Changeling Legends from the British Isles and Ireland

edited by

D. L. Ashliman, University of Pittsburgh

© 1998-2023

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Table of Contents

  1. The Changeling, Thomas Keightley, The Fairy Mythology.

  2. Scottish Changelings, Sir Walter Scott, "On the Fairies of Popular Superstition."

  3. The Smith and the Fairies, J. F. Campbell, Popular Tales of the West Highlands.

  4. How to Find Out a Fairy Changeling , Walter Gregor, Notes on the Folk-Lore of the North-East of cotland.

  5. The Fair Folk, Walter Gregor, Notes on the Folk-Lore of the North-East of Scotland.

  6. Torr-a-Bhulig, James MacDougall, Folktales and Fairy Lore in Gaelic and English.

  7. The Fairy of Corrie Osben and the Tailor, James MacDougall, Folk Tales and Fairy Lore in Gaelic and English.

  8. The Glengarry Fairy, James MacDougall, Folk Tales and Fairy Lore in Gaelic and English.

  9. The Kintalen Changeling, James MacDougall, Folk Tales and Fairy Lore in Gaelic and English.

  10. The Red-Haired Tailor of Rannoch and the Fairy, James MacDougall, Folk Tales and Fairy Lore in Gaelic and English.

  11. The Trows Steal a Child, G. F. Black, Examples of Printed Folk-Lore Concerning the Orkney & Shetland Islands.

  12. Mind the Crooked Finger (dialect), J. G. Ollason, Shetland Islands.

  13. Mind the Crooked Finger (standard English), J. G. Ollason, Shetland Islands.

  14. The Trows, the Tailor, and the Idiot Child, Shetland Islands.

  15. Danger from Fairies, William Henderson, Notes of the Folk-Lore of the Northern Counties of England and the Borders.

  16. Fairy Butter, Michael Aislabie Denham, The Denham Tracts.

  17. The Fairy Hill's Afire, Michael Aislabie Denham, The Denham Tracts.

  18. The Piskies' Changeling, Robert Hunt, Popular Romances of the West of England.

  19. Brewery of Eggshells, Joseph Jacobs, Celtic Fairy Tales.

  20. The Changeling Twins of Corwrion, John Rhys, Celtic Folklore.

  21. The Tylwyth Teg Steal a Child, John Rhys, Celtic Folklore.

  22. Two Manx Changelings, Sir Walter Scott, "On the Fairies of Popular Superstition."

  23. A Changeling Musician, W.Y. Evans-Wentz, The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries.

  24. A Pisky Changeling, W. Y. Evans-Wentz, The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries.

  25. A Remarkable Changeling Story, W. Y. Evans-Wentz, The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries.

  26. The Fairy Child and the Tailor, Sophia Morrison, Isle of Man.

  27. The Changeling, T. Crofton Crocker, Fairy Legends and Traditions of the South of Ireland.

  28. The Brewery of Eggshells, T. Crofton Crocker, Fairy Legends and Traditions of the South of Ireland.

  29. Irish Changeling Beliefs, Thomas Johnson Westropp, "A Study of Folklore on the Coasts of Connacht, Ireland."

The Changeling

Thomas Keightley

A couple of Strathspey lads who dealt in whiskey that never paid duty, which they used to purchase in Glenlivat, and sell at Badenoch and Fort William, were one night laying in stock at Glenlivat when they heard the child in the cradle give a piercing cry, just as if it had been shot. The mother, of course, blessed it, and the Strathspey lads took no further notice, and soon after set out with their goods.

They had not gone far when they found a fine healthy child lying all alone on the road-side, which they soon recognized as that of their friend. They saw at once how the thing was. The fairies had taken away the real child and left a stock, but, owing to the pious ejaculation of the mother, they had been forced to drop it.

As the urgency of their business did not permit them to return, they took the child with them, and kept it till the next time they had occasion to visit Glenlivat. On their arrival they said nothing about the child, which they kept concealed. In the course of conversation, the mother took occasion to remark that the disease which had attacked the child the last time they were there had never left it, and she had not little hopes of its recovery. As if to confirm her statement, it continued uttering most piteous cries.

To end the matter at once, the lads produced the real child healthy and hearty, and told how they had found it. An exchange was at once effected, and they forthwith proceeded to dispose of their new charge. For this purpose they got an old creel to put him in and some straw to light under it. Seeing the serious turn matters were likely to take, he resolved not to await the trial, but flew up the smoke-hole, and when at the top he cried out that things would have gone very differently with them had it not been for the arrival of their guests.

Scottish Changelings

Sir Walter Scott, "On the Fairies of Popular Superstition"

The most formidable attribute of the elves, was the practice of carrying away and exchanging children, and that of stealing human souls from their bodies. "A persuasion prevails among the ignorant," says the author of a MS. history of Moray, that "in a consumptive disease, the fairies steal away the soul, and put the soul of a fairy in the room of it."

This belief prevails chiefly along the eastern coast of Scotland, where a practice, apparently of druidical origin, is used to avert the danger. In the increase of the March moon, withes of oak and ivy are cut, and twisted into wreaths or circles, which they preserve till next March. After that period, when persons are consumptive, or children hectic, they cause them to pass thrice through these circles. In other cases the cure was more rough, and at least as dangerous as the disease, as will appear from the following extract:--

There is one thing remarkable in this parish of Suddie, (in Isverness-shire,) which I think proper to mention. There is a small hill N.W. from the church commonly called Therdy Hill, or Hill of Therdie, as some term it; on the top of which there is a well, which I had the curiosity to view, because of the several reports concerning it. When children happen to be sick, and languish long in their malady, so that they almost turn skeletons, the common people imagine they are taken away (at least the substance) by spirits, called Fairies, and the shadow left with them; so, at a particular season in summer, they leave them all night themselves, watching at a distance, near this well, and this they imagine will either end or mend them; they say many more do recover than do not.

Yea, an honest tenant who lives hard by it, and whom I had the curiosity to discourse about it, told me it has recovered some, who were about eight or nine years of age, and to his certain knowledge, they bring adult persons to it; for, as he was passing one dark night, he heard groanings, and, coming to the well, he found a man, who had been long sick, wrapped in a plaid, so that he could scarcely move, a stake being fixed in the earth, with a rope, or tedder, that was about the plaid; he had no sooner inquired what he was, but he conjured him to loose him, and out of sympathy he was pleased to slacken that wherein he was, as I may so speak, swaddled; but, if I right remember, he signified, he did not recover.--Account of the Parish of Suddie, apud Macfarlane's MSS.

According to the earlier doctrine, concerning the original corruption of human nature, the power of demons over infants had been long reckoned considerable, in the period intervening between birth and baptism. During this period, therefore, children were believed to be particularly liable to abstraction by the fairies, and mothers chiefly dreaded the substitution of changelings in the place of their own offspring. Various monstrous charms existed in Scotland, for procuring the restoration of a child which had been thus stolen; but the most efficacious of them was supposed to be, the roasting of the supposititious child upon the live embers, when it was believed it would vanish, and the true child appear in the place, whence it had been originally abstracted. [Note 1]

It may be questioned if this experiment could now be made without the animadversion of the law. Even that which is prescribed in the following legend is rather too hazardous for modern use.

A certain woman having put out her child to nurse in the country, found, when she came to take it home, that its form was so much altered that she scarce knew it; nevertheless, not knowing what time might do, took it home for her own. But when, after some years, it could neither speak nor go, the poor woman was fain to carry it, with much trouble, in her arms; and one day, a poor man coming to the door, "God bless you, mistress," said he, "and your poor child; be pleased to bestow something on a poor man."

"Ah! this child," replied she, "is the cause of all my sorrow," and related what had happened, adding, moreover, that she thought it changed, and none of her child. The old man, whom years had rendered more prudent in such matters, told her, to find out the truth, she should make a clear fire, sweep the hearth very clean, and place the child fast in his chair, that he might not fall, before it, and break a dozen eggs, and place the four-and-twenty half-shells before it; then go out, and listen at the door: for, if the child spoke, it was certainly a changeling; and then she should carry it out, and leave it on the dunghill to cry, and not to pity it, till she heard its voice no more.

