Crypto Fairy Hippo Cow in Scotland and Ireland?! November 6, 2013Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Contemporary, Modern, Prehistoric , trackback
Fairy cows are occasional adjuncts to fairy legends and in the Gaelic world, particularly in the Irish west and the Scottish highlands there is the fairy water cow, a creature that comes from out of the water to land to graze. A little legend illustrating this from Limerick in Ireland, more specifically Lough Guir (aka Lough Gur).
There is another curious legend connected with this lake, but not peculiar to it; it is, that for many years, no farmer could cultivate an acre of ground along its borders; for the moment the grass or corn sprung up, the young shoots were eaten by some unseen or unknown animal. A sturdy fellow, however, set himself to watch, night after night; and at length he saw a fine fat milch cow, followed by seven milk-white heifers, emerge from the Lough, and enter his meadow; he ran between them and the water, and closed the gate of the field, but note before the old cow, more ‘cute’ than her progeny, had rushed by him and made her escape; but the calves remained and became his property – and ‘mighty proud he was of them, for there weren’t the likes of them in the barony’. One night he left the gate open and next morning his singular visitors were gone.
There are probably a couple of hundred stories along these lines kicking around. But the mid nineteenth-century author of this tale or rather the reporter adds a comment from Scotland and more specifically from Scotland’s most famous historical novelist: Sir Walter Scott. WS is talking about the Scottish water bull, a cousin of the Irish fairy cow.
As for the water bull, they live who will take their oaths to having seen him emerge from a small lake on the boundary of my property here, scarce large enough to have held him, I should think. Some traits in his description seem to answer the hippopotamus, and these [water bulls] are always mentioned in Highland and Lowland story. Strange if we could conceive there existed, under a tradition so universal, some shadowy reference to those fossil bones of animals which are so often found in the lakes and bogs.
It is a fascinating thought. Could some distant memory of British hippopotami have made it down to historic times: or if we really want to try and boost the local tourist industry and Lough Guir, does a small hidden population still… OK slapped hand for that. But what are the odds of a memory? Unfortunately Walter Scott seems to have been in the wrong epoch. Hippopotami made it through to about half a million BC in Britain, long before homo sapiens had come into existence. And the cold snap that followed would have done for any ‘water horses’ that survived, even in balmy Limerick. Still nice try, Walter! Any one up for defending a late hippo in Britain and Ireland? drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com. It would be tempting to link the discovery of fossils to the legend but those fossils would not have been linked to the water?
23 Nov 2013: Kenton writes: On the subject of water bulls, you may be interested to know that this type of folklore also exists in patagonia. I personally know a man who claims to have had an experience with them in the river Maullin in southern chile when he was a child (I would guess around 50-60 years ago). I dont know what to make of his story, and to be honest am not terribly convinced by it, but it does demonstrate the survival of these beliefs until comparatively recently, and probably to the present day in some areas. If you are interested you can find a discussion of the patagonian water bulls at this patagonia site *** JB writes [I thought this was brilliantly insightful]: The first excerpt that you shared is somewhat reminiscent of Pharaoh’s dream about seven cows in Genesis 41. From the King James Version: 1 And it came to pass at the end of two full years, that Pharaoh dreamed: and, behold, he stood by the river. 2 And, behold, there came up out of the river seven well favoured kine and fatfleshed; and they fed in a meadow. 3 And, behold, seven other kine came up after them out of the river, ill favoured and leanfleshed; and stood by the other kine upon the brink of the river. 