Chapter 5: Archaic Texts

The existence of an archaic form of Gaelic – ‘the older language’ – is not in doubt. It was not merely quaint and old-fashioned but had become unintelligible to educated Gaelic-speakers by the middle of the nineteenth century. Certain old story-tellers still used it for certain of their tales but apparently did not understand the words they used. Archaic Gaelic did not belong to the recent past but had diverged substantially from the current vernacular. Here this archaic Gaelic is identified with the language of the equally archaic and equally extinct Gaelic deer hunters.

Archaic Gaelic appears to have gone out of use since the effective imposition of feudal control on the remnants of traditional Gaelic society in the fifteenth or sixteenth century. Then clan life disintegrated, to be replaced at best by a meaningless charade, hunting became an elite sport, and traditional Gaelic learning became largely irrelevant and disappeared without being recorded. However we can still recover from Gaelic folklore a few fragments of archaic language in the form of short texts, nonsense verses and traditional sayings which survive embedded within explanatory tales and in other contexts. The examples given below include shinty dialogues, fairy stories, a counting-out rhyme with obscene tendencies, a children’s game and various cumulative tales. The most diagnostic feature of the older language is that it makes no sense when interpreted in terms of modern Gaelic.

In most cases the following texts are give in three forms: modern Gaelic, a literal English translation of the modern Gaelic, and a tentative interpretation in archaic Gaelic (AG). The only assumption we have made is that the texts relate to hunting. The reconstructed reading is based either on an appropriate meaning of the word recorded in a dictionary or deduced from a place-name or on a close phonetic relative of the given word (a pun). These interpretations are in every case tentative but since comparable meanings can be adduced for many unrelated texts which present in different forms and which use several different lexicons, their collective weight is considerable. In any archaic Gaelic text there is likely to be, as part of the original design, an overlay of significant puns amounting in some cases to a complete descant on the apparent theme. These punning links are explored to some extent in the glossary.

The Shinty Dialogues of Argyll
As discussed elsewhere, shinty can be seen as a formalised practice of a hunting technique. In Argyll in the nineteenth century it was customary before a match for the team leaders to exchange a ritualised dialogue. McLagan published several versions of this chant or litany R.C. McLagan 1901, 32-5. and it may survive yet in the playgrounds of Argyll, if there are any Gaelic-speaking children left there. Though they now present as nonsense, these dialogues are actually in a good state of preservation, due no doubt to the persistence of the game and its attendant rituals despite the decline in other aspects of Gaelic culture. The loss of meaning can be attributed to changes in spoken Gaelic, to the decline of the hunting culture, and perhaps to a desire to disguise pagan material. Phonetic drift of the Chinese Whispers variety has also been at work. For example, the phrase iomain chamain ‘shinty driving’ or ‘driving with a club’, which is recognisable in several examples, has in one case become sioman canaich ‘a rope of wild cotton’. R.C. McLagan 1901, 34. A siaman or rope of straw was burned in a circle to effect a cure: is this a garbled folk adaptation of the hunting circle or ioamain?

McLagan recognised that the shinty dialogues were garbled versions of a text that had once had proper meaning, and were not merely parodies or meaningless nonsense. He also recognised punning which to his ears had ‘an obscene tendency’ and so sometimes he only hinted at an older word that he evidently recognised very well. Some sexual puns have been gleaned from Dwelly but many others no doubt remain to be recognised. They were not intended to be obscene, any more than the carvings of sexual parts which appear in Romanesque churches are obscene, but refer to the metaphorical and beneficial relationship between the hunter armed with his spear and the goddess who controlled events at the deer ambush.

The shinty dialogues are in the form of a series of questions and answers appropriate to a teacher-pupil rehearsal – ‘Come to the game.’ ‘What game?’ ‘The shinty game’, ‘What shinty?’ and so on. These questions have been omitted. The list of answers which remains consists of a series of paired and linked items which are part of a petition or incantation for good fortune in the hunt. They make up an ora ‘a prayer, rhymed prayer, supplication, petition, incantation’, or òraid ‘speech, harangue, oration, essay, prayer’. The Synod of Cloveshoe (747) banned the use of a bardic intonation by priests when reciting the sacred office H. Mayr-Harting, The Coming of Christianity to Anglo-Saxon England, 1972, 223. but the sough or whine, perhaps a northern hwyl, persisted and was used by ministers of the Reformed church in the Highlands when addressing the Almighty. E. Burt 1728, i, 165.I have heard it in my lifetime. We may imagine that the sough or bardic incantation was a feature of these hunting incantations far back in prehistory. The goddess evidently had to be addressed in a penetrating and distinctive way.

