Pipers and the Fairies

In an island in Loch Roag, Lewis, there is a conical hillock said to have been a frequent resort of fairies. The day came when some crofters decided to build a turf wall to prevent cattle from straying on to the arable land. The line of the wall passed close to the hillock and for convenience the men cut a quantity of turf from it. The following day a young lad and a promising piper, sat near the hillock and was cutting a piece of wood trying to fashion it into a bagpipe chanter. He was startled by a strange sound behind him and on turning round he saw a small woman who told him that she could put him in the way of getting a much better chanter than he could make himself.

On asking what she meant, the woman said that she would see to it provided that all the sods cut fom the hillock were replaced. The lad set to and just as he finished his task the woman appeared again. After thanking him for his co-operation, she told him to get a ‘maidne nan cuasan’ – a stick stuck in the wall of old houses on which brogues were hung – and work the stick into the shape of a chanter then leave it on the hillock overnight. This he did and in the morning the chanter had been bored and finished to perfection. The woman appeared once more this time dressed in beautiful fine green clothes and she gave him a special reed to insert into the chanter.

This he did and the music that he played on the pipes afterwards excelled the best of any piper in Lewis. This chanter was kept by many generations by the descendants of the piper and it went with them when they emigrated to America. Wherever that chanter is now, maybe in an old attic trunk or in some collectors boxes, matters little if the magic reed has been broken…..but maybe, just maybe, in the drawer of an old desk or in a pipe makers reed box, or in a museum case the magic reed still lies waiting to play again.?

(Some notes on the Fairy chanter story

Piper has to go to fairyland; had to play at fairy dances for 20 hours a day for 7 years – he did this to get the magic reed. The magic reed was lost when the Titanic sank – it was in a cigar tube – and maybe its still out there floating; frozen in an iceberg. Bagppes and reeds have magical powers – always been connected to the black arts – 3 drones = number 3 =represents the devils trident. 3 drones have musical logic and musical magic as well as function. Why was the bagpipe seen as a devil’s instrument, was it the sound – like a goat? The bagpipe fires the blood, and was the instrument for get—to-gethers beside the river with the bonfires and wild dancing, with cuddling and kissing and sex – outside the control of the holy.notes)

The Changeling

– as narrated by Nurse Jenny from Popular Rhymes of Scotland, Robert Chambers, 1824

“A' body kens there's fairies, but they're no sae common now as they war langsyne. I never saw ane mysel', but my mother saw them twice – ance they had nearly drooned her, when she fell asleep by the waterside: she wakened wi' them ruggin' at her hair, and saw something howd down the water like a green bunch o' potato shaws.”

“My mother kent a wife that lived near Dunse – they ca'd her Tibbie Dickson: her goodman was a gentleman's gairdner, and muckle frae hame. I dinna mind whether they ca'd him Tammas or Sandy – I guess Sandy -for his son's name, and I kent him weel was Sandy...”

“Oh never fash about his name,” say the children.

“Hoot, ye're aye in sic a haste. Weel, Tibbie had a bairn, a lad bairn, just like ither bairns, and it thrave weel, for it sookit weel, and slept weel. Noo, Tibbie gaes ae day to the well to fetch water, and leaves the bairn in the hoose by itsel': she couldna be lang awa', for she had but to gae by the midden, and the peat-stack, and through the kail-yaird, and there stood the well – I ken weel about that, for in that very well I aften wash ma self. Aweel, as Tibbie was comin' back wi' her water, she hears a skirl in her house like the stickin' of a gryse, or singin' of a soo: fast she rins, and flees to the cradle, and there, I wat, she saw a sicht that made her heart scunner. In place o' her ain bonny bairn, she fand a withered woldron, naething but skin and bane, wi' hands like a moudiewart, and a face like a paddock, a moutn frae lug to lug, and twa great glowerin een.”

“When Tibbie saw sic a daft-like bairn, she scarce kent what to do, or whether it was her ain or no. Whiles she thocht it was a fairy; whiles that some ill een had spoilt her wean when she was at the well. It wad never sook, but suppit mair parritch in ae day than twa herd callants could do in a week. It was aye yammerin' and greetin', but never mintet to speak a word; and when ither bairns could rin, it couldna stand – sae Tibbie was sair fashed about it, as it lay in its cradle at the fireside like a half dead hurcheon.”

“Tibbie had span some yarn to make a wab, and the wabster lived at Dunse, so she maun gae there; but there was haebody to look after the bairn. Weel, her neist niebour was a tylor; they ca'd him Wullie Grieve: he cloutit a pair o' breeks for my father when he was a boy, and my father telt me they were the best breeks.”

“So, Tibbie goes to the tylor and says,”Wullie, I maun awa' tae Dunse about my wab, and I dinna ken what to do wi' the bairn till I come back; ye ken it's but a whingin', screechin', skirlin' wallidreg – but we maun bear wi' dispensations. I wad wuss ye,” quo' she, “to tak tent till't till I come hane – ye sall hae a roosin' ingle, and a blast o' the goodman's tobacco-pipe forbye.” Wullie was naething laith and back they gaed thegither.

“Wullie sits down at the fire, and awa' wi' her yarn gaes the wife; but scarce had she steekit the door, and wan half-way down the close, when the bairn cocks up on its doup in the cradle, and rounds in Wullie's lug, “Wullie Tylor, an ye winna tell my mither when she comes back, I'se play ye a bonny spring on the bagpipes.”

“I wat Wullie's heart was like to loup the hool – for tylors ye ken, are aye timorsome – but he thinks to himsel', “fair fashions are still best,” an' “it's better to fleetch fules than to flyte wi' them;” so he rounds again in the bairn's lug, “Play up, my doo, an' I'se tell naebody.”

Wi' that the fairy ripes amang the cradle strae, and poos oot a pair o' pipes, sic as tylor Wullie ne'er had seen in a' his days - muntit wi' ivory, and gold, and silver, and dymonts, and what not. I dinna ken what spring the fairy played, but this I ken weel, that Wullie had nae great goo o' his performance; so he sits thinkin to himsel' - “This maun be a deil's get; and I ken weel hoo to treat them; and gin I while the time awa', Auld Waughorn himsel' may come to rock his son's cradle, and play me some foul prank;” so he catches the bairn by the cuff o' the neck, and whpt him into the fire, bagpipes and a'!

“Fuff – awa flees the fairy, skirling, “Deil stick the lousie tylor!” a' the way up the lum.”