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Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Fairy Lore: Work, Work Farquhar!

Another piece of fairy lore recorded by Calum Maclean came by way of John MacDonald of Highbridge, Brae Lochaber. The following was recorded a few days before being transcribed on 18th of February, 1951: 

Bha fear ann ris an abradh iad Fearchar agus gu math tric bha bruaillean glè mh
òr air a chur air agus dragh le sìdhichean a bhiodh a’ tighinn thar na robh e agus iad ag iarraidh obair, obair, “Thoir dhuinn obair.”
“Falbh,” thuirt e riutha an latha a bha seo, “agus tiormaichibh an loch a tha gu h-àrd an sin.”
“Nì sinn sin.”
Dh’fhalbh iad. Agus an ath-latha, dar a chaidh e an àirde, bha an loch tioram. Thàinig iad a-rithist thar an robh e feasgar. Thug e dhaibh obair air choreigin eile agus rinn iad sin. Agus ghabh e iongantas cho allamh agus a chuir iad crìoch air an obair a bh’ ann. Cha chreid mise nach ann a’ spìonadh fraoich a bha iad bharr a’ mhonaidh. Agus tha am monadh gorm gus an latha an-diugh. Cha d’ fhàs fraoch riamh air. Agus an sin:
“Tha iad a’ cur dragh glè mhòr orm,” thuirt e ris a’ bhean. “Agus bidh iad a-màireach cho dona is a bha iad riamh, a’ cur dragh orm ag iarraidh obair.” “Had!” thuirt a’ bhean, “nach toir thu orra sìoman a dhèanadh den ghaineamhaich a tha a sìos air a’ chladach. Dh’fhairtlich e air an Donas fhèin sìoman a dhèanadh don ghaineamhaich, ach dh’iarr e moll agus gun dèanadh e e. Chan fhaigheadh e moll agus mar sin dh’fhairtlich air. Abair sin riutha.”
Thàinig iad an ath-fheasgar a dh’iarraidh obair.
“Falbh a sìos agus dèanaibh sìoman den ghaineamhaich a tha sìos air a’ chladach.”
Dh’fhalbh iad. Thug iad treis ag obair sin ach cha robh a’ chùis a’ dol leotha. Thill iad air ais. Thuirt iad gun a dh’fhairtlich sin orra a dhèanadh ach nam faigheadh iad innear eich, mar a their iad ann am facal ciùin, laghach, sgàinteach each. Agus mar sin cha d’fhuair.
“Cha fhaigh sibh sin. Agus dèanaibh sìoman dheth a rèir an ordugh a fhuair sibh. Agus mura dèan, na faiceam tuillidh an rathad seo sibh.”
Agus dh’fhairtlich sin orra agus fhuair am bodach caoidhte ’s an sìdhichean. Agus bha Fearchar glè thoilichte. Mar a thuirt mi ruibh, cha d’ fhàs fraoch riamh air a’ bheinn an deaghaidh na sìdhichean a tarrainn. Agus dh’fhairtlich sin orra agus fhuair am bodach cuidhte ’s an sìdhichean. Agus bha Fearchar glè thoilichte. Mar a thuirt mi ruibh, cha d’fhàs fraoch riamh air a’ bheinn an deaghaidh na sìdhichean a tarrainn. Agus ’s e tè dhiubh sin Beinn Dòbhrain. Tha i gorm gus an latha an-diugh. Agus ’s iomadh facal a thuirt Donnchadh Bàn Mac an t-Saoir ma dèidhinn, ma dhèidhinn Beinn Dòbhrain:

“’S i bu bhòidhche leam—
Monadh fada rèidh,
Coille a faighte fèidh,
’S soileireach an treud
Bhios an còmhnaidh ann.” 

There was a man they called Farquhar and very often he was sorely troubled and vexed by fairies who came to him asking for work, work, “Give us work.” “Go,” he said to them this day, “and empty the loch (H1097.1) that is up yonder.”
“We’ll do that.”
Away they went and the following day, when he went up, the loch was dry. They came to him again in the evening. He gave them some other work and they did that. And he was amazed how quickly they performed that task (H1090). I rather think that they were put to pluck the heather from the moor. And the moor is green to this day. No heather grew on it ever since. And then—“They are troubling me very much,” he said to his wife. “And tomorrow they’ll be as bad as ever, troubling me by asking for work.”
Tut!” said the wife (J155.4), “why do you not ask them to make a rope out of sand (H1021.1) that is down on the shore? The Devil himself failed (K211) to make a rope out of sand, but he asked for chaff (H1021.2) in order to make it. He could not get chaff and so failed. Tell them that.”
The following evening they came to ask for work.
“Go down and make a rope of the sand that is down on the shore.”
Away they went. They were engaged in that work for some time but they did not succeed. They came back. They said they had failed but if only they could get horse-dung, as they say—to use a gentle, polite word—sgàinteach of horses. But they did not get that.
“You’ll not get that. And make a rope of it according to the directions you have been given. And if you do not, do not let me see you around here anymore.”
And they failed to perform that task and the old man got rid of the fairies (F381.11). And Farquhar was very pleased. As I’ve told you, no heather ever grew on the mountain when the fairies had cut it. And one of the mountains is Ben Dorain. It is green to this day. And many words had Duncan Bàn MacIntyre said about it, about Ben Dorain:

“To me it is most beautiful:
The wide, smooth hill,
A forest wherein deer are found.
Bright is the throng
That is wont to be there.” 

In essence, the premise of the tale is about getting rid of the fairies and given the once widespread popularity of this fairy narrative throughout the Highlands and Islands strongly suggests that a migratory legend is at play here. In fact, the story is an international one and is classified as ATU 1174; typically in such stories an impossible task is demanded of the fairies to perform – a good example is the one given: a request to make a rope of sand – and so the protagonist by using such a ploy manages to see the back of them.

References:
Calum I. Maclean, The Highlands (Inbhir Nis: Club Leabhar, 1975)
────, ‘Fairy Stories from Lochaber’, Scottish Studies, vol. 4 (1960), pp. 84–95
SSS NB 4, pp. 311–13
Image:
A Rope of Sand

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