The first dialogue, from Islay, has twelve elements: deer-drive, club, deer-forest, slaughter, fat, deer, meat, hunter, beacon, summons, muster, hunt. Their order is disturbed since the recital should logically begin with the beacon summons and the fire and end with meat for the hunter. The example from Lochaweside is more logical, with the signal and the beacon before the round-up and succulent fat venison at the end. Key words are given and will also be found in the glossary.

Modern Gaelic Archaic Gaelic
1 Islay
Thulla gus an iomain, Come to the game, Come to the deer-drive,
Iomain camain, The shinty game, The deer-drive with the club,
Caman ur, The new (or land) shinty, The club of the deer forest,
Ur ar, Plough land, The deer forest of the slaughter,
Ar iteag, Feather plough, Slaughter of fat (animals),
Iteag fhithich, Raven’s feather, The fat of deer (fiadh),
Fitheach feoil, The flesh raven, Deer of meat,
Feoil duine, A man’s flesh, Meat for the hunter,
Duine gionach, The greedy man, The hunter of the bright beacon,
Gionach eich, A horse’s greed, Bright beacon of the summons,
Each mara, A sea-horse, Summons for muster or gathering,
Mara iasg. A sea for fish. Muster for the hunt.

2 Islay
Tiucainn gus an iomain? Can I come to the shinty?Can I come to the deer-drive?
Iomain caman, Shinty driving, Deer driving with a club,
Caman uibh (iubhar), An egg shinty, Club of yew (or fire),
Uibh athair, A father’s egg, Signal (pun) of the beacon-site,
Athar eun, A bird father, Beacon site of the fire,
Eun iteag, A feather bird The fire of fat meat (or eating),

3 Lochaweside
Iomain camain, Driving of shinty-club, Deer-driving with a club,
Caman iubhair, Shinty-club of yew, A club of yew or fire,
Iubhar athar, Yew of air, The yew of the beacon site,
Athair eoin, Air of bird, The beacon site of the fire,
Eun iteig, Bird of feather, The fire of eating,
Iteag fithich, Feather of raven, Eating of deer,
Fitheach sleibhte, Raven of slope, Deer of the hunting grounds,
Sliabh mara, Slope of sea, Hunting grounds of the round-up,
Muir eisg, Sea of fish, The round-up of the chase,
Iasg dubhain, Fish of hook, The chase of deer,
Dubhan airgeid, Hook of silver Deer of fat haunches.

4 Kilninver
Tiugamaid a dh-iomain, Let us come driving, Let us come deer-driving,
Iomain chamain, Bendy driving, Driving with the club,
Caman iubhair, A yew bendy, The club of yew,
Iubhar athar, Father’s yew, The yew of slaughter,
Athair eoin, Bird’s father, Slaughter with fire,
Eun ith, Bird of eating, Fire of fat,
Ith feoil, Flesh eating, Fat of meat,
Feol duine, Man’s flesh, Meat of the hunting man,
Duine ionraich. An upright man. The man of plunder.

5 An incomplete and unlocated version
Sioman canaich, Rope of wild cotton, Driving with the club,
Canach iubhar, Yew cotton, The club of yew,
Iubhair athair, Yew of the air (or father), Yew (or fire) of slaughter,
Athar iteig, Feather air, The slaughter of fat animals,
Iteag eun, Bird feather, Fat for the fire,
Eun firich, Hill bird, Fire for the beacon,
Fireach monaidh, Moorland hill, Beacon on the deer moor,
Monadh fraoich. Heathery moor. Deer moor of the frenzie.

Archaic words in the shinty dialogues
airgeid ‘riches’ i.e., the spoils of the chase.
àr ‘battle, slaughter, hunting, field of battle, deer forest’.
atha ‘father’ for aodh-air ‘beacon site’.
caman ‘curved club.
dubhan ‘deer’.
duine ‘one who enclosed animals, a hunter’
éigh ‘proclaim, sound, summons, a beacon signal’, punned on eich ‘horse’.
eoin, eun ‘bird’ for aodhan ‘fire’.
feoil ‘flesh’, also perhaps ‘fire’; cf E. fuel.
fireach ‘top of a hill’, in this context, a beacon site. fitheach ‘raven’, a pun on fiadh ‘deer’.
fraoch ‘heather’ is a pun on fraoch ‘frenzie, fury’.
gionach from gian ‘to blaze, beam; bright, radiant, resplendent’. iasg ‘fish’, a common pun on AG iasg ‘hunting’; cf. Ger. jacht, E. chase.
iomain ‘urge, drive slowly, as cattle’, with AG io ‘hunt’ (as G. aodh ‘fire’).
iteag ‘feather’, a pun on itheadh ‘eating’; ith ‘fat, tallow (used for lights)’and iteag ‘fast as a (fledged) arrow’, a type of metaphor often used for beacon signals.
mara ‘hunt’.
piseach ‘good fortune, progeny’.
ponar ‘bean’ as ban ‘fire’.
sliabh ‘extended heath, deer forest’.
ubhair ‘yew’ as éigh.
ur ‘fire’.

