ST MICHAEL is spoken of as 'brian Michael,' god Michael.
'Bu tu gaisgeach na misnich
Dol air astar na fiosachd,
Is tu nach siubhladh air criplich,
Ghabh thu steud briain Micheil,
E gun chabstar na shliopan,
Thu mharcachd air iteig,
Leum thu thairis air fiosrachadh Naduir.'
(Thou wert the warrior of courage
Going on the journey of prophecy,
Thou wouldst not travel on a cripple,
Thou didst take the steed of the god Michael,
He was without bit in his mouth,
Thou didst ride him on the wing,
Thou didst leap over the knowledge of Nature.)
St Michael is the Neptune of the Gael. He is the patron saint of the sea, and of maritime lands, of boats and boatmen, of horses and horsemen throughout the West. As patron saint of the sea St Michael had temples dedicated to him round the coast wherever Celts were situated. Examples of these are Mount St Michael in Brittany and in Cornwall, and Aird Michael in South and in North Uist, and elsewhere. Probably Milton had this phase of St Michael's character in view. As patron saint of the land St Michael is represented riding a milk-white steed, a three-pronged spear in his right hand and a three-cornered shield in his left. The shield is inscribed 'Quis ut Deus,' a literal translation of the Hebrew Mi-cha-el. Britannia is substituted for the archangel on sea and St George on land.
On the 29th of September a festival in honour of St Michael is held throughout the Western Coasts and Isles. This is much the most imposing pageant and much the most popular demonstration of the Celtic year. Many causes conduce to this - causes which move the minds and the hearts of the people to their utmost tension. To the young the Day is a day of promise, to the old a day of fulfilment, to the aged a day of retrospect. It is a day when pagan cult and Christian doctrine meet and mingle like the lights and shadows on their own Highland hills.
The Eve of St Michael is the eve of bringing in the carrots, of baking the 'struan,' of killing the lamb, of stealing the horses. The Day of St Michael is the Day of the early mass, the day of the sacrificial lamb, the day of the oblation 'struan,' the day of the distribution of the lamb, the day of the distribution of the 'struan,' the day of the pilgrimage to the burial-ground of their fathers, the day of the burial-ground service, the day of the burial-ground circuiting, the day of giving and receiving the carrots with their wishes and acknowledgments, and the day of the 'oda' - the athletics of the men and the racing of the horses And the Night of Michael is the night of the dance and the song, of the merry-making, of the love-making, and of the love-gifts.
Several weeks previously the people begin to speak of St Michael's Day, and to prepare for St Michael's Festival. Those concerned count whose turn it will be to guard the crops on St Michael's Day and to circuit the townland on St Michael's Night. The young men upon whom these duties fall arrange with old men to take their place on these occasions. As the time approaches the interest intensifies, culminating among the old in much bustle, and among the young in keen excitement.
Three plants which the people call carrots grow in Uist - the 'daucus carota,' the 'daucus maritimus,' and the 'conium.' The 'daucus carota' is the original of the cultivated carrot. The 'daucus maritimus' is a long slender carrot, much like the parsnip in appearance and in flavour, and is rare in the British Isles. The 'conium,' hemlock, resembles the carrot, for which it is occasionally mistaken. It is hard, acrid, and poisonous.
Some days before the festival of St Michael the women and girls go to the fields and plains of the townland to procure carrots. The afternoon of the Sunday immediately preceding St Michael's Day is specially devoted to this purpose, and on this account is known as 'Domhnach Curran' - Carrot Sunday. When the soil is soft and friable, the carrots can be pulled out of the ground without digging. When, however, the soil is hard, a space is dug to give the hand access to the root. This space is made in the form of an equal-sided triangle, technically called 'torcan,' diminutive of 'torc,' a cleft. The instrument used is a small mattock of three prongs, called 'tri-meurach,' three-fingered, 'sliopag,' 'sliobhag.' The three-sided 'torcan' is meant to typify the three-sided shield, and the three-fingered 'sliopag,' the trident of St Michael, and possibly each to symbolise the Trinity. The many brightly~lad figures moving to and fro, in and out, like the figures in a kaleidoscope, are singularly pretty and picturesque. Each woman intones a rune to her own tune and time irrespective of those around her. The following fragment was intoned to me in a soft, subdued voice by a woman who had gathered carrots eighty years previously:-
'Torcan torrach, torrach, torrach,
Sonas curran corr orm,
Michael mil a bhi dha m'chonuil,
Bride gheal dha m'chonradh.