The woman, having done all things according to these words, heard the child say, "Seven years old was I before I came to the nurse, and four years have I lived since, and never saw so many milk pans before." So the woman took it up, and left it upon the dunghill to cry, and not to be pitied, till at last she thought the voice went up into the air; and coming, found there her own natural and well-favored child.--Grose's Provincial Glossary, quoted from "A Pleasant Treatise on Witchcraft.."

The Smith and the Fairies

J. F. Campbell, Popular Tales of the West Highlands

Years ago there lived in Crossbrig a smith of the name of MacEachern. This man had an only child, a boy of about thirteen or fourteen years of age, cheerful, strong, and healthy. All of a sudden he fell ill, took to his bed, and moped whole days away. No one could tell what was the matter with him, and the boy himself could not, or would not, tell how he felt. He was wasting away fast; getting thin, old, and yellow; and his father and all his friends were afraid that he would die.

At last one day, after the boy had been lying in this condition for a long time, getting neither better nor worse, always confined to bed, but with an extraordinary appetite,--one day, while sadly revolving these things, and standing idly at his forge, with no heart to work, the smith was agreeably surprised to see an old man, well known to him for his sagacity and knowledge of out-of-the-way things, walk into his workshop. Forthwith he told him the occurrence which had clouded his life.

The old man looked grave as he listened; and after sitting a long time pondering over all he had heard, gave his opinion thus-- "It is not your son you have got. The boy has been carried away by the 'Daoine Sith,' and they have left a Sibhreach in his place."

"Alas! and what then am I to do?" said the smith. "How am I ever to see my own son again?"

"I will tell you how," answered the old man. "But, first, to make sure that it is not your own son you have got, take as many empty eggshells as you can get, go with them into the room, spread them out carefully before his sight, then proceed to draw water with them, carrying them two and two in your hands as if they were a great weight, and arrange when full, with every sort of earnestness, round the fire." The smith accordingly gathered as many broken eggshells as he could get, went into the room, and proceeded to carry out all his instructions.

He had not been long at work before there arose from the bed a shout of laughter, and the voice of the seeming sick boy exclaimed, " I am now 800 years of age, and I have never seen the like of that before."

The smith returned and told the old man. "Well, now," said the sage to him, "did I not tell you that it was not your son you had: your son is in Brorra-cheill in a digh there (that is, a round green hill frequented by fairies). Get rid as soon as possible of this intruder, and I think I may promise you your son.

"You must light a very large and bright fire before the bed on which this stranger is lying. He will ask you, 'What is the use of such a fire as that?' Answer him at once, 'You will see that presently!' and then seize him, and throw him into the middle of it. If it is your own son you have got, he will call out to save him; but if not, this thing will fly through the roof."

The smith again followed the old man's advice; kindled a large fire, answered the question put to him as he had been directed to do, and seizing the child flung him in without hesitation. The "Sibhreach" gave an awful yell, and sprung through the roof, where a hold was left to let the smoke out.

On a certain night the old man told him the green round hill, where the fairies kept the boy, would be open. And on that night the smith, having provided himself with a Bible, a dirk, and a crowing cock, was to proceed to the hill. He would hear singing and dancing and much merriment going on, but he was to advance boldly; the Bible he carried would be a certain safeguard to him against any danger from the fairies. On entering the hill he was to stick the dirk in the threshold, to prevent the hill from closing upon him; "and then," continued the old man, "on entering you will see a spacious apartment before you, beautifully clean, and there, standing far within, working at a forge, you will also see you own son. When you are questioned, say you come to seek him, and will not go without him."

Not long after this the time came round, and the smith sallied forth, prepared as instructed. Sure enough, as he approached the hill, there was a light where light was seldom seen before. Soon after a sound of piping, dancing, and joyous merriment reached the anxious father on the night wind.

Overcoming every impulse to fear, the smith approached the threshold steadily, stuck the dirk into it as directed, and entered. Protected by the Bible her carried on his breast, the fairies could not touch him; but they asked him, with a good deal of displeasure, what he wanted there. He answered, "I want my son, whom I see down there, and I will not go without him."

Upon hearing this the whole company before him gave a loud laugh, which wakened up the cock he carried dozing in his arms, who at once leaped up on his shoulder, clapped his wings lustily, and crowed loud and long.

The fairies, incensed, seized the smith and his son, and, throwing them out of the hill, flung the dirk after them, and in an instant all was dark.

For a year and a day the boy never did a turn of work, and hardly ever spoke a word; but at last one day, sitting by his father and watching him finishing a sword he was making for some chief, and which he was very particular about, he suddenly exclaimed, "That is not the way to do it;" and, taking the tools from his father's hands, he set to work himself in his place, and soon fashioned a sword the like of which was never seen in the country before.

From that day the young man wrought constantly with his father, and became the inventor of a peculiarly fine and well-tempered weapon, the making of which kept the two smiths, father and son, in constant employment, spread their fame far and wide, and gave them the means in abundance, as they before had the disposition, to live content with all the world and very happily with one another.

How to Find Out a "Fairy Changeling"

Walter Gregor, Notes on the Folk-Lore of the North-East of Scotland

If the child became cross and began to dwine [waste away], fears immediately arose that it might be a "fairy changeling," and the trial by fire was put into operation. The hearth was piled with peat, and when the fire was at its strength the suspected changeling was placed in front of it and as near as possible not to be scorched, or it was suspended in a basket over the fire. If it was a "changeling child" it made its escape by the lum [chimney] throwing back word of scorn as it disappeared.

One mode of bringing back the true child was the following. A new skull [an oblong basket] was taken and hung over the fire from a piece of a branch of a hazel tree, and into this basket the suspected changeling was laid. Careful watch was kept till it screamed. If it screamed it was a changeling, and it was held fast to prevent its escape. When an opportunity occurred, it was carried to a place where four roads met, and a dead body was carried over it. The true child was restored.

The Fair Folk

Walter Gregor, Notes on the Folk-Lore of the North-East of Scotland

"The fair folk" were most covetous of new-born children and their mothers. Till the mothers were "sained" and churched, and the children were baptized, the most strict watch and ward had to be kept over them to keep them from being stolen. Every seven years they had to pay "the teind to hell," and to save them from paying this tribute with one of themselves they were ever on the alert to get hold of human infants.

There came a wind oot o' the north,
A sharp wind and a snell;
And a dead sleep came over me,
And frae my horse I fell;
The Queen of Fairies she was there,
And took me to hersel.

And never would I tire, Janet,
In fairyland to dwell,
But aye, at every seven years
They pay the teind to hell;
And though the Queen macks much o' me
I fear 'twill be mysel.

Sometimes they succeeded in carrying off an unbaptized infant, and for it they left one of their own. The one left by them soon began to "dwine," and to fret and cry night and day. At times the child has been saved from them as they were carrying it through the dog-hole.

A fisherman had a fine thriving baby. One day what looked like a beggar woman entered the house. She went to the cradle in which the baby was lying, and handled it under pretense of admiring it. From that day the child did nothing but fret and cry and waste away.

This had gone on for some months, when one day a beggar man entered asking alms. As he was getting his alms his eye lighted upon the infant in the cradle. After looking on it for some time he said, "That's nae a bairn; that's an image; the bairn's been stoun." He immediately set to work to bring back the child. He heaped up a large fire on the hearth, and ordered a black hen to be brought to him. When the fire was blazing at its full strength, he took the hen and held her over the fire as near it as possible, so as not to kill her. The bird struggled for a little, then escaped from the man's grasp, and flew out by the "lum." The child was restored, and throve every day afterwards.

Another. A strong healthy boy in the parish of Tyrie began to "dwine." The real baby had been stolen. A wise woman gave the means of bringing him back. His clothes were to be taken to a south-running well, washed, laid out to dry beside the well, and most carefully watched. This was done for some time, but no one came to take them away. The next thing to be done was to take the child himself and lay him between two furrows in a cornfield. This was carried out, and the child throve daily afterwards. All this was annoying to the "fair folk," and rather than submit to such annoyance they restored the child, and took back their own one.

One day a fisherwoman with her baby was left a-bed alone, when in came a little man dressed in green. He proceeded at once to lay hold of the baby. The woman knew at once who the little man was and what he intended to do. She uttered the prayer, "God be atween you an me." Out rushed the fairy in a moment, and the woman and her baby were left without further molestation.