The first three dialogues have short appendices. They mention a mother and a queen which suggests that these lines also were part of a pre-hunting ritual addressed to the Lady. The language is more complex and multi-layered, hence no doubt its more fragmentary preservation. There are links with the well-preserved supplicatory chant known as A’ Chas-Ghoirt ‘The Sore Foot’ (given below) which contains the words beir ‘give’ and domh ‘to me’ in every line. In the appendices they occur 1 line 4, in 2, and perhaps as barin in 3, line 2, which might be a pun linking ‘queen’ and ‘giver’.

1 Iasg dubhan, dubhan briste bairnich. Hooked fish, a broken baited hook.
Hunting of deer, deer wounded in battle.

Chaid mi leis thun a ghobha a chairadh. I took it to the smith to mend.
I kept to the lee of the deer of the enclosing

Cha robh e fein na chuid mhac a stigh. Neither he nor any of his sons were in.
Not the hunting of the Feinn, nor the sustenance of the hunter with a blemish (?)

Peasair dhuitse, ‘s ponair dhomhsa. Peas for you and beans for me.
Progeny to you, a fire to me … [or piseach ‘good luck’].

‘S coltar rap A ploughshare digging.
A hunter waits in ambush for his prey.

2 Iteag a bheir bainne gu a mathair. A feather to give milk to his mother.
As a fledged arrow to bear light to the Mother.

3 Airgiod briste, brute, pronnta Silver, broken, bruised, reduced to dust
The spoils of the chase, wounded, captured, bestowed.

Cul ciste na ba’ri’n (ban-righinn). In the back of the Queen’s chest.
In the depths of the Queen’s deer trap.

Dun Burg on Fire.
Another hunting incantation is preserved, apparently complete, in the fairy tale, ‘Dun Burg on Fire’. A. Campbell, Waifs and Strays I, Argyllshire Series, 1889, 64-65. The appearance of Mo bheann ‘my lady’ in the first line, in a rhyme used by fairies, is a strong clue as to its nature.

Lines 1-4
Mo bheann ‘s mo phàisdean - [My wife and little ones,
Mu chaise ’s mo ghogan ime - [My cheese and butter-keg,
Mo mhic’ s mo nigheanan - [My sons and daughters,
’S mo chisteachan mòra mine - [My big meal chests.

My lady of good fortune,
My deer trap and my gathering of deer,
My hunting plain of the Maiden,
My hunting ambushes.

Lines 5-8
Mo chìr ’s mo chàrdan [My comb and wool-cards,
An snàmh ’s a’ chuigeal – [Thread and distaff,
Mo bho ’s a’ bhuarach – [Cow and fetter,
’S na cuachan bainne – [And my milk pail,]

My fuel and my (firelighting) skills,
My thong and my fire-drill,
My stag and my snare,
And my trap of the cutting down,

Lines 9-12
Eich ’s na h-iallan – [Horses and traces,
Cliabhan ’s cinnean – [Harrows and hoard,
’S an talamh ’cur roimhe – [And the ground bursting,
M’ uird ’s m’ innean – [My hammers and my anvil,]

The herd of stags,
The trap and deer ambush,
Protect the deer forest and the tribal portion,
My killing place and my increase,

Lines 13-16
Dùn Bhurg ri theine – Dun Burg on fire;
’S ma loisgear Dùn Bhurg – If Dun Burg is burnt,
Loisgear mo mhùirn – My pleasant occupations
’S mo mhireadh – And my merriments are gone.]

Fire at Dun Burg!
If there is a blaze at Dun Burg,
It announces joyful company
And merry entertainment.

