A retelling of the ballad of the Scottish borders
This episode we’ve a tale from the Isle of Man featuring a folkloric Kaiju, a super-powered Saint, unusual ordinance, a brave little tailor(but not that brave little tailor), a deal with god, and more nautical terms than you can shake a main brace at. For pictures, links and musical credits please see the website page at https://talesofbritainandireland.com/episode-37-the-buggane-of-st-trinians/ #myth #mythology #folklore #legends
“Saint Trinian shall never have a whole church in Ellan Vannin!”
This episode is the first from Ellan Vannin – the Isle of Man.
Two stories in one really, featuring a folkloric Kaiju, a manifesting Saint whose powers would fit in well with the x-men, a deal with god, and all the sheer excitement of church building.
Also includes unusual ordinance, a brave little tailor (but not that brave little tailor) and more nautical terms than you can shake a main brace at.
“I can see that, but I’ll sew this!”— Timothy the tailor, being cocky
Story in summary (Warning – contains spoilers!)
The stories in brief, without the detail or discussion – not a transcript. I’ve completely excluded the framing narrative here which is a fair bit of the episode.
If you’ve already listened and just want a refresh, only want the bare bones of the story, or really don’t care about spoilers then please do click below to read on…
The Buggane of St. Trinian’s
Brodar Merune was an Irish chieftain recently turned jewel thief. With a problem.
You see he was on his boat heading from the Isle of Man with jewels and money that he had taken from a tricked money lender, who had thought he was getting the jewels as security.
But many drinks later that had not been the case and now Brodar and his crew were sailing hard away from the Island with both.
That was not the problem. That was… in Brodar’s mind, fine – the plan even. He’d get back to the island with his ill gotten goods and he’d never be pursued there.
However – The Isle of Man was one of the few places where the old powers, so long ago banished by Christianity, still remained strong, stronger than anywhere else.
Now the residents of Mann had long learned to live in an uneasy truce with these strange neighbours from a bygone age.
And amongst the many rituals or protocols, depending on your point of view, they had developed, was to make sure to always cleanse any boat leaving the Isle of Man before it departed. A simple prayer and a fire was enough to ensure that the ship was freed of any fairies or bugganes or anything else that had made its way on to the ship. The ritual worked and was a few minutes work.
What is a Buggane you might be asking? Well they come in many varieties – at their perhaps most typical a huge hairy fanged creature: flame eyed, all terrible and bestial. But crucially they could change shape at will – become as small as a house cat or as large as an elephant, or larger still even.
The Buggane that had crept onto the ship had done as a tiny little imp.
And the crew of thieves, desperate to leave the Isle of Man quickly, to secure their getaway had neglected to perform the cleansing.
The Buggane was still on the ship. Having a little sleep. Unnoticed.
The creature awoke as the ship was moving out into the sea. It found the Isle of Man, and its home, getting ever more distant. And this did not please it one little bit. Made it quite enraged in fact.
But that was ok – for it had powers. The Buggane summoned a wind to blow the ship back to Peel harbour from where they had departed.
But the crew of that Irish ship were an experienced bunch, who really didn’t want to go back to the scene of their crime. And so they tacked into the wind -and the ship continued to get further from the island.
The Buggane did not like this one bit. And more that it hated when people tried to defy it. So it redoubled its efforts, made the wind blow stronger. But the crew continued with their own skills and while their progress slowed under the onslaught, progress was still made.
And Finally something in the Buggane snapped… and its plan changed from simply directing the ship back to taking it all the way back at speed, and destroying it into the bargain.
The Buggane roared and the wind and the rain transformed into a storm the likes of which had not been seen in those seas for a century.
The crew were powerless against it, and started to try and turn the vessel… all thoughts of their crime now gone the only concern was to get back to shore and save their lives.
But it was too late, a mast snapped falling down onto the boat and then over the side.
Where it had fallen and smashed the hull water began to pour in. All efforts to control the boat were now impossible and it was carried by the winds and waves – back to the isle of man at terrifying speed and on a collision course towards the rocky coast.
