Gomme’s theory of
fairies is that they are the traditional representatives of an ancient
pygmy race. J. F. Campbell, in his introduction to Popular Tales of the
West Highlands, bears out this theory by his discoveries. By living
among the Lapps, he found out that their manners and customs are similar
to those ascribed to the fairies. For example, he knows one dwelling in
the north of Europe which would answer the description of a fairy mound.
It is round, about twelve feet in diameter, and sunk three feet in the
sand. The roof is made of sticks and covered with turf. At a short
distance, it looks exactly like a conical green mound about four feet
high. He saw a somewhat similar dwelling uncovered in the sand hills
near the sea in South Uist, Scotland. A Lapp, even when wearing a high
peaked cap, could easily fit under his arm. They move around very
rapidly, aided by long birch poles. They are fond of hoarding treasure.
In fact, they are such a people as the mist of antiquity might encircle
with all the magic attributed to fairies.
The early settlers of Nova Scotia brought with them from the old lands a
belief in the existence of fairies. The whole district which the town of
Inverness now covers was formerly called the Shean (from the Gaelic
Sithean, meaning the house of the fairies). In this district there was a
small hill, shaped something like a large hay stack, where the old
people used to see the “little people” in thousands. People in general
would not walk about in that place at night; but when they did sov as
soon as they approached the hill the little visitors vanished. A man who
owned a farm at that place was so much troubled by noises of no natural
description that he sold his place in order to get rid of them.
An old pedlar used to go around the country with his waggon-load of
goods drawn by a rather miserable-looking grey horse. One night he put
up at Mr. MacNeil's house, near Castle Bay, and his horse was
comfortably housed in the near-by stable. In the morning when Mr.
MacNeil, who was up betimes, went to the stable, he was surprised to
find the *stranger’s horse decorated with braided tail and mane. He
expressed his surprise to the pedlar, who told him that this was a
nightly occurrence, and he ascribed it to the fairies. No matter in what
part of the country lie was, or what precautions were taken to prevent
intruders from entering the stables, the same thing took place. When
they gave the horse water into which a silver coin was placed, the
plaits unravelled of themselves.
Mr. Murphy told me of another prank played by the fairies on the farm
adjoining his grandfather’s lot at Low Point. A man from the old country
went out reaping one day in a field of this farm, when, lo and behold!
he perceived that all the stooks previously made had been turned upside
down. “I didn’t think we had any of the ‘little people’ in this part of
the world.” he declared in his astonishment.
The Acadians are quite familiar with these little creatures under the
name of “lutin.” In olden times they used to hear, about sunset, a noise
in the air like the flapping of the wings of a flock of large birds.
This was followed by the sound of the rolling of wheels, the laughter
and singing of men and women, the ringing of bells and the barking of
dogs. On one occasion the words were heard as follows:
Men’s voices:..................Caribi, caribi,
Women’s voices: ..............Caribi, caribo,
Men’s voices:..................Houpe li! Houpe la!
Women’s voices:..............Caribi, caribo.
All together:..................Ah! ah! ah! tra, la, la.
Oh! oh! oh! dri do do
At night the “lutin” would come and make braids in the horses’ manes and
drive or ride those horses that were best and swiftest. The horses so
treated did not suffer any ill effects of the rough usage to which they
were subjected. (Mr. Henri Le Blanc, an Acadian, gave me this
information. I have consulted several other Acadians in different
sections of the country, and found them all of the same opinion with
regard to the mischievous “lutin”).
In general, however, the fairy tales that are current in Nova Scotia are
importations from the Celtic lands that have been handed down by oral
tradition. A good specimen of these tales was obtained for me by a kind
friend from Mr. Neil MacLellan, of Broad Cove. He told it to her in
Gaelic, and she translated it. It is called “Donald MacNorman and the
Many generations ago there lived in one of the glens of Scotland a kind
old man of the name of Donald MacNorman, and his wife, Red Janet. Their
home was in the upper part of the glen near a big rock. The glen was
surrounded by high mountains. There was nothing to break the silence of
their solitude except the murmur of a river as it flowed gently past
their door, and the song of the birds as they sang sweetly in the grove
above their house.
Many a time Donald would stand listening to the moaning of the wind on
the craggy mountain tops — those mountains that had been buffeted by
many a fierce gale for hundreds of years.