Key words for the Dun Burg incantation.
bo ‘cow, fawn’.
buain ‘to cut down’, now used for harvesting grain.
buarach ‘fetter (snare)’.
caise ‘wrinkled place’ = female pudenda = trap?
ceann ‘deer ambush’.
cèard ‘smith, expert, one who works with fire’.
céir ‘wax’.
ciste ‘trap’.
cliabh ‘straight-jacket’ or ‘deer trap’. Harrow is strictly cliath.
cuach ‘cup (trap)’.
cuidheall ‘wheel’, probably a fire-drill, since it is associated with a thong or string.
cùra ‘guardian’.
each ‘horse, brute’, taken here to mean ‘stag’.
gogan ‘deer’.
iall ‘leather thong’, also ‘herd’.
inneamh ‘increase’.
ioma ‘herd’.
loisg ‘blaze, burn, inflame’.
magh, mac ‘hunting plain’.
mar, mir ‘hunt’.
meann ‘young deer’.
mùirn ‘troop, company’, also ‘cheerfulness, joy’.
nighean ‘young girl, ie, the Maiden’.
òrd ‘death, slaughter’.
piseach ‘good fortune’.
roimh ‘land, soil’ but cf. roinn ‘share, portion’.
snath ‘string’,
talamh ‘country’.
teine ‘fire’.

It seems probable that the spinning associated with a fairy (or hunter) in certain tales rests on an application of cuidheall ‘wheel’ from ‘fire-drill’, proposed above, to ‘spinning wheel’, presumably by way of a distaff. The thread or thong which drove the drill is found as G. snàmh or snath and as G. iall which can also mean ‘flock, drove’. The archaic language is full of such multiple puns and complex double-level word-games.

As the fairies of Kintyre rushed out of their houses in response to a similar beacon, they chanted a shorter version of the same rhyme: J.F. Campbell, II, 64.

Mo mhullachan caise m’ord a’s m’innean –
Mo bhean ‘s mo phaisde s’ mo gogan ima –
Mo bho s’ mo gobair s’ mo chiste beag mine –
Och och ochone gur truagh tha mise! –

My cheese mould, my hammer and my anvil,
My wife and my children and my butter crock,
My cow and my goat and my little meal kist,
Och and ochone, how miserable I am!

The vocabulary is by now familiar, with the addition of mullachan ‘top, summit’, probably a beacon site within the deer forest, and gobair ‘goat’, in archaic terms, ‘deer’.

Lara Pocan.
The counting-out rhyme Lara Pocan was notorious for its sexual connotations, but it was also believed to contain secrets ‘like Masonic secrets’. R.C. McLagan 1901, 98. McLagan’s reluctance to give an English interpretation reduces the information available for study. However it is clear that the Gaelic text works on two levels: the hunting terms and the sexual references, which are linked by puns, such as slat ‘penis’ and slaid ‘gift’. The versions discussed below are adapted from McLagan. R.C. McLagan 1901, 92-96. Lara Pocan was also used to select teams for shinty and other games (perhaps originally for teams of hunters) and has much in common with the shinty dialogues discussed above.

The sexual references are certainly part of the original design. Sexually-explicit images in an archaic hunting context were potent symbols of good luck. The link between hunting imagery and sexual symbolism is based on the metaphorical implications of a trap or ambush in a narrow place. Hunters came to see themselves as engaged in the metaphorical rape of a Woman who was the creator and guardian of the deer. This image arises from the resemblance between the kind of narrow cleft or valley typically used as a deer-trap and female genitalia, reinforced by the spear as phallic symbol. The imagery was powerfully amplified by the episodic shedding of blood at such a place, and would be further reinforced if hunts took place at full moon. These images still inform the poetic subconscious in its dealings with sex, blood, death, and rebirth. They may even explain why any rhyme passed down through generations of school-boys invariably acquires obscene variants. Lara Pocan is a good-luck incantation which in addition reflects this old symbolism.

The surviving versions retain some linked and paired items, like those that make up the shinty dialogues and the cumulative tales. Here they are dislocated and condensed. A few sexual puns can be suggested: caol ‘narrow (deer trap)’ for ceal ‘female parts’, ceallach ‘war, driving deer’, cealach ‘fireplace of a kiln’, and cùil ‘deer trap’. G. ceann-sìthe ‘trap of the hunters’ can also mean ‘penis’.