Piseach linn gach piseach,
Piseach dha mo bhroinn,
Piseach linn gach piseach,
Piseach dha mo chloinn.'
(Cleft fruitful, fruitful, fruitful,
Joy of carrots surpassing upon me,
Michael the brave endowing me,
Bride the fair be aiding me.
Progeny pre-eminent over every progeny,
Progeny on my womb,
Progeny pre-eminent over every progeny,
Progeny on my progeny.)
Should a woman find a forked carrot, she breaks out into a more exultant strain that brings her neighbours round to see and to admire her luck.
'Fhorca shona, shona, shona,
Conuil curran corr orm
Sonas curran mor dhomh.'
(Fork joyful, joyful, joyful,
Fork of great carrot to me,
Endowment of carrot surpassing upon me,
Joy of great carrot to me.)
There is much rivalry among the women who shall have most and best carrots. They carry the carrots in a bag slung from the waist, called 'crioslachan,' little girdle, from 'crios,' a girdle. When the 'earrasaid' was worn, the carrots were carried in its ample folds. The women wash the carrots and tie them up in small bunches, each of which contains a 'glac,' handful. The bunches are tied with three-ply thread, generally scarlet, and put in pits near the houses and covered with sand till required.
The people do not retire to rest on the Eve of St Michael. The women are engaged all night on baking 'struain,' on household matters, and on matters personal to themselves and to others, while the men are out and in watching their horses in the fields and stables. It is permissible on this night to appropriate a horse, wherever found and by whatever means, on which to make the pilgrimage and to perform the circuiting.
'Meirle eich na Feill Micheil,
Meirle nach do dhiteadh riamh.'
(Theft of horse of the Feast of Michael,
Theft that never was condemned.)
The people act upon this ancient privilege and steal horses without compunction, owners and stealers watching and outwitting and circumventing one another. It is obligatory to leave one horse with the owner to carry himself and his wife on the pilgrimage and to make the circuiting, but this may be the worst horse in the townland. No apology is offered or expected for this appropriation provided the horse be returned uninjured; and even if it be injured, no adequate redress is obtained. The Eve of St Michael is thus known as 'feasgar faire nan steud,' the evening of watching the steeds; 'feasgar furachaidh nan each,' the evening of guarding the horses; 'oidhche crothaidh nan capull,' the night of penning the mares; 'oidhche gIasadh nan each,' the night of locking the horses - hence also 'glasadh na Feill Micheil,' the locking of the Feast of Michael. A male lamb, without spot or blemish, is slain. This lamb is called 'Uan Micheil,' the Michael Lamb.
A cake called 'struan Micheil' is made of all the cereals grown, on the farm during the year. It represents the fruits of the field, as the lamb represents the fruits of the flocks. Oats, bere, and rye are the only cereals grown in the Isles. These are fanned on the floor, ground in the quern, and their meal in equal parts used in the struan. The struan should contain a peck of meal, and should be baked on 'uinicinn,' a lamb-skin. The meal is moistened with sheep's milk, the sheep being deemed the most sacred animal. For this purpose the ewes are retained in milk till St Michaels Eve, after which they are allowed to remain in the hill and to run dry. The struan is baked by the eldest daughter of the family, guided by her mother, and assisted by her eager sisters. As she moistens the meal with the milk the girl softly says-
'Ruth agus rath an treo,
Run Mhicheil, dion an Teor.'
(Progeny and prosperity of family,
Mystery of Michael, protection of Trinity.)
A 'leac struain,' struan flag, brought by the young men of the family from the moorland during the day, is securely set on edge before the fire, and the 'struan ' is set on edge against it. The fire should be of 'crionach caon,' sacred fagots, such as the fagots of the oak, the rowan, the bramble, and others. The blackthorn, wild fig, trembling aspen, and other 'crossed' wood are avoided. As the 'struan' gains consistency, three successive layers of a batter of cream, eggs, and butter are laid on each side alternately. The batter ought to be put on with three tail feathers of a cockerel of the year, but in Uist this is generally done with 'badan murain,' a small bunch of bent-grass. This cake is called 'struan treo,' family struan, 'struan mor,' large struan, and 'struan comachaidh,' communal struan. Small struans are made for individual members of the family by mothers, daughters, sisters, and trusted servants. These are known as 'struain beag,' little struans; 'struain cloinne,' children's struans, and by the names of those for whom they are made. If a member of the family be absent or dead, a struan is made in his or her name. This struan is shared among the family and special friends of the absent one in his or her name, or given to the poor who have no corn of their own. In mixing the meal of the individual struan, the woman kneading it mentions the name of the person for whom it is being made.
