The Wee Folk of Stirling

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<img style="float: left; margin: 10px 10px 15px 15px;" width="" src="" alt="" title=""> This article was published exactly 9 years ago[1] on Clan Stirling Online! The editors thought it would be nice to start this new column by republishing it here.

There is so much more to being "of Stirling" than having the name. A great deal of culture and legend in Scotland is surrounded in poetry, literature, and stories and fables about "The Wee Folk" So gather your "Wee Bairns" (children) around you, and enjoy these wonderful stories which have historical relevance to our family.

The Stirling family in Scotland has had a special relationship with the "Wee Folk" for a VERY long time. Now ya may be wondering what I mean by "The Wee Folk". Anyone 'round these parts would tell you that the wee folks are fairies and Brownies don't ya know!

There is a hill here in Bridge of Allan which for centuries has been called "Fairy Knoll". In fact during the 16th century one the Lairds of Keir shifted the construction of one of the Stirling estates because the Fairies told him to. Whether you believe in Fairies or not is not important, So, gather your "Wee Bairns" (little children) and read them what follows. If you do so, I promise glad tidings and experience, and the love and peace of Scotland will flow in your homes. Your "Bairns" will love them.

In the knoll that is the greenest,
And the grey cliff side,
And on the lonely ben-top
The wee folk bide;
They 'II flit among the heather,
And trip upon the brae-
The wee folk, the green folk,
The red folk and grey.
As o'er the moor at midnight
The wee folk pass,
They whisper 'mong the rushes
And o'er the green grass;
All through the marshy places
They glint and pass away-
The light folk, the lone folk,
the folk that will not stay.
O many a fairy milkmaid,
With the one eye blind,
Is 'mid the lonely mountains
By the red deer hind;
Not one will wait to greet me,
For they have naught to say-
The hill folk, the still folk,
The folk that flit away.
When the golden moon is glinting
In the deep, dim wood,
There's a fairy piper playing
To the elfin brood;
They dance and shout and turn about,
And laugh and swing and sway-
The droll folk, the knoll folk,
the folk that dance away.
O we that bless the wee folk
Have naught to fear,
And ne'er an elfin arrow
Will come us near:
For they 'll give skill in music,
And every wish obey-
The wise folk, the peace folk,
the folk that work and play.
They 'll hasten here at harvest,
They will shear and bind
They 'II come with elfin music
On a western wind;
All night they'll sit among the sheaves,
Or head the kine that stray-
The quick folk, the fine folk,
The folk that ask no pay.
Betimes they will be spinning
The while we sleep,
They 'II clamber down the chimney,
Or through keyholes creep;
And when they come to borrow meal
We 'II ne'er them send away-
The good folk, the honest folk,
the folk that work alway.
O never wrong the wee folk-
The red folk and green,
Nor name them on the Fridays,
or at Hallowe'en;
The helpless and unwary then
And bairns they lure away-
The fierce folk, the angry folk,
the folk that steal and slay.
Donald A. MAacKenzie

Up the airy mountain,
Down the rushy glen,
We daren't go a-hunting
For fear of little men:
Wee folk, good folk,
Trouping all together:
Green jacket, red cap,
And white owl's feather.

THE OCHIL FAIRY TALES by William Allingham

ONCE upon a time, long, long before any of you were born, there lived an old woman in a cottage, beside a wide-stretching moor, behind the Ochil hills. Her cottage was in a very lonely spot, far from neighbours, and to keep her company there lived a little grandchild with her named Nelly. The house in which they dwelt was known by the name of 'Bessie o' the Bogs,' for the old woman's name was Bessie, and the moor at this part was full of boggy places, in which it was very dangerous to venture.

The old woman kept a cow and a few fowls, so that she and her grandchild were supplied with plenty of milk, butter, and eggs. Little Nelly was not able to go to school, because the road was too long for her tiny feet; so her grandmother gave her lessons at home, and taught Nelly the letters of the Alphabet from an old horn book, which she had used herself when a little girl. She also taught Nelly to sew a sampler, which is a piece of fine canvas, stretched upon a frame, on which is sewn in coloured wool all the letters of the Alphabet, the figures I 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0, and beneath that the girl's own name, which in this case was Nelly Henderson.

On the long winter nights the Granny used to tell stories about the Fairies and Brownies, who were at that time believed to dwell in a large earth mound, called 'The Fairy Knowe,' which was near Pendreich, overlooking the beautiful vale of Menteith, and the western group of the Grampian mountains. There they held high revels, dancing in the silver moonbeams, and playing at leapfrog and other funny games, which kept them amused until the dawn drove them into hiding.

Nelly loved to listen to tales of these grey people, as they were sometimes called, and especially the doings of one Brownie, called Tod Lowrie, or Red Bonnet, from the red cap which he was supposed to wear. This Brownie was a great favourite with the shepherds who looked after the sheep on the Ochils, and as he always helped them, though he was never seen by any of them, none would speak an evil word of this good Fairy.

