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Broonie - The King o' Trowland

There was once a trow called Broonie, who was supposed to have been the King of all Trowland. He showed himself very often and it was remarked that if he had been seen in a corn-yard all was sure to be right there, but if the visitor had been an ordinary trow, mischief was sure to follow.

Folks were glad when Broonie paid them a visit and they were careful not to go near any of the corn which he had been guarding as it was observed that he objected to being overlooked and resented such interference by "layin' the screws in herda" (scattering the cornstacks).

Broonie seemed to have taken a whole neighbourhood under his protection and could often be seen gliding from yard to yard in the cold evenings, casting his spells upon the crops.

The people felt sorry for Broonie, exposed to the cold night air, so they made him a cloak and hood. This they laid in a yard which he frequented. Broonie took the well-intentioned gift as an offence and was never seen again

This little tale was recorded in Shetland around 1888. It is interesting because of the obvious similarities it shares with the Orkney story of the Copinsay Brownie.

In Shetland folklore, the creature known in Orkney as a hogboon seems to have become known as a "Broonie" - whether this is purely because of the influence of the Scottish domestic spirit - the brownie - or simply a corruption of the Norse element "bui" is not clear.

What we must remember, however, is that the early folklorists from outside the islands were recording verbal tales and in so doing were attempting to make sense of an island dialect foreign to them. It would not be impossible for a folklorist to hear the islander talk about a house spirit known as the "bui" and equate it with the nearest Scots equivalent - the broonie.

The "brownie" title applied to the Copinsay Brownie is intriguing in that it is slipped in almost as an afterthought, which points to a later addition:

"The brownie (for so he was afterwards known) said that his name was 'Hughbo'"

What "Broonie the Trow" does hint at, is the fact that the term "trow" was probably used to refer to a number of folklore creatures.

However, the tale stresses that Broonie's characteristics were different to the "normal" trows. The following statement would confirm this as it is clear that Broonie was distinct from his supposed trow colleagues.

"if he (Broonie) had been seen in a corn-yard all was sure to be right there, but if the visitant was an ordinary trow, mischief was sure to follow."

The similarities between the tale of Hughbo the Copinsay Brownie and Broonie the King of Trowland, in particular the offence taken at receiving a cloak, would indicate that the two tales share a common ancestry.

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