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Saturday 27 July 2013

Cailleach na Beinne Brice: The Carlin of Ben Breck

One of the most interesting supernatural beings (or entities) connected with the Highlands and Islands is undoubtedly Cailleach na Beinne Brice, a hag who has had a long association with Beinn Bhric in Nether Lochaber. J. G. MacKay, an authority on Gaelic oral traditions has described her as “the most tremendous figure in Gaelic myth today.” Here, for example, is a short anecdote taken down by Calum Maclean from the recitation of Allan MacDonell, a native of Brae Lochaber, and transcribed by him on the 17th of January 1951:
Thàine i an sin is cha robh fhios cò às a thàine i. Tha iad ag ràitinn gur h-ann dèidh stoirm mhòr a thàine i. Bhiodh i aig Ceann Loch Trèig a’ beireachd air an iasg le làimh is iad ga faicinn. Chaidh a faicinn uair neo dhà aig Bràigh Eas Bhàin, Bràigh Ghlinn Nibheis. Chaidh a faicinn a’ bleoghan nan agh uair neo dhà. Nam faiceadh poitsear i, bha e tilleachd dhachaigh. Chan fhaigheadh e beothach nam faiceadh ise e. Bha fiaclan innte is cha robh mac-samhail ann dhaibh ach fiaclan cliath-chliait, an fheadhainn a chunna i. Bha òran air a dhèanamh dhith cuideachd:
Cailleach Beinne Bric ho rò,
Bric ho rò, Bric ho rò,
Cailleach Beinne Bric ho rò,
Cailleach Mhòr an fhuarain àird.
Cailleach Mhòr nam mogan liath,
Na mogain liath, na mogain liath,
Cailleach Mhòr nam mogan liath,
Chan fhacas do leithid riamh.
’S ann an siud bha a’ ghroighean fhiadh,
A’ ghroighean fhiadh, a’ ghroighean fhiadh,
’S ann an siud bha a’ ghroighean fhiadh,
Seachad sìos an cathair ud thall.
Cailleach Mhòr nam mogan fhada
Nam mogan fhada, nam mogan fhada,
Cailleach Mhòr nam mogan fhada,
B’ astarach i san talamh dhearg.
And the translation goes something like the following:
She came here but no one knows where she came from. They say that she came after a great storm. She would be at the head of Loch Treig catching fish by hand when they used to see her. She was seen once or twice at Bràigh Eas Bhàin, at the Brae of Glen Nevis. She was seen milking hinds once or twice. If a poacher saw her, he would go return home. He would not get a beast if she saw him. She had teeth and there is no other way describe them than harrow-like to those few who saw her. There was a song about her as well:
The carlin of Ben Breck, ho ro,
Breck ho ro, Breck ho ro;
The carlin of Ben Breck ho ro,
The great carlin of the mountain spring.
The great carlin of the grey hose,
The grey hose, the grey hose,
The great carlin of the grey hose,
The like of which has never been seen.
Yonder was the herd of deer,
The herd of deer, the herd of deer,
Yonder was the herd of deer,
That passed beyond the seat over yonder.
The great carlin of the long hose,
The long hose, the long hose,
The great carlin of the long hose,
She sped over the red earth.
According to John MacDonald of Highbridge, another local tradition bearer, she was a common talking point during a ceilidh. She was well-known figure throughout the Highlands and Islands. Another of her manifestations occurs in other localities such as Cailleach a’ Bheinn Mhòir, the witch of Jura, and Cailleach Chlì-Bhric, in Sutherland and as far east in the Highlands as Braemar. The Sutherland tradition is briefly mentioned in Popular Tales of the West Highlands, as indeed is Cailleach Beinne na Brice herself. A longer version of the above song entitled Cailleach Beinn a’ Bhric was contributed by Donald C. MacPherson (1838–1880), a native of Brae Lochaber, to the periodical An Gàidheal in 1874.
Abrach [Donald C. MacPherson], ‘Cailleach Beinn a’ Bhric’, An Gàidheal, vol. II, no. 26 (April, 1874), pp. 369–71
Gearóid Ó Crualaoich, ‘Continuity and Adaptions in Legends of Cailleach Bhéarra’, Béaloideas, vol. 56 (1988), pp. 153–78
─────, The Book of the Cailleach: Stories of the Wise Woman Healer (Cork: Cork University Press, 2003)
J. G. MacKay, ‘Comh-Abartachd Eadar Cas-Shiubhal-an-t-Sléibhe agus A’ Chailleach Bheurr’, Scottish Gaelic Studies, vol. 3 (1930), pp. 10–51
─────, ‘The Deer-Cult and the Deer-Goddess of the Ancient Caledonians’, Folklore, vol. XLIII (1932), pp. 144–74
SSS NB 1, p. 17
A’ Chailleach Bheurr

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