Ladhar pocan – Hunter (or fork or penis?) of the little bag (or vagina?),
Pocan seipinn – Little bag of the snares,
Seipinn Seonaid – Snares of the good-luck charms (seonaid),
Da mheur mheadon – Of the deer of the gathering,
Meur mhic Iain – The hunting of the men (or on the plain) of the fire,
Dughal Glas – The bright deer light,
A leig as – The lighting of the fire,
A cheann ’s a chaoil – The deer trap (or penis) of the narrow place (or vagina),
Caol na slaitaig – The narrow place of the munificent gift (or rape),
Isi cruitean – The tallow of the fires,
Aisa meatan – The wisdom of the hunt-gathering,
Boineid na muic – The gathering-place of the hunting forest (magh).
Stock a stigh – Stock of deer within or
Crup a stigh do stock – Close the trap on the stock.

Laora pocan – Hunter (or fork) of the little bag,
Pocan seipein – Little bag of the snares,
Seipein seomair – Snares of the charms (seonaid),
De mheur mheadon – Of the hunt, the meeting,
Meurachd Iain – The hunt-meeting of the fire,
Dughall Glas – Bright fire of the deer,
’S e leigeil as – And the fire lit.
A cheann ’sa chaolan – The trap in the narrow place,
Maol na slait – Bald place (for narrow place) of the rod or penis,
Inndeadh giucain – A message from the starving ones,
Annseadh giucain – A supplication from the needy ones,
Bonnaid ma muic – The beacon site of the hunters.
Stop - Stigh – Wealth within.

The last line exists in several versions including Stock a stigh, Crup a stigh do stock, Stob a stigh or Stop - stigh. A counting-out game given by Campbell of Islay ends with the words Cuir stochd a staigh, upon which the boy indicated had to stick his foot into the circle of players. J.F. Campbell, vol IV, 1893, 289. The various combinations of crup or crub ‘claw (deer trap)’; cuir ‘put, place, lay, invite, influence’; staigh ‘within’; and stochd ‘wealth, store, cattle’ indicate a wish for deer to be held securely in the trap. Given the reputation of Lara Pocan, this line is no doubt suggestive in the same way as ‘stick it in’ is in English.

Cumulative tales.
Cumulative tales are a distinct class in Aarne and Thompson’s folktale types. Those told by the Gaels are not unlike the shinty dialogues in their structure and meaning. The best -known, Minneachan agus Monnachan, presents as a harmless nursery story but c.1860 an old Perthshire woman refused to repeat it and denounced it as an uirsgeul, an ‘old tale’ which was unworthy of notice. J.F. Campbell vol II, 201 [not found] Was she perhaps aware of its pagan nature?

Minneachan agus Monnachan is very complete, having ‘sixteen steps, four of which contain double ideas. The English ‘House that Jack Built’ has eleven steps, the Scotch ‘Old Woman with the Silver Penny’ has twelve, the Norwegian ‘Cock and Hen a-Nutting’ has twelve, ten of which are double. The German story given by Grimm has only five or six, all single. A few international themes are summarised below. In other Gaelic versions the characters are Biorachan mor agus Biorachan beag in Uist, Morachan agus Mionachan’ in Sutherland, J.F. Campbell, vol I, 2nd edition, 1890, 164-5. and elsewhere Biorrachan agus Berrachan and Murchag a’s Mionachag.

Here we analyse Minneachan agus Monnachan and A’ Chas-Ghoirt. They both consist of a sequence of linked events, laboriously built up and repeated. As given, they make some kind of logical sense, though barely. In both cases, as in all Gaelic exemplars, they end when the seeker meets a Lady who finally gives him what he asks for, and then all the other requests are also granted.

The complete sequence in Minneachan agus Monnachan is given below. Monnachan’s search ends when he meets A bhean bhuidhe ‘the yellow-haired woman’, and addresses his petition to her. R.C. McLagan 1901, 161.

Tha mi ag iarruidh bonnach a thoirt do’n ghille ’san t-sabhal gu sop a thoirt do’n bo, gu bainne thoirt do’n chat, gu leantuinn an luch, gu sgriobadh an t-im, gu rubadh casan an gaothair, gu ruaigeadh fiadh, gu snamh an t’uisge, gu chuir air clach-faobhair, gu tuadh dh’ fhaobhraicheadh, gu slat a ghearradh, gu gabhail air Minneachan, oir dh’ith e mo chuid sugh.

Give me, I beseech thee, a bannock to give to the stable-boy for a wisp to give to the cow, for milk to give to the cat, to chase the mouse, to scrape the butter, to rub the feet of the greyhound, to chase the deer, to swim in the water, to wet the whetstone, to sharpen the axe, to cut a rod to thrash Minneachan, because he ate my share of the blackberries.

