Onchú

Variations: Enfield; Alphyn; Water-dog, Sea-dog

Onchu

The Onchú, “Water-dog”, is a peculiar Irish creature with a long history of phonetic transformation. It is better known as the Enfield or Alphyn.

Of the three variants it is the enfield that has the most defined morphotype. It has the head of a fox, the chest of a greyhound, the talons of an eagle, the body of a lion, and the hindlegs and tail of a wolf. A more simple description gives it the head of a fox, the breast and forelegs of an eagle, and the hindquarters of a wolf, combining the cunning of the first, the honor of the second, and the ferocity of the third. There may be a mane and a lion’s tail. Enfields are rarely used in heraldry, most notably appearing in green as the crest of the O’Kelly family of Ireland. This is traditionally attributed to an incident when Tadhg Mór Ua Ceallaigh, the ancestor of the O’Kellys of Hy-Many, fell in battle against the Danes at Clontarf. An enfield or dog-like creature emerged from the sea and protected Tadhg Mor’s body until it was recovered.

As for the alphyn, it vaguely resembles a tiger, sometimes with the same clawed forelimbs as the enfield. It shares its name with the term alphyn or alfin for the chess bishop, itself derived from al-fil, “the elephant”, but this is coincidental. Elephants were well-known in bestiaries long before the decidedly unproboscidean alphyn, which appears at the end of the fifteenth century.

The word onchú is more ancient than enfield or alphyn, and is probably derived from , “hound”, and on, “water” (as in onfais, “plunging”, and onfaisech, “diver”). It is synonymous with doburchú, the otter (literally “water dog”). Therefore the onchú can be inferred to be a dog or dog-like animal that lives at least partly in water. Onchú also is used to mean “banner”, or “standard”, suggesting that the use of the onchú on battle-standards was common enough that the name was transferred to the item – and that its use preceded the battle of Clontarf.

The confusion only increases with the pluralization of onchú to give onchoin or onchainn. Onchainn in turn became onfainn following the trend of ch conversion (e.g. Dunphy from Donnchaidh). Williams traces phonetic vagaries and lists a sequence of alterations: onfainn to anchainn to anfainn to anfaill to anfild to enfild. Anfaill also gave rise to the less-successful alternative name of alphyn. Further assimilation with the heraldic sea-dog gave the onchú/enfield/alphyn a mane and clawed, bird-like forelegs.

Since then onchú has been used as a term for a large water beast. It is wild, fearsome, valorous, heroic, with reptilian and venomous qualities (probably the origin of its green color). The onchú that lived between Loch Con and Loch Cuilinn killed nine men. Muiredach pursued it into the water and slew it, earning the title of Cú Choingelt, “Hound of the Pasturage”.

Williams proposes the adoption of onchú as the official Gaelic term for the animal. Enfield remains an acceptable English version.

References

Barber, R. and Riches, A. (1971) A Dictionary of Fabulous Beasts. The Boydell Press, Ipswich.

Cooke, T. L. (1859) Proceedings, November Meeting. The Journal of the Kilkenny and South-East of Ireland Archaeological Society, v. 2. McGlashan and Gill, Dublin.

Vinycomb, J. (1906) Fictitious and Symbolic Creatures in Art, with Special Reference to their Use in British Heraldry. Chapman and Hall, London.

Williams, N. J. A. (1989) Of Beasts and Banners: The Origin of the Heraldic Enfield. The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, v. 119, pp. 62-78.

Beathach Mòr Loch Odha

Variations: Big Beast of Loch Awe, Big Beast of Lochawe

big-beast

Like so many other lake monsters, the true nature and appearance of the Beathach Mòr Loch Odha, the “Big Beast of Loch Awe”, is shrouded in mystery. Some say it resembles a giant horse, while others describe a colossal eel. What is known for certain is that the Big Beast is a large and powerful creature with twelve legs. It can be heard in the dead of winter, breaking the ice on the frozen loch.

