Friday, 13 April 2012

Stumpy's Brae

Tha burn tha tocht Stumpy cudnae cross

Whilst carrying out some research on ghost stories from the North West I came across the gruesome legend of Stumpy's Brae, occasionally called the Legend of Tom the Toiler.  

Stumpy's Brae is the steep brae between Craighadoes and Lifford near a bridge that is featured in the poem. It is interesting to note the use of the Ulster-Scots tongue throughout, as we tend to forget that this area was home to a sizable number of Scottish Planters

There is a wealth of information on the poem and it author Cecil Frances Alexander (who also wrote Once in Royal David's City. All Things Bright and Beautiful and There is a Green Hill Far Away) at

Twarthy miles fae Lifford

By Cecil Frances Alexander (Londonderry, December 1844)

Heard ye no tell o' Stumpy's Brae?
Sit doon, sit doon, young freen',
I'll mak your flesh to creep this night 
and your hair to stan' on end.

Young man, it's hard to strive wi' sin
And the hardest strife o' a'
Is when the greed o' gain comes in

And drives God's grace awa'.

O, it's quick to do, but it's lang to rue
When the punishment comes at last
And we'd gi' the whole world to undo the deed

That deed that's gone and past.

Over yon strip of meadow land
And over the bintie bright
Dinna ye mark a fir-tree stand

Beside yon gable white.

I mind it well in my young days
The story it was rife,
There lived in a lonely cottage
A farmer and his wife.

They sat all alone in the bright fire light
Wan blessed Autumn night,
The hedge without, the stones within,
Were streaked wi' the bright moonlight.

The boys and girls had a' gone doon a wee
To the old blacksmith's wake,
There passed one by the winda' sma',
And he gied the door a shake.

The auld man got up and opened the door,
And after he'd spoken a bit,
A pedlar man stept into the floor and tumbled doon the pack he bore,
A right heavy pack was it.

"Guid bless us a" cried the auld man wi' a smile,
"But ye're in the thrivin' trade",
"Aye, I have travelled mony a mile
An' plenty I have made."

The two sat on in the bright fire light,
The pedler had gone to his rest.
The devil he came to the auld man’s ear,
And slip’t intil his breast.

He looked at his wife across the fire
She was as bad as he,
"Could we no murder this man the nacht?"
"Aye could we rightly," quo’ she.

He lifted his pick without a word,
It stood behind the door,
And as he pressed in the sleeper stirred,
But he never wakened more.

"He’s deid!" cried the auld man coming back,
"What’s to do wi’ the corpse, me dear?"
"Oh, bury him snug in his ane wee pack.
Never mind the loss o' the sack. I’ve taken out the gear."

"The corpse's too long by two guid span,
Oh!  What’ll we do?" quo’ he.
Says she - "Ye're a doting, unthinkin' oul man,
Just snick him off at the knee."

They shortened the corpse, and they packed him tight
Wi’ his legs in a pickle o’ hay,
Over the burn in the bright moonlight
They carried him up to the Brae.

They shovelled a hole right speedily
And they laid him on his back,
"A right guid pair are ye" quo’ the Pedlar,
Sitting boldly up in his pack.

"Ye thought ye’d lay me snugly here
Where none should know my station
But I’ll haunt ye far, and I’ll haunt ye near
Father and son, wi' terror and fear, till the nineteenth generation.

They sat all alone the very next night,
When the wee bit dog began to cower
And they knew by the pale blue fire-light,
That the Evil One had power.

It had just struck nine o’ the clock,
That hour when the man lay dead,
When there came to the outer door a knock,
And a heavy, heavy tread.

The auld wife’s heid swam roun' and roun',
The auld man's blood did  freeze,
‘Twas not like a natural sound, but like someone
stumping over the ground
On the banes o’ his raw bare knees.

And in through the door like a sough of air,
And he stumped and he stumped around the twa’
Wi’ his bloody heid, and his knee bones bare
As he died that night awa.

The wife’s black locks ere morn grew white,
They say, as mountain snows.
The man was as straight as a rush that night
But he crooked when the next morn he rose.

And every night as the clock struck nine,
The hour they did the sin,
The wee dog began to whine
An' the ghost came clatterin’ in.

And stump, stump, stump to his ploys again
Over the taps o' the stools and chairs,
Ye’d surely hae thought it was ten weemen and men
Dancin' all in pairs.

A’ night, there was a fearful flood,
Three days the skies had poured
And the tap wi' foam and the bottom wi' mud,
The burn in fury roared.  

Quo’ she, "Guid man ye needne turn sae pale
In the dim fire light
The stumpy cannae cross the burn
He’ll naw be here the nacht."  

"For it’s ower the bank, it's ower
It's ower the meadow rig."
"Aye", said the ghost comin' clattering in a gied the auld wife a bat on the chin,
"But I cam' roun by the brig".

They sold their gear and across the sea,
To a foreign land they went
But sure what can flee 
from his appointed punishment?

The ship swam over the ocean clear,
Wi’ the help o’ the Western breeze
But the very first sound they heard on the wide, smooth deck
Was the thumpin’ o’ them twa bare knees.

Out in the wild woods of Americay
Where their weary feet they set,
But Stumpy was there first they say, and haunted them to
Their dying day, And he haunts their children yet.

Now that's the story o’ Stumpy’s Brae
And the murderer’s fearful fate.
Young friend, your face is turned that way,
This night you'll gang that gate.

Ye’ll ken it well, through the few fir trees
The house where they were wont to dwell
If ye meet any there as daylight flees,
Stumping about on the banes o’ his knees,
It’ll just be Stumpy himsel’.

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