Sunday, 8 November 2015

A Mixed Bag of Rhymes

When Craigowl puts on his cowl,and Collie Law his hood,then a the Lundie ladsken there will be a flood.

   The above rhyme, from the Sidlaws-surrounded parish of Lundie, is one of many pieces of weather lore once found in Angus.  Another, non geographically specific one is:

Willie, ma buck, shoot oot yer horn,an ye’ll get milk an breid the morn.

   Willie here is the snail, whose protruding ‘horns’ were thought by children to predict fine weather the following day.  Sometimes Angus children greeted a shower of rail with this hopeful, possibly vain request:

Rainy, rainy rattle stanes,dinna rain on me,
rain on Johnnie Frostie far owre the sea.

    A special class of rhymes is found on tombstones, though most of these are apt to be too simple of maudlin to be of great interest.  Some unusual inscriptions are to be found in Dundee’s ancient burial ground, including this fine metrical gem:

Here lie IEpity Piemy husbandmy twenty bairnsand I. 

   The venerable Provosts of Dundee seem to have been at the mercy of whimsical wit after their internment in the Howff; for example:
                   J P P                  Provost of Dundee                  hallelujah                  hallelujee.

   Four Dundee worthies independently composed a line each in the following commemorative ode, with the final contributor plainly scraping the barrel bottom:

Here lies the Provost of Dundee,here lies him, here lies he’hi-diddledum, hi-diddle-dee,A, B, C, D, E, F, G.

   Rivalry between neighbouring places has been mentioned before and the following rhyme records the supposed merits – or vices – of four north-west parishes, doubtless inspired by competing markets:

Theivin Glen Isla, Leein Lintrathen.Cursin Kingow-drum, an Kind Kirriemuir.

   In the upland parish of Menmuir is a place named Deuchar, once home to a family of that name who were hereditary enemies with the Laird of Glenogil.  The first of the family was a huge  man with six fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot.  He wielded the famous family heirloom, the Deuchar Sword, to great effect against the Danes at the Battle of Barry. (Another tradition says that the first Deuchar of Deuchar gained those lands for killing a wild boar in the Pass of the Noran Water, where the Coorford - or Coortford - Bridge was later built, in the early 11th century.)  The sword was used again by another Deuchar at Bannockburn, which led to these words being inscribed on the blade:

Da Deuguhyre his swerde,at Bannockburn I served the Brus,of quhilk the Englis had no russ.

   This weapon had great significance for the Deuchar family (who claimed descent from a second son of Gilchrist, Earl of Angus. The earliest actual traces of the family are from the 14th century.) If the sword were ever to leave Scotland, it was said that disaster would befall their kindred.   The sword was used again at the Battle of Harlaw in the 15th century. In this fray the William Deuchar was slain and his servant found his master with the iconic blade so tightly grasped in his swollen, dead hand that he had to cut it off at the wrist to carry the weapon home.  The family was distraught when, in 1745, the Laird of Glenogil (Lyon of Easter Ogil) carried away their talisman after swearing that he was about to go and join the Jacobites and would either have the sword or the best horse in Deuchar's stable.  The Deuchars buried their talisman in a corn stack, but their enemy discovered it.   He sacrilegiously shortened the blade to make it easier to wield and was seen parading it around Brechin.   It was later returned in exchange for a large sum of money and certain conditions. This tradition is somewhat garbled and may be connected that the Deuchars' loyalties had transferred from the Stuarts to the Hanoverians and they were unwilling to accompany their feudal superior Lyon into battle.  In lie of accompanying him they were obliged to send a man with their best weapon to him to demonstrate their continuing loyalty.    The last Laird of Deucar passed it to a relative in Edinburgh and it found its way into the armoury there before eventually, allegedly ended up in the collection of the Angus Folk Museum.  Another tradition says that the sword was held for a time in the Castle of Coull, Aberdeenshire.  Deuchar of that Ilk remained in possession of that place until 1815, when the last of the family became insolvent and emigrated to Australia and the estate was passed to trustees. One of the last prominent members of the family was Alexander Deuchar (1777-1845), who revived the Scottish Knights Templars.

   Braikie Castle, Kinnell parish, was built by the Frasers in 1581 and in 1650 it passed to a branch of the Douglasses, then later to the Earls of Panmure.  By 1760 the castle was unoccupied.  A century later a housekeeper named Castle Jean would show interested parties around the building.  When asked when the castle was built she would usually respond with this rhymed reply:

Be it cheap or be it dear,This house was biggit in ae year.

Jean would sometimes vary this with another ditty:

Be the meal cheap or be it dear,Braikie Frizel was biggit in ae year.

   Several hapless Angus brides have met wit untimely ends which are remembered in local tradition.  At Gella, by the South Esk in Glen Clova, is a large stone lined circle filled with moss.  Locals knew this as the Bride’s Coggie, and there are several versions about how it got its name.  One says that a bride returning from her honeymoon was thrown from her gig into a marsh at this spot and was drowned.  Another theory says that the coggie was planted with corn in the expensive days before the repeal of the Corn Laws.  ‘Coggie’ means a small tub or bowl.  A similar word, ‘coggly’, signifies unsteady or easily overturned, which may have inspired the upset coach tale.  It appears as if the circle once contained stagnant water, a necessity for resetting flax.
   Eastward over the hills, near the summit of Inchgrundle Hill, is a small hollow called the Bride’s Bed.  A newly married woman lost her life here, though the manner of her death is not now remembered.  It is likely her end was violent because the ghost of a wretched girl haunts this lonely spot:

But still, at the darksome hour of nightwhen lurid phantoms fly,a hapless bride in weeds of whiteillumes the lake and sky.

   Some of the simplest rhymes are also the most poignant, in that they are merely a collection of mellifluous place-names, in some cases of places which are no longer there or which survive as names of maps only, devoid now of human habitation.  Here is one example, which one imagines might have been composed by the six-fingered warrior mentioned above:

                              Deuchar sits on Deuchar Hill,
                              lookin doon on Birnie Mill,                              the Whirrock an the Whoggle,                              the Burnroot an Ogle,                              Quiechstrath an Turnafachie,                              Waterhaughs an Drumlieharrie.


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