Written by Rector MacLean, September 13, 1860. Recited by Angus MacDonald, (constable) at Stoney Bridge, South Uist, who styles himself Aonghas, Mac Iain, Mhic Aonghais, Mhic Dhomhnuill, Mhic Thormaid, Mhic Iain, Mhic Neill, Mhic Chalain, Mhic Eoghain, Mhic Aonghais oig, Mhic Aonghais Mhoir, Mhic Sheann Aonghais, a Ile 's tha iad ag radh nach robh e cli. That is to say, Angus, the son of John, and up to the thirteenth ancestor, "Old Angus from Islay; and they say he was not weak." MacDonald says he learnt this poem fifty-eight years ago from Aonghas, Raothaill bhàin, Mhic Iain, Mhic Dhomhnuill, Domhnullaich, Mhic Ghilleaspaig, Mhic Iain, Mhic Uisdean, Mhic Aonghais, Mhic Raothaill, H. Earaich (that is to say, Angus of white Ronald, the son of John, and up to the tenth ancestor), who lived in North Uist, at Baile Ràthaill, and who died more than fifty years ago, about seventy years of age.
He could neither read nor write, and he learnt this and other stories from his mother, who died about seventy years ago, at the age of one hundred years.
He (MacDonald) says that the song--
A Nighean bluidh bhàin nam falbhadh tu leom,
Gun ceannachain gunn de 'n t-sioda dhuit.
Thou fair yellow girl, if thou'dst go with me,
That I'd buy a gown of the silk for thee.
was composed by her.
The poem is, as usual, preceded by a short prose story, which is as follows:--
THERE were two brothers once in Eirinn, and one of them was a king and the other a "ridire." They were both married. On the knight there was a track (that
is, the knight had children), and there were no children at all to the king. It was a source of insult to the knight and his lot of sons, that the king should have the realm at all. The thing that happened was, that they gathered armies, both of them, on each side. On the day of the battle that they gave, the knight and his three sons were slain.
The wife of the knight was heavy, and the king sent word that if she were to have a babe son to slay him, but that if it were a baby daughter to keep her alive, and keep her. It was a lad that she had, and there was a kitchen wench within who had a love son. Braomall was her name, and Domhnull was the name of her son.
When the son of the knight was born, this one fled with the two, the knight's son and her own son. They were being fed at the cost of the knight's wife. She was there on a day, and for fear they should be hungry, she went to a town land to seek food for them. They were hungry, and she was not coming, and they saw three deer coming towards the bothy. The knight's son was where the other was, and he asked what creatures were there. He told him there were creatures on which there was meat and clothing.
"If we were the better for it I would catch them," said be.
He ran and he caught the three deer, and they were before his "muime" when she came. She flayed them, and they ate, and she made a dress for him of the deer's hides. 1 Thus they were in a good way till the deer failed, and hunger came upon them again,
and she went again to the town land. There came a great horse that belonged to the king--a wild horse--to the place where they were. He asked of Donald what beast was that.
"That is a beast on which sport is done, one is upon him riding him."
"If we were the better for him I would catch him," said he.
"Thou ill-conditioned tatterdemalion! to catch that beast! It would discomfit any man in the realm to catch him." He did not bear any more chatter, but he came round about, and he struck his fist on Donald, and he drove his brains out. He put an oaken skewer through his ear, and he hung him up against the door of the bothy. "Be there thou fifty beyond the worst," said he.
Then he stretched out after the horse, and the hides were trailing behind him. He caught the horse, and he mounted him; and the horse that had never borne to see a man, he betook himself to the stable for fear. His father's brother had got a son by another wife. When he saw the palace he went up with wonder to look at the palace of his father's brother.
His muime never had called him anything but "the great fool" and "Creud orm." When he perceived the son of his father's brother playing shinty, he went where he was, and, "Creud orm," said he.
"Who art thou," said the king's son--"of the gentles or ungentles of the realm, that has the like of that speech?"
"I am the great fool, the son of the knight's wife, the nursling of the nurse, and the foster-brother of Donald the nurse's son, going to do folly for myself,
and if need were, it is I that could make a fool of thee also."
"Thou ill-conditioned tatterdemalion! make a fool of me?" said the king's son.
He put over the fist and he drove the brain out of him. "Be there, then, thou fifty over worse, as is Donald the nurse's son, with an oaken skewer through his ear."
He went in where the king was. "Creud orm," said he.
"Who art thou," said the king--"of the gentles or ungentles of the realm, that hast such a speech?"
"I am the great fool, the son of the knight's wife, the nursling of the nurse, and the foster-brother of the nurse's son, going to make folly for myself, and if need were, it is I that could make a fool of thee also."
"Well, then, it is not thou that made me that, but my counsellor, on the day that I slew thy father, and did not slay thy mother."
Then the king went with him. Every one, then, that he fell in with in the town, they were going with him, and that was their blessing, "Creud orm."
There was a splendid woman in the realm, and there was a great "Fachnach," that had taken her away. The people thought, if they could bring him to the presence of this woman, that be would set his head upon her, and that he would let the people away; that it was likely they would come between himself and the Fachach, and that the Fachach would kill him. That time he was an utter fool.
[Of the poem, MacLean remarks:--"Some of the phraseology and pronunciation is such as is considered Irish; for example, the particle ni for cha, dho for dhà, cos for cas; but these forms of expression were common in the Highlands; add to
which, a cultivated dialect was probably common to both countries. The versification is exceedingly harmonious and varied. In some lines the number of syllables is shorter, to give room for the emphasis and slow utterances required by the sense. In reciting the poem, the pronunciation of the reciter was peculiar, and differed widely from that of his conversational dialect.
