Thursday, 1 September 2011

A Close Encounter of the Fairy Kind

Corunna (A Coruña), Galicia, Spain
Fairy lore looms fairly large in any collection of folklore and Alexander Carmichael’s extensive archive is no exception to this general rule. A song and the background story to it was collected from the recitation of Mary Ferguson (c. 1825–1909), a domestic servant, staying then at Cladach a’ Bhaile Shear, but hailing originally from Carinish, both North Uist, by Carmichael some six weeks before he neatly transcribed it on 15 June 1869. The story if not the song itself is typical fairy lore.

An old man in Baileshear
heard this song in a bruth[ain] in a
croc fraoich while pulling heath[er].
He heard this in a warm (braiste
day. He sat down took off his bon[ne]t
& had the song when he ret[urne]d at night
and the whole baile gath[ered] to hear
the oran si[th]. The man was Iain
mac Aon[gh]ais MacAulay. Twas
heard at Croca-du[bh]-Amhain an
iasgaich. The Knoll was always
haunted and even to this day none
likes to pass the way. One Mary
Mac Aulay in Baileshear while
out in search of sheep to mile saw
two women coming out fr[om] this si[th]
ein. They had on green petticoats
with sheen of silver. One tall & one
short & both of exceed[in]g beauty & grace
Their green dresses were like the
dewy grass. They accost[ed] her & told
her where she was go[in]g – for her caig-
ean chaorach & told her where she
would find one & then where the other.
They then told her to go on till she
would see a tall man with a white sheet
in his hand for her life not to to in his
sight. They then gave her a small
stone round stone with a hole in centre
& told her to keep it & that while she lived she
would have plenty of sheep & to give this
stone to her dau[gh]t[er]. This the woman
did & she & her desc[en]d[ents] have been
noted for the manner in which
their sheep have prosp[ered]
She saw the tall tall man
& he was so tall that the fright[ened] her
life & she threw herself down in a
ditch & then rem[ained] till he went
out of sight. He looked all r[oun]d
and gazed upon the sky. She
made for home & lay in leaba
bais for a long time & last rec[o]v[ered]

The informant on this occasion was nick-named Màiri Fheargasdan nighean Corunna and elsewhere, in Carmina Gadelica, Carmichael notes that she was a ‘boireannach bochd truagh ach làn ciùil agus seanchais’ (a poor pitiful woman but full of music and lore). Carmichael also noted the family tradition that Mary heard a lot of her songs from her own mother who had a ‘a large number of songs and lays of gr[ea]t antiquity’ and who was known as Cailleach Choruna on account of her many stories relating to Corunna (A Coruña, a Galician maritime city and municipality) in Spain where she had been during the Peninsular War and where she had given a drink of cold water to Sir John Moore (1761–1809)  after he fell.

It seems as if the song Seathan Mac Rìgh Èireann, mentioned in a previous blog, held a particular fascination for Carmichael as he recorded many, many versions of the song, upwards of half a dozen and perhaps even more. The version given by the North Uist reciter on 29 May 1869 is as follows:

Hura hurabhi o
B anns Seathan cul to[bh]ta
Na i ora o agha[i]dh o
B anns Seath[an]
Huru a burra bhi o
Na dearbh mhac an righ eir lota
Na hi ora o agh o
Leaba fhraoich smi tha eir chlach
Nam faicte Seath[an]
Thig an t iasg. as an cuantan
’S thig na bric o na bruacha[n]
Thogta leat cro[dh] far a chrualaich
Cha bhi[odh] bo dhu[bh] na bo ghuaillean
An ioc[hd]ar ar uach[d]ar na buaile
Bh[e]ir[eadh] si[o]d an aon bho / gach aone bho bh[uamsa]
Gu ire mo bhreac[ain] uac[hd]air uaine
Sheath[ain] cridhe [th]u nan sul socair
Gur minig a dhearg [th]u na crocun
Cha bann le fuil chrui[dh] na chapal
Le sioda le strol la fasununn?
Tha S[eathan] a noc[hd] na mharbhan
Sgeul is ma[th?] le luc[hd] a leanabhain
Le mac cail[lich] nan naoi[dh] dealgun
Sheath[ain] sa Shea[thain] gun anam [th]u
Tha Sea[than] san t seomar ua[chd]rach
Gun ol cup gun ol caiche
Gun ol fion an cuirt dhaoine uasal
Nam faicte Se[athan] ag eiri[gh]
Ri sga[th] croic eir mad[uinn] Cheitin
S criosan caol du[bh] eir a leine
Gaol a mhuime gradh a cheile e
S seac[hd] seallai[dh] a mha[tha]r fhein e
Minig a chual e nach do dh’ in[nis] e
Gun ro[bh] mo lean[nan] an Minginish
Nam bio[dh] gun dean[ainn] fuirich innt
S meinig [thuirt thu] riumsa nach bu bhean sh[i]u[bh]ail mi
Bean bhoc[hd] chian[ail]
Bha mi o ru rudha gu ru[bha] leat
Bha mi an tir nan caill[each] du[bha] leat
Bha mi cill don[nain] a ghiubhais leat
Bha mi n Ile bha bha n Ui[bh]ist
Bha mi Eiri[nn] Choga M[h]umh[a]inn leat
Chuir m a[tha]ir an aite caraideach
Noch[d] sin a rinn [th]u banais dhomh
O choin a ri[gh] nach bi m fhalair[e]
Nach do rinn[eadh] [th]u an t anart ghearra[dh] domh
Nach do rinn[eadh] [th]u giu[th]as ghlana[dh] domh
Nach do chuir[eadh] [th]u san uir fal[ach] mi
Bann Seath[an] an cul to[bh]ta

References:
Carmina Gadelica, v, pp. 60–83.
CW150/67, ff. 42r–44r.
CW150/68, ff. 44r–45v.
Image:
Corunna (A Coruña), Galicia, Spain.

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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). [© carstenflieger.com]