James MacDougall, Folk Tales and Fairy Lore in Gaelic and English

Long ago a poor woman happened to call in a house near Torr-a-Bhuilg. At the time there was no one in the house but the housewife and what appeared to be a little child. The child kept tumbling about on the floor and screaming incessantly day and night.

The poor woman asked what lad she had there on the floor. The housewife answered that she did not know. "Well," said the poor woman, "I know well what he is, and if you take my advice you will get rid of him; but, if not, you will get enough of him." The housewife said that she would take her advice, and the poor woman then told her what she was to do to him.

After the poor woman left, the housewife went out and brought in a basket of eggs, which she placed in a circle on the floor. While she was thus engaged, the lad kept looking sullenly at her, and said at length, roughly: "What are you doing in that manner?" "I am making a brewing caldron," was the reply. "A brewing caldron? I am more than three hundred years old and I never yet saw a brewing caldron like that!"

The housewife had no longer any doubt of the child being a fairy, but she went about her business for a while in her usual way. Then she looked out at the window and assumed a scared look and began to start back as if she beheld something dreadful. The squaller on the floor, looking askance at her for a while, at last asked what it was she beheld. "I see," said she, "Torr-a-Bhuilg on fire." He waited where he was no longer, but spring out at the door saying: "My hammers and my anvil and my bellows," and after that he was never seen again.

The Fairy of Corrie Osben and the Tailor

James MacDougall, Folk Tales and Fairy Lore in Gaelic and English

In Corrie Osben lived a shepherd's wife, whose child grew very peevish and difficult to nurse. Neither she nor her husband knew what was the matter with the child, or what was to be done with him, until the tailor came to make clothes of a web of homemade cloth newly come from the walking-mill. Next day after his arrival, the shepherd's wife went to the peat-moss, and left the child under his care till she should return.

Shortly after she went away, what did the tailor hear behind him but the sweet music of the bagpipes. He looked the way whence the music came, and whom did he see sitting in the bed but a little old grey-headed man with a pipe of straw in his mouth, busy playing a tune, to which the following verses are sung:

Hush! Oranan, Hush! Oranan,
Hush! Oranan, Hush! Oheé!
Long is the lassie of coming
To give the Cannan a wee.
Hush! Oranan, etc.

He kept playing this tune until he heard the woman coming; then the music ceased, and he was again a little child.

The tailor told the woman nothing of what he had seen and heard while she was absent. Next day, when she went a second time to the peat-moss, he took an egg, emptied the shell of its contents, filled it with water, and placed it near the fire. The little old mannie's curiosity was so much excited by what he saw that he turned round and said: "What are you going to do with that, tailor?"

"I am going to heat water to steep malt in," said the tailor.

"Well, I am more than a hundred years old, and never till now did I see an eggshell used to heat water for steeping malt in," said the little man, as he turned away and began again to play on his straw-pipe. He kept playing the tune of the day before until he heard the woman coming, and then he once more became a little child.

On the third day, the tailor told the woman what he had witnessed, and his opinion that the child was nothing but a fairy. "And what am I to do with him?" asked the woman.

"Take him," said the tailor, "to the neighbouring ravine, and throw him over the bank into the water below." The woman did as she was told, but no sooner had the child touched the water than he became a little grey manikin. He then rose to his feet in a great rage, and scrambled up the steep side of the ravine, threatening the woman with vengeance if he overtook her. But she took to her heels as fast as she could, and never looked behind her until she arrived at the house, where she found her own child laid at the door before her.

The Glengarry Fairy

James MacDougall, Folk Tales and Fairy Lore in Gaelic and English

There once lived in Glengarry a widow with a young child who was a boy. One day she went to the well for water; and when she was returning to the house, she heard the child, whom she had left sleeping quietly in the cradle, screaming as if he were in great pain. She hastened in, a gave him a drink as quickly as she could. This quieted him for a little while, but he soon broke out again as badly as ever. She gave him another drink; and while he was at her breast she looked at him and saw that he had two teeth in his mouth, each more than an inch long, and that his face was as old and withered as any face she had ever seen.

She said to herself: "Now I am undone, but I will keep quiet until I see what will come of this."

Next day she lifted the lad in her arms, put a shawl about him, and went away as though she was going to the next farm with him. A bug burn ran across her path, and when she was going over the ford, the creature put his head out of the shawl and said: "Many a big fold have I seen on the banks of this stream!"

The woman did not wait to hear more of his history, but threw him into a deep pool below the ford, where he lay for a while, tumbling about and reviling her, and saying if he had known beforehand the trick she was going to play him, he would have shown her another.

She then heard a sound like that of a flock of birds flying about her, but saw nothing until she looked at her feet, and there beheld her own child with his bones as bare as the tongs. She took him home with her, and he got gradually better, and was at last as healthy as any other child.

The Kintalen Changeling

James MacDougall, Folk Tales and Fairy Lore in Gaelic and English

There was living in Kintalen a woman who had a male-child with neither the growth nor the bloom of other children of his age. From morning to evening he would not cease one minute from crying, and he would eat far more food than was natural for the like of him.

It was harvest, and there was not a person on the farm who could draw a sickle but was out on the reaping field, except the mother of the child. She, too, would have been out were it not for fear that the nasty screaming thing would break his heart crying, if she should leave him in charge of any other person.

It happened that there was at the time a tailor in the house, making clothes. The tailor was a shrewd, observant man, and he was but a short time within until he became suspicious of the lad in the cradle. "You," said he to the woman, "may go to the reaping, and I will take care of the child."

The woman went away. But she had barely taken her feet over the threshold when the withered object she had left behind began shrieking and crying loudly and sorely. The tailor listened to him a good while, keeping his eye on him, till he was sure that he was nothing but a changeling. He now lost patience with him, and cried in a sharp, angry voice: "Stop that music, lad, or I'll put thee on the fire."

The crying ceased for a while, but afterwards it began a second time. "Art thou at it again, piper of the one tune?" said the tailor. "Let me hear that music any more from thee, and I will kill thee with the dirk." When the fairy beheld the frown on the tailor's countenance and the dirk in his hand, he took such a fright that he kept quiet a good while.

The tailor was a cheerful man, and to keep from wearying he began to hum a tune. In the middle of the music the ugly elf raised a loud howl. But, if he did, he was not allowed to go on with his warble but a very short time. The tailor leaped off his work-table, went, dirk in hand, over to the cradle, and said to the fairy: "We have enough of that music, take the right great bagpipes and give us one good tune on them, or else I'll put the dirk in thee."

The fairy sat up in the cradle, took the pipes which he had somewhere about him, and struck up the sweetest music the tailor had ever heard. The reapers heard it on the field, and instantly dropped their sickles and stood listening to the fairy music. At length they left the field, and ran in the direction whence the music came. But before they reached the house the tune had ceased; and they knew not who played it or whence it came.

When the reapers returned home in the evening, and the tailor got the mistress of the house alone, he told her everything that happened while she was at the reaping, and that her child was nothing but a changeling. He then told her to go with him to the Ardsheal side of the bay, and to throw him out in the Loch. She did as was told her, and as soon as the nasty little elf touched the water he became a big grey-haired old man, and swam to the other side of the bay. When he got his foot on dry land, he cried to her that if he had known beforehand what she was going to do he would have made her never think of doing such a thing again.

She returned home and found her own child at the door before her, hale and sound.

The Red-Haired Tailor of Rannoch and the Fairy

James MacDougall, Folk Tales and Fairy Lore in Gaelic and English

The red-haired tailor lived in Rannoch. Like the rest of his kind, he went from house to house to make clothes of the cloth which thrifty wives manufactured for their husbands and sons in by-gone times.

Once as he was approaching a house, where he had a few days' work to do, evening came on, and he saw, in the dimness of the twilight, one like a very little child, running before him and keeping out of sight behind every bush and every hillock at the road-side. The tailor hardened his step, hoping to overtake the curious manikin before him, but instead of gaining, he was losing ground at every step he took. As soon as he noticed this, he began to run with all his might; but in spite of his skin, he could not shorten the distance between them.

At length he lost patience so completely that he threw his big shears at the nimble little man ahead, and struck him with them in the knee joints. The fairy, for such he was, fell on his face, and before he had time to rise up, was in the tailor's arms, and the shears on his breast.