'Ruth agus rath Dhomhnuill,
Run Mhichell, dion an Domhnaich.'
(Progeny and prosperity to Donald,
Mystery of Michael, shielding of the Lord.)
The individual struans of a family are uniform in size but irregular in form, some being three-cornered, symbolic of the Trinity; some five, symbolic of the Trinity, with Mary and Joseph added; some seven, symbolic of the seven mysteries; some nine, symbolic of the nine archangels: and some round, symbollc of eternity. Various ingredients are introduced into the small struans, as cranberries, bilberries, brambleberries, carrayway seed, and wild honey. Those who make them and those for whom they are made vie with their friends who shall have the best and most varied ingredients. Many cautions are given to her who is making the struan to take exceptional care of it. Ills and evils innumerable would befall herself and her house should any mishap occur to the struan. Should it break before being fired, it betokens ill to the girl baking it; if after being fired and before being used, to the household. Were the struan flag to fall and the struan with it, the omen is full of evil augury to the family. A broken struan is not used. The 'fallaid,' dry meal remaining on the bakingboard after the struan is made, is put into a 'mogan,' footless stocking, and dusted over the flocks on the following day - being the Day of Michael - to bring them ' piseach agus pailteas agus pronntachd,' progeny and plenty and prosperity, and to ward from them 'suileachd agus ealtraidh agus dosgaidh,' evil-eye, mischance, and murrain. Occasionally the ' fallaid' is preserved for a year and a day before being used.
On the morning of the Feast of Michael all within reach go to early mass.They take their struans with them to church to be blessed of the 'pears eaglais,' priest. At this festal service the priest exhorts the people to praise their guardian angel Michael for his leading and their Father God for His corn and wool, fruits of the field and fruits of the flocks, which He has bestowed on them, while the foodless and the fatherless among them are commended to the fatherhood of God and to the care of His people.
On returning from mass the people take the 'biadh Micheil,' Michael food, 'biadh maidne Micheil,' Michael morning food. The father of the family places the struan 'air bord co gile ri cailc na fuinn no ri sneachda nam beann ' on a board as white as the chalk of the rock or the snow of the hill. He then takes
'Sgian gheur, ghlan,
Gun smal, gun smur,
Gun sal, gun sur,
Gun mhur, gun mheirg,'
(A knife keen, true,
Without stain, without dust,
Without smear, without flaw,
Without grime, without rust,)
and having made the sign of the cross of Christ on the tablet of his face, the man cuts the struan into small sections, retaining in the parts the form of the whole. And he cuts up the lamb into small pieces. He places the board with the bread and the flesh on the centre of the table. Then the family, standing round, and holding a bit of struan in the left hand and a piece of lamb in the right, raise the 'Iolach Micheil,' triumphal song of Michael, in praise of Michael, who guards and guides them, and in praise of God, who gives them food and clothing, health, and blessing withal. The man and his wife put struan into one 'coisan,' beehive basket, and lamb into another, and go out to distribute them among the poor of the neighbourhood who have no fruits nor flocks themselves. Nor is this all. 'Ta e iumachaidh gun toireadh gach tuathanach anns a bhaile La na Feill Micheil peic mine, ceathramh struain, ceathramh uanail, ceathramh caise agus platar ime dha na buichd, agus dha na deoiridh, agus dha na diolacha-deirce truagha, agus dha na diblidh agus dha na dilleachdain gun chli, gun treoir, cruthaichte ann an cruth an Athar shiorriudh. Agus tha an duine a toir so seachad air mhiodh Mhicheil mar nasga deirce do Dhia treun nan dul a thug dha ni agus ciob, ith agus iodh, buaidh agus pais, fas agus cinneas a chum agus gu'm bi e roimh anam diblidh truagh an trath theid e null. Agus togaidh na buichd agus na deoiridh agus na diolacha-deirce truagha, agus na dilleachdain gun chli, gun treoir, agus togaidh na truaghain an Iolach Micheil a toir cliu agus moladh do Mhicheil min-gheal nam buadh agus do'n Athair uile-bheannaichte, uile-chumhachdach, a beannachadh an duine agus na mnatha 'n am mic agus 'n an nighean 'n an cuid 'n an cliu 'n an crannachar 'n an ni agus 'n an ciob, ann an toradh an tan agus ann an toradh an talamhan. Is iad so am muinntir ris an canair "na feara fiala," "na feara cneasda," agus "na mnathan matha" "na mnathan coire," a ta deanamh comhnadh agus trocair air na boichd, agus air na deoiridh, air na diblidh, agus air na dimbidh, air na diolacha-deirce truagha agus air na dilleachdain gun chli, gun treoir, gun chul-tacsa, gun lorg bhrollaich, gun sgora-cuil, cruthaichte ann an cruth an Athar uile-chruthachaidh. Agus tha ainglean gile-ghil De agus an cas ri barracha biod, an suil ri bunnacha bachd, an cluas ri fonnacha fuinn, an sgiathan a sgaireanaich an colann a critheanaich a feitheamh ri fios a chur mu'n ghniomh le buille dhe 'n sgeith a chon Righ na Cathair shiorruidh.'