It has been a long time since the Big Beast was last seen. Its existence is all but forgotten on the shores of Loch Awe, and a resident of Ford interviewed by Fleming in 2001 had nothing to say on its subject.

References

Campbell, J. G. (1900) Superstitions of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. James MacLehose and Sons, Glasgow.

Fleming, M. (2002) Not of this World: Creatures of the Supernatural in Scotland. Mercat Press, Edinburgh.

Biasd Na Srogaig

Variations: Biasd Na Sgrogag, Biasd Na Grogaig (typo), Béist Na Sgrogaig, The Beast of the Lowering Horn

biasd-na-srogaig

The Biasd Na Srogaig, the “Beast of the Lowering Horn”, is a unicorn or lake monster native to the lochs in the Scottish Isle of Skye. Other than a single large horn on its forehead, it had little in common with the true unicorn, being tall and clumsy, with long gangly legs and an awkward gait. Originally a nursery bogey, the biasd na srogaig eventually developed a life of its own as children brought their fears into adulthood.

Campbell derives the biasd na srogaig’s name from scrogag, a term applied to snuff horns. It is more correctly written as sgrogag, “crumpled horn”. To further muddle the etymological mixture, béist na sgrogaig has been used as synonymous with the heraldic unicorn.

References

Campbell, J. G. (1900) Superstitions of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. James MacLehose and Sons, Glasgow.

Campbell, J. G.; Black, R. (ed.) (2005) The Gaelic Otherworld. Antony Rowe Ltd, Chippenham.

Fleming, M. (2002) Not of this World: Creatures of the Supernatural in Scotland. Mercat Press, Edinburgh.

Each Uisge

Variations: Each-uisge, Water horse

each-uisge

While the kelpie plies the rivers and streams of Scotland, the lochs and seas are home to the far more dangerous Each Uisge, literally the “Water Horse”. Each uisges are carnivorous, and relish human flesh. While other water-horses are content with playing pranks, tossing riders into ponds and laughing at their lot, an each uisge’s actions are always predatory. In addition to hunting humans, they will also reproduce with farm animals, siring foals with flashing eyes, strong limbs, distended nostrils, and an indomitable spirit.

Like kelpies, each uisges are shapeshifters and can assume a wide variety of forms, from sea life to attractive human beings. Their most common guise, however, is that of a fine horse, standing by the waterside and waiting to be mounted. Such horses are always magnificent, sleek, and wild-looking, and their neighs can wake people up all around the mountains.

The each uisge in human form is attractive and charming, but always has some features that give it away – horse’s hooves, for instance, or hair full of sand and seaweed, or a tendency to whinny in pain. In such cases where an each uisge lover was found out, it is usually killed by the girl’s father or brothers before it can devour her. Regardless of the shape it has taken, an each uisge’s carcass will turn into formless jellyfish slime by the next day.

Sometimes the each uisge is a large bird, although this may be confusing it with the boobrie. More worrisome features have been observed, including viciously hooked, 17-inch long beaks, enormous claws, and footprints larger than an elephant’s. An each uisge observed at the Isle of Arran was light grey, with a parrot-like beak and a body longer than an elephant’s.

For all their carnivorous nature, each uisges can be easily tamed by slipping a cow’s cap or shackle onto it, turning it docile and harmless. If the cap or shackle ever falls off, the each uisge immediately gallops off for the safety of the loch, possibly dragging its would-be master with it. Each uisges can also be tamed by stealing their magic bridles. They use them to see fairies and demons, and are vulnerable without them. Finally, like many other evil creatures, each uisges avoid crosses and other religious symbols.

Every loch in Scotland has its own each uisge. Loch Treig was said to have the fiercest each uisges. Loch Eigheach means “Horse Loch” and is home to a much-feared each uisge, with a deadly charm and a silky grey hide. It would yell triumphantly as it bore its prey into the water.