Nelly's Granny had quite a budget of tales about the things Tod Lowrie used to do, and thus the little girl got to love the tiny elf whose good-humour and kindly deeds were proverbial. At night when she went to bed she used to wish very much to see her favourite Fairy, but she never managed to catch even a glimpse of his red cap. As time went on little Nelly thought more and more about her Fairy friends, and often wished to see some of them as they gamboled on the dewy grass or crept quietly into people's houses to do their work for them, and leave everything tidy in the morning. For, of course, Nelly knew that when all the folks in a house were sound asleep, then it was that Tod Lowrie would step inside, and take up the broom and sweep the floors and lay the fire, and leave everything tidy and neat for the shepherd's wife in the morning.

Though Nelly and her Granny lived so far from other people, they had a little world of their own to take up their attention. Nelly was specially fond of the scones which her Granny baked, and which she called her 'Fairy scones,' because they were covered with little rings made by a thimble. These rings reminded Nelly of the rings she often observed on the dewy grass in the early morning, which were supposed to be made by the Fairies dancing at the dawn of day. When the evening shadows fell she would sit by the tire and dream of the little queer folk who hid away from the view of mortals, and only appeared to do some service to the people they regarded with favour.


One night, as Nelly thus sat by the fire and watched the glowing peats, for they had no coal in that moorland region, she prayed to herself that God would let her see the Brownie whom she knew as Tod Lowrie, or Red Bonnet. Her Granny had not been very well that day, and Nelly had tried her best to do the work of the house, but she had not been able to do it all. When she went to bed, where her Granny had been resting all day, she felt very tired, and soon fell asleep. It was the month of January, and the cold of winter was severe, the ground being covered with snow. That night a snowstorm began to blow across the moor, just as the evening shadows began to fall, and about the time little Nelly had gone to bed. Some little time after she fell asleep the door gently opened, and a strange, quaint little figure stole into the room. It was a wee man with a red cap upon his head, green shoes upon his feet, and a tight little jacket of greenish leather closely buttoned round his body. He looked slyly round the room, which was in semi-darkness, the only light being that which came from the flickering embers of the peat fire.

Having satisfied himself that everybody was asleep, he picked up a broom and set to work to sweep the hearth and the floor; next he arranged the dishes upon the shelves of the dresser or cupboard. Then the Brownie, for this was none other than Tod Lowrie himself, went out to an outhouse and brought in two wooden stoups, or pitchers, full of water, and set them carefully in a corner. Going out again, he brought in some peats which he placed upon the fire, and bending down upon his knees, he blew the embers until the tire blazed quite cheerily. Taking a hurried glance round to see if he might be observed, he seemed to be satisfied that all was well, and going into a scullery close by, he carried a pot into the room, and, having put some water into it, he hung it upon the hook above the fire.

The Brownie then took a bowl full of meal, and with a wooden stick, called a 'spurtle,' in his hand, he slowly allowed the oatmeal to trickle through his fingers into the pot, stirring the contents the while until it boiled; adding a pinch of salt, he allowed it to boil for some time. Taking out the wooden spurtle, he scraped it upon the side of the pot and laid it carefully aside. His next action was to fetch two wooden bowls from a press, one large and one small. Turning to the fire, he unhooked the pot, carried it carefully to the table, and poured out the porridge into the two empty bowls. When this was done, Tod Lowrie took the pot into the scullery and washed it clean, using a bunch of heather stalks tied firmly together, called a 'range'; going into the scullery again, he returned with two small bowls of fresh milk, which he placed beside the bowls of steaming porridge. Looking at his handiwork, the Brownie smiled to himself and rubbed his hands together in high glee. 'This will surprise my little Nell,' he said to himself; and wheeling round he said, 'Now it 's time I was off, before the morning light wakens up my little friend.'

Red Bonnet went to the door, but great was his surprise to find that during the night, when he had been so busy, the snow had been falling and the wind had been causing it to drift; so heavy had it been that the cottage was completely surrounded by a bank of snow, heaped up to the roof. He next tried the window, but it was blocked too, so the wee man could find no exit that way. Standing in the middle of the floor the Brownie considered what he should do. At last he hit upon a plan of escape. He went to the fireplace and prepared to climb up the chimney; but as he stepped upon the jamb of the fireplace, the smoke from the burning peats so tickled his little nose that he gave a huge sneeze and fell with a dump upon the floor. This untoward noise awoke Nelly from her slumbers, and looking out from her box-bed, she saw the wee Brownie with his red cap and green shoes, and, thrilled with delight, she cried to her Granny: 'Oh look, Granny, here's Tod Lowrie!' But when Granny had opened her eyes and looked out of the bed, the Brownie was gone, having leapt up the chimney and vanished. So, after all, the only person who ever saw Tod Lowrie was little Nelly, whose pure eyes and kind heart enabled her to see a Fairy.


  1. First published on CSO in 2000 then again in 2002. Ed.

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