'It is proper that every husbandman in the townland should give, on the day of the St Michael Feast, a peck of meal, a quarter of struan, a quarter of lamb, a quarter of cheese, and a platter of butter to the poor and forlorn, to the despised and dejected, to the alms-deserving, and to the orphans without pith, without power, formed in the image of the Father everlasting. And the man is giving this on the beam of Michael as an offering to the great God of the elements who gave him cattle and sheep, bread and corn, power and peace, growth and prosperity, that it may be before his abject, contrite soul when it goes thither. And the miserable, the poor, the tearful, the alms-deserving helpless ones, and the orphan, will raise the triumphal song of Michael, giving fame and laud to Michael, the fair hero of power, and to the Father all-blessed and powerfull, blessing the man and the woman in their sons and in their daughters, in their means, fame, and lot, in their cattle, and in their sheep, in the produce of their herds, and in the produce of their lands. These are the people who are called "the humane men," "the compassionate men," and "the good women," "the generous women," who are taking mercy and compassion on the poor, and on the tearful, on the dejected and the despised, on the miserable alms-deserving, and on the orphans without pith, without power, without support, without breast-staff, without leaning-rod, formed in the image of the Father all-creative. And the surpassingly white angels of God, with their font on tiptoe, their eye on the horizon, their ear on the ground, their wings flapping, their bodies trembling, are waiting to send announcement of the deed with a beat of their wings to the King of the throne everlasting.'
After the father and mother have distributed their gifts to the poor, the family mount their horses and set out on their pilgrimage to perform the circuiting of St Michael's burying-ground. None remain at home save the very old and the very young, to whom is assigned for the day the duty of tending the sheep, herding the cattle, and guarding the corn. The husband and wife ride on one horse, with probably a boy astride before the father and a girl sideways beside the mother, filling up the measure of the horse's capacity. A girl sits 'culag' behind her brother, or occasionally behind the brother of another girl, with her arm round him to steady her. A little girl sits 'bialag' in front of a brother, with his hand lovingly round her waist, while with his other hand he guides the horse. A little brother sits 'culag' behind his elder brother, with his two arms round him. The people of the different hills, glens, islands, and townlands join the procession on the way, and all travel along together, the crowded cavalcade gaily clad in stuffs and stripes and tartans whose fineness of texture and brilliancy of colouring are charming to see, is impossible to describe. The air is full of salutations and cordialities. Even the whinnying, neighing, restive horses seem to know and to feel that this is the Day of their patron saint the holy archangel.
'Micheal mil nan steuda geala
Choisin cios air dragon fala.'
(The valiant Michael of the white steeds
Who subdued the dragon of blood.)
