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Tarbh Uisge


The Tarbh Uisge or Water Bull is a creature of Scottish folklore similar to the Each Uisge (Water Horse). Some sources claim they could only be found in isolated pools in the highlands, while others suggest they frequented the coastal regions of Scotland. Described as having a black, soft, velvety pelt the Tarbh Uisge would generally only leave the water at night in order to graze or to mate with any available cows. The Tarbh Uisge was thought to have no ears and the calves born of a water bull were identified as their ears were half normal size or split. These calves are referred to as Corc-Chluassask (Split Ears) or Carechluasach (knife or short ears). According to Folklore of Scottish Lochs and Springs by James Mackinlay (1893) 'Calves are the result of occasional intercourse between these animals and their more civilised domestic congeners, such calves bearing unmistakable proofs of their mixed descent in the unusual size and pendulousness of their ears and the wide aquatic spread of their jet black hoofs.'

The exact nature of the Tarbh Uisge could be called into question. Rev. Dr. Alexander Stewart in 'Twixt Ben Nevis and Glencoe: the natural history, legends, and folk-lore of the West Highlands (1885)' describes both water bulls and water horses as being 'upon the whole, of the same shape and form as the more kindly quadrupeds after whom they have been named, but larger, fiercer, and with an amount of `devilment' and cunning about them, of which the latter, fortunately, manifest no trace. They are always fat and sleek, and so full of strength and spirit and life that the neighing of the one and the bellowing of the other frequently awake the mountain echoes to their inmost recesses for miles and miles around.' However, some sources suggset that unlike the Each Uisge, the Water Bull did not attack people and livestock, instead ignoring those who happened upon them and was considered docile.

On the Isle of Skye they were considered unlucky for the land and are said to have been killed. Some stories concerning water bulls and cows say they can only be killed by silver bullets.

Strangely it has been suggested by some sources that the Tarbh Uisge makes a noise similar to a rooster crowing rather than a bull bellowing.

Loch Llundavra and Loch Achtriachtan in Glencoe are said to have been famous for their Tarbh Uisge.

On the Isle of Man the Tarbh Uisge are known as Taroo Ustey.

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Ian Topham
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Re: Tarbh Uisge

James Mackinley Folklore of Scottish Lochs and Springs (1893) -  Sir Walter himself has an interesting reference to the same superstition in his "Journal," under date November 23rd, 1827. After enumerating the company at a certain dinner party at which he had been present, he continues: "Clanronald told us, as an instance of Highland credulity, that a set of his kinsmen—Borradale and others—believing that the fabulous `water-cow' inhabited a small lake near his house, resolved to drag the monster into day. With this view they bivouacked by the side of the lake in which they placed, by way of night-bait, two small anchors such as belong to boats, each baited with the carcase of a dog slain for the purpose. They expected the `water-cow' would gorge on this bait, and were prepared to drag her ashore the next morning, when, to their confusion of face, the baits were found untouched. It is something too late in the day for setting baits for water-cows." If such conduct seemed wonderful in 1827, what would the author of "Waverley" have thought had he known that more than half-a-century later, people in the Highlands retained a thoroughgoing belief in such monsters?

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Re: Tarbh Uisge

In The Folklore Of The Isle Of Man, A. W. Moore discussed the Manx Tarroo Ustey (Taroo Ustey, Tarroo Ushtey)
Among the prodigies of Nature, I know none which more justly may be called so at least, of those which I am convinced of the truth of than that of the Water-Bull, an amphibious creature which takes its name from the so great resemblance it has of that beast that many of the people, having seen him in a field, have not distinguished him from one of the more natural species. A neighbour of mine, who kept cattle, had his fields very much infested with this animal, by which he had lost several cows; he, therefore, placed a man continually to watch, who, bringing him word that a strange bull was among the cows, he doubted not but it was the Water -Bull, and having called a good number of lusty men to his assistance, who were all armed with great poles, pitchforks, and other weapons proper to defend themselves, and be the death of this dangerous enemy, they went to the place where they were told he was, and ran all together at him; but he was too nimble for their pursuit, and after tiring them over mountains and rocks, and a great space of stony ground, he took a river, and avoided any further chase by diving down into it, though every now and then he would show his head above water, as if to mock their skill.

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Ian Topham
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Re: Tarbh Uisge

Known as Tarbh Eithre on Skye.



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