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The Kintalen Changeling

There was living in Kintalen [1] a woman who had a male child that neither grew nor bloomed like other children of his age. From morning to evening he would not cease one minute from crying, and he would eat far more food than was natural for the like of him.

It was harvest, and there was not a person on the farm who could draw a sickle who was not out on the reaping field, except the mother of the child. She too would have been out were if not for fear that the screaming thing would break his heart crying if she should leave him in charge of any other person.

There was at the time a tailor in the house, making clothes. The tailor was a shrewd, observant man, and he was but a short time within until he became suspicious of the lad in the cradle. He said to the woman, "You may go to the reaping, and I will take care of the child."

The woman went away. But she had barely taken her feet over the threshold when the withered object she had left behind began shrieking and crying loudly and sorely. The tailor listened to him a good while, keeping his eye on him, till he was sure that he was nothing but a changeling [2]. He now lost patience with him, and cried in a sharp, angry voice, "Stop that music, lad, or I'll put you on the fire."

The crying ceased for a while, but afterwards it began a second time. "Are you at it again, piper of the one tune?" said the tailor. "Let me hear that music any more from you, and I will kill you with the dagger."

When the fairy beheld the frown on the tailor's countenance and the dirk in his hand, he took such a fright that he kept quiet a good while. The tailor was a cheerful man, and to keep from wearying, he began to hum a tune. In the middle of the music the ugly elf raised a loud howl. But he was not allowed to go on with his warble but a very short time. The tailor leaped off his work-table, went, dirk in hand, over to the cradle, and said to the fairy, "We have enough of that music, take the right great bagpipes and give us one good tune on them, or else I'll put the dirk in you."

The fairy sat up in the cradle, took the pipes which he had somewhere about him, and struck up the sweetest music the tailor had ever heard. The reapers heard it on the field, and at once dropped their sickles and stood listening to the fairy music. At length they left the field and ran towards the music. But before they reached the house the tune had ceased; and they did not know who played it or where it came from.

When the reapers returned home in the evening and the tailor got the mistress of the house alone, he told her everything that happened while she was at the reaping, and that her child was nothing but a changeling. He then told her to go with him to the Ardsheal side of the bay, and to throw him out in the loch [3].

She did as was told her. And as soon as the little elf touched the water, he became a big grey-haired old man and swam to the other side of the bay. When he got his foot on dry land, he cried to her that if he had known beforehand what she was going to do, he would have made her never think of doing such a thing again.

She returned home and found her own child at the door before her, healthy and free from defects.

(MacDougall 1910, 148-54]

  1. Kintalen seems to be Kentallen on the west coast of Scotland, north-east of the Isle of Mull along Loch Linnhe.
  2. Changeling: a child secretly exchanged for another in infancy; In legend: a (fairy) child believed to have been exchanged by fairies for the parents' true child.
  3. Loch: Bay or inland lake.


Lord Tarbat's Relations

There are far more seers in the isles of Lewis, Harris, and Uist than in any other place. Yet many Highlanders too have second sight. It is a trouble to most of them who are subject to it. The sight seldom lasts long, only as long as they can keep their eyes steady without twinkling. The hardy, therefore, fix their look that they may see the longer; but the eyes of the timorous always twinkle at the first sight.

What such persons see or foresee, hardly ever fails to come true, although they may seldom tell exactly when the thing will happen.

I was once travelling in the Highland when one of my servants, who was going a little before me, was about to enter a house where I was to stay all night. But as he was going hastily to the door, he suddenly slipped back with a screech, and fell by a stone, which hit his foot.

I asked what was the matter, for he seemed very much frighted. He told me very seriously that I should not lodge in that house, for a dead coffin would shortly be carried out of it. It was when he saw this, that we heard him cry.

I neglected his words and stayed there, while he said to fellow servants that what he had seen would shortly come to pass. And the landlord, a healthy Highlander, died of an apoplectic fit before I left the house.

In the year 1653 Alexander Monro and I were walking in a place called Ullapool, in Loch Broom, on a little plain at the foot of a rugged hill. There was a servant walking with a spade in the walk before us; his back was to us, and his face to the hill. Before we came to him, he let the spade fall, and looked toward the hill.

He took notice of us as we passed near by him, which made me look at him, and perceiving him to stare a little strangely. I guessed he was a seer and called at him, at which he started and smiled.

"What are you doing?" said I.

He answered, "I have seen a very strange thing: an army of Englishmen, leading of horses, coming down that hill; and a number of them are coming down to the plain, and eating the barley which is growing in the field near to the hill."