The sequence in A’ Chas-Ghoirt is identical down to the cat. The cumulation ends when the bodach addresses the following request to a bhean-fhuine bhoideach, briagha ‘the beautiful, fine baking woman’. R.C. McLagan 1901, 165-9.

Bheir bonnach dhomb, bonnach a bheir mi’n ghille-shabhail, gille-sabhail a bheir sop domh, sop a bheir mi do ’n mhart, mart a bheir bainne dhomb, bainne bheir mi do ’n chat, cat a bheir piseag dhomb, piseag bheir mi do ’n chorr, corr a bheir iteag dhomb, iteag a bheir mi do ’n choill, coill a bheir gual dhomh, gual a bheir mi do ’n ghobhainn, gobhainn a bheir sgian dhomh, sgian a bheir mi do ’n leathraiche, leathraiche a bheir iall domn, iall a bheir air a’ choid-ghoirt.

Give me a bannock, bannock I will give to the barn boy, barn-boy who will give me a wisp, wisp I will give to the cow, cow that will give me milk, milk I will give to the cat, cat that will give me a kitten, kitten I will give to the heron, heron that will give me a feather, feather I will give to the wood, wood that will give me a coal, coal I will give to the smith, smith that will give me a knife, knife I shall give to the leather, leather that will give me a thong, thong which will be put on the sore leg.

These two sequences both consist of a series of paired elements such as the bannock and the barn-boy, the wisp and the cow, the milk and the cat. The first item is the subject of a request and the second is its recipient. The bannock is requested and, on receipt, is given to the barn-boy, the wisp is received and given to the cow, the milk is received and given to the cat. This arrangement is not so well preserved in Minneachan agus Monnachan as in A’ Chas-Ghoirt but from their general and specific similarities we may assume that it was originally organised in an identical way, particularly as it begins with the same three pairs. We can now offer an alternative reading of the Gaelic, reduced to its essentials. The cat (‘hunt’), the feather (‘rich or fatty food’) and piseag ‘kitten’ as pisear ‘peas’ have been found already in the shinty dialogues.

The twelve pairs from Minneachan agus Monnachan.
Archaic Gaelic Literal English Original sense
A bhean bhuidhe, Yellow-haired woman, Lady of the bright fire,
tha mi ag iarruidh I am beseeching I am beseeching
bonnach/gille ’san t-sabhal bannock/stable-boy fire for the hunter,
sop/bo wisp/cow a torch for the stag,
bainne/chat milk/cat fire for the hunters,
leantuinn/luch pursue/mouse fire to contain the prisoners,
sgriobadh/im scrape/butter fire for laying waste,
rubadh/casan gaothair rub/(feet of) greyhound for the chase, a swift signal,
ruaigheadh/fiadh chase/deer for hunting the deer,
snamh/uisge swim/water swimming the water,
cuir/clach-faobhair wet/whetstone fire for the hunter’s stonee
tuadh/faobhraicheadh sharpen/axe [order reversed] for the sharpening of the axe,
slat/gearradh cut/rod [order reversed] for the hewing of the spoils,
gabhail air Minneachan thrash/Minneachan the booty of the deer forest.

The eight pairs from A’ Chas-Ghoirt.
Archaic Gaelic Literal English Original sense
A bhean fhuine, Baking woman, Lady of the deer-hunters,
a bheir mi give me give me
bonnach/gille-sabhail bannock/barn-boy a signal for the hunter,
sop/mart wisp/cow a torch for the deer,
bainne/chat milk/cat a light for the hunters,
piseag/corr kitten/heron a fire for good fortune,
iteag/coill feather/wood a speedy signal for the deer forest,
gual/gobhainn coal/smith a hot fire for the deer,
sgian/leathraiche knife/leather a light for the chase,
iall/cas-gort. thong/sore foot a herd for the slaughter.

These cumulative tales are also petitions addressed to the beautiful, bright Lady of the deer forest. A’ Chas-Ghoirt particularly emphasises her responsibility for providing fire. This suggests that the Mother and the Queen of the shinty incantations has been correctly identified.

The riddles continue. When Monnachan got home, Minneachan was not to be seen, but he had left four more riddles: an t-im air eibhleig ‘butter on a cinder’; cal ann an croidhleag ‘kail in a creel’, rathad mor gloine ‘a highroad of glass’, and brogan papier ‘paper shoes’. These riddles show that the underlying sense of the recital was well understood, at least by a few people, long after it had been reduced to the level of an entertainment.

