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A Few Tales Relating to the Kelpie or Each-Uisce

The water kelpie was a creature that lived in the deep pools of rivers and streams. He had commonly the form of a black horse. He appeared at night, and often and often have travellers, in passing through fords or over old bridges, heard him go splash, splash through the water. At times he approached the traveller, and by some means or other induced him to mount him. He rushed to his pool, and carried the unsuspecting victim to his death. At times he would come night after night to a farmsteading or a sheeling, and cause great fear and much annoyance. He might be caught, and when caught he could be made to do much heavy work. He who was to catch him had to watch for an opportunity of casting over his head a bridle, on which had been made the sign of the cross. When this was done the creature became quite quiet.

Waltar Gregor, Folk-lore of the North-East of Scotland, 1881

Cover art by Camelid on Deviant Art

Scotland

A long time after these things a servant girl went with the farmer’s herd of cattle to graze them at the side of a loch, and she sat herself down near the bank. There, in a little while, what should she see walking towards her but a man, who asked her to brush his hair. She said she was willing enough to do him that service, and so he laid his head on her knee, and she began to array his locks, as Neapolitan damsels also do by their swains. But soon she got a great fright, for growing amongst the man’s hair, she found a great quantity of liobhagach an locha, a certain slimy green weed that abounds in such lochs, fresh, salt, and brackish. The girl knew that if she screamed there was an end of her, so she kept her terror to herself, and worked away till the man fell asleep as he was with his head on her knee. Then she untied her apron strings, and slid the apron quietly on to the ground with its burden upon it, and then she took her feet home as fast as it was in her heart. Now when she was getting near the houses, she gave a glance behind her, and there she saw her friend coming after her in the likeness of a horse.

John Francis Campbell, Popular Tales of the West Highlands, 1860 – 62

Camelid on Deviant Art

Moulion na Fuadh. One of John Bethune’s forebears, who lived in Tubernan, laid a bet that he would seize the kelpie of Moulion na Fuadh and bring her bound to the inn at Inveran. He procured a brown, right-sided, maned horse, and a brown black-muzzled dog; and by the help of the latter, having secured the Vough, he tied her on the horse behind him, and galloped away. She was very fierce, but he kept her quiet by pinning her down with an awl and a needle. Crossing the burn at the further side of Loch Midgal, she became so restless that he stuck the shoemaker’s and the tailor’s weapons into her with great violence. She cried out, “Pierce me with the awl, but keep that slender hair-like slave (the needle) out of me. When he reached the clachan of Inveran, where his companions were anxiously waiting for him, he called to them to come out and see the Vough. Then they came out with lights, but as the light fell upon her she dropt off, and fell to earth like the remains of a fallen star—a small lump of jelly. (These jellies are often seen on the moors ; dropt stars resembling the medusie on the shore. They are white, do not seem to be attached to the ground, and are always attributed to the stars. They are common on moors, and I do not know what they are. The same creature, or one of her kind. —J. F. C.)

John Francis Campbell, Popular Tales of the West Highlands, 1860 – 62

Sammalsiipiart on Deviant Art

There is a small island off the Rhinns of Islay, where there is a light-house now, but which was formerly used for grazing cattle only. There is a fearful tide, and it is dangerous to cross the sound in bad weatherA man and a woman had charge of a large herd of cattle there, and the woman was left alone one night, for the man had to go to the mainland and a storm coming on, he could not return. She sat at her peat fire in her cabin when suddenly she heard a sound as of living creatures all about the hut. She knew her fellow servant could not have returned and thinking it might be the cows, she glanced at the window which she had left open. She saw a pair of large round eyes fastened upon her malignantly, and heard a low whining laugh. The door opened and an unearthly creature walked in. He was very tall and large, rough and hairy, with no skin upon his face but a dark livid covering. He advanced to the fire and asked the girl what her name was. She answered confidently as she could, “Mise mi Fhin” me, myself. The creature seized the girl and she threw a large ladle full of boiling water about him, and he yelling, bounded out. A great noise ensued of wild unearthly tongues, questioning their yelling companion as to what was the matter with him and who had hurt him. “Mise mi Fhin, Mise mi Fhin – me, myself, me myself” shouted the savage; and thereupon arose a great shout of laughter. No sooner did that pass than the girl rushed out in terror, turned one of the cows that was lying outside from its resting place and having made a circle about her, lay there herself. The storm raged, and she heard the rushing of many footsteps, loud laughter and sounds of strife. When morning dawned, she was safe, protected by the consecrated circle but the cow she had disturbed and lay next to was dead.