Seven girls and a boy once found an each uisge on a Sunday afternoon near Aberfeldy. It was in the form of a pony, and it continued grazing as the first girl jumped onto its back. One by one, the other girls followed their friend onto the pony, but only the boy noticed that the pony’s back grew longer to accommodate its riders. Finally, the pony tried to get him on as well. “Get on my back!” it said, and the boy ran, hiding in the safety of the rocks. The terrified girls found that their hands stuck to the each uisge’s back, and they could only scream as it dove into the loch. The next day, seven livers floated to the surface.

The son of the Laird of Kincardine encountered an each-uisge near Loch Pityoulish. He and his friends found a black horse with a bridle, reins, and saddle all made of silver. They got onto it and immediately found themselves on a one-way trip to the loch, their hands glued to the reins. Fortunately for the heir of Kincardine, the youth had only touched the reins with one finger, and freed himself by cutting it off, but he could only watch as the water-horse took his friends with it.

While the water-horse legend may be pervasive and universal in northern Europe, some of the each uisge’s appearances may be more prosaic. The beak and large footprints of some each uisges suggest a leatherback turtle more than they do a horse.

References

Fleming, M. (2002) Not of this World: Creatures of the Supernatural in Scotland. Mercat Press, Edinburgh.

Gordon, S. (1923) Hebridean Memories. Cassell and Company Limited, London.

MacKinlay, J. M. (1893) Folklore of Scottish Lochs and Springs. William Hodge & Co., Glasgow.

Parsons, E. C. M. (2004) Sea monsters and mermaids in Scottish folklore: Can these tales give us information on the historic occurrence of marine animals in Scotland? Anthrozoös 17 (1), pp. 73-80.

Marool

Variations: Angler-fish, Carrachan, Devil-fish, Keddle-man, Kethrie, Kettach, Kilmaddy, Marmaid, Mareillen, Marsgum, Masgum, Meermaid, Merlin-fish, Molly Gowan, Monk-fish, Plucker, Shoemaker, Toad-fish, Weever, Wide-gab

Marool

The Marool of Shetland is a malevolent marine devil, appearing in the form of a fish. It has eyes all over its head, and a crest of flame. It can be seen in mareel, or phosphorescent sea-foam. During storms the marool can be heard singing wildly with joy when a ship capsizes.

Marool is only one of a number of names that have been applied to the anglerfish or monkfish.

References

Forbes, A. R. (1905) Gaelic Names of Beasts (Mammalia), Birds, Fishes, Insects, Reptiles, Etc. Oliver and Boyd, Edinburgh.

Saxby, J. M. E. (1932) Shetland Traditional Lore. Grant and Murray Limited, Edinburgh.

It

It

Shetland is home to a number of creatures, some malevolent and some benign, but the most disconcerting of all is the entity known only as It.

Nobody can agree on what It looks like, and It has never appeared in the same form twice. Whether It is a shapeshifter or uses magic to obscure Its true appearance is unknown. Descriptions include a lump of “slub” or jellyfish, a legless animal, a headless human, and a bag of white wool. It could be a large otter or seal, but to those who have seen It, there is no otter or seal that compares. It is legless, but runs faster than any dog; It is wingless, but flies faster than any eagle; It is silent, but people understand what It is saying without hearing a word.

One Shetland house was plagued every Christmas by It. A man living there was alerted to Its presence, Its movement sounding like a mass of dead flesh hitting the floor. The man ran outside armed with an axe and a Bible, and chased It up the cliffs, embedding his axe in Its body while uttering a holy word. It was immobilized before It could dive back into the sea.

When the man called his friends over, they could tell if It was alive or dead, and It looked different to each of them. It was buried in earth and a trench dug around it, but nobody dared check on It. A stranger was brave enough to observe the burial site, but a mist rose, and something emerged from the ground to roll into the ocean. It had escaped.

References

Saxby, J. M. E. (1932) Shetland Traditional Lore. Grant and Murray Limited, Edinburgh.