And this was why Brodar, out of any other options was praying to an icon he had – small statue of St. Trinian. He was making all kinds of offers to St. Trinian and to god, if they would just stop this awful storm.
“St. Trinian, please, I know I’ve not been a good man but if you stop this then I swear I’ll return the Manxman all his money.”
The storm continued just as fiercely.
“ And I’ll never sin again! And I’ll build a church for you, dedicate to yourself, put in the middle of the island well away from this sea. Just please, save me now!”
I don’t know if St. Trinian was surprised when the idol started to glow But it did. But he probably was very surprised when out of it emerged a fully fledged St. Trinian – Crosier, flowing robes the whole deal. A manifested avatar or the Saint himself returned from the dead!
The deal had been made – Brodar would build the church and the saint would save them.
Firstly he waved his staff, quelled the hurricane, then with another wave he mended the hole in the side of the ship, and lastly with his hand outstretched he summoned a mild breeze himself and redirected the ship back towards peel Harbour and away from its conclusion course with the cliffs.
This all did not go unnoticed by the Buggane – the furious creature emerged from the darkness, its shape changing as it did – growing bigger and meaner until towered over the Saint and the terrified crew.
Then it threw its head back and roared a terrible sound, before charging at the Saint. But St. Trinian didn’t break a sweat. With his divine power he flung the Buggane up high into the sky. The creature arched in its flight and then land hard on the cliff tops of the Island.
It was in a terrible pain, but such a blow was not enough to kill a monster like that. It staggered to its feet… tried to summon a wind again, but the Saints power was to strong, and it watched impotently as the wrecked ship limped its way into Peel Harbour.
But right then it vowed: “Saint Trinian shall never have a whole church in Ellan Vannin!”
(Ellan Vannin being the Manx name for the Isle of Man)
Brodar was as good as his word – he returned the jewels, which must have been awkward, but he did it, found some land and started construction of a church dedicated to St. Trinian.
The location was near the foot of Greeba mountain on the Isle of Man. The Buggane made its home on the mountain. Whether that was its home always or just as watched over the construction, getting itself all worked up, is unclear.
But it was there now – and it was sabotaging construction at every opportunity. Every night it would come to the site and do what damage it could digging ditches that men and horses would fell into, ripping down walls, moving construction materials. Anything to slow down the building of the church and ultimately make it more expensive to complete.
This was terrible at first. However a little bit of praying to the idol of St. Trinian soon sorted out matters. For the Saint manifested once again and gave some very particular instructions for the foreman of the works:
Each day every workman was to wear in his hat or cap a sprig of the rowan tree, a bunch of wormwood, and a feather from a sea gull’s wing, tied together with a strip of the skin taken from the belly of a conger eel. The same charm was to be fixed in the headgear of each of the horses.
In addition every night a fire must be lit in front of the unfinished church, burning only the wood of the Rowan tree. and a watchman must keep it burning the whole night through. Its enchanted smoke would render the Buggane powerless, but only if it was kept burning.
These rather strange instructions were soon put into practice and… they worked. Incredibly efficiently actually. The Buggane was repelled by the odd charms and offended by the awful fashion sense of the hats.
It seemed like the church was bound to be completed and preparations were made for a day when the consecration could be carried out by the bishop of St. German Cathedral.
This seemingly innocuous setting of a date proved to be the undoing of the whole affair. For the date was too soon. Or almost too soon – and the workmen had to work at double speed to get the job done, shifts through the night and restricted breaks. And the watchman who had to keep the Rowan burning through the whole night? He who needed to be alert to make sure the fire went out? Well he also had to work through.
Well the church was completed on time – just, the very night before the consecration. But on that very last night the watchmen was absolutely shattered. No blame could be assigned to him though really, for he even managed to set the Rowan fire, and it was a still night and it seemed like the fire would easily burn the night through.
And so doing he went to sleep.
