horne in Sutherland whom was condemned to death and burned alive about the year 1722. The day of her execution was cold and the poor creature was so heedless of her fate that she warmed her hands at the fire that was intended to destroy her life. She had confessed in her dotage that her daughter had been shod like a horse by the devil and that she had used her daughter as a pony to ride on.

Some time in King William’s reign an old woman called Kate Mac Niven, the witch of Monzie was burned on Crieff Knock. In those awful days olden times there were actually vile wretches who called themselves witch finders and who traded in the lives of their fellow men. By torturing the suspected person sufficiently they could almost make him or her confess to anything however absurd it might be. They had pincers for tearing bits of flesh out of their victims bodies, and at other times they inserted long hot needles into the living flesh in order, as they put it, to discover the Devil’s mark. We may well imagine that any one thus tortured day and night would be apt to agree to anything suggested to him by his tormentor. Cases were even known of spiteful persons accusing their neighbours of practising the black arts, so that they might get rid of them for ever.

Later than the dates given above a notable witch flourished for a time in Breadalbane and her name has been handed down to posterity as “Cailleach Dhomhnuill Bhric” - “The wife of pockmarked Donald.” Previously to and after the year 1760 she lived with her husband at Cuiltrannich, Lawers; and her fame as the witch of Cuiltrannich spread far and wide. Like Tam O’Shanter’s Nannie she ‘kept the countryside in fear’ and did many an evil deed. She was believed to be in league with his Satanic Majesty and was an adept at the black art. Many an innocent person is said to have suffered at her hands; and all her neighbours shunned her as much as possible. She was reputed to have had the power of causing abortion in cows and of depriving them of their milk giving power in a single day. She was also accused of bewitching young  children so that they fell into a decline. At other times she mesmerised or cast a spell over horses causing them to refuse to eat, drink or work until she had been called in to undo the spell. She assumed many guises in order to accomplish her wicked designs, but according to good authority that of the hare was her favourite guise. It was masquerading in the form of a hare that led to her detection and enabled the Gobhainn Mor (the Big Smith) to put an end to her wicked and mischievous career as a witch. Some time about the fore-mentioned date and on the 12th of May - Latha Bealltainn - or (Old) Beltane day, Malcolm MacMartin or the big smith as he was usually called was making his way to the smithy when casting an eye in the direction of his croft he saw a large brown hare performing many curious antics. His suspicions were aroused and getting as near to the hare as possible he was surprised at hearing a well known voice invoking the Beltane deity and saying, “Transfer the summer’s growth and the harvest’s  crop from the Smith’s croft to the adjoining one.” The adjoining croft was none other than the Cailleach’s own and so the smith’s suspicions were fully confirmed. Hastening with all speed to the smithy he told his apprentice that there was a hare on the croft which would afford them an opportunity of testing the flint gun which the latter had just finished repairing. The gun was duly loaded and presented at the hare which immediately transformed into a woman. The apprentice took a good aim and fired but though his hand was steady and his eye unerring in its aim, his shot had no effect and the woman again turned into a hare. The smith and his assistant were confounded but reloading with a silver sixpence instead of lead, the smith fired in God’s name at the hare and wounded it.          The hare made straight for Donald Breac’s house which it entered by the cat hole in the door. Donald and his wife were the smith’s nearest neighbours and as they were not seen bu him on that day, nor yet on the following forenoon he resolved to call on them to see if anything was wrong. Accompanied by his apprentice he proceeded to do so, but was refused admittance. Thereupon he ordered his apprentice to hold the door while he himself was setting fire to the house. On hearing that threat the terrified inmates soon opened the door, but shame and confusion were depicted on their countenances, for the Cailleach was found limping on one leg owing to the silver sixpence having penetrated one of her thighs to the bone; and all around her were scattered in wild disorder the magic implements of her craft. These included charms, urns, hair tethers, stone balls wooden cups, dried Kail stocks and a bladder full of cow’s hair and raven’s feathers. The contents of the bladder when properly dried she pounded into a fine powder which she used for blinding people. Being at last caught, to save herself from an untimely end she made a full confession of all her misdeeds. The smith who knew something of veterinary science attended the woman’s wound and extracted the sixpence. Then he applied Archangel tar to the wound and bandaged it with a strip of leather from his apron. The wound soon healed but the Cailleach remained a cripple for the rest of her life. She destroyed all the implements of her devilish trade and repented of all the evil she had done. It is believed she died a good Christian and at peace with all men. She was buried in the gateway of Lawers burying ground and in the beginning of last century her name was well known on the shores of Loch Tay.