Daoine Shie Or The Men Of Peace

: Folk-lore And Legends Scotland

They are, though not absolutely malevolent, believed to be a peevish,

repining, and envious race, who enjoy, in the subterranean recesses, a

kind of shadowy splendour. The Highlanders are at all times unwilling to

speak of them, but especially on Friday, when their influence is supposed

to be particularly extensive. As they are supposed to be invisibly

present, they are at all times to be spoken of with respect. The fairies

of Scotland are represented as a diminutive race of beings, of a mixed or

rather dubious nature, capricious in their dispositions, and mischievous

in their resentment. They inhabit the interior of green hills, chiefly

those of a conical form, in Gaelic termed Sighan, on which they lead

their dances by moonlight, impressing upon the surface the marks of

circles, which sometimes appear yellow and blasted, sometimes of a deep

green hue, and within which it is dangerous to sleep, or to be found

after sunset. The removal of those large portions of turf, which

thunderbolts sometimes scoop out of the ground with singular regularity,

is also ascribed to their agency. Cattle which are suddenly seized with

the cramp, or some similar disorder, are said to be elf-shot, and the

approved cure is to chafe the parts affected with a blue bonnet, which,

it may be readily believed, often restores the circulation. The

triangular flints frequently found in Scotland, with which the ancient

inhabitants probably barbed their shafts, are supposed to be the weapons

of fairy resentment, and are termed elf arrowheads. The rude brazen

battle-axes of the ancients, commonly called "celts," are also ascribed

to their manufacture. But, like the Gothic duergar, their skill is not

confined to the fabrication of arms; for they are heard sedulously

hammering in linns, precipices, and rocky or cavernous situations, where,

like the dwarfs of the mines mentioned by George Agricola, they busy

themselves in imitating the actions and the various employments of men.

The Brook of Beaumont, for example, which passes in its course by

numerous linns and caverns, is notorious for being haunted by the

fairies; and the perforated and rounded stones which are formed by

trituration in its channels are termed by the vulgar fairy cups and

dishes. A beautiful reason is assigned by Fletcher for the fays

frequenting streams and fountains. He tells us of

"A virtuous well, about whose flowery banks

The nimble-footed fairies dance their rounds

By the pale moonshine, dipping oftentimes

Their stolen children, so to make them free

From dying flesh and dull mortality."

It is sometimes accounted unlucky to pass such places without performing

some ceremony to avert the displeasure of the elves. There is upon the

top of Minchmuir, a mountain in Peeblesshire, a spring called the Cheese

Well, because, anciently, those who passed that way were wont to throw

into it a piece of cheese as an offering to the fairies, to whom it was


Like the feld elfen of the Saxons, the usual dress of the fairies is

green; though, on the moors, they have been sometimes observed in heath-

brown, or in weeds dyed with the stone-raw or lichen. They often ride in

invisible procession, when their presence is discovered by the shrill

ringing of their bridles. On these occasions they sometimes borrow

mortal steeds, and when such are found at morning, panting and fatigued

in their stalls, with their manes and tails dishevelled and entangled,

the grooms, I presume, often find this a convenient excuse for their

situation, as the common belief of the elves quaffing the choicest

liquors in the cellars of the rich might occasionally cloak the

delinquencies of an unfaithful butler.

The fairies, besides their equestrian processions, are addicted, it would

seem, to the pleasures of the chase. A young sailor, travelling by night

from Douglas, in the Isle of Man, to visit his sister residing in Kirk

Merlugh, heard a noise of horses, the holloa of a huntsman, and the sound

of a horn. Immediately afterwards, thirteen horsemen, dressed in green,

and gallantly mounted, swept past him. Jack was so much delighted with

the sport that he followed them, and enjoyed the sound of the horn for

some miles, and it was not till he arrived at his sister's house that he

learned the danger which he had incurred. I must not omit to mention

that these little personages are expert jockeys, and scorn to ride the

little Manx ponies, though apparently well suited to their size. The

exercise, therefore, falls heavily upon the English and Irish horses

brought into the Isle of Man. Mr. Waldron was assured by a gentleman of

Ballafletcher that he had lost three or four capital hunters by these

nocturnal excursions. From the same author we learn that the fairies

sometimes take more legitimate modes of procuring horses. A person of

the utmost integrity informed him that, having occasion to sell a horse,

he was accosted among the mountains by a little gentleman plainly

dressed, who priced his horse, cheapened him, and, after some chaffering,

finally purchased him. No sooner had the buyer mounted and paid the

price than he sank through the earth, horse and man, to the astonishment

and terror of the seller, who, experienced, however, no inconvenience

from dealing with so extraordinary a purchaser.