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  The Fairy Folk in Orkney Lore

Mansie o' Kierfa and his fairy bride

In Orcadian folklore, although the tales of selkie and mermaid brides were relatively common, tales of otherworldly liaisons with the fairy folk are scarce. Most of the remaining scraps of lore focus on one Sandwick man - Mansie o' Kierfa.

Mansie was said to have had a fairy wife, who bore him three daughters.

Before the house and farm steading of Kierfiold in Sandwick were built, the farm was divided into small holdings. Mansie o' Kierfa occupied one of these.

He claimed that, one night, while walking back to Kierfa, he sat down to rest on the well-known fairy knowe in the township of Scabrae (found on maps these days as Skeabrea), where he fell asleep.

According to tradition, he claimed he was woken by a beautiful woman, who: "told him things he swore he would never disclose to another".

How he came to be married to this otherworldly woman is now lost. Instead, most of the surviving folklore concentrates on short anecdotes about Mansie's life.

Perhaps the most surprising of these declares that, in addition to his fairy spouse, Mansie was also married to a mortal woman, and was anxious to introduce his fairy partner to her.

On his attempt, he found his mortal wife was asleep and, although he made every effort to wake her, she could not be roused, so never met the fairy woman.

Rife nights

On "rife' nights," such as Hallowe'en, Yule and New Year's Eve, Mansie always made a point to place food in the house for his fairy wife - food, the tales say, was always gone the next morning.

Mansie was renowned for his healing abilities and could cure the ailments of both man and beast. His fame in these matters was such that he was not only consulted by people from different parts of the Mainland, but frequently had calls from folk from the isles.

His medicines were kept safely in a cupboard in his house, and nobody knew what went into them. No charge was made for hid medicine, or advice. Instead Mansie just took what people liked to give.

On one occasion, Mansie o' Kierfa was consulted about a horse which would not thrive.

After examining the ailing beast, Mansie exclaimed it was no wonder the horse was in such poor condition. The fairies, he said, were not only riding the poor animal, but galloping it to exhaustion. He advised that the stable door should be securely barred and a Bible fastened to the latch.

This was carried out, and the horse thrived thereafter.

Miraculous cures

Another person, who had an ailing cow, called upon Mansie to see whether he could provide a cure. Staring intently at the animal, Mansie told the owner to place his hand on his shoulder. The man did so and immediately saw the fairies carrying the cow away in a blanket.

At Voy, close to the boundary between Sandwick and Stromness, there was, in Mansie's day, a public house that he frequently patronised.

On one occasion, he was drinking with companions, when a messenger came for him. Mansie, however, refused to budge until he got another pint. The landlady was unwilling to accede to his request, as he was already well drunk.

But Mansie was insistent and told the woman to go into the next room and count the money in her pocket.

"Then," he said, "I will tell thee the exact amount on your return."

The woman did so, and was quite startled when Mansie announced the exact sum she had.

Startled, she exclaimed: "Deil tak thee Mansie, ther's thee pint, and awa hame wi' thee."

Mansie has long gone the way of all the earth, but what became of his fairy wife, and progeny, remains a matter of debate.

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