On reaching their destination the people crowd into and round the simple prayer-house. The doors and windows of the little oratory are open, and the people kneeling without join those kneeling within in earnest supplication that all may go well with them for the day. And commending themselves and their horses to the leading of the valiant, glorious archangel of the cornered shield and flaming sword, the people remount their horses to make 'cuartachadh a chlaidh,' the circuiting of the burial ground. The great crowd starts from the east and follows the course of the sun in the name of God, in the name of Christ, in the name of Spirit. The priest leads the way tiding on a white horse, his grey hair and white robe waving in the autumn breeze. Should there be more than one priest present they ride abreast. Should there be higher dignitaries they ride in front of, or between the priests. The people follow in a column from two to ten abreast. Those on horseback follow immediately behind the priest, those on foot behind these. The fathers of the different townlands are stationed at intervals on either side of the procession, to maintain regularity and to guard against accidents. All are imbued with a befitting reverence for the solemnity of the proceedings and of the occasion. Families, friends, and neighbours try to keep together in the processional circuiting. As they move from left to right the people raise the 'Iolach Micheil,' song of Michael the victorious, whose sword is keen to smite, and whose arm is strong to save. At the end of the circuit the 'culag' gives to her 'bialag,' 'glac churran,' a handful of carrots, saying:-
'Ruth agus ruth air do laighe's eirigh.'
(Progeny and prosperity on thy lying and rising.)
The 'bialag' acknowledges the gift in one of the many phrases common on the occasion:-
'Piseach agus pais air an lamh a thug.
Por agus pais dha mo ghradh a thug.
Piseach agus pailteas gun an airc na d'chomhnuidh.
Banns agus brioghas dha mo nighinn duinn.
Baireas agus buaidh dha mo luaidh a thug.'
(Progeny and peace on the hand that gave.
Issue and peace on my love who gave.
Progeny and plenty without scarcity in thy dwelling.
Wifehood and motherhood on my brown maid.
Endowment and prosperity to my love who gave.)
Greetings, courtesies, and gifts are exchanged among the people, many of whom have not met since they met at the circuiting. The most prized courtesy, however, is a 'culag' round the burial-ground, and the most prized gift is a carrot with its customary wishes and acknowledgments. Those who have no horses readily obtain them to make the circuiting, the consideration of those who have for those who have not being native and habitual.
Having performed the professional pilgrimage round the graves of their fathers, the people hasten to the 'oda ' - the scene of the athletics of the men and the racing of the horses. The games and races excite much interest. The riders in the races ride without bonnet, without shoes, clothed only in a shirt and 'triubhais bheag,' small trews like football trousers. All ride without saddle, some without bridle, guiding and driving their horses with 'steamhag chaol chruaidh,' a hard slender tangle in each hand. Occasionally girls compete with one another and sometimes with men. They sit on either side as may be most convenient in mounting. They have no saddle, and how they retain their seat is inconceivable. Some circuiting goes on all day, principally among the old and the young - the old teaching the young the mysteries of the circuiting and the customs of the olden times. Here and there young men and maidens ride about and wander away, converting the sandy knolls and grassy dells of the fragrant 'machair' into Arcadian plains and Eden groves.
On the night of St Michael a 'cuideachd,' ball, is held in every townland. The leading piper selects the place for the ball, generally the house of largest size and of evenest floor. Every man present contributes a sixpence, or its equivalent in farm produce, usually in grain, towards paying the piper if he be a married man; if not, he accepts nothing. Several pipers, fiddlers, and players of other instruments relieve one another during the night. The small bets won at the 'oda' during the day are spent at the ball during the night, no one being allowed to retain his luck.
The women put their bunches of carrots into white linen bags with the mark of the owner. Having filled their 'crioslachain,' they leave the bags in some house convenient to the 'taigh dannsa,' dance-house. As their 'crioslachain' become empty during the night they replenish them from the 'falachain,' hidden store. When a woman comes into the dance-house after refilling her 'crioslachain,' she announces her entrance with a rhyme, the refrain of which is-
'S ann agam fein a bhiodh na currain,
Ga be co bhuinneadh bhuam iad.'
(It is I myself that have the carrots,
Whoever he be that would win them from me.)
'S ann agam fein a bhiodh an ulaidh,
Ge be 'n curaidh bheireadh bhuam e.'
(It is I myself that have the treasure,
Whoso the hero could take them from me.)
At the circuiting by day and at the ball at night, youths and maidens exchange simple gifts in token of good feeling. The girls give the men bonnets, hose, garters, cravats, purses, plaids, and other things of their own making, and the men give the girls brooches of silver, brass, bronze, or copper, knives, scissors, snoods, combs, mirrors, and various other things. Some of these gifts are mentioned in the following verses:-
'Thug mo leannan dhomh sgian bheag
A ghearradh am meangan goid,
A ghearradh am bog's an cruaidh,
Saoghal buan dh' an laimh a thug.