4 And the ill favoured and leanfleshed kine did eat up the seven well favoured and fat kine. So Pharaoh awoke. *** April writes: it has been far too long since I shared with you a snippet of my prodigious, one might even say elephantine — or better still hippopotamine — knowledge. For that I am deeply and truly sorry. But perhaps the following, actually serious, impression may be of little or no value, but, yet, an intriguing assessment. While reading your quoting from Sir WS, “Some traits in his description seem to answer the hippopotamus” I could not stop myself from thinking how far off make this concept is (was, will be). I would like, humbly as ever, of course, to put forward the following sequence of events as a preferable explanation to Sir WS’s ill-examined, one might even say deluded, if one where inclined to be in such a mood, explanation for the mythos of the Scottish water bull. Imagine your self to be an imaginative highlander — lowlander, even part-way-up-the-hiller but certainly Scottisher — who, coincidently, but importantly to the explanation about to be set forth, keeps a small, but very well thought of, herd of Kyloe, or to the uninformed highland cattle, and who one day stumbles upon, actually trips over to be accurate, an enormous femur or vertibra, or what not in the way of fossilized bone from a who-knows-what really since when the archeopaliontologists were called in they found too few bone for them to… Oh dear, wrong imagining! Getting back to the crux of the extrapolation I am in the midst of postulatingly setting forth… This imaginative Scottish what-have-you — I can say this since I am, to a fair degree, of Scottish ancestry and so it is not an ethnic slur when I utilize the term — finds himself, while brushing off from his fall, gazing upon a bone of an inordinate length, girth and/or any other dimension this bone may have possessed, which seems to him to be of a rather familiar vestage, one might say, as I just have. Since all of this happens near a pond of a smallish demeanor, and since his cattle happen to be parched, and since, also, there just so happens to be, almost unbelievably, a rock of chair hight if not appearance, our Scotlander, or if you please and it makes you happier Albalander, sits on said rock, and while sitting, staring off into the heathered distance our protagonist begins to ruminate, if you will, over his experiences of the day and, in fact, experiences in a rather general fashion. And while leafing through his memory he, quite rapidly really, recognizes the large bone sticking up from the ground, no, rather is certain that the large bone sticking up from the ground, belonged to some enormous animal of the cattle kind. He infers this fact by comparing his imaginative, let us not forget, conclusion with his known animal-husbandrish sorts of memory images. To fill the imaginer in on a few details of our imaginary imaginative memories having to do with cattle, his most particularly: Our imaginer raises cattle of a extreme size and build most especially his prize bull; so much so, in fact, that even his stout sturdy cows risk vertebral damage when the bull mou… Oops, another tangential thought. Suffice it to say our, now rather familiar, imaginative imaginary person raises burly, for the breed, cattle. As already stated, but worth repeating I should think, our principal in this scenario raises cattle and finds himself, at times, with more bullish calves than he can sell, trade or barter for breeding stock, and so finds it expedient, not to mention practical, to transform some of the above mentioned excess bovine young into steer in a most unpleasant manner which I prefer not to elaborate on. Having steer meandering about and looking quite pastoral, not to mention handsome in their own ungulate sort of way, is all fine and good but mostly the steer are destined to become steaks, roasts, short ribs and so on. There being no handy slaughter house, or even butcher shop, near by our brave, imagined personage, when he finds himself, and/or his family as a whole find themselves, in the mood for some fresh red meat, he is obliged to do the necessary knife wielding, blood letting, etc., on his own, or perhaps with some help from a family member or two. This being the case, he knows bovine anatomy rather intimately and is aware of what bone goes where, not to mention how some cattle, his own in particular, have overall larger, heavier bones than other breeds in and near our imaginative imaginary’s imagined homeland. Said knowledge of anatomy, grammer, and so on, leads our imaginary, imagining Scotlandish person (man in this case) to conclude the obvious after tripping over a familiar looking, albeit huge, bone sticking out of the earth at the very edge of the pond: His conclusion, and one he shared broadly? At some time, perhaps even then, enormous, perhaps invisible at times, water bulls spontaneously generate[d] from pond mud and live[d] their visible lives beneath the waters of this mentioned, and logically, one might argue, any and all ponds, lakes, etc. where any type of bones may be found near at hand since said water bulls are, clearly, shape shifters in order to fit below the waters… Oh dear again, I guess I cannot stay on track because I long to share my vast reservoir of information with others. I am certain you will understand. But, alas, time and arthritis do not permit at this time, so I will end with warm scholarly and all around genius loci. Thanks April, JB and Kenton!