"Tell me where thou art going, my good lad," said the tailor.

"I am on my way from the Big Fairy Knoll, to the house ahead of thee, to get a while of the breast of the wife," replied the little imp. This was the very house to which the tailor was going.

"And what wilt thou do with the woman's own child?" said he then.

"Oh, I will put him out at the back window to my people, and they will take him with them to our place," answered the other.

"And will they send him home when thou hast had enough of his mother's breast?"

"Oh, no; never!"

"That will do," said the tailor, and he let his prisoner go.

As soon as he got his liberty, he stretched away to the house, and was within before the tailor arrived. He had the house to himself, for the goodman and his wife were in the byre milking the cows, and no one within but the child in the cradle. He lifted the child in his arms, and handed it out at the back window to the other fairies, as he thought; but the tailor was before them, and took the child quietly in his arms, and then went away with it to the house of his sister, who lived a short distance off, and left it in her charge.

When he returned he found the wife before him, and the changeling in the cradle, ready to burst with crying. The wife took him up, and gave him a drink, and then put him back in the cradle again.

He was not long there till he began to scream and cry once more. She took him up, and gave him another drink. But to all appearance nothing would please him but to be left always on the breast.

This game went on for a few days more. But when the patience of the tailor ran out, he sprang at last from the work-table, took in a creelful of peats, and put a big fire on the hearth. When the fire was in the heat of its burning, he sprang over to the cradle, took with him the changeling, and before any one in the house could interpose, he threw him in the very middle of the flames. But the little knave leaped out through the chimney, and from the house-top cried in triumph to the wife: "I have got so much of the sap of thy breast in spite of thee," and he departed.

The Trows Steal a Child

G. F. Black, Examples of Printed Folk-Lore Concerning the Orkney & Shetland Islands

Two married brothers were living in one house, and the wife of one was expecting to become a mother. Her brother-in-law, being informed of what was going on, took up a fishing rod and set off to the Craigs (crag-fishing) to be out of the way.

He had to pass a plantiecrü, the favorite haunt of many Trows, and when he got there he saw a number of them going as if towards his house.

Jaimie instantly turned back, for he knew that they had power at such times, and the saining might be neglected. Hurrying home he went and opened his trunk, took out a Bible, laid it near the door, and left the key in the lock. Making sure that no door or box was locked in the house (for that angers the Trows and they have power when a key is turned), and exhorting the güde wives assembled not to allow their patient to go past the fireplace, Jaimie walked off, intending to visit a neighbor instead of venturing near the plantiecrü again.

But by that time the Trows had got near and found out that he had guarded the way to their coveted treasure, so they took all power from him as soon as he got a stone's throw from his own door. At that place he had to cross a stile and when he had got one leg over the stile, he found he could get no farther. There he sat without power to move; and he sat for hours astride the wall. By-and-by one of the güde wives came out, and seeing Jaimie sitting like that, she cried, "Jaimie, güde be aboot de! What's do sitting yonder for a' this time?"

As soon as she said "Güde be aboot de" the power to move came back and Jamie came home to share in the blythe feast. But that very night a child of his took a crying. It cried and cried for exactly eight days, then it lay as if sleeping for eight days, and all folk said that it appeared to be another child. Then Jaimie knew it was a changeling, so he set the cradle outside the house-door, beyond the shadow of the lintel, and the changeling was no more. There was just an image left lifeless in the cradle.

Mind the Crooked Finger

J. G. Ollason, Shetland Islands

Bill Robertson, æt. 71, residing in Lerwick, soberly narrated this trowy story:

My midder, God rest her soul, tauld me this, and she nedder could nor wid ha' tauld me a lee. Shü wis staying wi' freends at Kirgood-a-Weisdale; an' ee nicht about da hüming (twilight) da guidman was sair fashed, for da honest wife haed just haed a pirie baby.

An' noo, my lamb 'at ye ir (are), what sud he hear juist as he was gaein' ta leave the lamb-house, but three most unearthly knocks, da sam as it haed a been frae onder da grund. Noo, he kent na what dis could be, but he made a' fast, an' gangs up intil de corn yard, and as he comes in sight of the screws he hears a voice 'at said tree times, "Mind da crooked finger."

Noo, his wife haed a crooked finger, and he kent ower weel 'at something wis gaen ta happen, for his grey neebors wis apon da watch for da helpless infant, or midder, or baith. So he comes into da hoose, an' lichts a candle, taks doon da Bible, an' a steel knife. He opens da buik an' da knife, when such a roaring and trüling, an' onerthly stamping an' rattling, an' confusion comes frae da byre as made da whole hoose shak. An' a' body fell a-whaaking (quaking).

Noo, he taks da open Bible, and maks for da byre, an' dem 'at wis i' da hoos follows him trimbling an' whaaking, only da wise-woman bein' left with da poor wife an' infant. Noo, whin he gets ta da door, he heaves in da Bible afore him, sticks da open knive in his mouth, edge ootwards, and da lowin' candle in een o' his hands. Da instant yon was dune da trülin' an' noise an' din ceased all of a sudden, and da image 'at haed been prepared for ta pit i' da place i' da poor wife an' innocent pirie lamb was a' 'at was left i' da byre.

"Weel," says da guidman, as he gripped in his airms da very likeness o' his wife 'at da trows had left i' da byre, "I've taen dee, and I'll use dee." Weel, he tuk in ta da hoose da image left by da trows, an' it haed every joint an' pairt of a woman. An' my midder tauld me shü saw it, an' da honest folk for mony a year, an' der children after dem, sat upon da stock, or image, or likness; an' things was set on it, and wood was sawn on it.

An' dat's as true as I'm spekin' to you, and no a borrowed or handed story; for my midder tauld me it wi' her ain lips, an' she wid no a tauld me a lee."

Mind the Crooked Finger

J. G. Ollason, Shetland Islands

Bill Robertson, age 71, residing in Lerwick, soberly narrated this trustworthy story:

My mother, God rest her soul, told me this, and she neither could nor would have told me a lie. She was staying with friends at Kirgood-a-Weisdale; one night at about twilight the man of the house was very concerned, for his honest wife had just had a pretty baby.

And now, my lamb that you are, what should he hear just as he was going to leave the lamb-house, but three most unearthly knocks, the same as if it had been from under the ground. Now, he didn't know what this could be, but he took hold of himself and went up to the corn yard, and as he comes in sight of the granary he hears a voice that said three times, "Mind the crooked finger."

Now, his wife had a crooked finger, and he knew very well that something was going to happen, for his gray neighbors were on the watch for the helpless infant, or mother, or both. So he comes into the house, and lights a candle, takes down the Bible, and a steel knife. He opens the book and the knife, when such a roaring and trolling, and unearthly stamping and rattling, and confusion comes from the cow-barn that made the whole house shake. And everybody fell a-quaking.

Now, he takes the open Bible, and makes for the cow-barn, and those that were in the house follow him trembling and quaking, only the wise-woman being left with the poor wife and infant. Now, when he gets to the door, he heaves in the Bible before him, sticks the open knife in his mouth, edge outwards, and the burning candle in one of his hands. That instant the trolling was done and the noise and din ceased all of a sudden, and the image that had been prepared to put in the place of the poor wife and innocent pretty lamb was all that was left in the cow-barn.

"Well," says the man of the house, as he gripped in his arms the very likeness of his wife that the trolls had left in the cow-barn, "I've taken you, and I'll use you." Well, he took into the house the image left by the trolls, and it had every joint and part of a woman. And my mother told me she saw it, and the honest folk for many a year, and their children after them, sat upon the stock, or image, or likeness; and things was set on it, and wood was sawn on it.

And that's as true as I'm speaking to you, and not a borrowed or handed-down story; for my mother told me it with her own lips, and she would not have told me a lie."

The Trows, the Tailor, and the Idiot Child

Shetland Islands

The Shetlanders believe in two kinds of trows, as they call the Scandinavian trolls, those of the land and those of the sea. The former, whom, like the Scots, they also term the guid folk and guid neighbors, they conceive to inhabit the interior of green hills. Saining (blessing oneself) is the grand protection against them; a Shetlander always sains himself when passing by their hills. They have all the picking and stealing propensities of the Scandinavian trolls.

