James MacDougall and George Calder: Folk Tales and Fairy Lore in Gaelic and English

Reprinted from Folk Tales.

Folk Tales and Fairy LoreFolk Tales and Fairy Lore in Gaelic and English was published in 1910. This is a collection of tales told in both English and Gaelic. My Gaelic isn’t good enough to read the Gaelic versions, but here’s a short tale, “Torr-a-Bhuilg,” in English from this remarkable collection to give you a taste of how good these stories are:

Long ago a poor woman happened to call in a house near Torr-a-Bhuilg. At the time there was no one in the house but the housewife and what appeared to be a little child. The child kept tumbling about on the floor and screaming incessantly day and night. The poor woman asked what lad she had there on the floor. The housewife answered that she did not know. “Well,” said the poor woman, “I know well what he is, and if you take my advice you will get rid of him; but, if not, you will get enough of him.” The housewife said that she would take her advice, and the poor woman then told her what she was to do to him.

After the poor woman left, the housewife went out and brought in a basket of eggs, which she placed in a circle on the floor. While she was thus engaged, the lad kept looking sullenly at her, and said at length, roughly: “What are you doing in that manner?” “I am making a brewing caldron,” was the reply. “A brewing caldron? I am more than three hundred years old and I never yet saw a brewing caldron like that!”

The housewife had no longer any doubt of the child being a fairy, but she went about her business for a while in her usual way. Then she looked out at the window and assumed a scared look and began to start back as if she beheld something dreadful. The squaller on the floor, looking askance at her for a while, at last asked what it was she beheld. “I see,” said she, “Torr-a-Bhuilg on fire.” He waited where he was no longer, but sprang out at the door saying: “My hammers and my anvil and my bellows,” and after that he was never seen again.

James MacDougall, a minister of Ballachulish and an assiduous collector of Scottish folklore, first published his tales in volumes I and III of Waifs and Strays of Celtic Tradition, a series edited by Alfred Nutt. In 1910, the Reverend George Calder edited the present edition as an additional volume to Waifs and Strays from the remaining unpublished tales in MacDougall’s manuscripts. Calder’s edition, in which both Gaelic and English texts are presented on opposite pages, includes eight wonder tales of knights, blacksmiths, kings, and dragons and almost fifty fairy tales, depicting changelings, bean-nighe, fairies, Glastig, and such water sprites as Urisg.

The Reverend adds a biographical introduction describing James MacDougall, and he appends notes which refer the reader to published variants of the tales. These serve as a needed glossary to some of the Scottish Gaelic terms. Folk Tales and Fairy Lore in Gaelic and English is but one of a number of the books published before the Great War that bear witness to the considerable body of folklore in Scotland.

(John Grant, 1910)

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