Location: Kintyre
gaelic culture

The helpful house spirit

Mrs Higginson recorded beliefs about supernatural beings like fairies, water horses carrying the unwary down into lochs, witches taking on the shape of hares and putting the evil eye on cattle, and giving tips as to how to avoid evil spirits (carry a darning needle stuck in your bonnet). These sorts of stories were common to many other parts of Scotland. A less common theme is the helpful house spirit, a bit like the Cara ‘brounie’. Skipness Castle had one, called the Gruagach. To quote Mrs Higginson: The Gruagach means in English the Hairy Nymph this on account of her beautiful golden tresses also called the Green Lady on account of her green gown. This green lady is supposed to have come with the Campbells and to have left with the Campbells. There is not the slightest doubt that there was such a creature in the castle at that time.

There was a woman living in a room at the castle who looked after the hens, etc. She was a widow named Mrs Barton this Mrs Carton used to tell how the green lady used to help her feed the hens in the evening, always in the evening or at night she was never seen till after sunset she used to put her head on Mrs Barton’s knee and get her hair combed she was very small just like a child in stature who wore a green silk dress. She had neither shoes nor stockings on; she would help Mrs Barton to tidy up her house. When the Campbells would be away from home, a night or two before they returned, the green lady would be working in the house setting it in order for their homecoming. Whether the servants had a word of the Campbells coming or not, when they heard the green lady working, they knew the Campbells were not far off.

The Campbells were in the habit of giving a ball at New Year time. At one of these balls, a brother of Mrs Barton attended to help the servants, but early in the evening he felt unwell, and he went to bed in Mrs Barton’s room every one seems to have been too busy no one looked near him until the ball was over and then he was found nearly dead in bed. The green lady nearly killed [him] for being in Mrs Barton’s bed; she was boxing him all night they took him away to his home in Lochranza. He never recovered from the thrashing the green lady gave him and died very shortly after.

This contribution was made by Christine Ritchie. You can read more about Mrs Higginson's recorded beliefs by contacting the University of Edinburgh's School of Scottish Studies Archives.

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