The Buggane saw its opportunity, its last opportunity. It summoned a wind that burned the fire fiercer and hotter and most importantly of all, faster. The fire burned down with speed. The watchman slept.
And soon the fire was out.
Down Greeba mountain came the Buggane, growing to a tremendous size. The shaking of the earth and the triumphant roaring woke the unfortunate watchman who thankfully managed to flee just before the Buggane ripped off the church roof.
The next morning the party who were to bless the new church of ST. Trinians instead found it in ruins. Brodar was of course cut up about the whole thing – he had made a deal for his life and the life of his crewmates and he surely couldn’t renege on that because of some setbacks
You would think.
But… it turns out… he absolutely could. He was out of money now and no way to get it back. Beaten by the Buggane he gave up. He left for Ireland never to return. What any consequence are for defaulting on your deal with god, we are left only to imagine.
The work surely fell to the wider Church to pick up now then.
But they didn’t have the money either. Nor particularly the desire to have another church. This was Brodar’s thing after all.
And so, somewhat anticlimactically.. The Buggane had won. The church to be simply remind there… roof unfinished.
Years turned into decades, and in the grand scheme of things all who were involved were soon dead and the stories of all those men involved in the original construction were over.
Weeds grew in the shell of the church, many lives came and went, and the church to be fell away from the attention of humans, wildflowers, insects and animals made it their home.
But that isn’t quite the end.
For hundreds of later another attempt was made to rebuild the church.
The details of who and why aren’t important but someone got it into their head to put a roof on that old church, a passion project.
Now despite the passage of such time the Buiggane was very firmly still around. IT didn’t attack immediately this time though. It was reserving for the last night again. When it would tear off the roof.
However St Trinian was aware of it drawing plans against them.
He had a new plan this time but it was just as zany and weird in the details as the last one. For He appeared in a dream to the church builder and told him that: Should someone be able to completely sew a pair of red breeches inside the church the very night that the Buggane came for it – well that would forever break the power of the Buggane over the building and St Trinian would finally have a church in Ellan Vannin.
A strange method certainly… but that’s how it was.
A call went out for a tailor skilled and brave enough to accept the challenge.
And luckily a man was to be found with precisely the right abilities. Timothy was an ambitious tailor who quite fancied being sexton of the church when it was completed, with all the income and status such a position would bring.
He was also cocksure of himself. He took up the task giving the impression to all that it would be a complete breeze for him.
So on that dark night, when the church was roof was finally complete, but before the building was blessed he swaggered into the building.
He had with him all the materials he would need to make a bright pair of breeches and down he sat in the middle of the aisle, lighting a few candles around him so he could better see his task. And he set to work, singing a merry little song to himself as was his way.
The church remained silent and he was just coming to the conclusion that all this talk of the Buggearn must be so much stuff and nonsense when there came a sound.
Not, at first, a terrible sound, just the sound of earth or stone, rumbling gently, crumbling. But it came from just in front of him.
The tailor’s eyes flicked down to the aisle just a couple of feet in front of him.
He stared at the huge head emerging from a hole that had newly formed in the church floor. It was vast and frightful with great goggly green eyes, distended nostrils, a wide mouth, and fierce jagged fangs.
But Timothy’s talk had not been bluster. He was a brave man, he tore his eyes eye from the Buggane and focused back on his work, moving his hands even faster than before.
This didn’t sit well with the Buggane, and its dripping awful maw formed words – “Timothy! Do you see this awful head of mine?”
“Hee hee.. I see that.. But I’ll sew this..” said the Tailor, and on he went with his work.
Powerful arms ending in large clawed hands emerged from the hole and the Buggearn pulled itself up further.
“And do you see this my great body, huge hands, my terrible talons?”
Timothy worked furiously, didn’t miss a stitch, replied:
“Hee hee! I see that, but I’ll sew this!”
The Buggane climbed out of the hole fully, and it stood in the centre of the church, a towering fearful figure. “Timothy – do you see my great limbs, my huge feet, my long terrible claws?”
