THE WATER HORSES
The Water Horses (Na h-each-uisge) were mysterious creatures that supposedly lived around Islay luring islanders to watery deaths.
Water Horse folklore is common throughout the British Isles and Scandinavia, but in Hebridean culture they have different characteristics and are often known by their Gaelic name, each-uisge. The each-uisge is a supernatural being, similar to the kelpies of Scottish tradition but far more aggressive and vicious. In fact, if the stories are to be believed, the each-uisge is the most dangerous water creature in Scotland.
What makes the each-uisge particularly dangerous was that it is a shape-shifter that is able to persuade women to follow it or men to ride it.
The each-uisge could be ridden safely on land and could be captured by humans, but water had near-magnetic power and whenever the each uisge found itself near water – be it a river, a loch or the sea – it made for the deepest part, downing its victim. The each-uisge was notorious for not only drowning the men and women it lured to watery deaths, but for devouring their bodies afterwards. People took care not to walk too close to the water’s edge in order to avoid these creatures.
The each-uisge would not only entrap humans, but would also steal farm animals such as sheep and cattle for its meals. This was its weakness, as it could be tempted out of the water by the smell of roasting meat – often with fatal consequences. There are stories of water horses being enticed onto the land in this way and then set upon by islanders with their dirks.
There were at least two water horses in Islay legend. Peggy Earl recalls that Loch Ardnahoe, near Port Askaig, was home to one such monster while an unnamed loch near Portnahaven (presumably the small loch at Claddach) was haunted by another.