Cathyr-Na-Couf [a tale of Arran]
by Marion F. Eadie
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That's Arran over there, and the hummock at the end is the Holy Isle. Further round to the left you can just dimly make out a blue mound in the water - Ailsa Craig. They say that when Ailsa's clear the weather is bound to be good. And there's the Sleeping Warrior on Arran - you can see how the hills mark his outlines against the sky. If we were over on Bute, we could trace him much more clearly. But even from here he looks impressively real.
    He wasn't really a warrior; he was the giant Cathyr-na-Couf, and he lived in Ireland many thousands of years ago. Ireland is just below the horizon yonder - behind Arran. In those days there were giants over here as well - giants in Scotland and giants in Ireland. They used to fight, and they would hurl great rocks across the water at each other - rocks that ten men couldn't lift now. You can still see some of the rocks they threw further down the coast. And every time a giant was hit, such a shout went up from the other side that the very islands shook.
    Now Cathyr-na-Couf was the biggest and strongest giant in Ireland. He could throw rocks that no other giant could move, and he could throw them with more force, and he scarcely ever missed. All the giants in Scotland hated him, and all the Irish giants loved him, so he was as happy as a king, for who can be happier than one who is loved by his friends and hated by his enemies? So Cathyr-na-Couf dwelt in Ireland.
    Then it happened that a strange giant appeared on the shores of Scotland. He was small, and looked weakly, and he stood there on the sea-shore and seemed but a child. Cathyr-na-Couf saw him, and thought he would rouse him. So he picked up a little stone - just the size of a house - and threw it at the strange giant. The rock hit the stranger on the shoulder. He never budged, but he looked at Cathyr-na-Couf. Then he heaved up a rock and hurled it across the Sound. The rock hit Cathyr-na-Couf on the shoulder, and staggered him, and the giants saw that the rock was as great as the greatest that Cathyr-na-Couf had ever been able to throw. Now Cathyr-na-Couf was so furiously jealous that he laid his hands on a rock that he had many times tried to move, and as many times failed. He tore it clean out of the earth, and hurled it at the stranger.
    The rock hit the strange giant full on the temple, but he only scratched his head, and then, lifting a rock that was even heavier than Cathyr-na-Couf's, he threw it back with great force. And there stood Cathyr-na-Couf's only daughter, laughing at the fun, and the great rock struck her on the temple, so that she fell down dead. Then Cathyr-na-Couf was mad with rage, and he seized a rock that was as big as the moon, and hurled it across the Sound as hard as the lightning bolt flashes from the heavens. This rock struck the strange giant full between the brows, but he only shook his head, and lifted a rock that was even bigger than the moon. He tossed it as if it had been as fast and light as a little ball. And there stood Cathyr-na-Couf's only son, watching the combat, and the rock struck him square between the eyes, so that he fell down dead.
    Then in great grief and fury Cathyr-na-Couf tore out a rock that was as big as the sun, and he hurled it across the water so hard that it must have knocked the very stars out of the sky had it gone higher. And this rock hit the stranger in the neck, but he only rubbed the place, and looked over at Cathyr-na-Couf. He in his turn grasped a rock that was even bigger than the sun, and this rock he flung across the Sound so fast that it seemed as if it must sink all Ireland when it fell there.
    And there stood Cathyr-na-Couf's wife, weeping for her dead children, and the rock struck her on her lovely white neck, so that she fell down dead too. Then Cathyr-na-Couf was stricken with great sorrow, and he went away to a dark place on the shore, and there he sat and thought how he, might be avenged on the strange giant. And the other giants ceased their combat, for they loved Cathyr-na-Couf, and they hated all the giants in Scotland.
    Now Cathyr-na-Couf sat there, and as he sat the sun set, and rose again, and set again, and rose again. And when the sun set yet again, Cathyr-na-Couf thought that he must go across the water to Scotland, and discover the name of the strange giant so that he might know how to kill him. So he rose up to go, and there was no one of his own left to bid him farewell. Across the Sound he set off, wading knee-deep in the water and stepping over the islands, and he was so tall that he had to bend his head under the arch of the sky. And he thought that he would take a great rock with him out of the water, so that he might slay the strange giant when he had discovered his name. This rock he had in mind was Ailsa Craig.
    Now as he went on in the darkness, where it was half mist and half moonlight, he saw that an old woman was walking with him, She was tall and gaunt and grey, and she walked always just a pace behind him, and always tried to match his stride. When she saw that he had seen her, she said to him: "Good-evening, Cathyr-na-Couf!" But he knew that she was a witch, and he did not answer her, but kept on walking as fast as he could, and she kept trying to catch up on his stride, for if once she drew abreast of him and passed him, then she might have him in her power.
    Now the witch was the mother of that giant on the shores of Scotland, and she feared lest Cathyr-na-Couf might discover her son's name; for it was her spells that had hurled the great rocks, and not his strength, he being but a weakly stripling. She knew that Cathyr-na-Couf could kill him, so she kept on beside Cathyr-na-Couf never leaving him all the way across the Sound, and always trying to draw abreast of him. But she never spoke to him again, nor did he speak to her, for each knew what the other was.
    So Cathyr-na-Couf went on wading through the water, and stepping over the islands, and as he drew near the Scottish coast he saw Ailsa, and remembered that he had need of this rock. So he turned a little aside, and went towards Ailsa, and the grey witch went with him. Then as he came near to Ailsa, he put down his hand to grasp it, but the rock was firm in the sea-bed. As he shook it to loosen it his stride faltered, and the witch drew abreast of him, and thus he came under her spell.
    She turned him into stone, so that he might never know her son's name, and she laid him down in the water by the coast of Scotland. But, being so huge that the water could not cover him, he remained an island, and Ailsa within hand's reach, if he might but grasp it to hurl at his enemy. So he slumbered for many a year. The race of giants grew old, and died, and the little men took possession of the good lands of the giants.
    As time went on the grass grew on him, the clouds gathered, the rain fell, and the water ran down him to the sea. Then came the trees and the flowers. So in time the little men found him, and came to crawl over him with their flocks. But he never moved, and he never will move again, for he lies under the witch's spell. She forgot to take it off when the old world vanished, and there is nobody else that can undo a witch's spell but the grey wife herself.

ca 1938/39


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