In the variant Murchag agus Moniachag J.F. Campbell 1860, I, 161-167. there is a final episode. Before the beautiful Lady can make the bannock for the barn gille, she must have water to knead it. Murchag has only the sowen’s sieve which is full of holes. A hoodie crow tells him to plug them with crèadh rooah s’ coinneach ‘brown clay and moss’ – a phrase which can also be taken to mean ‘gathering, pursuing and bringing together’ – and so he brings the water to the kneading wife, who makes a bannock for the gillie, and so on and so forth. But when Murchag finally gets back with the rod, he finds that Mionachag has just burst.

International themes in cumulative folk-tales.
Common elements are axe, cat, cow, dog, fire, goat, grass, hunter, killing, meadow, milk, ox, river, stick, stone, and water.

The Twelve Days (Gifts) of Christmas (English)
Partridge, turtle-dove, French hen, colly bird, gold ring, goose, swan, maid, drummer, piper, lady, lord. [Z22.1]
Originally the sequence would end with the Lady or the Maid. Drumners and pipers sent signals. The gold ring is a pun for the enclosing manoevre of hunters. Birds are often puns on fire. The colly bird should most probably be a colly or herding dog.
A different version has twelve kinds of food (or prey animals?): partridge, turtle-dove, wood-pigeon, duck, rabbit, hare, hound, sheep, ox, turkey, ham, cheese. [Z22.2]

Where have you been, Goose?
Fields, knife, tile, water, ox, firewood, old woman, friars, mass, shirts. [Z.39].
Recognisable elements are fields (hunting grounds), knife, firewood, old woman.

The Goat who would not Leave the Hazel Bush (Lithuanian)
The devil goes to strangle the Jew, the Jew to kill the ox, the ox to drink the water, the water to quench the fire, the fire to burn the stone, the stone to blunt the axe, the axe to cut the rope, the rope to tie the hunter, the hunter to shoot the goat, then the goat leaves the hazel bush. [Z39.1.1]
The ox, water, fire, stone, axe, rope, hunter, goat and killing are familiar. The Lady has mutated into the Devil. For the Jew (Lith. zydas) we might propose the root of Lith. zydejimas ‘prosperity; flowering, blossom’ and so originally and appropriately ‘fire’.

The Cock strikes out the Hen’s Eye with a Nut (Baltic, Russia)
The cock blames the hazel bush for tearing its knickers, the hazel bush blame the goat for gnawing it, the goat blames the shepherd boy for not tending it, the boy blames his mistress for not baking him a bun, the mistress the pig for eating the dough, the pig the wolf for killing its young. [Z.43.2]
The hazel bush, goat, shepherd boy, mistress or baking woman, bun, herding, and killing are familiar. The rest can probably be traced in local puns.

The Hen Lays an Egg, the Mouse Breaks it (Baltic, Russia)
Hen strips off feathers, rubbish heap catches fire, oak falls to ground, hare drowns itself, magpie twists leg, ox breaks horns, river flows blood, maid breaks pails, housewife scatters dough, master locks up wife and maid and goes to seek even more foolish people [Z.39.5].
Ten or twelve couples. The most recognisable hunting puns are hen, feathers, fire, oak, hare, ox, horn, maid, baking woman, and locking up. The river of blood is presumably one of the things desired. In the housewife scattering dough we can see the Lady distributing food.

The Man and the Smiths (Spanish-American)
Man wheedles horn from goat and exchanges it for fish from sea. A smith gives him fire to cook fish but he burns his arm. A second smith takes the fire off his arm and gives him a hammer. A third smith takes the hammer and gives him an axe. He cuts down a tree but it falls on him and kills him.
All the elements except the last joking pretext are recognisable hunting puns.

The Watcher and the Troll
A troll (or wolf) ate the watcher’s five horses, the watcher himself, the master, his wife, servant, daughter, son, and dog. Then came the cat who cut open the troll and liberated them all. [Z33.4]
A familiar collection of characters of whom the watcher, the cat (hunt), the dog and the mistress are authentic. In an Indian version, the louse eats a crow, a loaf of bread, a she-goat, cow, buffalo, five sepoys, a wedding procession, an elephant, and a tank of water before a sepoy cuts the louse in two with his sword and rescues them all. [Z33.4.1]

The Old Woman and her Pig (widespread)
The Old Woman gets milk from the cow for the cat, the cat kills the rat who gnaws the rope, which hangs the butcher, who kills the ox, who drinks the water, which quenches the fire, which burns the stick, which beats the dog, which bits the pig, which jumps over the stile and the old woman can go home. [Z41]
The lack of logic in five of these episodes points to a different logic in the original. We can recognise the Old Woman and other common elements: milk, cat, butcher (hunter), ox, fire, stock, dog. The problem pig is a joking pretext.

