FAIRY DOGS (‘CU SITH’)


A large black dog, passing by with a noiseless and gliding motion, was a common object of terror in the Hebrides on winter nights. The coil in the animal’s tail alone was sufficiently alarming. Much of its shape depended, no doubt, on how his own hair hung over the eyes of the frightened spectator.

A man, coming across the links near Kennavara Hill in Tiree, came upon a large black dog, resting on the side of a sandbank. On observing it, he turned aside, and took another road home. Next day he recovered courage, and went to examine the spot. He found on the sand-bank the marks of a dog’s paw, as large as the spread of his palm. He followed these huge footmarks till he lost them on the plain. The dog had taken no notice of him, and he felt assured, from its size, it could be no earthly hound.

On the north side of Tiree there is a beach of more than a mile in length, called Cladach a Chrògain, well calculated to be the scene of strange terrors. The extensive plain (about 1500 acres in extent), of which it forms the northern fringe, is almost dead level, and in instances of very high flood-tides, with north-west gales of wind, the sea has been known to overflow it, and join the sea on the south side, three miles away, dividing Tiree into two islands. The upper part of the beach consists of loose round stones, a little larger than a goose’s egg, which make, when the tide is in, and under the influence of the restless surf, a hoarse rumbling sound, sufficiently calculated, with the accompaniment of strange scenery, to awaken the imagination. An old woman, half-a-century ago, asserted that, when a young girl, she had heard on this beach the bark of a Fairy hound. Her father’s house was at a place called Fidden, of which no trace now remains beyond the name of the Fidden Gate (Cachla nam Fidean), given to a spot where there is no gate. It was after night-fall, and she was playing out about the doors, when she was suddenly startled by a loud sound, like the baying of a dog, only much louder, from the other end of the shore. She remembered her father having come and taken hold of her hand, and running with her to the house, for if the dog was heard to bark thrice, it would overtake them. It made a noise like a horse galloping.

At the foot of Heynish Hill, in the extreme south-west of Tiree, there is one of those small forts to be found in great numbers in the Hebrides (and said to have been intended, by fires lighted on them, to give warning of the approach of the Danes), called Shiadar Fort. In former days a family resided, or was out at the summer shielings, near this fort. The byre, in which the milch cows were kept, was at some distance from the dwelling-house, and two boys of the family slept there to take care of the cows. One night a voice came to the mother of the family that the two best calves in the byre were at the point of death, and as a proof of the warning, she would find the big yellow cow dead at the end of the house. This proved to be the case, and on reaching the byre the anxious woman found her two boys nearly frightened to death. They said they heard Fairy dogs trampling and baying on the top of the house.

There is a natural recess in the rocks of the shore at Baluaig in Tiree, to which tradition has given the name of the Bed of the Fairy Dog. It is not far from Crogan beach, already mentioned as a place where the Fairy dog was heard, and opposite the Gràdor, a low-water rock over which the sea breaks with a terrible violence in stormy weather. The loneliness and wildness of the spot might well cause it to be associated with tales of superstition.


Extract from Superstitions of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland by John Gregorson Campbell, published by James MacLehose and Sons, Glasgow in 1900.