Ùruisgs

Ùruisgs DChe 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. 

Uruisg Cave

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. 

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  • Sara C. Snider

    These are the kinds of creatures that break my heart–the outcast type searching for kindness. He sounds handy to have around. A bit of cream and kindness seems like a small price to pay.

    • http://weewhitehoose.co.uk Fee

      I’d happily give up some cream and oatcakes if I could get someone round to tend to my garden every night :D

  • Heidi Dahlsveen

    We have a similar creature in Norway called noekken, if you were lucky he could learn you to play a fiddler. But he could be dangerous too. My grandfather always used to warn us against him, as way to make sure we stayed away from the water.

    • http://weewhitehoose.co.uk Fee

      Oh, I love that. What an odd thing to offer – fiddle lessons! :)

  • JazzFeathers

    I don’t think I’ve ever heard of this creature, but I remember a story of a similar creature, that would work at night, doing chore for the family. But he didn’t want to be seen. One, one of the family woke up at night, saw him working. He shricked, disappeared and was never seen again.

    Do you know it?

    @JazzFeathers
    The Old Shelter – Roaring Twenties

    • http://weewhitehoose.co.uk Fee

      It could be the Brownie? I’ve read similar versions of that story attributed to quite a few creatures in folklore, the story of the Elves and the Shoemaker springs immediately to mind.

  • Samantha Mozart

    I love the seat by the fire and the cream and oat cakes left out for that dear hard worker who works through the night.
    Lovely imagery. Thanks, Fee.
    Samantha Mozart
    http://thescheherazadechronicles.org

    • http://weewhitehoose.co.uk Fee

      You’re welcome, thanks for stopping by :)

  • http://www.patgarciaschaack.com Pat Garcia

    Hi,
    Your Uruisgs reminds me of a similar story in my own family. My grandmother always set the table for an extra person even when she was expecting no one, because there was a man who would always drop by unannounced and unexpected, every now and then. We never knew when Jake would pop up. He would stay away for months and then on a Sunday afternoon after church, he would show up and tell us kids stories, while my grandmother finished cooking her meal. He was a welcome soul at our table. He helped my grandfather out so much. He would hang around two or three days. He never slept in the house but chose the barn. And then we would wake up to find out he was gone.
    Maybe he was a Uruisgs.
    Thanks so much. I am enjoying your series greatly.
    Shalom,
    Pat

    • http://weewhitehoose.co.uk Fee

      That’s a fantastic tale, Pat! Maybe he was an Uruisg right enough :) The custom of setting a place for an unexpected guest is observed at Halloween in Scotland, when it’s thought that the ancestors visit. A place is set for them and they’re served the same food as everyone else, even though it’s never eaten.