No stranger from land or sea but was welcome at Norman’s house. His home
and table were at the disposal of the traveller. This was a satisfaction
to him, for he felt that he was rendering service to others.
As is the case with every other mortal, Donald’s happiness was not
complete. He had no heir who would hand down his name to future
generations. But Donald had great faith in the fairies, and firmly
believed the strange stories he had heard about them from his ancestors.
No doubt his surroundings had something to do with confirming this
faith. He felt that they might do for him what they had done for others,
and his confidence in them was not in vain., for the fairies gave him to
understand that the long-desired heir would one day in the near future
come to gladden his home. At this news his happiness knew no bounds. No
robin on the branch, nor nightingale in the glade, sang sweeter than he.
One fine evening, on arriving home from his boats, he was met by the
nurse, who placed a beautiful child in his arms. There was great
rejoicing. The whole neighborhood assembled, and for days the glass went
the rounds to do honour to the little stranger.
Everything went well for a time. There was not a cloud on Donald’s
horizon that little Norman did not dispel. But, alas! the day was near
at hand when Donald’s brightest dreams and sweetest hopes were to be
shattered. One dry, cold day in spring, when Donald and Janet were
working in the fields, they left a little girl to take care of the
child. After putting him to sleep in the cradle, the girl went out to
play. When she came back what was her surprise to find instead of the
healthy child she had left in the cradle, a thin, miserable little
Immediately the little girl ran to tell the parents. The news soon
spread abroad, and great sympathy was felt for the grief-stricken father
and mother. Search was made high and low for little Norman, but without
success. Finally, in despair, Donald thought he would have a look
at the stranger who replaced his beloved child. Standing over the
cradle, he raised his hands in horror, saying: “May God be between us
and you. I know this creature does not belong to this world.” Janet said
that she would not close an eye while the creature was under the roof.
“If that is the case,” said Donald, ‘‘you will be without sleep for many
a day, for it does not seeni to be in a hurry to leave.” Then they began
to wonder what they would do about the child. The only way they could
solve the difficulty was to keep it and treat it kindly. The child
seemed to respond to their treatment, for it seemed to be enjoying life.
At last Donald and his friends came to the conclusion that it was the
fairy queen who had taken little Norman away and had put this child in
his place. So Donald was advised to place the child on the big rock
above the house, and leave it there all night. If the fairy queen should
hear it cry, she would come for it and leave Norman in its place. So
this was done. Donald hoped that if the fairy queen failed to come for
it, the eagles might carry it off. Early next morning he went to the
rock, but found that neither fairy queen nor eagle had come for the
fairy child. The only thing to do was to bring it back home.
After this it became more intolerable than ever. It kept up a continual
howl night and day; and like the lean kine of Egypt, the more it ate the
thinner it got.
Then, a lame tailor came to Donald’s house to make him a suit of
clothes. It was harvest time, and all were busy. After breakfast Janet
went to the fields with her husband, and left the fairy child in the
They had not gone a long time when the child raised itself on its elbow
in the cradle and looked cautiously around. When it saw that they were
alone in the house, it turned to the tailor and told him not to be
afraid, for, if he promised not to tell anybody, it would play for him
the sweetest tune he had ever heard. Then it pulled a chanter from
behind it, and began to play. The tailor was so entranced that he could
not sew another stitch. He stuck the needle in the coat he was making,
crossed his legs, and listened. But he was not long in this position
when he saw twenty maidens dressed in green cloaks come in. Then music
and dancing began in earnest. The tailor with his eyes almost jumping
out of his head, sat watching them. At last he jumped up, threw the coat
away, and joined in the dance. During the dancing he made an attempt to
swing one of the maidens, but, to his astonishment, he found that she
was only a shadow. Once when turning around, one of the maidens struck
him such a blow that he saw stars. Raising his hand to ward off the
blow, he found himself seated in his chair with his coat on his knees,
just as he was before the music began. On looking around, he found that
there was no one in the house but himself and the child lying quietly in
the cradle, as if nothing had happened. The harvesters came home, and
the tailor was very happy when the coat was finished, for he did not
wish to go through a like experience again.