Lying-in women and "unchristened bairns" they regard as lawful prize. The former they employ as wet nurses, the latter they of course rear up as their own. Nothing will induce parents to show any attention to a child that they suspect of being a changeling. But there are persons who undertake to enter the hills and regain the lost child.

A tailor, not long since, related the following story. He was employed to work at a farm house where there was a child that was an idiot, and who was supposed to have been left there by the trows instead of some proper child, whom they had taken into the hills.

One night, after he had retired to his bed, leaving the idiot asleep by the fire, he was suddenly waked out of his sleep by the sound of music, and on looking about him he saw the whole room full of fairies, who were dancing away their rounds most joyously. Suddenly the idiot jumped up and joined in the dance, and showed such a degree of acquaintance with the various steps and movements as plainly testified that it must have been a long time since he first went under the hands of the dancing master. The tailor looked on for some time with admiration, but at last he grew alarmed and sained himself.

On hearing this, the trows all fled in the utmost disorder, but one of them, a woman, was so incensed at this interruption of their revels, that as she went out she touched the big toe of the tailor, and he lost the power of ever after moving it.

Abstracted from Thomas Keightley, The Fairy Mythology (1850), pp. 164-166. Keightley's souce: Dr. Hibbert, Description of the Shetland Islands (1822).

Danger from Fairies

William Henderson, Notes of the Folk-Lore of the Northern Counties of England and the Borders

In the southern counties of Scotland children are considered before baptism at the mercy of the fairies, who may carry them off at pleasure or inflict injury upon them. Hence, of course, it is unlucky to take unbaptized children on a journey -- a belief which prevails throughout Northumberland, and indeed in many other parts of the country

Brand mentions this danger (Popular Antiquities, vol. 2, p. 73), and says the Danish women guard their children during this period against evil spirits by placing in the cradle, or over the door, garlic slat, bread, and steel in the form of some sharp instrument. "Something like this," he adds, "obtained in England;" and accordingly I am told that in the West Riding of Yorkshire "a child was kept safe while sleeping by hanging a carving knife from the head of the cradle with the point suspended near the infant's face."

In Germany, the proper things to lay in the cradle are "orant" (which is translated into either horehound or snapdragon), blue marjoram, black cumin, a right shirt sleeve, and a left stocking. The "Nickert" cannot then harm the child.

The modern Greeks dread witchcraft at this period of their children's lives, and are careful not to leave them alone during their first eight days, within which period the Greek Church refuses to baptize them. (Wright's Literature of the Middle Ages, vol. 1, p. 291)

In Scotland the little one's safeguard is held to lie in the juxtaposition of some article of dress belonging to its father. This was experienced by the wife a shepherd near Selkirk. Soon after the birth of her first child, a fine boy, she was lying in bed with her baby by her side, when suddenly she became aware of a confused noise of talking and merry laughter in the "spence," or room. This, in fact, proceeded from the fairies, who were forming a child of wax as a substitute for the baby, which they were planning to steal away. The poor mother suspected as much, so in great alarm she seized her husband's waistcoat, which chanced to be lying at the foot of the bed, and flung it over herself and the child. The fairies set up a loud scream, calling out "Auld Luckie has cheated us o' our bairnie!"

Soon afterwards the woman heard something fall down the lum (or chimney), and looking out she saw a waxen image of her baby, stuck full of pins, lying on the hearth.

When her husband came home he made up a large fire and threw the fairy lump upon it; but, instead of burning, the thing flew up the chimney, and the house instantly resounded with shouts of joy and peals of laughter.

Family affection must have been very strong when any trifle closely connected with the father was deemed a safeguard for the child, a safeguard needed till its baptism shielded it from every evil or malicious sprite.

Fairy Butter

Michael Aislabie Denham, The Denham Tracts

Mothers sometimes brought the cradle to the field in the harvest time and left it at the ridge end, when the little inmate would be liable to be exchanged for one of fairy breed. To deter children who gleaned behind the reapers from interfering with the stooks, it was customary to tell them that baits of "fairy butter" were placed among the sheaves, and if they were tempted to touch and eat it the fairies would kidnap them.

A story is told at Pierse Bridge how that, some women going into the field to work rather earlier one morning than usual, now some fifty or sixty years ago, found as much as nearly a pound upon the top of a gatepost, how they carefully gathered it into a basin, and how they each and all partook, and found it to be the "nicest butther that ony o' them had iver taästed."

The Fairy Hill's Afire

Michael Aislabie Denham, The Denham Tracts

A woman had a child that was remarkably puny. It was voracious enough, "but put all the meat it got within an ill skin," and never grew any, and there were shrewd suspicions that it was a changeling. One day a neighbor came running into her house, and shouted out, "Come here, and ye'll see a sight! Yonder's the Fairy Hill a' alowe."

"Waes me! what'll come o' my wife and bairns?" screamed out the elf in the bed, and straightway made its exit up the chimney.

The Piskies' Changeling

Robert Hunt, Popular Romances of the West of England

This story is told by Mr. T. Q. Couch, as an example of the folk-lore of a Cornish village, in "Notes and Queries," under the name of "Coleman Gray":

There is a farmhouse of some antiquity with which my family have a close connection; and it is this circumstance, more than any other, that has rendered this tradition concerning it more interesting to us, and better remembered than many other equally romantic and authentic.

Close to this house, one day, a little miserable-looking bantling was discovered alone, unknown, and incapable of making its wants understood. It was instantly remembered by the finder, that this was the way in which the piskies were accustomed to deal with those infants of their race for whom they sought human protection; and it would have been an awful circumstance if such a one were not received by the individual so visited. The anger of the piskies would be certain, and some direful calamity must be the result; whereas, a kind welcome would probably be attended with great good fortune.

The miserable plight of this stranger, therefore, attracted attention and sympathy. The little unconscious one was admitted as one of the family. Its health was speedily restored, and its renewed strength, activity, intelligence, and good-humour, caused it to become a general favourite.

It is true the stranger was often found to indulge in odd freaks; but this was accounted for by a recollection of its pedigree, which was not doubted to be of the piskie order. So the family prospered, and had banished the thought that the foundling would ever leave them.

There was to the front door of this house, a hatch, which is a half-door, that is kept closed when the whole door behind it is open, and it then serves as a guard against the intrusion of dogs, hogs, and ducks, while air and light are freely admitted. This little being was one day leaning over the top of this hatch, and looking wistfully outward, when a clear voice was heard to proceed from a neighbouring part of the townplace, calling "Coleman Gray, Coleman Gray!"

The piskie immediately started up, and with a sudden laugh clapped its hands, exclaiming, "Aha! my daddy is come!" It was gone in a moment, never to be seen again.

Brewery of Eggshells

Joseph Jacobs, Celtic Fairy Tales

In Treneglwys there is a certain shepherd's cot known by the name of Twt y Cymrws because of the strange strife that occurred there.

There once lived there a man and his wife, and they had twins whom the woman nursed tenderly. One day she was called away to the house of a neighbor at some distance. She did not much like going and leaving her little ones all alone in a solitary house, especially as she had heard tell of the good folk haunting the neighborhood.

Well, she went and came back as soon as she could, but on her way back she was frightened to see some old elves of the blue petticoat crossing her path though it was midday. She rushed home, but found her two little ones in the cradle and everything seemed as it was before.

But after a time the good people began to suspect that something was wrong, for the twins didn't grow at all.

The man said: "They're not ours."

The woman said: "Whose else should they be?"

And so arose the great strife so that the neighbors named the cottage after it. It made the woman very sad, so one evening she made up her mind to go and see the Wise Man of Llanidloes, for he knew everything and would advise her what to do.

So she went to Llanidloes and told the case to the Wise Man. Now there was soon to be a harvest of rye and oats, so the Wise Man said to her, "When you are getting dinner for the reapers, clear out the shell of a hen's egg and boil some potage in it, and then take it to the door as if you meant it as a dinner for the reapers. Then listen if the twins say anything. If you hear them speaking of things beyond the understanding of children, go back and take them up and throw them into the waters of Lake Elvyn. But if you don't hear anything remarkable, do them no injury."

