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Gypsy Folk Tales, by Francis Hindes Groome, [1899], at

Gaelic and Welsh-Gypsy stories.

Now, of 'The Battle of the Birds' we have a Welsh-Gypsy version, 'The Green Man of Noman's Land' (No. 62), lacking, it is true, this episode, which may be an interpolation in the Gaelic story, but unmistakably identical with the Gaelic story, of which, however, it forms only a fragment. In the Gaelic version the hero is set four tasks by the heroine's father, in the Gypsy version five tasks, as follows:--



To cleanse a byre, uncleansed for seven years. Heroine does it. Father taxes him with having been helped.

To clean a stable. Heroine does it. Father accuses him of receiving help. He denies it.


To fell a forest before mid-day (cf. Polish-Gypsy story of 'The Witch,' p. 188). Heroine does it. Same denial.

To thatch byre with birds' down--birds with no two feathers of one colour. Heroine does it. He denies help.

To thatch barn with one feather only of each bird. Heroine does it.

To climb a very lofty fir-tree beside a loch, and fetch down magpie's five eggs. He climbs it on a ladder of heroine's fingers, but in his haste her little finger is left on top of tree.

To climb glass mountain in middle of lake, and fetch egg of bird that lays one only. He wishes heroine's shoe a boat, and they reach mountain. He wishes her finger a ladder, but steps over the last rung, and her finger is broken. She warns him to deny help.

p. lxxvii




To select at the dance the youngest of the three sisters all dressed alike. He knows her by the absence of the little finger.

To guess which of the three daughters is which, as they fly three times over castle in form of birds. Forewarned by heroine, he names them correctly.


The story, of course, is a very widespread one. We have a Sanskrit version of it on the one hand, and on the other an African Negro version from Jamaica, with many more referred to in the notes on two other Gypsy versions--one from the Bukowina, 'Made over to the Devil' (No. 34), and the other from Galicia, 'The Witch' (No. 50). But in the Gaelic and in the Gypsy version there are two special points to be noted. The first is that the almost absolute identity of the tasks imposed seems to preclude the idea that the likeness between the two versions can be explained by their being derived from a common original, three or four thousand years old. The second point is that in some respects the Gypsy version is decidedly the better of the two: the fir-tree beside a loch cannot compare with the glass mountain in the middle of the lake; and the selection of the youngest daughter at the dance is inferior to the selection of her as she flies in bird-shape over the castle.

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