The Fuath and the Brollachan

Along a burn by Loch Migdale, there was once a mill named Moulin na Vaugha /Fouadh, ‘Mill of the Fuath’, haunted by the Fuath and her son, the amorphous Brollachan.

The Fuath would leave behind this mysterious substance sometimes called ‘star jelly’.© Lairich Rig CC BY-SA 2.0

The Fuath (from Scottish Gaelic, meaning ‘hate’, and pronounced ‘vough’ in English) was a class of malevolent spirits in Scottish Highland folklore, particularly associated with water. A female Fuath sometimes could reputedly intermarry with humans and their offspring would develop a mane and tail. Tales about the Fuath and her son the Brollachan from Sutherland were collected by Charlotte Dempster in 1859, and supplied to J. F. Campbell who printed them in The Popular Tales of the West Highlands.

Moulin na Fouadh

This mill was along a burn running into Loch Migdale and belonged to the Dempster family of Skibo Estate. The story was told in Gaelic by the widow Mary Calder to a gamekeeper, then transcribed and translated, and eventually published by Charlotte Dempster.

One of John Bethune’s ancestors, who lived at Inveran, waged that he would be able to catch the “kelpie of Moulin na Vaugha” and bring her to the inn at Inveran. He mounted a “brown right-sided mane horse” and with the help of his “brown black-muzzled dog” he captured the Fuath and tied her to the horse. She was very fierce and the man poked her into submission with an awl (a small, pointed tool for piercing holes in leather) and a sewing needle, particularly painful for the Fuath. When they arrived at Inveran his friends came to see the creature but when they shone a light at her, she fell down “like the remains of a fallen star, – a small lump of jelly.” The tale gives an explanation for the jelly-like substance of unknown origin found in the moors called ‘dropped-stars’ or ‘star jelly’.

Although this Fuath had been described in another story, The Banshee, or Vaugh, or Weird Woman of the Water as having yellow hair like ripened wheat, no nose, and wearing a fine silk green dress, a gamekeeper of the Dempsters reputedly saw the Moulin na Fouadh as a weird woman wearing “golden and silken gear” while plunging into the river Shin.

The Brollachan

In The Brollachan Mac Vaugh the source is also Mary Calder. A crippled lad, “Ally” na Muilinn, used to live in the Moulin na Gleannan. One night, the son of the Fuath, the Brollachan, a shapeless creature with only eyes and a mouth, entered the Mill and laid by the hearth. The lad stoked the fire with peat, causing burns on him. The brollachan was only able to speak two words, “myself” and “yourself” (mi-phrein and tu-phrein), so when the furious Fuath came in, he couldn’t tell who the perpetrator was. The lad hid among the machinery and managed to escape unhurt, but that same night a woman nearby was chased into her house by the Fuath and had her heel torn off.

J. F. Cambell recorded variants of this story from the islands: “Sometimes it is a Brollachan son of the Fuath, or a young water horse transformed into a man, which attacks a lonely woman, and gets burned or scalded, and goes away to his friends outside. In the islands, the woman generally says her name is Myself; and the goblin answers, when asked who burned him, “Myself.””

The Web-footed Kelpie story from the Dempster family sheep farm in Sutherland talks about a shepherd who found a dirty and lamed banshee and piggybacked her, until he noticed her webbed feet, throwing her off and flinging away the plaid she lay on.

Drocht na Vougha or Fuoah

Another local story related to water spirits is the “Bridge of the fairies or kelpies”, the Gissen Briggs, across the Dornoch Firth between Tain and Dornoch. The Voughas were tired of crossing the water in cockle shells so they decided to build a bridge across. It was a magnificent bridge mounted with gold. Unfortunately, a person blessed it in passing. The Voughas vanished and the bridge sank beneath the waves, where the remains accumulated forming the dangerous quicksands which are there today.

© Public domain

John Francis Campbell

John Francis Campbell (1821–1885), also known as Young John of Islay, was a Scottish author and scholar specialised in Celtic studies, one of the first authorities on the subject. He collected almost 800 Gaelic folktales, of which only a tenth were printed in the four volumes of The Popular Tales of the West Highlands, published between 1860 and 1862. He grew up in Islay as a Highlander: “I was handed over to the care of a piper (…) I learned to be hardy and healthy and I learned Gaelic; (…) My kilted nurse and I were always walking about in foul weather or fair, and every man, woman, and child in the place had something to say to us.”

By Silvia Muras (With information from David Watson)

Last Updated on 10 June, 2022 by Kyle Chronicle

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