_Nimble Men_ (Na Fir Chlis) are "The Merry Dancers," or Aurora Borealis.
It was believed that, when the streamers were coloured, the "men and maids" were dancing, and that after the dance the lovers fought for the love of the queen. When the streamers are particularly vivid, a pink cloud is seen below them, and this is called "the pool of blood." It drips upon blood-stones, the spots on which are referred to as fairy blood (fuil siochaire). A wizard could, by waving his wand, summon the "Nimble Men" to dance in the northern sky.
_The Water Horse_ haunted lonely lochs, and lured human beings to a terrible death. When a hand was laid on its main, power to remove it was withdrawn.
_A Cursing_--The Gaelic curses are quaint in translation, but terrible in the original.
_Bonnach Fallaidh_.--It was considered unlucky to throw away the remnants of a baking. So the good-wife made a little bannock, which was pierced in the middle, as a charm against fairy influence. It was given to a child for performing an errand, but the charm would be broken if the reason for gifting it were explained. That was the good-wife's secret. It was also unlucky to count the bannocks, and when they fell, "bad luck" was foretold. Finlay's bannock was not kneaded on the board or placed on the brander, but, unlike the other bannocks, was toasted in front of the fire.
_The Gruagach_ was a gentlemanly Brownie, who haunted byres. It was never seen, although its shadow occasionally danced on the wall as it flitted about. Often, when chased, it was heard tittering round corners.
In some barns, Clach-na-gruagach--"the Gruagach's stone"--is still seen. Milkers pour an offering of milk into the hollowed stone "for luck." The cream might not rise and the churn yield no butter if this service were neglected. A favourite trick of the Gruagach was to untie the cattle in the byre, so as to bring out the milkmaid, especially if she had forgotten to leave the offering of milk.
_Tober Mhuire_ (St Mary's Well) is situated at Tarradale, Ross-shire.
When a sick person asks for a drink of Tober Mhuire water, it is taken as a sign of approaching death. It is a curious thing that this reverence for holy water should be perpetuated among a Presbyterian people. Wishing and curative wells are numerous in the North.
_The Fians of Knockfarrel_.--This story belongs to the Ossianic or Fian cycle of Gaelic tales in prose and verse. Hugh Miller makes reference to it, but speaks of the Fians as giants. In Strathpeffer district the tale is well known, and it is referred to in "Waifs and Strays of Celtic Tradition." It is also localised in Skye. There are several Fian place-names in the Highlands. The warriors are supposed to lie in a charmed sleep in Craig-a-howe Cave, near Munlochy, Ross-shire. Caoilte, the swift runner, was a famous Fian. Finn was chief, and Goll and Garry were of Clan Morna, which united with the Fians. "Moolachie" is a little babe, and "clarsach," a harp.
_Ledbag's Warning_.--Children who twist their mouths, or squint, are warned that, if the wind changes, their contortions will remain. The fate of the flounder, which mocked the cod, is cited as a terrible example.
_Conn, Son of the Red_ is a Fian tale of which several old Gaelic versions have been collected. Goll, the "first hero" of the Fians, slew the Red when Conn, his son, was seven years old. In the fullness of time the young hero, whom his enemies admire as well as fear, crossed the sea to avenge his father's death, and engaged in a long and fierce duel with Goll.
_Death of Cuchullin_ is from the Cuchullin Cycle of Bronze Age heroic tales. The enemy have invaded and laid waste the province of Ulster, and the chief warriors of the Red Branch, except Cuchullin, who must needs fight alone, are laid under spells by the magicians of the invaders. The poem is suffused with evidences of magical beliefs and practices.
Cuchullin goes forth knowing that he will meet his doom. His name signifies "hound of Culann." In his youth he slew Culann's ferocious watch-hound which attacked him, and took its place until another was trained. It was "geis" (taboo) for him to partake of the flesh of a hound (his totem), or eat at a cooking hearth; but he must needs accept the hospitality of the witches. The satirists are satirical bards who, it was believed, could not only lampoon a hero, but infuse their compositions with magical powers like incantations. Cuchullin cannot be slain except by his own spear, which he must deliver up to a satirist who demands it. Emania, the capital of Ulster, was the home of the Bed Branch warriors.
_Sleepy Song_.--When Diarmid eloped with Grianne, as Paris did with Helen, the Fians followed them, so that Finn, their chief, might be avenged. Diarmid, who is the unwilling victim of Grainne's spells, dreads to meet Finn, and is in constant fear of discovery.