he Ùruisg (OO-rooshk) is a water spirit that haunts the pools and waterfalls of Scotland, especially in the Highlands. Like the Greek faun, the Ùruisg has the lower half of a goat and the upper half of a man, and is covered in thick, shaggy hair. In The Trossachs in Literature and Tradition (1908), compiled by William Wilson, a Mr Malcolm Ferguson suggests that the Ùruisgs are “remnants of the Druids, driven into the wilds and persecuted by a rival religion. The Ùruisg would be clothed in sheep or goat skins, hence their hairy appearance, having a figure between a goat and a man.”
The Ùruisg is a solitary creature, not necessarily by choice – the nature of its appearance often frightens away any human contact it pursues. Those who can see past its rather alarming countenance are rewarded, as the Ùruisg will happily work through the night at even the most menial, repetitive tasks in exchange for a little kindness.
It was said that every farmhouse had its Ùruisg, and a seat in the kitchen would be left unoccupied for it beside the fire. It has a particular fondness for dairy products, especially cream, and bowls of fresh cream with oat cakes would be set down for it in return for its hard work. A story is told of the Ùruisg of Glaschoil Farm in Moray that fulfilled the tasks expected of it before discovering that no one had left it any food. At daybreak the Ùruisg’s terrible shrieking yell was heard, and it was never seen again.
Ùruisgs live in caves throughout Scotland, and were reputed to hold assemblies in Coire-nan-Uriskin, the Goblin Cave, a great hollow in Ben Venue, a mountain in the Trossachs just south of Loch Katrine.
“By many a bard, in Celtic tongue,
Has Coire-nan-Uriskin been sung;
A softer name the Saxons gave,
And call’d the grot the Goblin-cave,
Gray Superstition’s whisper dread
Debarr’d the spot to vulgar tread;
For there, she said, did fays resort,
And satyrs hold their sylvan court.”
–From Lady of the Lake, by Sir Walter Scott (1810)
The Scottish scholar William J. Watson said that every stream in the Highlands once had an Ùruisg, and the king of all the Ùruisgs was Peallaidh who lived in the Falls of Moness. Peallaidh’s name is forever remembered in the town of Aberfeldy, or Obair Pheallaidh, as it’s known in Scottish Gaelic.