Saturday, June 06, 2009

A Scottish goblin in Ulster

A curious incident is mentioned in The Montgomery Manuscripts, on page 184, describing an encounter with a spirit at the Montgomery's house in Newtownards, some time between 1647 and 1664*:

"...the Earl of Clanbrazil stayed with our Viscount all night in Newtown-house; the Earle had taken medicine enough against fleabitings, but (as the story goes) was abused or rather affrontd by a spirit (they call them 'BROONEYS' in Scotland), and there was one of them in the appearance of an hairy man which haunted Dunskey castle a little before our first Viscount bought it and Portpatrick lands from Sr Robt. Adair, Knt.; which spirit was not seen in any shape, or to make a noise, or play tricks, during any of our Lords' times.

But it pleased his devilship (that night very artificially) to tear off the Earle of Clanbrazill's Holland shirt from his body, without disturbing his rest; only left on his Lord the wristbands of his sleeves and the collar of the shirt's neck, as they were tyed with ribband when he went to bed. The Earle awaking, found himself robbed of his shirt, and lay as close as an hare in her form, till Mr. Hans (afterwards Sr Hans Hamilton) thinking his Lord had lain and slept long enough to digest his histernum crapulum, knocked at the door, and his Lord calling him, he went in, and his Lord showing him his condition, prayed one of his shirts to relieve him in that extremity..."

Clanbrazil paid the shirt provider £100 to keep quiet about the whole episode.

George Hill's footnote to the passage follows:

Brooneys in Scotland: The Brooney or Brownie is a thoroughly Scottish hob-goblin, and was not known in Ulster prior to the plantation period. Just about the time at which the greatest number of Scottish settlers were coming to Ulster, their king (James I) had published his Daemonology, in which he proclaimed that "the spirit called brownie appeared like a rough man, and haunted divers houses, without doing any evill, but doing as it were necessarie turnes up and downe the house; yet some were so blinded as to beleeve that their house was all the sonsier, as they called it, that such spirits resorted there."

In Martin's Description of the Western Islands of Scotland, p334, we read that "a spirit, by the country people called brownie, was frequently seen in all the most considerable families of these Isles and north of Scotland, in the shape of a tall man; but within these twenty or thirty years past he is but rarely seen." Again, at page 391:— "It is not long since every family of any considerable substance in those islands was haunted by a spirit they called browny, which did several sorts of work; and this was the reason why they gave him offerings of the various products of the place. Thus, some, when they churned their milk, or brewed, poured some milk and wort through the hole of a stone, called browny's stone." In Heron's Journey through part of Scotland (1799), vol. ii., p. 227, we have the following:—"The Brownie was a very obliging spirit, who used to come into houses by night, and for a dish of cream, to perform lustily any piece of work that might remain to be done: sometimes he would work, and sometimes eat till he bursted: if old clothes were laid out for him, he took them in great distress, and never more returned."

If there are any Brooneys reading this and looking for something to do, feel free to come round to our house at night and tidy up as much as you want to!

[ * the Earl of Clanbrassil was given his title in 1647, and Newtown House was burned down in an accident in 1664]