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  The Fairy Folk in Orkney Lore

Fair Folk accounts

Although to most Orcadians, the fairy folk were invisible, a few supposed descriptions were recorded.

These accounts paint distinctly different pictures, each with their own depiction of the fairy folk. One common element, however, was that the Orcadian fairy was not the gossamer-winged nymph we think of today. They were creatures that inspired nothing but sheer terror in the local populace.

As an example, a 19th century Shetland writer describes a creature that, once again, could quite easily be a trow:

"Fairies are said to be short in stature, with small faces and yellow complexion. They have red eyes and green teeth. They dress uniformly in dark grey, and both sexes wear murat [natural brown wool] mittens."

The Reverend John Brand, who published a description of Orkney in 1701, adds one further, surprising, element to the fairy's appearance:

"Evil spirits also called Fairies are frequently seen in several of the isles, dancing and making merry, and sometimes seen in Armour."

The reference to fairy "armour" is intriguing.

With the notable exception of the giants, and the ongoing quarrel between the trows and the sea-trows, most of Orkney's supernatural races seemed to live in harmony with their own kind.

The fairies, it would appear, were an exception.

References to armed and armoured fairies are found more than once, with reports of "awful fights" between rival groups also recorded. One such account, written by one David Spence, recounts one such battle in Orkney's West Mainland. Click here to read.

Not surprisingly, because of their fearsome and warlike reputation, superstitious Orcadians shunned the fairies, and their favoured haunts. This deep-seated fear remained in the islands until comparatively recent times.

The fairy folk in Orkney were clearly not the benevolent spirits that some would suggest today, as this account clearly shows:

"The house of Pow in the parish of Sandwick was as a place where people from the surrounding districts met to drink ale. A man from Hestwall, having been at Pow, fell asleep on the homeward journey, near the Howans of Hurtisgarth, a well-known fairy resort.

"He was awakened by a loud noise, and saw the brae (mound) covered with riders. Greatly excited, he ran home without delay.

"On relating his experience to an old woman who resided at Aith, she said 'Fortunately the fairies got neither of what they were after that night. A daughter had been born about that time in the house of Aith, and a cow was found in the byre nearly strangled at daylight.'"

Fairy Folk Attack