Friday 11 March 2011

Latha Fhèill Brìghde – St Bride’s Day

One of the four great quarter-days in the Gaelic calendar is Latha Fhèill Brìghde, or St Bride’s/Brigid’s Day, celebrated on the very first day of February. Alexander Carmichael recorded in a transcription notebook the following anecdote concerning Mrs Major MacLeod, Anne MacLeod (1754–1834), wife of Major MacLeod of Stein, and a daughter of the Highland heroine, Flora MacDonald:

Mrs Major MacLeod a daughter of the celebrated
Flora MacDonald was on a visit to Mr Tolmie
Uiginnish Skye. One day while at breakfast
some person remarked that the day
was La[tha]-fheil[l]-Bri[gh]de St Brigit’s day. On hear-
ing which Mrs Major MacLeod started up
got a stocking put some thing in it pro-
bably a piece of peat and proceeded
to pound it down with a mallet saying as
she did so – La-[tha]-fheil[l]-Bri[gh]de thig ni[gh]ean I[o]mh[a]ir as an toll
Cha bhoin mise do ni[gh]ean I[o]mh[a]ir
’S cha bhoin ni[gh]ean I[o]mh[a]ir rium.”
There is a belief among the old Highlanders that
if the serpent under the name of nighean I[o]mh[a]ir
is pounded in effigy on La[tha] fheil[l] Bri[gh]de the day
on which it is believed it emerges from
its winter retreat it cannot sting that person
during the whole year again.

Elsewhere in Carmina Gadelica, Carmichael has a long entry headed ‘Sloinntearachd Bhride’ (Genealogy of Bride) where he expands upon the subject matter in some detail, an extract from which throws some light upon the above anecdote:

The serpent is supposed to emerge from its hollow among the hills on St Bride’s Day, and a propitiatory hymn was sung to it. Only one verse of this hymn has been obtained, apparently the first. It differs in different localities:–

‘Moch maduinn Bhride,
Thig an nimhir as an toll,
Cha bhoin mise ris an nimhir,
Cha bhoin an nimbhir rium’

Early on Bride’s morn
The serpent shall come from the hole,
I will not molest the serpent,
Nor will the serpent molest me.

Carmichael then offers three different versions of the hymn before explaining that the “‘daughter of Ivor’ is the serpent; and it is said that the serpent will not sting a descendant of Ivor, he having made ‘tabhar agus tuis,’ offering and incense, to it, thereby securing immunity from its sting for himself and his seed for ever.”

CW112/48, fos. 119v–120r.
Carmina Gadelica, i, pp. 164–75; iii, pp. 154–63.
Image: Adder or Rìghinn (one of the its many names in Gaelic).

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Stone whorls WHM 1992 13 2.4

Stone whorls WHM 1992 13 2.4
Stone whorls collected by Alexander Carmichael, held by West Highland Museum (ref. WHM 1992 13 2.4). [©]