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Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Peter with a troll

Making acquaintance with a troll in Norway


During a recent discussion with some visitors from Norway, we chatted about aspects of folklore which are very similar in both our countries. I referred to the Norwegian trolls, mythical creatures which never appear in daylight but whose antics are made aware to us by road signs which say, "Beware of trolls." Similarly in Ireland I spotted a road sign which said, "This is the way the fairies went" and one of the gifts I received during that visit was the model of a leprechaun.
It was evident these creatures persist, if only in our folk stories and mythical tales but it was during my chat with friends from Norway that I was reminded of the nisse. In Norway, this is an elf-like creature said to be about the height of a one-year old child but with the face of an old man. Usually he dresses in a tight grey suit but sometimes wears a pointed red cap; on Michaelmas Day, however, he wears a round hat like farm workers.
It is said that every farmhouse in Norway used to have a nisse. He would conceal himself during the day but at night would emerge to tidy the house, clean the floors and bring in water ready for the following morning. Outside, the stables, cowsheds and barns would be tidied and cleaned with all the necessary tasks being completed before morning. It appears that tidiness was vital to a nisse and some would even visit churches to prepare them for morning Mass.
If someone was unnecessarily untidy or careless, or cruel and thoughtless to others, then the nisse would grow angry and punish the wrongdoers. I am not sure how such punishment was inflicted but it seems that, on occasions, a nisse could make himself very unwelcome by being too fastidious. There are stories of nisses becoming so unbearable that the resident farmer and his family would leave the premises.
One Norwegian story tells how a farmer and his family, anxious to be rid of the nisse, packed all their belongings onto several carts with the intention of leaving the farm. As they were giving one last lingering look at their former home, the nisse popped out of a tub on the tail-end cart and said, "So we're moving today, eh?"
Folk stories from several European countries tell of similar creatures in almost identical situations. The Germans, for example, have a kobold, the Swedes have their tomtgubbe or tomte which means old man of the house, the Dutch have redcaps while the Scots have their brownies and Northumbrians their dunnies. The Cauld Lad of Hilton in County Durham is sometimes depicted as a ghost but occasionally as an elf-like mischief-maker and in North Yorkshire the moorland people have their hobs. If the tale of the nisse leaving home with the resident family sounds familiar, then an identical yarn is told about the Farndale hob.
The Farndale hob worked cheerfully for farmer, Jonathan Gray helping with tasks such as leading hay, shearing sheep, tidying the premises and generally performing a range of routine but important jobs, often with a display of amazing strength. He asked for no reward except a full jug of cream to be left in the barn at the end of each day. However, when Mrs Gray died, and Jonathan remarried, his new wife could not understand the need to put a full jug of cream in the barn each night. Secretly, she substituted a jug of skimmed milk. Thereafter things began to go wrong. The hob stopped his work and became mischievous; the milk turned sour, foxes attacked the poultry, the cattle became ill, fire burnt down a building and all manner of other things happened so that the once- thriving farm was facing ruin. Jonathan decided to leave and so, with several cart loads of household goods he prepared to depart from Farndale. A neighbour saw him and asked what was going on. "We're flitting," said Jonathan. And at that point the lid of a tub on the cart was lifted as, to his horror, the brown and wizened face of the hob appeared from inside and, "Aye, we're flitting."
This is just one of several stories of hobs in and around the North York Moors, their presence being perpetuated in the names of locations like Hob Garth, Hob Thrush and Hob Meadow. A hob was an elf-like little fellow whose entire body was covered with coarse brown hair, and he worked with no clothes on.
Versions of this familiar old story appear in several countries which make us wonder how, when and why these tales originated.

Posted by Peter N. Walker @ 09:48 AM GMT [Link]

Monday, June 5, 2006


Malahide Castle
Malahide Castle

My wife and I recently spent some time at Malahide, a small Irish coastal town a few miles north of Dublin. Upon our arrival, Ireland was magnificent with its flush of emerald green vegetation and its almost-tropical display of palm trees and wild flowers which would grace any garden. Imagine fields with golden hedges of thick gorse in full glorious bloom, and country lanes whose borders were of wild fuchsia and geraniums, daisies and vetches.The astonishingly vivid and varied green shades of vegetation, both wild and cultivated, have to be seen to be believed. Not without reason is this island known as the Emerald Isle.
Malahide, with a population of around 13,000, has a thriving marina which makes use of the only natural inlet along the country's east coast and this attracts yachts from all over the world. The town has also acquired a reputation for the quality of its food. With more than forty restaurants and some wonderful Irish pubs often with music and other entertainment, one never need be hungry, thirsty or unoccupied. A pint of Guinness in an Irish pub is something anyone will remember - it is truly nectar from the gods.
The town dates to around 6,000 BC; the Danes arrived in the eighth century and in the twelfth the Normans made their presence felt. Napoleon attempted an invasion but failed due to the weather, whilst the English have also had an impact, not always favourable, but today the town is very cosmopolitan with residents drawn from many nations.
One reminder of its past stands majestically on the outskirts; this is Malahide Castle set in 250 acres of parkland. When the Normans arrived, they installed Sir Richard Talbot as the Lord of Malahide Estate in 1174 and the family continued to occupy the castle until 1973 - eight centuries. When the Lord Milo Talbot died in that year, his only surviving relative - his sister - did not want the problems of maintaining the castle and estate and hand it over to Dublin County Council who now run it as a very successful visitor attraction.
With its classic fairy-tale appearance due to its rounded towers, it contains some wonderful furniture and art works, along with a huge thirty-seater table in its Great Hall. The Talbots were supporters of the Catholic James II of England who had been deposed and on 1 July 1690 fourteen members of the Talbot family sat down to breakfast at this huge table before going off to battle. But none of them returned for dinner that evening - all were dead.
To regain his throne, James had sought help from the Irish Catholics and challenged William of Orange, his son-in-law and husband of James' Protestant daughter, Mary. James' poorly trained army of 25,000 French and Irish Catholics met William's seasoned army of 36,000 highly trained French Huguenots, Dutch, English and Scots Protestants. The Protestants won this battle, forever known as the Battle of the Boyne, and it signalled three centuries of Protestant domination of Ireland with confiscation of Catholic lands and property, and the suppression of their interests.
We took time out to visit James Joyce's Tower at Sandy Cove on the coast just south of Dublin. James Joyce (1882-1941) actually only spent one week here in 1904, but because the tower features in the first chapter of his classic novel, Ulysses, it is now a wonderful literary shrine and museum to his memory. The sparse living room, is very much as described in the novel and you can climb right to the top of the tower and stand on the famous gun platform to admire the magnificent panoramic view. The museum's collection includes letters, photographs, first and rare editions and personal possessions of Joyce, as well as items associated with the Dublin of Ulysses.
Towers of this kind, known as Martello Towers, were built around the Irish coast in 1804 by the British to watch for Napoleon's expected raid. The towers are strongly built of huge blocks of stone with walls about eight feet (2.4m) thick. There was a gun platform on top which bore a massive swivelling cannon, along with an oven for making cannon balls, and sleeping accommodation below. Watch was maintained in the tower until 1904 when it was finally realised Napoleon was unlikely to invade.

Posted by Peter N. Walker @ 01:32 PM GMT [Link]

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