A’ Chailleach Bhuain / The Old Woman of the Harvest made by Hector J. C. Campbell in around 1990.
Courtesy of Mrs Flora MacPhail
On Tiree the last sheaf of corn to be harvested was called A’ Chailleach Bhuain, a tradition that was found all over northern Europe and likely to date from the dawn of farming in Neolithic times. The Corn-spirit was believed to live in the corn, giving it the strength to grow vigorously. As the harvest proceeded, this spirit became concentrated in the remaining crop. The final sheaf to be cut was then regarded as containing its essence. On Tiree, the ‘cailleach’ was fed to the horses before they started the spring ploughing in the belief that the power of the Corn-spirit would be transmitted to the soil for the new year’s growth. This four thousand year old harvest tradition died out before 1910 in Sandaig, in the 1920s in Balinoe and into the 1950s in Heylipol and Balephuil.