There was just a button left. They were so close to being done! But Timothy broke, looked up at the Buggane and mid-way through its last question he leapt up more nimbly than ever he had done before, he turned and he ran.
The creature behind him laughed triumphantly as it ripped down the church roof.
Away Timothy ran… nearly, but not quite, completed trousers in hand. And well he should have done because even though it had torn the roof off the Buggane was not happy with Timothy standing up to it.
And he glanced behind him to see the creature running after him.
He turned and ran at a speed faster than he had ever run before, as though he was running with all the power of the Three legs of the Isle of Man within him!
The situation was desperate. The Buggane was gaining, claws outstretched, teeth bared, ready to tear the tailor to pieces.
When suddenly the tailor spied Kirk Braddon church yard. Consecrated ground!
It wouldn’t be able to follow him in there!
Timothy reached his goal, vaulted over the church wall but didn’t quite stop and ran right to the building itself, finally collapsing beneath the chancel window.
He turned slowly and to his greatest relief the Buggane stayed outside the churchyard.
Unable to enter it roared and danced up down in frustration, spitting flames and cursing. But this didn’t last for long, for as its fury built it made one final attempt to end the tailor who had dared defy it, as it ripped its head from its body, and chucked it with full force into the church yard.
Acting on some instinct he didn’t know he had Timothy dived out of the way at the last moment, catching a look of rage in the flying heads eyes for just a fraction second before it smashed into the side of the building and exploded with all the power and noise of a bomb.
And that was about that. The sound rocked the land for miles around and people soon found timothy lying in the churchyard… basically unharmed by the way, physically at least, still clutching the pair trousers almost, but not quite completed.
After word of that terrible experience got around no further attempt was ever made to put the roof on the church.
And so it remains roofless to this very day.
What this all makes clear is that for all his show of strength and power St Trinian’s authority had been very clearly checked by the power of the Buggearn .
The seemingly inevitable, unstoppable spread of christanity and the destruction of the old ways has limits.
For good or for ill, in some small places, in some small ways, the power of that which came before still holds sway.
Two versions of the buggane
As mentioned in the discussion section there are two versions of the Buggane that appear in illustrations. Firstly these are from Edward Callow’s book, woodcuts by W. J. Watson. H
ere, despite its ability to shape shift the buggane is always shown as a small imp like creature. This is not realyl how I see it or how it is in the story that is told in the podcast, bt they are still wonderful pictures. Though I’m not quite sure what is happening with the tailor’s face!
Secondly there is this illustration.. This is not technically the Buggane – as it is an illustration for “The Sprightly Tailor” in Celtic Folk and Fairy Tales, illustrated by John Dickson Batten. It’s a story that is very similar but not the same.
However it seems to capture the essence of the Buggane in the story much more accurately
Miscellanea of images
The Strange Visitor
The Strange visitor is a song/nursery Rhyme with a similar theme to the Buggane and the tailor story, but with some differences – particularly in that the creature gets its victim in the end, and that it constructs itself upwards, rather than just emerging from a hole upwards.
There is a great version of it here which I very much recommend:
Do you like stories about church building? Check out a previous episode about it!
- The Phynodderre – Edward Callow
- Manx Fairy Tales – Sophia Morrison
- An historical and statistical account of the Isle of Man – Joseph Train
- Wood’s account of the Isle of man, 1811
- Speaking from the Shadows: Sophia Morrison and the Manx Cultural Revival – Breesha Maddrell
Musical credits for Episode 37: The Buggane of St Trinian’s
Intro music from the incredibly talented Alice Nicholls Music
Outro music by Josh Keely and Mitch Newman
Other music, used under various Creative Commons licenses:
No man’s Land
Kevin Macleod (incompotech.com)
Living in the dark
Church Bell Celebration
Tales from asylum
Castle of Darkness
The Ants Built A City On His Chest
What’s behind the door?
Humanoide9000 – Superhero Theme
FlechaBr- Short Monster Roar