Shortly after this, the “little one” began to get up and sit by the
fireside when the others went to bed. It would spend hours rocking
itself and singing sad songs. This used to annoy Donald, so one night he
threatened to get up and punish the strange creature for disturbing
their night’s rest; but Janet begged him not to have anything to do with
the child lest some misfortune might befall them.
Donald was getting ready to go to the forge one day when, to his great
surprise, the fairy child asked him to get news from the blacksmith for
him. The news that Donald brought was that the forge on the hillside was
burned to the ground, anvil and all. At this the child got excited and
screamed out: "My loss! My loss!” It took the chanter in its hand and
began to play, at the same time leaping and running over the hills. When
Donald, who was watching the performance, returned to the house to
relate to Janet what he had seen and heard, lo and behold! he found in
the cradle his own little Norman, lying quietly and smiling at him.
If there was sorrow at the loss of Norman, there was a hundred times
more rejoicing at his recovery. A great feast was prepared, at which all
the neighbors were invited, the lame tailor included. If there was joy
at Norman’s birth, there was still greater joy at his return from the
land of the fairies.
The story that follows was given firm credence by the grandfather of the
man who told it to me.
One Christmas Eve. as two neighbors were returning home with two kegs of
whiskey slung on their backs, they saw the Hill of the Fairies open, and
in they went. Being off their guard, they forgot to stick a piece of
steel — a knife would do — into the upper part of the door. Had they
done this, the fairies could not have shut them in.
Two years from that evening two of their neighbors saw the Hill open and
the dancing going on. They stuck steel in the door and entered. The
first two, who, they suspected all the time were in the Hill with the
fairies, were there and no mistake, standing inside the door with the
kegs still on their shoulders. The newcomers said: “Come, come home, at
once.” One of the first pair answered: “Wait a moment until this reel is
finished.” They dragged them out rather violently, however; and, of
course, they would not believe but that they had been in the Hill a very
short time. But when they got home and saw how their children had grown,
they believed it well enough.
Mr. Murphy told me this story, which he heard from his grandfather. Once
upon a time a woman was obliged to leave her child in the house and go
to attend to some outside work. On her return the baby was crying loudly
and could not be pacified. Day and night he kept up a continuous roar,
until the mother became suspicious that a trick was' being played on
her. ‘‘Wise” people whom she consulted advised her to go to Fairy
Stephen for advice in her trouble.
Now, Fairy Stephen was a man who had been taken by the fairies and had
lived among them for several years; consequently, he was well versed in
fairy ways. In fact, although he had been restored to his home, yet at
certain times he had to return to the fairies, and when he came back he
looked thin and wretched.
Stephen told the woman that she could discover whether or not a trick
had been played on her by the fairies in this way. She was to take a
dozen eggs, pierce them, and remove their contents; then fill the shells
with water and place them before the fire. Then she was to go out of
doors, secure a cudgel, and watch what the baby would do. If he tried to
get out of the cradle, she was to lay on to him with the cudgel.
The woman did as she was advised. When the water in the egg-shells had
almost reached the boiling point, she saw the baby rise up in the
cradle, and heard him say as he glanced cautiously around: “I am one
hundred years old, and I never saw so many little pots boiling with
water before.” The woman lost no time in using the cudgel. The more she
beat him the louder he cried. In the midst of the whipping a fairy woman
entered with a child in her arms. “Stop beating my child,” she said.
‘‘There is your own and give me mine.” The woman very gladly did so.
Stephen was soundly thrashed by the fairies for his share in the
Another fairy tale has been handed down in Mr. Murphy’s family for
generations. A great - great - grand uncle of his went out to work in a
field near the shore one day. Soon he perceived a little man seated out
at a nearby headland. Curious to see what the little creature was doing,
he walked up to him and found him making a little shoe, into which he
was putting the most beautiful work imaginable — work which could be
done only by fairy fingers. “How I wish I could make a shoe like that!”
he exclaimed. “I am not so good a shoemaker as the man behind you,”
answered the fairy. The man, who was versed in fairy ways, knew that the
fairy wished to distract his attention in order to escape; so, instead
of looking behind, he seized the shoe and made off with it. The shoe was
kept in his family as a very precious heirloom. He regretted very much
that he did not bring it with him to this country. He often described to
his grandchildren its beautiful delicate workmanship.