tales from barra as told by the coddy (birlinn ltd, 2013) © the estate of john macpherson 1992. reproduced with permission of the licensor through plsclear.

Location: Barra, Mingulay and St Kilda
gaelic language and placenames

The story of the thrush

"One particular Saturday Iain was in Castlebay and he fell into a tremendous company which lured him away. And they were turning them out at ten, and he was making a very poor passage, Iain was. He had with him a pint of whisky. Well, coming down about Tangusdale the road was getting the better of Iain, and he was not making what you would call a passage of it at all, and so he sat down. And with the peace and quietness and the beauty of the night, he went to sleep and that carried him co the early hours of the morning, and when he woke he was in such a terrible condition that he vowed by all that was holy that he would never take another dram.

"Before he was properly awake he thought he was hearing music. Low and behold, what music was that but a thrush crooning to herself the most beautiful of music, and saying, 'Poor Iain, you-are-very-dry, you-are-very-dry, you-are-very­dry' -'Iain mac Iain, 's-tu-tha-tioram, 's-tu-tha-tioram, 's-tu-tha­tioram -several times in succession. After hearing the thrush continually coming out with the same tune he then gave a great sigh and he said to himself, 'Well, the poor thrush is telling the truth, and even though I promised myself I would not take any more drams, I had better take a drop.'

"Then he was beginning to talk to himself, saying this and the next thing, and after he got that life-saver he began to feel a little more comfortable. And all of a sudden he thought that the thrush changed the tune, and he said that the thrush's tune this time was, 'Iain, Iain, take-another-mouthful, take-another-mouthful, take­another-mouthful' -'Iain mac Iain, gabh-balgam-eile, gabh­balgam-eile, gabh-balgam-eile.'Which he did. By then there was not much left in the bottle. As he was looking at the bottle again, Iain heard the thrush begin to sing another tune, 'Iain­finish-it, Iain-finish-it, Iain-finish-it' -'Iain mac Iain, cuir-crioch-air, cuir-crioch-air, cuir-crioch-air.' And the mouthfuls continued until latterly there was not any more to take - the bottle was dry.

"Well, the next stage, he decided that he had better go back to Castlebay anyway, and he said it was when he was already half-way up that he thought he had better turn. And so Iain arrived at the pub one of the earliest customers that day."

As told by John MacPherson in his book 'Tales from Barra As Told by the Coddy' (Birlinn Ltd, 2013)

More information on visiting the area can be found here.