each uisce

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The malevolent water-horse of Irish [each uisce] and Scottish Gaelic [each uisge] folklore whose name has endured several anglicizations, e.g. aughisky; comparable to the cabyll-ushtey and glashtin of Manx folklore and ceffyl dwfr of Welsh folklore. The water-horse inhabits salt water or large still bodies of inland water, and is thus distinguished from the kelpie inhabiting running water. In all manifestations the each uisce is a fearsome creature who can deceive and torment mortals. A sleek and handsome steed, it almost offers itself to be ridden. The Irish each uisce is most likely to emerge from the water during the month of November (see SAMAIN), when it gallops along the sands or over fields. When humans bridle and saddle them, they make fine horses, as long as they do not catch sight of salt water. When this happens, the each uisce bounds into the water with its helpless rider on its back; the horse may later devour the rider. Only the human liver will be rejected, which then floats to the surface. An untamed each uisce might also devour mortal cattle. According to popular legend, St Féchíne of Fore (d. 665?) compelled an each uisce to pull his chariot when his own horse had died.

The Scottish each uisge, even more terrifying, may appear as a gigantic bird or a handsome young man. Cautionary tales were once told how an each uisge once appeared as a pretty little pony to several little girls near Aberfeldy, Tayside (until 1974, Perthshire). As they mounted the pony, its back lengthened to accommodate them. Although the horse ran to and fro among the rocks, the children could not be unseated; next morning their livers floated to the top of a nearby lochan. A smith of the isle of Raasay vowed revenge when an each uisge devoured his beautiful daughter. Working with his son, he lured the each uisge with a roasted sheep and then held it tight in iron hooks until morning.

The each uisce or each uisge bears some relationship to the Welsh afanc. It should not be confused with the beautiful, lake-dwelling horses Cúchulainn captured and trained; he returned those to their mountain pool of his own volition when they were mortally wounded. The shoopiltee is a variant of the each uisce from the Shetlands. Folk motifs: B184.1.3; F234.1.8; F420.5.2.1; G303.

Subjects: Religion.

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