So when the day of the reap came the woman did all that the Wise Man ordered, and put the eggshell on the fire and took it off and carried it to the door, and there she stood and listened. Then she heard one of the children say to the other:

Acorn before oak I knew,
An egg before a hen,
But I never heard of an eggshell brew
A dinner for harvest men.

So she went back into the house, seized the children and threw them into the Llyn, and the goblins in their blue trousers came and saved their dwarfs and the mother had her own children back and so the great strife ended.

The Changeling Twins of Corwrion

John Rhys, Celtic Folklore

Once on a time, in the fourteenth century, the wife of a man at Corwrion had twins, and she complained one day to a witch, who lived close by, at Tydyn y Barcud, that the children were not getting on, but that they were always crying day and night.

"Are you sure that they are your children?" asked the witch, adding that it did not seem to her that they were like hers.

"I have my doubts also," said the mother.

"I wonder if somebody has exchanged children with you," said the witch.

"I do not know," said the mother. "But why do you not seek to know?" asked the other.

"But how am I to go about it?" said the mother.

The witch replied, "Go and do something rather strange before their eyes and watch what they will say to one another."

"Well, I do not know what I should do," said the mother.

"Well," said the other, "take an eggshell, and proceed to brew beer in it in a chamber aside, and come here to tell me what the children will say about it."

She went home and did as the witch had directed her, when the two children lifted their heads out of the cradle to find what she was doing--to watch and to listen.

Then one observed to the other, "I remember seeing an oak having an acorn," to which the other replied, "And I remember seeing a hen having an egg"; and one of the two added, "But I do not remember before seeing anybody brew beer in the shell of a hen's egg."

The mother then went to the witch and told her what the twins had said one to the other; and she directed her to go to a small wooden bridge not far off, with one of the strange children under each arm, and there to drop them from the bridge into the river beneath.

The mother went back home again and did as she had been directed. When she reached home this time, she found to her astonishment that her own children had been brought back.

The Tylwyth Teg Steal a Child

John Rhys, Celtic Folklore

Mr. [William] Jones mentions that, within his memory, there were still people in his neighborhood who believed that the fairies stole unbaptized children and placed their own in their stead: he gives the following story about the farmer's wife of Dyffryn Mymbyr, near Capel Curig, and her infant:

[Rhys quotes the story in Welsh, then gives the following English translation.]

This woman had given birth to a healthy and vigorous child at the beginning of the harvest, one wretched and inclement summer. As the homestead was a considerable distance from church or chapel, and the weather so very rainy, it was neglected to baptize the child at the usual time, that is to say, before it was eight days old.

One fine day, in the middle of this wretched harvest, the mother went to the field with the rest of the family to try to save the harvest, and left her baby sleeping in its cradle in its grandmother's charge, who was so aged and decrepit as to be unable to go much about. The old woman fell asleep, and, while she was in that state, the Tylwyth Teg came in and took away the baby, placing another in its stead.

Very shortly the latter began to whine and groan, so that the grandmother awoke: she went to the cradle, where she saw a slender, wizened old man moving restlessly and peevishly about. "Alas! alas!" said she, "the old Tylwyth have been here"; and she at once blew in the horn to call the mother home, who came without delay.

As she heard the crying in the cradle, she ran towards it, and lifted the little one without looking at him; she hugged him, put him to her breast, and sang lullaby to him, but nothing was of any avail, as he continued, without stopping, to scream enough to break her heart; and she knew not what to do to calm him. At last she looked at him: she saw that he was not like her dear little boy, and her heart was pierced with agony. She looked at him again, and the more she examined him the uglier he seemed to her.

She sent for her husband home from the field, and told him to search for a skilled man somewhere or other; and, after a long search, he was told by somebody that the parson of Trawsfynyd was skilled in the secrets of the spirits; so he want to him.

The latter bade him take a shovel and cover it with salt, and make the figure of the cross in the salt; then to take it to the chamber where the fairy child was, and, after taking care to open the window, to place the shovel on the fire until the salt was burnt. This was done, and when the salt had got white hot, the peevish abortion went away, seen of no one, and they found the other baby whole and unscathed at the doorstep.

Two Manx Changelings

Sir Walter Scott, "On the Fairies of Popular Superstition"


I [Scott's source] was prevailed upon myself to go and see a child, who, they told me, was one of these changelings, and, indeed, must own, was not a little surprised, as well as shocked, at the sight. Nothing under heaven could have a more beautiful face; but, though between five and six years old, and seemingly healthy, he was so far from being able to walk or stand, that he could not so much as move any one joint; his limbs were vastly long for his age, but smaller than any infant's of six months; his complexion was perfectly delicate, and he had the finest hair in the world. He never spoke nor cried, ate scarce anything, and was very seldom seen to smile; but if anyone called him a fairy-elf, he would frown, and fix his eyes so earnestly on those who said it, as if he would look them through.

His mother, or at least his supposed mother, being very poor, frequently went out a charring, and left him a whole day together. The neighbors, out of curiosity, have often looked in at the window, to see how he behaved while alone; which, whenever they did, they were sure to find him laughing, and in the utmost delight. This made them judge that he was not without company, more pleasing to him than any mortals could be; and what made this conjecture seem the more reasonable, was, that if he were left ever so dirty, the woman, at her return, saw him with a clean face, and his hair combed with the utmost exactness and nicety.


Waldron gives another account of a poor woman, to whose offspring, it would seem, the Fairies had taken a special fancy.

A few nights after she was delivered of her first child, the family were alarmed by a dreadful cry of "Fire!" All flew to the door, while the mother lay trembling in bed, unable to protect her infant, which was snatched from the bed by an invisible hand. Fortunately, the return of the gossips, after the causeless alarm, disturbed the Fairies, who dropped the child, which was found sprawling and shrieking upon the threshold.

At the good woman's second accouchement, a tumult was heard in the cowhouse, which drew thither the whole assistants. They returned, when they found that all was quiet among the cattle, and lo! the second child had been carried from the bed, and dropped in the middle of the lane.

But, upon the third occurrence of the same kind, the company were again decoyed out of the sick woman's chamber by a false alarm, leaving only a nurse, who was detained by the bonds of sleep. On this last occasion, the mother plainly saw her child removed, though the means were invisible. She screamed for assistance to the nurse; but the old lady had partaken too deeply of the cordials which circulate upon such joyful occasions, to be easily awakened.

In short, the child was this time fairly carried off, and a withered, deformed creature left in its stead, quite naked, with the clothes of the abstracted infant, rolled in a bundle, by its side. This creature lived nine years, ate nothing but a few herbs, and neither spoke, stood, walked, nor performed any other functions of mortality; resembling, in all respects, the changeling already mentioned.

A Changeling Musician

W. Y. Evans-Wentz, The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries

A family at Dalby [Isle of Man] had a poor idiot baby, and when it was twenty years old it still sat by the fire just like a child. A tailor came to the house to work on a day when all the folks were out cutting corn, and the idiot was left with him. The tailor began to whistle as he sat on the table sewing, and the little idiot sitting by the fire said to him: "If you'll not tell anybody when they come in, I'll dance that tune for you."

So the little fellow began to dance, and he could step it out splendidly. Then he said to the tailor: "If you'll not tell anybody when they come in, I'll play the fiddle for you." And the tailor and the idiot spent a very enjoyable afternoon together.

But before the family came in from the fields, the poor idiot, as usual, was sitting in a chair by the fire, a big baby who couldn't hardly talk. When the mother came in she happened to say to the tailor, "You've a fine chap her," referring to the idiot.

"Yes, indeed," said the tailor, "we've had a very fine afternoon together; but I think we had better make a good fire and put him on it."

"Oh!" cried the mother, "the poor child could never even walk."

"Ah, but he can dance and play the fiddle, too," replied the tailor.

And the fire was made; but when the idiot saw that they were for putting him on it he pulled from his pocket a ball, and this ball went rolling on ahead of him, and he, going after it, was never seen again.

After this strange story was finished I asked Mrs. Moore where she had heard it, and she said: "I have heard this story ever since I was a girl. I knew the house and family, and so did my mother. The family's name was Cubbon."

