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The Mythology and Folklore of the Celts: Scotland and Wales

By Drew Timmons

Scotland and Wales

One of the first individuals to focus on collecting Scottish folklore was Sir Walter Scott. His first substantial work—the three-volume Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, Consisting of Historical and Romantic Ballads, Collected in the Southern Counties of Scotland; with a Few of Modern Date, Founded upon Local Tradition—highlighted his interest in collecting folklore and was particularly valuable for the notes he made on local superstitions and legends. Scott corresponded with Jacob Grimm, who translated two of the ballads from Minstrelsy into German and published them in a journal he edited. Early folklorist Allan Cunningham was interested in the folklore surrounding the borders and was mentored by Scott. Cunningham’s essays can be found in R. H. Cromek’s Remains of Nithsdale and Galloway Song: With Historical and Traditional Notices Relative to the Manners and Customs of the Peasantry, which recorded traditions of fairies and witches attached to local characters. Though these men were the first to collect and share Scottish tales, the one who succeeded the most in collecting Scottish folklore was John Francis Campbell, who published Tales of the West Highlands, Orally Collected in 1860 and two further volumes in 1862, with the fourth consisting of essays on mythology and tradition. In his table of contents, he listed the title, name, and occupation of the storyteller, the time and place the tale was collected, and the collector's name. Alexander Carmichael was one of Campbell’s collaborators and he accompanied Campbell on many trips. Carmichael’s most notable work was Carmina Gadelica, Hymns and Incantations, with Illustrative Notes on Words, Rites, and Customs, Dying and Obsolete, in which he included many notes about local practices.

The most prominent Welsh folktale collector was Sir John Rhys, who was the first professor of Celtic at Oxford. Rhys’s most impressive work is Celtic Folklore, Welsh and Manx, which marked the culmination of some thirty years of research and at the same time revealed Welsh folklore to be just bits and pieces compared to what Campbell found in Scotland. That said, Rhys provided a number of legendary traditions, some coming from original Welsh texts, some from samples collected by friends and correspondents, and others through questioning natives.

Another resource for Welsh folklore is T. Gwynn Jones’s Welsh Folklore and Folk Custom, which examines not only folklore but the customs of the Welsh people. The book is more a summary of what one would expect to find in Welsh folktales—ghosts, giants, heroes, fairies—and unfortunately does not provide full detail on the stories.