Cuoch, the Giant of Boranais

A Fenian (and Ossianic) tale, adapted here from WC Mackenzie’s Traditions of the Western Isles.

Cuoch (or Cuithich) Mac Nuadharan was a giant who lived at Dun Boranais in the river at the edge of Uig Sands.  He had three giant, broch-dwelling brothers:  Glom, at Ballyglom; Tid, at Tidberry, Kirkibost (both Bernera); and Dearge at Dun Carloway.  The brothers ruled over the area harshly.

At that time Fionn Mac Cuimhail, the Irish hero, and his band of warriors, the Fianna, arrived in Lewis and took it on themselves to challenge Cuoch.  The Fianna marched to Uig and camped at Pennydonald, just across the sand from Cuoch’s dun.  Cuoch wasn’t concerned, and continued to go out to spear flounder every day, heading straight across the sands to the sea.  Fionn’s men marched out to meet him but he wouldn’t engage with them.

Eventually, after a week of this, Fionn’s grandson Oscar decided to go for a day or two in the hills.  He ask for a loan of his grandfather’s famous sword, MacLuinn.  Fionn was reluctant to part with it, but agree to Oscar’s request on the condition that he come back straight away if the alarm was sounded. 

Oscar set off and of course, on that same day, Cuoch decided to take an interest in his visitors.  When he emerged from the dun in the morning, instead of heading to the sea, he turned towards the camp at Pennydonald.  The Fianna were a valiant army but even they were daunted by Cuoch’s fierce appearance and fell back a step – the only time they ever did so, traditions says. 

Cuoch took heart from this and the next day, when they marched out across the sand as usual, he went to engage them.  He called out to ask how many of them he would take on at once, and Fionn replied that it was their custom to give fair play, and only fight man to man.  So Fionn himself went out first, though without his MacLuinn, and took on the giant.  Oscar was summoned and arrived with the sword just as his grandfather was starting to fail.  Oscar stepped in and on his third stroke, cut off the head of Cuoch, and a cheer went up from the Fianna.

Cuoch was buried in the dunes by the bay, where his grave, 14 feet long, is marked by a stone at head and foot.  The Fianna went on to Skye meanwhile, while Dearge pursued them to avenge the death of his brother, and was himself slain.