FARQUHAR AND THE BROLLACHAN
(A weird story which I must have written in the late 1990s and which I
discovered yesterday when I was rummaging around in my cellar.)
There was once a shapeless brollachan who could only speak two words: ‘Me”
and “You”. Although he possessed two round, staring eyes and a mouth, he had
no nose. You children will be asking how he smelt- “Pretty awful!” would be a fair
Anyway, he used to lie down in front of other people’s fires, greedily taking all
the heat and greatly annoying displaced family animals. One evening, he was in
his usual position, when Farquhar decided to throw a fresh peat on the dying
embers. Some flying sparks burnt the brollachan and he screamed and roared in
a terrible tantrum until his mother, the vough, came to rescue him. This she did
rather cautiously, for there was now a little too much light in the room, and
everyone knows that such creatures cannot abide strong light or running water.
Indeed, both can. be fatal for them. _ ..
Well, she petted him and asked who had hurt him, but, in his pain, he could only
sob, “You.” So, she loudly remarked, for Farquhar’s benefit, that if she found
anyone hurting her bairn, she’d “stick the heid in them”. Then she turned on her
heel, and left the house in high dudgeon, determined to vent her rage on the first
person she met. This happened to be a poor old woman, who had the good sense,
to make for the nearest stream. She managed to reach the safety of the centre of
the bridge unscathed, but, at the last moment, the fiend grabbed her heel, and
she appeared to be permanently disabled by its vicious and unwarranted
Farquhar mused on the problem. A fine serpent stew was bubbling away in a cauldron, which was suspended over the re-kindled fire. He absent-mindedly
dipped his forefinger into the reptilian ragout and promptly scalded himself.
Sucking his blistered digit, he suddenly had a stroke of genius. Seizing a glowing
torch from a wall socket, he went out into the darkness, wearing his special ivory
ring which he had removed from the serpent prior to cooking him. He knew that
the wearer of such an ornament was proof against all enchantments.
His trusty hound sniffed the air and growled, recognising the sour odour of the gruesome pair. The vough was not one for giving up her plans of revenge, and so she squatted in a bush, trying to avoid the light from the blazing torch, but all the
time watching, waiting. She knew that if they were to be caught in its glowing
circle, they would melt into those jellyfish-like blobs that you can still see on the
moors of Ross-shire and Sutherland. There was no point in trying to break cover and run, for their webbed feet were a hindrance in these situations. They may have had horse’s manes and tails, but they had nothing of such animals’ speed, agility or intelligence.
Farquhar bent down and drew a large circle on the ground. He bade the dog lie
at his feet. This magical area would protect him from every enchantment.
Placing the cauldron of simmering stew just outside the circle, he squatted beside
it, loudly savouring its delicious flavour in a very provocative manner, and
offering to share it with his faithful dog.
Then the vough and the brollachan began to whine and screech, slavering till the
slime ran down their chins, for they were starving. Farquhar carried on slurping
and burping and praising its delicious flavour.
“No chance, you evil old cailleach!”bhe mocked. “Your son may steal my heat, but he won’t steal my dinner.”
“A curse on you, Farquhar!” raged the vough. “I hope it chokes you and your
Farquhar, keeping the torch well in front of him, backed away and entered his
house in safety. The old dog, being slower, was less fortunate, as the vough
grabbed his tail at the last moment. The poor beast was left with the prospect of
being docked ever after.
Then the vough and the brollachan fell to the remains of the stew and ravenously
gorged, forgetting their curse-and promptly choked themselves.
In the morning Farquhar emerged gingerly, and now that he possessed the
serpent’s knowledge, he sensed that the old woman, his neighbour, would need
his healing skills. When he entered her shabby dwelling, he placed a saucer of
milk at her torn foot and presently a serpent’s head appeared from her heel, and,
thereafter, its whole scaly body slithered towards the bait. Just as it flickered its
forked tongue at the frothy cream, Farquhar’s dog seized it by the neck and
shook it to death.
From that moment the old woman’s wound closed and she could walk with ease.
The space in front of the fire returned to its rightful canine occupant, who was
never to be usurped from it again. Farquhar went on to become one of the most
famous healers of all time, but, oddly enough, the dog’s tail never recovered its
former longitude, so it could never wag its welcome to its returning master. Still,
if the tail had been lengthened, our tale would have been longer too, and you
children would never get to sleep!
1) A brollachan is the Gaelic word for a misshapen, deformed creature.
2) Vough – there was a kelpie at Moulin na Fouah and this place name probably
became corrupted to “Vough”. There was also a Vougha of Beann na Caltuinn.
She married into the Munroe family and their descendants were supposed to
have had manes and tails for many generations. A vough appears to have been a
water-spirit, with webbed feet, no nose, but sporting a mane and a tail. They
were killed by strong light or steel weapons. Further information can be gleaned
from “Popular Tales of the West Highlands”, translated by I.F. Campbell and
published by Wildwood House, 1983.
3) Apparently, the great white snakes of Sutherland had a unique revolving
motion. They wound themselves round and round an ivory ring on their bodies,
which was formed from their own slime. Sometimes these rings would slip off and
the lucky finder of such an object could benefit from its magical properties.