"It appears that this Lyric was considered by the Gael their best, for it is said, 'Gach dàn gu dàn an Deirg;' 'Gach laoidh gu laoidh an amadain mhoir;' 'Gach eachdraidh gu eachdraidh Chonnail.' Each poem to the poem of the Red; each lay to the lay of the great fool; each history to the history of Connal (is to be referred as a standard). In Dr. Smith's 'Sean Dàna,' there is a "Laoidh an amadaiu mhoir" quoted, entirely different from this one."--H. MacL.
The lay is in "Sean Dàna" as part of Cath Mhanuis. Another long poem was published under the name of "Laoidh an Amadain Mhoir," which I have failed to get at the British Museum. The language of the version here given is difficult, and it differs in construction and in sound from the spoken modern Gaelic of the district. There seems every reason to consider it as a fragment. It seems to describe a single adventure only, and there must have been a prelude and a sequel to it.
Perhaps Gillmhin (Fairfine) was the lady whom the Fachach had taken away, and who made an entire fool of the mighty simpleton.
There is something allegorical in the adventure. There is a mystic valley in which the hero is tempted, and yields to a cup of pleasure, but when he perseveres, his punishment is lightened, and he gets to the golden city. There he yields to sloth, but when he holds to his promise, and resists temptation, and fights manfully, he is delivered from all his woes. If this view be correct, this may be part of the same tradition which is interwoven with the romances of Arthur and his
knights, which were certainly founded on Celtic traditions, and which pervade all Europe.
The story of Peronnik L'Idiot, in the "Foyer Breton," is of the same class. The hero is an orphan, and a simpleton, and proves himself a hero with sharp wits. He takes service as a herd at a farm, and there sees knights going to Kerglas to seek the golden basin, and the diamond lance. The one is filled with any food which the owner desires, cures diseases, and raises the dead; the other crushes all that it touches, and shines like a flame; both belong to a giant magician who lives at Kerglas. Now Kerglas might be Cathair Glas, the gray or mystic city. The golden basin, though it has more virtues, has the same properties as the Gaelic "Ballan iochshlaint" (vessel of balsam), and the shining lance is own brother to "Claidheamh geal Soluis," the white glaive of light.
Kerglas was surrounded by an enchanted forest, in which rivulets seemed to be torrents, and shadowy rocks and vain shows terrified the wanderer. Beyond that, a dwarf korrigan guarded an apple tree, which was the same which grew in Eden; further on, a lion with vipers for a mane, guarded a magic flower, which dissolved enchantments--still further, a shoal of dragons watched the lake in which they swam; and lastly, a terrible black man, with many eyes, guarded a fearful valley. He was chained to a rock, and armed with a iron bullet, which returned to him when he had thrown it, and he at least is a common character in Gaelic tales (see page 15). When all these dangers were passed, temptation assailed the adventurer in the shape of delicious food, pleasant drinks, and fair women, and if he yielded he fell.
All these dangers Peronnik the Breton idiot overcomes
by wily stratagems. The Gaelic Amadan Mor overcomes temptations also, but he conquers by valour and dogged perseverance, rather than by wiles.
Peronnik, the half-starved idiot, catches a colt of thirteen months, rides through the wood, and at last, by the help of a yellow lady, who turns out to be the plague, kills the magician, and acquires the magic basin and lance. He appears on the side of the Bretons in a war with the French at Nantes, kills his foes with the lance, brings his friends to life when killed, and feeds them when alive with the magic basin; and finally, he goes to Palestine, where he destroys armies, forces the Emperor of the Saracens to be baptized, and marries his daughter, "by whom he had one hundred children."
By some accounts he still lives with all his family. The great fool does not go to Palestine, but Connal Guilbeinach does, and he there acquires a magic shining sword, and a talisman, which brings the dead to life. I am inclined to rank "the Great fool" with "Peronnik the idiot," to place the golden city on the same magic hill of the imagination as Kerglas, and to consider the "lay" as one episode in the adventures of a Celtic hero, who in the twelfth century became Perceval le chercheur du basin. He, too, was poor, and the son of a widow, and half-starved, and kept in ignorance by his mother, but nevertheless he got a horse and venison, and acquired knowledge from King Arthur's knights, and joined them; and in the end he became possessed of that sacred basin le Saint Graal, and the holy lance, which, though Christian in the story, are manifestly the same as the Gaelic talismans which appear so often in Gaelic tales, and which have relations in all popular
lore,--the glittering weapon which destroys, and the sacred medicinal cup which cures.
May 18, 1861.--The fourteen verses numbered with an (*) are inserted from a version written down for Sir Kenneth Mackenzie, in 1850, at Gairloch, chiefly from the recitation of John MacPherson, then eighty-eight years old, and thus headed" How the might (neart) of the Great Fool got the victory over the Glamour (druigheachd) of Mananan (mhananaid), and how he took his legs back again from him by his might." I am indebted to Mr. Nicholson of Edinburgh, who had the MSS.
The twelve verses numbered with (†) are not in the Gairloch version. The remaining thirty-seven verses are common to both. No two verses, hardly two lines are identical; but the variations are slight, and the phonetic value of the words is preserved in almost every instance. This seems a strong argument for the traditional preservation of these poems.
2 and 3, which are not in my version, and 4, which is not in the other, together lead me to suspect either that this was composed to imitate an older poem, and to teach a moral lesson; or that some one has tried to give an old poem a moral turn. The language of 2 and 3 is Biblical; 4 is magical, and so is the bulk of the poem; and the rhythm of 3 and 4 is different from the rest. The bearing of this on Welsh tradition is referred to elsewhere.
161:1 I have several versions of a long very wild story called the Lad of the Skinny husks."