This was on the 4th May, and four or five days before the barley was sown in the field he spoke of. Alexander Monro asked him how he knew they were Englishmen. He said because they were leading of horses, and had on hats and boots, which he knew no Scotchman would have there.

At first we took little notice of the whole story. But in the beginning of August the Earl of Middleton had occasion to march a party of his towards the South Highlands, and sent his Foot through a place called Inverlawell; and the foreparty, which was first down the hill, did fall off eating the barley which was on the little plain under it.

Learning about it, Monro called to mind what the seer had told us in May, wrote of it, and sent an express with it to me to Lochsli, in Ross, where I then was.

I had occasion once to be in company where a young lady and was told there was a notable seer, an islander, in the company. I soon asked if he knew any person to be in love with that lady. He said he did, and perceived something that made him foretell that the man would marry her and die before her. This was in 1655. I went on to ask the seer to describe the person, and I figured who it could be, although there was nothing special between the lady and him at that time.

Two years later the seer confirmed that the man he had seen beforehand, was the one I pointed out to him. This was some few months before the lady and the man got married, and that man is now dead, and the lady alive.

In January 1652, Alexander Monro and I happened to be in the house of one William M'Clend, of Ferrinlea, in the county of Ross. He, the landlord, and I, were sitting in three chairs near the fire, and in the corner of the great chimney there were two islanders who were related to the landlord and had come to the house that very night. While the one of them was talking with Monro, I perceived the other to look oddly toward me. From this look, and his being an islander, I surmised that he was a seer, and asked him what he stared at.

He answered by desiring me to rise from that chair, for it was an unlucky one. I asked him why. He answered, because there was a dead man in the chair next to me.

"Well," said I, "if it be in the next chair, I may keep my own. But what does the man look like?"

He said he was a tall man, with a long grey coat, booted, and one of his legs hanging over the arm of the chair, and his head hanging dead to the other side, and his arm backward, as if it was broken.

There were some English troops quartered near that place at that time, and it was a great frost after a thaw, so that the country was covered all over with ice. Four or five of the English rode by this house some two hours after the vision, while we were sitting by the fire. We heard a great noise, and it proved to be those trooper who, with the help of other servants, carried in one of them who had fallen badly and had his arm broke. He also often fell into swooning fits. They brought him into the hall and set him in the very chair and in the very posture that the seer had talked of.

But the man did not die; he recovered, although with great difficulty.

Sir Normand M'Loud gave me this account:

A gentleman in the Isle of Harris was always seen by the seers with an arrow in his thigh. Accordingly he thought he would be shot in the thigh before he died. But he died at last without any such accident.

Sir Normand was at his burial at St. Clement's Church in the Harris. At the same time the corpse of another gentleman was brought to be buried in the same very church. The friends on either side came to debate who should enter the church first, and, in a trice they came to blows. One of them was armed with bow and arrows. He let one fly among them.

After Sir Normand had appeased the tumult, one of the arrows was found shot in the dead man's thigh.

(MacDougall 1910)


The Invisible Ghost

Nic Gilmichael was a maiden [1] who followed the Campbells of Glen-Faochan, near Oban. She looked after the household servants, and punished them if they neglected to do their work, or did it in a slovenly manner.

Once a newly-arrived servant, on being warned by the laird [2] to take in the water before dark to avoid that Nic Gilmichael should be displeased with her, said, "If she comes across me, I'll twist her neck for her."

The maiden, though unseen, was then present, and heard what the servant threatened to do to her. Shortly after that, the servant, having gone to the well, came back to the house with her head turned round, until her face overlooked her right shoulder. Being asked the cause, she could only say that she got on the left cheek a slap from a hand in the dark, which threw her head into its new position.

As soon as the laird heard what had been done to her, he led her out by the hand and walked with her round the house, addressing the maiden in the dark, and saying to her, "Nic Gilmichael, poor body, will you not, to oblige me, put the servant's head as it was before?"

After a while the servant got another slap, this time on the right cheek. The blow put her head back nearly to its first position. There it remained in its final position as a warning to others not to threaten vengeance on Nic Gilmichael.

When the estate of Glen-Faochan was sold, she was heard all night sobbing and crying among the trees about the house. But after that she was neither seen nor heard at the house, or anywhere else in the glen [3].

(MacDougall, p. 222-26. Amplified)

  1. Maiden. Houseservant. This one is spoken of as invisible.
  2. Laird. A member of the gentry in Scotland. Laird is a shortened form of 'laverd' and originates in "Lard (Lord)" - both are old words meaning Lord.
  3. Glen. A small, secluded valley; a narrow and deep mountain valley.



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