16 Jan 2016

The Fiddlers of Tomnahurich

I'm a lover of folk tales, especially ones local to where I live in the North of Scotland. Here is one from
Inverness. A classic tale of the naughtiness of fairies, who are far from being the gossamer-winged charmers we have been led to believe.  They can look more like this (if you meet him don't trust him):

The Fiddlers of Tomnahurich

Two traveling fiddle players, Farquhar Grant and Thomas Cumming had been fiddling all day in the town of Inverness but had earned very little for their efforts so that they were greatly downcast when dusk fell. They made their way, gloomily, empty-bellied and on the lookout for the cheapest lodgings available, across the oak bridge that in those days spanned the River Ness. Half way across they were stopped by a small man in a red tam-o'-shanter, green jerkin and knee breeches. ‘Come and play at my party’ he invited the two tired men and, thinking him to look quite wealthy in his smart garb, they followed him eagerly, hoping to improve their fortunes that evening.

They followed him out of the town until it was lying some way behind them and they came to a hillside. Near the top their guide stopped and opened a little door, much smaller than any door Farquhar or Thomas had ever seen before. Politely the small man ushered them inside and they found themselves in a long narrow tunnel with a warm light shining invitingly at the end. The tunnel opened out into a large hall, brightly lit by no means they could discern, and full of excited, jolly people all much the same size as their host. The fiddlers were welcomed with cries of pleasure and after ale and sweet wine was offered them for their refreshment they were exhorted to play their instruments with no more delay. In the intervals between jigs and reels they were plied with delicious food and more ale so that the evening passed swiftly and pleasantly and the two fiddlers were much happier men than they had been when they left Inverness earlier that day.

At last their guide came to them and said: ‘Dawn is near to break and you should go now to your rest.’ He took them back to the door and handed them each a bag of gold, to their enormous delight. Happily they wended their way back to the town to look now for much better lodgings than they had erstwhile hoped to inhabit.

As they entered the town they found to their discomfort that they were becoming the centre of attention. People stopped in their tracks to stare at them and laugh - or just to stare! As the ales and wines that they had imbibed through the night lost its hold on their minds their eyes began to clear and what they saw scared them half out of their wits.

Everything had changed. The bridge had changed, the church had changed, the buildings around the market square had changed. It was as though they had arrived into another town entirely, until they saw in the churchyard tombs engraved with the names of their friends and their families. Thoroughly alarmed and beginning to fear the very worst they ran into the church to find the minister. As they passed the threshold into the holy place the bags of gold they carried grew lighter in their hands and rustled instead of clinking. When they looked into the bags the gold had turned to dry brown leaves. As soon they saw this they understood what had become of them and in that moment they themselves turned to two small piles of dust before the altar.

Thomas and Farquhar the fiddlers had been playing their fiddles in the Kingdom of the Fairies, not for one night but for one hundred years.

Note: Tomnahurich is sometimes called ‘The Hill of the Fairies’ though it is more properly ‘The Hill of the Yew tree.’

Source: A chapter entitled ‘Local Folklore’ by Donald Henderson in “The Hub of the Highlands. The Book of Inverness and District” Published by Inverness Field Club Centenary Volume 195

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