Gheall mo leaman dhomh-sa stiom
Gheall, agus braiste's cir,
'S gheall mise coinneamh ris
Am bun a phris mu'n eireadh grian.
Gheall mo leannan dhomh-sa sgathan
Anns am faicinn m'aille fein,
Gheall, agus breid is fainne,
Agus clarsach bhinn nan teud.
Gheall e sid dhomh's buaile bha,
Agus falaire nan steud,
Agus birlinn bheannach bhan,
Readhadh slan thar chuan nam beud.
Mile beannachd, mile buaidh
Dha mo luaidh a dh'fhalbh an de,
Thug e dhomh-sa 'n gealladh buan,
Gum b'e Bhuachalll-san Mac Dhe.'
My lover gave to me a knife
That would cut the sapling withe,
That would cut the soft and hard,
Long live the hand that gave.
My lover promised me a snood,
Ay, and a brooch and comb,
And I promised, by the wood,
To meet him at rise of sun.
My lover promised me a mirror
That my beauty I might see,
Yes, and a coif and ring,
And a dulcet harp of chords.
He vowed me those and a fold of kine,
And a palfrey of the steeds,
And a barge, pinnacled white,
That would safely cross the perilous seas.
A thousand blessings, a thousand victories
To my lover who left me yestreen,
He gave to me the promise lasting,
Be his Shepherd God's own Son.)
The song and the dance, the mirth and the merriment, are continued all night, many curious scenes being acted, and many curious dances performed, some of them in character. These scenes and dances are indicative of far-away times, perhaps of far-away climes. They are evidently symbolic. One dance is called 'Cailleach an Dudain,' carlin of the mill-dust. This is a curious character-dance. The writer got it performed for him several times.
It is danced by a man and a woman. The man has a rod in his right hand, variously called 'slachdan druidheachd,' druidic wand, 'slachdan geasachd,' magic wand. The man and the woman gesticulate and attitudinise before One another, dancing round and round, in and out, crossing and recrossing, changing and exchanging places. The man flourishes the wand over his own head and over the head of the woman, whom he touches with the wand, and who falls down, as if dead, at his feet. He bemoans his dead 'carlin,' dancing and gesticulating round her body. He then lifts up her left hand, and looking into the palm, breathes upon it, and touches it with the wand, Immediately the limp hand becomes alive and moves from side to side and up and down. The man rejoices, and dances round the figure on the floor. And having done the same to the right hand, and to the left and right foot in succession, they also become alive and move. But although the limbs are living, the body is still inert. The man kneels over the woman and breathes into her mouth and touches her heart with the wand. The woman comes to life and springs up, confronting the man. Then the two dance vigorously and joyously as in the first part. The tune varies with the varying phases of the dance. It is played by a piper or a fiddler, or sung as a 'port-a-bial,' mouth tune, by a looker-on, or by the performers themselves. The air is quaint and irregular, and the words are curious and archaic.
In his West Highland Tales, Iain F. Campbell of Islay mentions that he saw 'cailleach an dudain' danced in the house of Lord Stanley of Alderley. He does not say by whom it was danced, but probably it was by the gifted narrator himself. In October 1871, Mr Campbell spent some time with the writer and his wife in Uist. When driving him to Lochmaddy, at the conclusion of his stay, I mentioned that there were two famous dancers of 'cailleach an dudain' at Clachan-a-ghluip. We went to their bothy, but they were away. The neighbours told us that they were in the direction of Lochmaddy. When we reached there we went in search of them, but were unsuccessful. Some hours afterwards, as I was coming up from the shore after seeing Mr Campbell on board the packet for Dunvegan, I saw the two women racing down the hill, their long hair and short dresses flying wildly in the wind. They had heard that we had been inquiring for them. But it was too late. The packet, with Mr Campbell on board, was already hoisting her sails and heaving her anchor.
Another dance is called 'cath nan coileach,' the combat of the cocks; another,'turraban nan tunnag,' waddling of the ducks; another, 'ruidhleadh nan coileach dubha,' reeling of the black-cocks; another, 'cath nan curaidh,' contest of the warriors, where a Celtic Saul slays his thousands, and a Celtic David his tens of thousands. Many dances now lost were danced at the St Michael ball, while those that still remain were danced with much more artistic complexity. The sword-dance was performed in eight sections instead of in four, as now. The reel of Tulloch was danced in eight figures with side issues, while 'seann triubhas' contained much more acting than it does now. Many beautiful and curious songs, now lost, were sung at these balls.
