This story from Scotland is spooky, scary and funny all at the same time. It is about a swift-footed and energetic (sprightly) tailor who undertakes to sew some trews at night, among the haunted ruins of an old church.
Read by Geoffrey Newland in his native Scottish accent.
Proofread by Claire Deakin.
Source: Celtic Myths and Legends collected by Joseph Jacobs (1854 - 1916).
It’s set in Saddell Castle, which you can still see today on the Kintyre peninsular. In fact, even if you can’t go there, you can look up the video of Paul McCartney's song, The Mull of Kintyre, because the castle is featured in it. (In the distance at the end of the beach).
This part of Scotland is where the MacDonald clan came from, and of course the “laird” of the castle was its lord.
There is an abbey nearby with some fine examples of celtic grave stones, which might be like the one mentioned in the story.
A SPRIGHTLY TAILOR worked for great MacDonald, in his castle at Saddell. The laird needed a new pair of trews, which were like a shirt and trousers all-in-one piece. They made a fine and comfortable item of clothing for either walking or dancing. But the new pair of trews was not all that the laird had in mind for the tailor. There was a ruined church not far from the castle, and had had heard an old tale that it was haunted, and that fearsome things were to be seen there at night. He was curious to know if the story was true or not, and he promised the tailor a fine reward if he sat among the ruins of the church all night while he worked at sewing the trews.
The tailor was well aware of the tale of the haunted ruins; but he was a swift footed and sprightly man, and was not daunted. He resolved to accept the dare and to gain the prize. So, when night came, away he went up the glen, about half a mile distance from the castle, until he came to the old church. Then he chose him a nice gravestone for a seat, lighted his candle, put on his thimble, and set to work at the trews, plying his needle nimbly and thinking about the gold that the laird would have to give him.
For some time he got on pretty well, until he felt the floor all of a sudden, tremble under his feet; and looking about him, but keeping his fingers at work, he saw the appearance of a great human head rising up through the stone pavement of the church. When the head had risen above the surface, there came from it a great, great voice. The voice said, "Do you see this great head of mine?"
“I see that, but I’ll sew this!” Replied the sprightly tailor, and he stitched away at the trews.
Then the head rose higher up through the pavement, until its neck appeared. When its neck was shown, the thundering voice came again and said, “Do you see this great neck of mine?”
“I see that, but I’ll sew this!” Said the sprightly tailor, and he stitched away at his trews.
Then the head and neck rose higher still, until the great shoulders and chest were shown above the ground. Again the mighty voice thundered, “Do you see this great chest of mine?”
Again the sprightly tailor replied, “I see that, but I’ll sew this!” He stitched away at his trews.
Still it kept rising through the pavement, until it shook a great pair of arms in the tailor’s face, and said, "Do you see these great arms of mine?"
“I see those, but I’ll sew this!” Answered the tailor, and he stitched hard at his trews, for he knew that he had no time to lose.
The sprightly tailor was making long stitches, when he saw it gradually rising and rising through the floor, until it lifted out a great leg, and stamping with it upon the pavement, said in a roaring voice, “Do you see this great leg of mine?”
“Aye, aye. I see that, but I’ll sew this!” Cried the tailor; and his fingers flew with the needle, and he took such long stitches, that he was just coming to the end of the trews, when it was taking up its other leg. But before it could pull it out of the pavement, the sprightly tailor had finished his task; and blowing out his candle, and springing from off his gravestone, he buckled up, and ran out of the church with the trews under his arm. Then the fearsome thing gave a loud roar, and stamped with both his feet upon the pavement, and out of the church he went after the sprightly tailor.
Down the glen they ran, faster than the stream when the flood rides it; but the tailor had got the start and a nimble pair of legs, and he did not choose to lose the laird’s reward. Though the thing roared to him to stop, the sprightly tailor was not the man to be beholden to a monster. So he held his trews tight, and let no darkness grow under his feet, until he had reached Saddell Castle. He had no sooner got inside the gate and shut it, than the apparition came up to it; and enraged at losing his prize, struck the wall above the gate, and left there the mark of his five great fingers. Ye may see them plainly to this day, if ye’ll only peer close enough.
The sprightly tailor gained his reward, for MacDonald paid him handsomely for the trews, and never discovered that a few of the stitches were somewhat long.