A Pisky Changeling

W. Y. Evans-Wentz, The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries

A woman who lived near Breage Church [Isle of Man] had a fine girl baby, and she thought the piskies came and took it and put a withered child in its place. The withered child lived to be twenty years old, and was no larger when it died than when the piskies brought it. It was fretful and peevish and frightfully shriveled. The parents believed that the piskies often used to come and look over a certain wall by the house to see the child. And I heard my grandmother say that the family once put the child out of doors at night to see if the piskies would take it back again.

A Remarkable Changeling Story

W. Y. Evans-Wentz, The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries

Forty to fifty years ago, between St. John's and Foxdale [Isle of Man], a boy, with whom I often played, came to our house at nightfall to borrow some candles, and while he was on his way home across the hills he suddenly saw a little boy and a little woman coming after him. If he ran, they ran, and all the time they gained on him. Upon reaching home he was speechless, his hand were altered (turned awry), and his feet also, and his fingernails had grown long in a minute. He remained that way a week.

My father went to the boy's mother and told her it wasn't Robby at all that she saw; and when my father was for taking the tongs and burning the boy with a piece of glowing turf [as a changeling test], the boy screamed awfully. Then my father persuaded the mother to send a messenger to a doctor in the north near Ramsey "doing charms," to see if she couldn't get Robby back. As the messenger was returning, the mother stepped out of the house to relieve him, and when she went into the house again her own Robby was there.

As soon as Robby came to himself all right, he said a little woman and a little boy had followed him, and that just as he got home he was conscious of being taken away by them, but he didn't know where they came from nor where they took him. He was unable to tell more than this. Robby is alive yet, so far as I know; he is Robert Christian, of Douglas.

The Fairy Child and the Tailor

Sophia Morrison, Isle of Man

The following story was told to me by Joe Moore, who lives in the parish of Patrick, some mile from Close-ny-Lheiy. I wrote the story down from notes made at the time,--the dialogue being taken down, word for word, as it fell from his lips. He told me that this father got the story from old Hom Bridson himself, ninety years ago and more; he never repeated the story while any of the Colloo family lived, but the last descendant died many years ago, and the old farmhouse is in ruins. It was a curious coincidence that, in the week following that in which I had the story from Joe Moore, I received it also from Logan, Utah, from Miss Quirk, who had it from an old Manxman who had lived there for fifty years and had emigrated from Glen Meay.

There was one time a woman named Colloo in Close-ny-Lheiy, near Glen Meay, and she had a child that had fallen sick in a strange way. Nothing seemed wrong with him yet crosser and crosser he grew, nying-nyanging night and day. The woman was in great distress. Charms had failed, and she didn't know rightly what to do.

It seems that, about a fortnight after birth, the child, as fine a child for his age as you would see in a day's walk, was left asleep while the mother went to the well for water. Now Herself forgot to put the tongs on the cradle, and, when she came back, the child was crying pitiful, and no quatin' for him. And from that very hour the flesh seemed to melt off his bones, till he became as ugly and as wizened a child as you would see between the Point of Ayre and the Calf. He was that way, his whining howl filling the house, for four years, lying in the cradle without a motion on him to put his feet under him. Not a day's res' nor a night's sleep was there at the woman these four years with him. She was fair scourged with him, until there came a fine day in the spring that Hom beg Bridson, the tailor, was in the house sewing. Hom is dead now, but there's many alive as remember him. He was wise tremenjus, for he was going from house to house sewing, and gathering wisdom as he was going.

Well, before that day the tailor was seeing lots of wickedness at the child. When the woman would be out feeding the pigs and sarvin' the craythurs, he would be hoisting his head up out of the cradle and making faces at the tailor, winking, and slicking, and shaking his head, and saying "What a lad I am!"

That day the woman wanted to go to the shop in Glen Meay to sell some eggs that she had, and says she to the tailor: "Hom man, keep your eye on the chile that the bogh [poor dear] won't fall out of the cradle and hurt himself while I slip down to the shop." When she was gone the tailor began to whistle aisy to himsef, as he stitched, the tune on a lil hymn.

"Drop that, Hom beg," said a lil harsh voice.

The tailor, scandalized, looked round to see if it was the child that had spoken, and it was.

"Whush, whush, now, lie quate," says the tailor, rocking the cradle with his foot, and as he rocked he whistled the hymn tune louder.

"Drop that, Hom beg, I tell ye, an' give us something light an' handy," says the lil fella back to him, middling sharp.

"Aw, anything at all to plaze thee," says the tailor, whistling a jig.

"Hom," says my lad, "can thou dance anything to that?"

"I can," says the tailor, "can thou?"

"I can that," says my lad, "would thou like to see me dance?"

"I would, says the tailor.

"Take that oul' fiddle down then, Hom man," he said, "and put 'Tune y wheeyl vooar' [Tune of the big wheel] on it."

"Aw, I'll do that for thee, an' welcome," says the tailor.

The fiddle quits its hook on the wall, and the tailor tunes up.

"Hom," says the lil fella, "before thou begin to play, clear the kitchen for me,--cheers an' stools, everything away. Make a place for me to step out to the music, man."

"Aw, I'll do that for thee, too," says the tailor.

He cleared the kitchen floor, and then he struck up "Tune y wheeyl vooar."

In a crack the lil fella bounced from his cradle onto the floor with a "Chu!" and began flying round the kitchen. "Go it Hom,--face your partner,--heel and toe does it. Well done, Hom,--jog your elbow, man."

Hom plays faster and faster, till me lad was jumping as high as the table.

With a "Chu!" up goes his foot on top of the dresser, and "Chu!" then on top of the chimlee piece, and "Chu!" bang against the partition, then he was half flying, half footing it round the kitchen, turning and going round that quick that it put a reel in Hom's head to be looking at him. Then he was whirling everything round for a clear space, even Hom himself, who by degrees gets up on the table in the corner and plays wilder and wilder, as the whirling jig grew madder and madder.

"M' Yee!" says the tailor, throwing down the fiddle, "I mus' run, thou're not the chile that was in the cradle. Are thou?"

"Houl' man! thou're right enough," says the lil fella. "Strike up for me, make has'e, make has'e man,--more power to you elbow."

"Whush!" said the tailor, "here's Herself coming."

The dancing ceased. The child gave a hop, skip, and jump into the cradle.

"Get on with thee sewing, Hom; don't say a word," says the lil fella, covering himself up in the clothes till nothing was left of him to be seen except his eyes which keeked out like a ferret's.

When Herself came in the house, the tailor, all of a tremble, was sitting cross-legged on the round table and his specs on his nose and letting on that he was busy sewing; the child in the cradle was shouting and sweeling [squealing] as usual. "What in all the earthly worl'...! But it's quare stitching, altogether, there's been goin' on her, an' me out. An' how thou can see thee needle in that dark corner, Hom Bridson, let alone sew, it beats me," says she, siding the place. "Well, well then, well, well, on the boghee veg [poor little thing]. Did he think Mammy had gone an' lef' him then, the chree [heart]? Mammy is goin' to feed him, though."

The tailor had been thinking mighty with himself what he ought to do, so he says,-- "Look here, woman, give him nothing at all, but go out and get a creelful of good turf."

She brought in the turf, and throws a big bart [bundle] of fern on it. The tailor give a leap off the table down to the floor, and it wasn't long till he had the fine fire.

"Thou'll have the house put on fire for me, Hom," says Herself.

"No fear, but I'll fire some of them," says the tailor.

The child, with his two eyes going out of his head watching to see what the tailor would do then, was slowly turning his whining howl into a kind of call,--to his own sort to come and fetch him, as like.

"I'll send thee home," says the tailor, drawing near the cradle, and he stretches out his two hands to take the child and put him on the big red turf fire. Before he was able to lay a hand on him, the lil fella leaped out of the cradle and took for the door. "The back of me han' an the sole of me fut to you!" says he, "if I would only ha' had only another night I could have showed thee a trick or two more than that yet."

Then the door flew open with a bang, as though someone had thrown it open, and he took off with himself like a shot. A hullabaloo of laughing and making fun was heard outside, and the noise of many running little feet.

Out on the door of the house goes Herself, she saw no one, but she caught sight of a flock of low-lying clouds shaped like gulls chasing each other away up Glen Rushen, and then comes to her ears, as if afar off from the clouds, sharp whistles and wicked little laughs as if making mock of her. Then, as she was turning round and searching, she suddenly sees her own sweet rosy smiling child with thumb in mouth lying on the bink [stone bench] right before her. And she took all the joy in the worl' of the child that he was home again safe and sound.