The young people who have individual 'struans' give and receive and share them the night through, till sleep overcomes all. Chiefs and chieftains, tacksmen and tenants, men and women, old and young, rich and poor, mingle in the pilgrimage, in the service, in the circuiting, in the games and races, in the dancing and the merry-making. The granddame of eighty and the granddaughter of eight, the grandsire of ninety and the grandson of nine, all take much interest in the festival of St Michael. The old and the young who do not go to the ball entertain one another at their homes, exchanging 'struans' and carrots and homely gifts in token of friendship and neighbourliness. The pilgrimage, the service, the circuiting, and the games and races of the 'oda,' once so popular in the Western Isles, are now become obsolete. The last circuiting with service was performed in South Uist in 1820. It took place as usual round Cladh Mhicheil, the burial-ground of Michael, near the centre of the island. The last great 'oda ' in North Uist was in 1866, and took place on the customary spot, ' Traigh Mhoire,' the strand of Mary, on the west side of the island.
'Ach dh'fhalbh sud uile mar bhruadar,
Mar bhriseadh builgean air uachdar nan tonn.'
(But all that has gone like a vision,
Like the breaking of a bubble on the surface of the sea.)
The Michael lamb is sometimes slain, the Michael 'struan' is sometimes baked, and the carrots are occasionally gathered, but the people can give no account of their significance. Probably the lamb and the 'struan' represented the first-fruits of the flock and the fields, the circuiting and the sun-warding, ancestor-worship and sun-worship, and the carrots of the west the mandrakes of the east, 'given in the time of the wheat-harvest.'
The wives of husbandmen carried 'struans' to the castles of the chiefs, and to the houses of the gentlemen in their neighbourhood, as marks of good-will. This was one of the many links in the social chain which bound chief and clansmen, proprietor and tenant together. In the past the chiefs and gentlemen and their families joined the people in their festivals, games and dances, secular amusements and religious observances, joys and sorrows, to the great good of all and to the stability of society. In the present, as a rule, the proprietors and gentlemen of the Highlands and Islands are at the best but temporary residents, if so much, and generally strangers in blood and speech, feeling and sympathy, more prone to criticise than to help, to scoff than to sympathise. As a result, the observances of the people have fallen into disuse, to the loss of the spiritual life of the country, and of the patriotic life of the nation.
Throughout the Highlands and Islands special cakes were made on the first day of the quarter. As in the case of the 'struan,' a large cake was made for the family and smaller cakes for individual members. So far as can now be ascertained, these cakes were round in form. They were named after their dedications. That baked for the first day of spring was called 'bonnach Bride,' bannock of Bride; that for the first day ff summer, 'bonnach Bealltain,' Beltane bannock; that for the first day of autumn, 'bonnach Lunastain,' Lammas bannock; and that for the first day of winter, 'bonnach Samhthain,' Hallowtide bannock. The names of the individual cakes were rendered into diminutives to distinguish them from the family cake, while the sex of the person for whom they were intended was indicated by the termination, as 'Bridean,' masculine diminutive, 'Brideag,' feminine diminutive, after Bride; 'Bealltan,' 'Bealltag,' after Beltane; 'Luinean,' 'Luineag,' after Lammas; and 'Samhnan,' 'Samhnag,' after Hallowmas. The people repaired to the fields, glens, and corries to eat their quarter cakes. When eating them, they threw a piece over each shoulder alternately, saying: ' Here to thee, wolf, spare my sheep; there to thee, fox, spare my lambs; here to thee, eagle, spare my goats; there to thee, raven, spare my kids: here to thee, marten, spare my fowls; there to thee, harrier, spare my chickens.'
As may be seen from some of the poems, the duty of conveying the souls of the good to the abode of bliss is assigned to Michael. When the soul has parted from the body and is being weighed, the archangel of heaven and the archangel of hell preside at the beam, the former watching that the latter does not put 'cruidhean laimhe na spuir coise an coir na meidhe,' claw of hand nor talon of foot near the beam. Michael and all the archangels and angels of heaven sing songs of joy when the good in the soul outweighs the bad, while the devil howls as he retreats.