Of Finns and Fairies

This is the final section of an interesting and detailed piece on the Pygmies Isle (first mentioned by Dean Monro in 1549 as having been inhabited by “little people”) near the Butt of Lewis , published by WC Mackenzie in the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquities of Scotland, 13 March 1905 (vol XXXIX, p257).  It’s of no particular relevance to Uig but see what you make of it, in spite of its rather dated tone (and for Lapp, read today Sami – the Sea Sami in particular.)

The Island of Lewis offers a remarkably wide field of investigation to ethnologists in view of the marked diversity of types. Dr Beddoe, whose authority will be acknowledged, suggested that one of these types, “a short, thick-set, snub-nosed, dark-haired and even dark-eyed race” was probably aboriginal and probably Finnish. Have we here the descendents of the so-called Pigmies? The Laplanders or true Finns have certainly some physical affinities with the short and dark type of Lewisman (a type which is but sparsely represented on the island); while the gammar or huts of the Lapps, as described by travellers, bear a resemblance to the Luchruban [as the island is also known] structure, as it must have been originally designed. Customs lingered in Lewis as recently as the 18th century, or even the 19th century, which have elsewhere been regarded as peculiar to Lapland. And Professor Sven Nilssen (The Primitive Inhabitants of Scandinavia) shows convincingly I think that the pigmies of tradition and dwarfs of the Sagas belonged to the same race as the Laplanders of the present day. Moreover the well-authenticated traditions in Shetland about Finn-men apparently offer corroboration of the view that the “little men” of this island were of Finnish or Lapponic origin. The Firbolg, the short dark men of Irish tradition who were driven from Ireland to the Hebrides by the Tuatha de Danaan, represent, not improbably, the same race.¹ Dun Fhirbolg in St Kilda may be of some ethnological value.

It is a noteworthy fact that while Highland folklore is full of the Famhairean (the Irish Fomorians) or giants, there is an absence of complimentary Luchrubain or dwarfs. How is this to be accounted for? May it not be that they are represented by our old friends the fairies, who, by the way are sometimes called the Daoine Beaga, the ancient name of the Pigmies Isle?  It is impossible to elaborate this suggestion here, but I may mention one fact concerming the Lewis fairies. One of their names is Muinntir Fhionnlagh, translated as the Finlay people, a title which as applied to fairies baffles Lewis folklorists. I venture to suggest that this name means “the little Finn people” and that it unites the Finnish aborigines with the “good little people” of fairy lore who dwell in the bowels of green hills, like Luchruban, and practice uncanny arts like the Lapland wizards.

Note: 1. It may be observed that in Foley’s Dictionary one of the Irish names for pigmie is Leappacán. [hence Luchrubàn and Leprechaun]

A more recent examination of Eilean nan Luchrubain (with pictures) was carried out by the STAC project, 2003-5.