Clara of the Golden Hair That Went Wild With the Deer

An ancient Gaelic tale found in the unpublished notebooks of Alexander Carmichael (1832-1912)

Sorcha An Or-fhuilt A Chaidh Fiadhan Eir Na Feidh & Dhuisg Mo Leannan Mi

From Duncan Macdonald aged 86 crofter Snaisebhal South Uist 28th March 1871. A. Carmichael

The following extract was taken from the unpublished field notes of Victorian folklorist, antiquarian, and author Alexander Carmichael (1832-1912). Found in The Carmichael-Watson Collection of Edinburgh University, and scrawled in Carmichael’s own hand, the story tells of two young ill-fated lovers on South Uist who are forbidden to marry. The young woman goes mad and is found living naked with the deer on Beinn Mhòr. Despite many unsuccessful attempts to bring her home, her lover goes to look for her, and instead of running away, she sings him a song and dies in his arms. From 1860 onwards Alexander Carmichael collected a vast amount of folklore and antiquarian stories from people throughout the Scottish Highlands and Islands, particularly in the southern Outer Hebrides where he lived and worked.  Entitled ‘Sorcha An Or-fhuilt A Chaidh Fiadhan Eir Na Feidh‘ or ‘Clara of the Golden Hair That Went Wild With the Deer’, with accompanying song ‘Dhuisg Mo Leannan Mi’, this extract (GB-237-Coll-97-CW7-15) was collected in 1871 from an eighty-six year old crofter named Duncan MacDonald of Snaisebhal, South Uist Sniseabhal/Snishival, Uibhist a Deas. What follows is a faithful transcription of Carmicheal’s original notes with only minor grammatical corrections added. 

Clara of the Golden Hair That Went Wild With the Deer

There was once a young and beautiful girl in South Uist, and she and the son of a neighbouring crofter were greatly attached to one another. He would not be allowed to marry her and was being forced into a marriage with another – a girl of means. When this sensitive and beautiful girl said that she was losing her lover, she went wrong in the mind. She escaped from her parents cultaigh home and fled to the hills, agus, gu’n sgòd aodaich oirre ach a lèine [and, she had nothing to wear but her shirt] – she ran with rapidity. All the neighbours were after her best to no purpose. She joined the deer in Beinn Mhòr and moved about with them wherever they went. And strange to say the deer did not flee from her but on the contrary seemed to be not afraid of her. She wanted the hills with the deer and lay down and slept in their midst. Various attempts were made to capture her but in vain.

At last, her broken-hearted parents said to her young man – ‘Go and shoot her rather than that she should thus be a heart break to us’. And the young man went away to the hills resolving never to come back without her living or dead. He tried many times to get near her but in vain. He was away one day through Beinn Mhòr and when he came back at night to his bothaguamh, cave bothy he found her sound asleep on the floor of his bothy. He was afraid of her but being strong and brave, he resolved to grapple with her. He touched her gently, and she sprang to her feet, he locking his arms round her waist at the same moment. She looked at him kindly but made no attempt to move. She then sang this hymn to him and immediately after died gently in his arms. He gently laid her down on the floor of the hut and covering her body over with his plaid – plaide – he ran away home for assistance. By the time he reached home, he was so done up with exhaustion of mind and body carrying the burden of the fair girl on his back and on his heart that he laid himself down to die. He told of the hymn she sang and how she had kissed him before she died in his arms. He was dead before morning. 

Bha an da thorradh ‘san aon latha agus thiochaidh an (tiodhlacadh) taobh ri taobh anns an aon uaigh ann an cladh. [There was a communion on the same day and their (interment) burial lies side by side in the same grave] Duncan Macdonald, an interesting, intelligent old man, says that this story is true and that the thing really happened much as he has narrated it.

Dhuisg mo leannan mi am chadal

‘Us mi gabhail fadail am dhusgaas innis

Mi nam ghrioba ri garadh + gnobha 

A ni! bu narach an tulu e a chuis e

Mi gu’n tuigse gu’n reusan

Gur neo-fheumail an tursa e

Siud a ghit tha mi sireadh

Rinn do spiorad nach uirnigh.

Is tus a Chrido tha ‘sa chathair

Rinn an latha na uair domh

Mis eir fasach a mhonaidh

Do bhlaths a cumail an fhuachd uam

Is ioma rud ni a ni d’ fheatsa

Gu feol a pheacaich a ghluasad

A Dhe mun cuirear san uir mi

Cuir thr ‘ús gliocas mu’n cuairt domh.

A Righ man cuirear san uir mi

Cuir brigh do ghliocas mun cuairt domh.

Is tu mo Tighearna priseil

Is tu mo spisniche tagsa laidir

Is tu mo thoplachan broslaich

Chaoidh na dealaich gu brath mi

Eir son nithere dimein

Eir sgath … na fag mi

A Mhic Samhla na Greine

Lath m’ eug bi-sa lamh rium

Gur laidir a mhisneach

Th’ aig luchd bhriste na Sabai

Nach faodar ion an airbeadh.

‘S ann a bhitheas iad eir lothain

Mar na deomhan ‘sa an cheardach 

Agus tha Criosda gealltuin

Nach seall e gu brath on sin

Ge bu shinear na clacha –

Ge bu doinainean oir iad

Ge b’ fhion uile an fhairge

An deis a dioladh le …

Ge bu daimein an talamh

B annsa sealladh do Chriosd

Le sichainnt as trociar.

Iosa! sinn dian cobhar eir m’ anam

Iosa a chomhdaich adnad ghradh mi-mhaite

Iosa glacas mo spiorad

An deis a dioladh le …

Ge bu daimein an talamh

B annsa sealladh do Chriosd

Iosa sinsa domh do lamha! do lamh dhomh

Some say, the girl never spoke again after this but having looked at herself and seeing that she was wholly naked and having kissed her lover she died in his arms – from shame it is thought. Some say that he brought her body on his back all the way from Beinn Mhòr. Others that he spread his ‘plaide’ over the body and ran home for assistance and immediately after died. There were three things for which the girl was always spoken of in the place – her great shyness, her great modesty and her great beauty. She was had always magnificent hair but when going wild – am fiadhan – with the deer it grew so long and thick that it covered her body down to her knees. The deer always slept in a cluster round her and however much they were alarmed, and had they been chased, they always glanced round to look for her unless she was in their midst, when indeed, she invariably was. It is thought that downy hair grew over her whole body from the long exposure to the cold. There are various versions of this story, located in various places. 

Scan of original: Song entitled ‘Dhuisg Mo Leannan Mi’ and accompanying story entitled ‘Sorcha An Or-fhuilt A Chaidh Fiadhan Eir Na Feidh’ or ‘Clara of the Golden Hair That Went Wild With the Deer’ (GB-237-Coll-97-CW7-15) folio 21v, line 1 to folio 24r, line 19

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