Gaelic Literature  of the Isle of Skye: an annotated  bibliography   


Traditional Prose: collections and collectors




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THORBURN, Somhairle  (20th Century)


Samuel Thorburn, or Sammy Shomhairle, belonged to Waterstein in Glendale, Skye.  He was the son of Somhairle Beag, a well known local storyteller (Scottish Studies, 7:26)



Somhairle Thorburn.  Gileabart is Coinneach Beag’.  Gairm, 26 (An Geamhradh 1958), 164-169.


Recorded by James Ross in July 1953.  From School of Scottish Studies recording R.L. 361 and R.L. 364.  It is the tale of two Tiree weavers who could be said to represent ‘brain and brawn’.  Coinneach Beag hatches a plot to defraud his and Gileabart’s customers, and then the rest of the tale is taken up with his attempts to dispose of his partner in crime and keep all the proceeds for himself.  Each time Gileabart escapes by a lucky chance and the tale ends with both men settled contentedly.



James Ross.  ‘A Rhampsinitus Story from Skye: Goban Saor ‘s a Mhac’.  Scottish Studies, 2 (1958), 123-139.


Transcript of a tale told by Somhairle Thorburn in June 1957; from School of Scottish Studies recording R.L. 628.  Text (pp. 123-128), James Ross’s translation (pp. 128-133), and James Ross’s notes (pp. 133-139).


Goban Saor, a clever builder, and his son build a bank.  They leave a concealed entrance, whereby they may return later to rob the bank.  The story then centres round the efforts of an unnamed wise man to trap the robbers, which results in Goban Saor’s death.  His son escapes and by means of trickery and murder eventually emerges triumphant and even marries the laird’s daughter.


James Ross examines the long provenance of the character of Goban Saor in the Scottish and Irish Gaelic traditions.  He then goes on to examine the international provenance of the tale; pointing out that the

international folk-tale of which it is a variant first appeared in written form in Herodotus, who related it as he heard it told in Egypt of the rich King Rhampsinitus.



James Ross.  ‘Mac a Bhutler: The Butler’s Son: a Master Thief Story from Skye’.  Scottish Studies, 7 (1963), 18-36.


Transcript of a tale told by Somhairle Thorburn in July 1953, from School of Scottish Studies recording R.L. 365.  Text, with parallel English translation by James Ross (pp. 18-26) and notes by James Ross (pp. 26-36).


The laird’s butler’s son is accused of stealing and is sent away to Glasgow, where he is apprenticed to a robber.  He proves himself more than a match for the Master Thief and returns home to finally outwit the laird.


In his notes, James Ross points out that the story is a variant of an internationally known tale of the Master Thief.  He quotes Stith Thompson’s description of the geographical distribution of this group of tales and a

literary origin in the Renaissance (Thompson 1964: 175).










Single items




An Cabairneach


Tormod Domhnallach I

Tormod Domhnallach II

Anna Ghreum

Gilleasbuig Aotrom

Iain MacAonghais

Aonghas Mac a’ Phi

Domhnall MacCuithein

J. G. MacKay

Hugh MacKinnon

Calum I. MacLean

Kenneth MacLeod

Niall MacLeòid

Alasdair MacNeacail

Eoghainn MacRath

Somhairle Thorburn




A-C,  An Cabairneach,

D-M,  N-Z,

Eilidh Watt


Journalism and


A-MacF,   MacG-Z













Poetry: homepage     


    Bibliography: homepage


© A Loughran, 2016