Stray Sod

Variations: Ar Iotan, Egaire, Fairy Grass, Faud Shaughran, Fair-Gortha (potentially), Herb of Distraction, Herbe à Adirer, Herbe d’Egarement, Herbe d’Engaire, Herbe de Fourvoiement, Herbe Maudite, Herbe d’Oubli, Herbe à la Recule, Herbe Royale, Herbe des Tournes, Lezeuen Eur, Lezuenn er Seudann, Tourmentine

Tourmentine

“Stray sod” is a general term used here to refer to any plant that, if trodden upon, causes travelers to lose their way. Stray sods have been reported primarily from France and Ireland, and come about in a number of ways. Usually they are specific herbs with magical properties that grow along footpaths. At other times they form over the graves of unbaptised children, or are patches of grass enchanted by fairies. They themselves may be fairies or inhabited by fairies.

No matter the origin, the result is always the same. A solitary traveler at night will inadvertently step on a stray sod, and no matter how good their sense of direction, they immediately lose their path. All landmarks seem to vanish, all roads are dead ends. The unfortunate victim is compelled to wander aimlessly through the night, trudging through hedges and thorns, crossing rivers, slogging through marshes, and feeling their way through thickets. The spell is broken at daybreak, when they find themselves with their clothes torn and stained, their hands and feet bleeding, and miles away from home.

When this happens it is advised to turn one’s coat inside out to counteract the spell. Other remedies include the usage of metal as abhorrent to fairies, or finding certain plants or benevolent spirits to regain one’s bearings.

The stray sod is known as the herbe à adirer (“herb of misplacement”) in Anjou, the herbe à la recule (“herb of turning back”) in Besançon, the herbe d’oubli (“herb of forgetfulness”) in Brittany and Lorraine, the egaire in Normandy, and the herbe maudite (“damned herb”) or herbe des tournes (“herb of turning”) in Saintonge. The ar iotan (“golden herb”) of Brittany is inhabited by a spirit that shines like a glowworm; touching a piece of wood or metal breaks its spell, as does changing horseshoes on one side. The lezeuen eur (“golden herb”) and the lezuenn er seudann (“herb of dizziness”) of the Morbihan cause their victims to walk in circles until daybreak. The herbe royale (“royal herb”) of Saint-Mayeux causes even horses to lose their way. The herbe d’engaire of the Berry grows in vast plains, and causes those who step on it to lose sight of the path entirely. The tourmentine (Potentilla erecta, formerly Potentilla tormentilla) of Forez, which causes disorientation for 12 hours, can be countered by the parisette (Paris quadrifolia), a plant whose fallen seeds guide travelers by pointing in the right direction.

The faud shaughran of Ireland induces a sensation of flying, of being incapable of stopping until one is over twenty or thirty miles from home. There is a herb that counteracts its effects, but it is known only to the initiated. The similar fair-gortha causes unnatural hunger and craving for food if stepped on. One man in County Leitrim turned his coat and hat inside out but was unable to find his way home, ending up miles away from his destination.

References

Barton, B. H. and Castle, T. (1845) The British Flora Medica. Henry G. Bohn, London.

Dubois, P.; Sabatier, C.; and Sabatier, R. (1992) La Grande Encyclopédie des Lutins. Hoëbeke, Paris.

Duncan, L. L. (1893) Folk-Lore Gleanings from County Leitrim. Folklore, vol. 4, no. 2, pp. 176-194.

Rolland, E. (1904) Flore populaire, Tome V. Librairie Rolland, Paris.

Sébillot, P. (1894) Les travaux publics et les mines dans les traditions et les superstitions de tous les pays. J. Rothschild, Paris.

Sébillot, P. (1898) Les Forêts. Revue des Traditions Populaires, t. XIII, no. 12, pp. 641-661.

Sébillot, P. (1904) Le Folk-Lore de France, Tome Premier: Le Ciel et la Terre. Librairie Orientale et Américaine, Paris.

Sébillot, P. (1906) Le Folk-lore de France, Tome Troisième: La Faune et la Flore. Librairie Orientale et Américaine, Paris.

Wilde, F. S. (1887) Ancient Legends, Mystic Charms, and Superstitions of Ireland, v. II. Ward and Downey, London.