Posted by: pirliebraes | January 19, 2018

The Unlucky Pig

It would seem that Flotta did some trading with the Caithness folk in the past.  It must have been handy being one of the farthest south islands of Orkney when the Caithness men came looking for a bargain.   However, this tale, from the John o’ Groat Journal of February 7, 1896, is more about superstition than trading, and Flotta fishermen had the same superstitions as their Caithness neighbours.


Sixty years ago superstition was far more commonly believed in than at present; indeed we are glad it is fast dying out, and we hope will in a very short time be hid from view in oblivion’s darkest corner.  Still, however, most of the oldest fishermen believe heartily in numerous “old sayings,” one of which is that while at sea it is dangerous and unlucky to mention the names of certain fishes and animals such as the salmon, seal, rabbit, pig, &c., and will relate old stories which almost make some of the juvenile section as superstitious as themselves.

Flotta boats at the Waster Noust 1920s

One year about the beginning of this century young pigs happened to be exceptionally dear in Caithness, but somehow or other were cheaper in Orkney.  Our thrifty, economising ancestors heard of this, and would rather go to Orkney for their young pigs than give the Caithness merchants the price they were seeking.  A crew of five men and a boy, whom we will call Sandy D__, then about twelve years of age, manned one of the small beach boats one fine day in June and steered for Flotta, one of the farthest south islands.  Having a leading wind, they soon reached their port, all going exceedingly well, and after mooring the boat they went in search of the best of their pursuit.


Checking out the Flotta pigs in the 1950s

Dame Fortune would have it so that there were just six young pigs on all the island, five fair-sized “grices” and one very little one.  The farmer and crew at once agreed about the price; and lots having been drawn the “peedie gricie” fell to poor Sandy, who seemed quite pleased with his luck.  After all business had been transacted, and a good drink of “home brewed” from the farmer enjoyed, as a “luck-penny,” the crew proceeded on the homeward voyage.

Each one had their pig in a “pock,” except Sandy, who held his one in his bonnet, being afraid the little creature would suffocate in a sack.  Sandy hugged it; in fact he almost kissed the creature as though it were an infant, being so much pleased by its size and rarity.

Caithness visitors would have passed by Switha. This bonnet looks big enough to hold a peerie pig.

All went well until they came near the island of Stroma, when all of a sudden, the “gricie” made a struggle and jumped out of the cap and fell headlong into the sea.  Sandy frantically jumped to his feet – nearly upsetting the boat – and cried “Oh my ‘gricie,’ oh my ‘swinie’ will be drowned!  When the crew – who were all superstitious – heard this, they in fear and wrath became indignant and refused to try to save the unfortunate animal.

After consultation the decision was that some mishap was sure to befall them if they kept Sandy aboard after uttering such forbidden language and they all agreed to land him at Stroma. This arrangement having been executed they pulled off leaving poor Sandy on a strange shore, where he knew nobody and nobody knew him.  Sandy told his strange story to the islanders who at once believed him.  The kind-hearted “Stromaritans” said they would put him home if he would take an oath before the “Sheriff” of Stroma never again to use any such language, which Sandy very readily did.  Sandy kept his oath, but he never again went to Orkney in search of a cheap “gricie.”


Note:  The story mentions a peedie gricie but you would have only seen a peerie gricie in Flotta.

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