John Francis Campbell, Popular Tales of the West Highlands, 1860 – 62

Johan Egerkrans

In the 2007 Scottish language film Seachd: The Inaccessible Pinnacle, there is a lovely water kelpie scene where a man coaxes a young girl, first as a human and then as a horse to ride on his back…

Ireland

It is said that long ago there lived a water horse in Glencar Lake. He often used to come up and graze on the shore. This evening when the sun was going down, the horse came up to eat the grass on the shore. A man was coming with his horse to the lake for a drink. The man saw the horse and knew he was a water horse. He have his own horse a drink, then linking the two horses by the leads he led them away with him. This strange horse stayed with the man for a long time. The one evening the man brought the two horses to the lake for a drink. But when the water horse saw the lake , he made a plunge. The man held the reins tight, but the horse jumped on top of the man and killed him dead. The horse was never seen after.

Sarah Branley, County Sligo, The Schools’ Collection, Volume 0157, Page 202

Artist unknown

One time long ago two men were out on Glencar Lake on a float made of logs of wood tied together. They were out in the middle of the lake when a water horse appeared on top of the water and dragged the float and the men under the water. Their fishing rods and the float were found on the shore of the lake, but it was supposed that it was a water horse that killed them. This water horse was doing great damage to the people. One day he was followed out in the lake and the water horse appeared again over the water. He was immediately shot and his body was washed in on the shore. It is said that there are nine people to be drowned in Glencar Lake.

Pat Harte, County Sligo, The Schools’ Collection, Volume 0157, Page 207

Artist unknown

There is supposed to be a water-horse in Ballinlough lake long ago. They are supposed to be of different colours some black and white and others red and white. They are supposed to come up every evening eating grass by the side of the lake. Sometimes also they swim up the river. One evening when a man who was living near the lake came for his cows he saw a strange black and white pony grazing with the cows. It was a water horse but the man thought it was a stray horse. The man went up to him and went riding on him. He tried to drive him out on the road but he turned round and sprang into the water. When he got into the water he turned over on his back and the man was thrown into the water. The man swam to the bank and went home with his cows. When he went home his wife asked him what happened him. He told her about the strange pony that was with the cows. She told him that it was a water-horse and that he was lucky he did not eat him.

John Lavelle, County Mayo, The Schools’ Collection, Volume 0137F, Page 16_018

France

Three brothers ventured out late on All Hallows Eve (All Saints Day). Their grandmother warned them not to go, for there were surely witches abound, but they didn’t listen. The youngest was determined on finding and picking wild thyme and blackberries when suddenly a black pony came upon them. They figured it was the neighbors and the eldest brother insisted on taking it back to the stable himself and one by one all of the brother’s jumped atop the pony’s back. Despite their size, it galloped along easily. The wind suddenly rose and instead of heading towards the local horse pond they assumed the pony was headed, it cantered steadily towards the sea-shore. The boys pulled and tugged in vain to try to change the ponies course but it was to no avail. The pony lunged into the foaming billows as it approached the sea, drowning all three. As the waves covered their heads they cried out “The cursed little black pony is bewitched. If we had only listened…” The next morning, their grandmother was distraught at their disappearance and went out to try and find her grandchildren. She looked high and low but could not find them anywhere and in immense grief she headed towards home. As she was walking, bowed with grief, she saw a little black pony coming towards her, springing and curveting in every direction. When it got quite near her it neighed loudly, and galloped past her so quickly that in a moment it was out of her sight.

Andrew Lang (Scottish story teller and collector), “The Goblin Pony”, The Grey Fairy Book, 1900

Checanty on Deviant Art

Iceland

The Icelandic Neck, Kelpie, or Water-Spirit, is called Nickur, Ninnir, and Hnikur, one of the Eddaic names of Odin. He appears always in the form of a fine apple-grey horse on the sea-shore; but he may be distinguished from ordinary horses by the circumstance of his hoofs being reversed. If any one is so foolish as to mount him, he gallops off and plunges into the sea with his burden. He can, however, be caught in a particular manner, tamed, and made to work. 

Thomas Keightley, The Fairy Mythology: Northern Islands, 1828


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