The Changeling


A young woman, whose name was Mary Scannell, lived with her husband not many years ago at Castle Martyr. One day in harvest time she went with several more to help in binding up the wheat, and left her child, which she was nursing, in a corner of the field, quite safe, as she thought, wrapped up in her cloak.

When she had finished her work, she returned where the child was, but in place of her own child she found a thing in the cloak that was not half the size, and that kept up such a crying you might have heard it a mile off: so she guessed how the case was, and, without stop or stay, away she took it in her arms, pretending to be mighty fond of it all the while, to a wise woman, who told her in a whisper not to give it enough to eat, and to beat and pinch it without mercy, which Mary Scannell did; and just in one week after to the day, when she awoke in the morning, she found her own child lying by her side in the bed!

The fairy that had been put in its place did not like the usage it got from Mary Scannell, who understood how to treat it, like a sensible woman as she was, and away it went after the week's trial, and sent her own child back to her.

The Brewery of Eggshells

T. Crofton Croker, Fairy Legends and Traditions of the South of Ireland

Mrs. Sullivan fancied that her youngest child had been exchanged by "fairies theft," and certainly appearances warranted such a conclusion; for in one night her healthy, blue-eyed boy had become shrivelled up into almost nothing, and never ceased squalling and crying. This naturally made poor Mrs. Sullivan very unhappy; and all the neighbors, by way of comforting her, said that her own child was, beyond any kind of doubt, with the good people, and that one of themselves was put in his place.

Mrs. Sullivan of course could not disbelieve what every one told her, but she did not wish to hurt the thing; for although its face was so withered, and its body wasted away to a mere skeleton, it had still a strong resemblance to her own boy. She, therefore, could not find it in her heart to roast it alive on the griddle, or to burn its nose off with the red hot tongs, or to throw it out in the snow on the roadside, notwithstanding these, and several like proceedings, were strongly recommended to her for the recovery of her child.

One day who should Mrs. Sullivan meet but a cunning woman, well known about the country by the name of Ellen Leah (or Grey Ellen). She had the gift, however she got it, of telling where the dead were, and what was good for the rest of their souls; and could charm away warts and wens, and do a great many wonderful things of the same nature.

"You're in grief this morning, Mrs. Sullivan," were the first words of Ellen Leah to her.

"You may say that, Ellen," said Mrs. Sullivan, "and good cause I have to be in grief, for there was my own fine child whipped off from me out of his cradle, without as much as 'by your leave' or 'ask you pardon,' and an ugly dony bit of of a shrivelled up fairy put in his place; no wonder, then, that you see me in grief, Ellen."

"Small blame to you, Mrs. Sullivan," said Ellen Leah, "but are you sure 'tis a fairy?"

"Sure!" echoed Mrs. Sullivan, "sure enough I am to my sorrow, and can I doubt my own two eyes? Every mother's soul must feel for me!"

"Will you take an old woman's advice?" said Ellen Leah, fixing her wild and mysterious gaze upon the unhappy mother; and, after a pause, she added, "but maybe you'll call it foolish?"

"Can you get me back my child, my own child, Ellen?" said Mrs. Sullivan with great energy.

"If you do as I bid you," returned Ellen Leah, "you'll know." Mrs. Sullivan was silent in expectation, and Ellen continued, "Put down the big pot, full of water, on the fire, and make it boil like mad; then get a dozen new-laid eggs, break them, and keep the shells, but throw away the rest; when that is done, put the shells in the pot of boiling water, and you will soon know whether it is your own boy or a fairy. If you find that it is a fairy in the cradle, take the red hot poker and cram in down his ugly throat, and you will not have much trouble with him after that I promise you."

Home went Mrs. Sullivan, and did as Ellen Leah desired. She put the pot on the fire, and plenty of turf under it, and set the water boiling as such a rate, that if ever water was red hot, it surely was.

The child was lying, for a wonder, quite easy and quiet in the cradle, very now and then cocking his eye, that would twinkle as keen as a star in a frosty night, over at the great fire, and the big pot upon it; and he looked on with great attention at Mrs. Sullivan breaking the eggs and putting down the eggshells to boil. At last he asked, with the voice of a very old man, "What are you doing mammy?"

Mrs. Sullivan's heart, as she said herself, was up in her mouth ready to choke her, at hearing the child speak. But she contrived to put the poker in the fire, and to answer, without making any wonder at the words, "I'm brewing, a vick" (my son).

"And what are you brewing, mammy?" said the little imp, whose supernatural gift of speech now proved beyond question that he was a fairy substitute.

"I wish the poker was red," thought Mrs. Sullivan; but it was a large one, and took a long time heating; so she determined to keep him in talk until the poker was in a proper state to thrust down his throat, and therefore repeated the question.

"Is it what I'm brewing, a vick," said she, "you want to know?"

"Yes, mammy: what are you brewing?" returned the fairy.

"Eggshells, a vick," said Mrs. Sullivan.

"Oh!" shrieked the imp, starting up in the cradle, and clapping his hands together, "I'm fifteen hundred years in the world, and I never saw a brewery of eggshells before!" The poker was by this time quite red, and Mrs. Sullivan, seizing it, ran furiously towards the cradle; but somehow or other her foot slipped, and she fell flat on the floor, and the poker flew out of her hand to the other end of the house.

However, she got up without much loss of time and went to the cradle, intending to pitch the wicked thing that was in it into the pot of boiling water, when there she saw her own child in a sweet sleep, one of his soft round arms rested upon the pillow--his features were as placid as if their repose had never been disturbed, save the rosy mouth, which moved with a gentle and regular breathing.

Irish Changeling Beliefs

Thomas Johnson Westropp, "A Study of Folklore on the Coasts of Connacht, Ireland"

Otway in A Tour in Connaught also notes beliefs among the people of Inishbofin which I found flourishing over seventy years later in that primitive place. It was firmly believed that the hills were full of fairies, "romping and carousing within," and that they carried off children and robbed milk and butter. The sprites could exercise malignant power on infants especially before baptism, stealing the handsome ones and replacing them by puny withered changelings. The only way to get rid of these was to set a pot on the fire and threaten to boil the fairy child, who then vanishes and the real child was brought back. Women who die in childbirth are believed to have been carried off to fairyland.

I met everywhere, from Ballycastle to Inishbofin, beliefs as to the existence of changelings. Lady Wilde gives several from Inishark which seem to be good local tales. [Note 1] I must only give the shortest condensation of the beliefs.

  1. An old woman came into a house and looked at a child without saying "God bless you"; it got ill, a strange "wise woman" told the parents that it had been changed and directed them to get a bit of the old woman's cloak. This made the elf sneeze and the true child was brought back.

  2. A man saw the fairies carrying off a boy, and, signing the cross, rescued the infant. He found the mother weeping over the supposed corpse, which he made her throw into the fire, where it came to life and flew up the chimney. He then gave her the real baby.

  3. A man, whose young wife had long been childless, taunted her, and she soon after bore a lovely boy. One day to his horror it suddenly grew a long beard, and he beat his wife, at whose screams two red-capped women came and beat him till he asked pardon. The real child sent a tuft of rushes to the mother, and she was able to enter the fairy palace. An old woman brought her to the king and said she was the nurse of his own son. He restored her own child and said the man who beat her was a fairy disguised as her husband. She invoked God's name and fell senseless, eventually recovering and returning home to find she had been three years absent. She found that her husband had detected the changeling and put it on the fire, when it shrieked and flew up the chimney.

  4. Mary Callan of Shark while sitting alone with her newborn child was wrapped in a cloak by two men and carried away to the Fairy Hall. She touched her eye with the fairies' ointment and saw a crowd of her neighbors' supposed-dead children who told her that they could not return till Doomsday. One also told her that the men were waiting to steal her child till the candle she had lit should go out, and bade her tell his mother that he was alive. He gave her a leaf to crush when in trouble, and she found herself outside of the Hill, returning home, to find her child dying, she crushed the leaf and the infant recovered. The leaf was put into an amulet.

  5. A changeling, found playing pipes behind a tub of meal, was put on a shovel over the fire and vanished.

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Revised January 31, 2023.