The Ant Plants Chickpeas (Spanish-American)
The final sequence links butcher, ox, water, candle, stick, cat, mouse, queen, justice, gardener’s wife, gardener and tree, which is removed to let the chickpeas grow.
The logic is better than that in the Old Woman and her Pig. Recognisable elements are butcher (hunter), ox, water, candle (fire), stock, cat, mouse, queen and justice (a petition).

The Needle in the Seamstress’s Hand (Lithuanian)
The cat began to eat the mouse, the mouse began to tear the spider’s web, the spider began to entangle the dog, the dog to eat the goat, the goat to gnaw the rushes, the rushes to grow in the stream, the stream to quench the fire, the fire to burn the stone, the stone to beat the axe and the axe to pull the needle out of the seamstress’s hand. [Z41.8]

The Lazy Servant and the Lentils (Lithuanian)
The hungry hawk attacks the hens, the hens the worms, the worms the stick, the stick the ox, the ox runs to the water, the water attacks the fire, the fire attacks the hunters, the hunters the wolf, the wolf the goat, the goat the willow, the willow the cat, the cat the mice, the mice the lentils and they went whoosh! into the sack. [Z41.9]
Thirteen pairs. The lack of evident sense suggests an archaic formula not far below the surface.

The Lady and the Goat (Spanish-American)
Lady, give me wood; the wood is not mine, it belongs to the woodcutter.
Woodcutter broke my axe; the axe is not mine, it belongs to the oven.
The oven burned my fish; the fish is not mine, it belongs to the river.
The river carried away my horn; the horn is not mine, it belongs to the goat.
The goat ate the tree; the tree is not mine, it belongs to the man.
The initial element of the ritual address - ‘Lady, give me X’ - is preserved.

The Fox and the Cat in Jumping Contest (Spanish-American)
‘Cat, give me back my tail’ says the fox. ‘Give me milk’ says the cat’. The sequence is
butcher , meat, kettlemaker, kettle, river, water, meadow, grass, cow, milk, cat, tail, fox but it has been reversed, ending with the butcher giving meat to the fox. This tale preserves the series of supplications is preserved but neither the Lady nor fire are openly named. The fox, Sp. raposa, is a hunter. The tail is the hunt followers. A kettle is Sp. caldero ‘cauldron’, used for cooking meat.

My Dog Picked up a String (Spanish)
The dog wants bread for the string; the cupboard wants a key for the bread; the smith wants charcoal for the key; the charcoal-burner wants a calf’s leg-bone for the charcoal; the butcher wants milk for the calf; the cow wants grass for the milk; the meadow wants water for the grass; the clouds want a dove’s feather for the water. The dove gave me a feather which I gave to the clouds, etc. [Z41.4.2]
This is a similar sequence in a more logical order. Possible hunting puns (or direct references) are dog, bread, string, smith, bone, calf, milk, grass, meadow, cloud, feather. The dove is in the place normally occupied by the Lady.

The Bird and the Pea (India)
For the bird to get its pea out of the socket of the mill-handle the cat ate the mouse, the mouse cut the plant creeper, the creeper snared the elephant, the elephant drank up the sea, the sea quenched the fire, the fire burned the stick, the stick beat the snake, the snake bit the queen, the queen spoke to the king, the king chid the carpenter and the carpenter cut the mill handle.
Once a series of petitions, probably starting with an application to the queen.

The Key to the Lady’s Chest (Swedish)
Smith, axe, stick, cat, rat, strap, key.
The lady’s chest (or deer-trap) has been noted above. The initial prayer may be reconstructed as ‘O Lady, give me the key to the resources of the deer forest’. The smith, a man of craft, is in such a context a hunter. Fire is missing from the list.

The Wormwood does not want to Rock the Sparrow (Lithuanian)
At the resolution, the worms gnaw the rods, the rods beat the oxen, the oxen drink the water, the water quenches the fire, the fire burns the hunters, the hunters shoot the wolves, the wolves kill the goats, the goats gnaw the wormwood, and the wormwood rocks the sparrow. [Z41.7]

Trial among the Animals (India)
The significant elements are deer, kitten, cat, bird, crab’s pointed claw, mouse in hole. [Z49.6]

barn-boy sabhail, ? = stable or staill the beaters in a hunt; see Gilbert.

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