Elves in Scotland: the Elf bull

By Thomas Crofton Croker

In the fine days of autumn, when the fields have been reaped, and a number of cattle are collected together from the different farms, the creatures oftentimes run about and bellow as if mad, though there appears no cause for this confusion.

If you look through an Elf’s knot-hole, or through the aperture made in the skin of an animal by an elf bolt, you may see the elf bull butting with the strongest bull in the herd: but this eye is ever after deprived of sight; and many a one has become blind in this way.

The elf bull is small in comparison with the real one; of a mouse colour, has upright ears, short horns and legs; his hair is short, smooth, and shining like an otter. He is, besides, supernaturally strong and courageous: he is mostly seen on the banks of rivers, and is fond of eating green grass in the night.

A farmer who lived near a river had a cow which regularly every year, on a certain day in May, left the meadow and went slowly along the banks of the river till she came opposite to a small island overgrown with bushes; she went into the water and waded or swam towards the island, where she passed some time, and then returned to her pasture. This continued for several years; and every year, at the usual season, she produced a calf which perfectly resembled the elf bull. One afternoon, about Martinmas, the farmer, when all the corn was got in and measured, was sitting at his fireside, and the subject of the conversation was, which of the cattle should be killed for Christmas.

He said : “We’ll have the cow; she is well fed, and has rendered good services in ploughing, and filled the stalls with fine oxen: now we will pick her old bones.” Scarcely had he uttered these words when the cow with her young ones rushed through the walls as if they had been made of paper, went round the dunghill, bellowed at each of her calves, and then drove them all before her, according to their age, towards the river, where they got into the water, reached the island, and vanished among the bushes. They were never more heard of.

From Fairy legends and traditions of the South of Ireland, part III., by Thomas Crofton Croker.
London: John Murray, 1828.

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