The Highlander and the Devil, a Scottish Folk Tale About Whisky

Wigtown, the place in Scotland that was saved from the plague by a brave Highlander and a bottle of whisky.

The story of the Highlander and the Devil is an old Scottish folk tale. It reminds a bit of the encounters the Beer King Gambrinus and the Serbian saint Sava had with Satan, but as it plays in Scotland of course this is a whisky story. Unlike the formentioned folk tales from Belgium and Serbia in this case the Devil does not help in the creation of a national drink. In fact it’s rather the opposite, as the spirit of the Scottish Highlanders is too much for the Lord of the Underworld. But like every good folk tale that involves drinking here too the moral of the story is to do it with moderation.

Many centuries ago a young Higlander named Tom Campbell joined a family tradition by leaving his home to become a sailor. After he travelled far and wide he returned home to the Scottish coast where he fell in love with a girl and decided to settle down in a place called Wigtown and raise a family. Tom became a blacksmith and soon his wife gave him three beautiful children. As a HIghlander Tom also liked his “uisge beatha” and he drank some glasses after every hard day of work.
The life of a blacksmith was tough, but it got worse when the plague hit his town hard. At some point Tom was one of the few men left who weren’t suffering from this horrible disease. The Highlander feared that soon he would be spending more time at home as the plague would worsen, so after a long day at work he stopped by a local tavern to pick up a bottle of the finest whisky. As he checked the quality of his purchase he held a small toast: “The plague is the Devil’s work right enough. But he won’t get the better of me!”
On his way home all was dark and he had to find his way by the light of the moon. Suddenly he heard a lugubrious laughter behind him and as he turned around he saw that what he had mistaken for a Highland coo was in fact the Devil himself, who said to him: “Tom, I hear you’ve been having a laugh at my expense. Now it’s time to play.” And he let out a huge roar, thinking it would terrify the young man. However he was sadly mistaken and the Highlander calmly replied: “Oh it’s you. I expected more to be honest. You wanna have a drink with me?”
Tom pulled out the bottle of fine whisky and offered it to the Devil. The Highlander didn’t know what kind of booze the Devil was used to, but he could soon tell he never drank anything like this before as he was chugging the good whisky faster than any man should. Before he knew it the Devil drank half the bottle and Tom cried out “Save some for me please!” As he grabbed back his precious whisky Tom noticed the Devil was staggering a little.
“Well now”, the Devil yelled enthousiastic and loud. “We will fight for your soul by the ancient Highlander code of fair combat. If I win, your soul will be mine.” Tom nodded and asked: “But what if I win?” The Devil smiled and replied: “Unlikely, but name your prize and you will have it.” Tom then demanded that in case he won their wrestling match the Devil would release Wigtown of the plague and never bother the people of his region again. His evil opponent agreed and the two asumed their positions for the fight.
As they wrestled for hours Tom took strength from the sips of whisky he had consumed. But the Devil seemed to be struggling with the effects of drinking so much of the powerful spirit. As the light of dawn began to shine over the beach the Devil’s foot slipped and Tom managed to toss him on his back. The Highlander screamed victoriously, as the Devil cursed and left the scene exhausted to sleep off his intoxication. Tom took the final sips from his whisky and fell asleep on the beach.
A few hours later the Highlander was awoken by a local priest, who had been searching for him with his concerned wife. “Oh what a happy day”, the priest yelled to his wife. “This is the second strike of luck today. We found your husband.” A groggy Tom looked at both and asked what the first lucky event of the day was. “The plague, my dear man, it lifted this morning and the people are no longer sick”, the priest cheered. And even though nobody believed the words of the “drunkard” who was found sleeping on the beach, Tom knew that with the help of uisge beatha he had won a fight with the Devil that night and saved the people of Wigtown.

Micky Bumbar

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5 thoughts on “The Highlander and the Devil, a Scottish Folk Tale About Whisky

  1. This is such a Russian method of dealing with adversaries – offer them a drink!
    BTW Gambrinus was a legendary restaurant in Odessa before the revolution. Kuprin worte about it. It was resurrected in the 70’s under the same name but in a different location. It still exists, as one of Odessa landmarks, even though it is now quite touristy and commercial. Still, old legends don’t die!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ahhhh nice. I bet the Craft Beer Revolution hit Ukraine too right?! 😀
      Actually I was hoping to find a similar Russian or Ukranian folk tale that includes the Devil and vodka or something. You wouldn’t happen to know any perhaps?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Micky, do you read Russian or Polish? There is a Gogol story from “Night on a Farm Near Dikanka” about the devil and the blacksmith, and there is a Polish fold tale which supports the theory that vodka was invented in Poland, rather than Russia. Since Ukraine at that time had not existed as a separate country but was a part of Poland, it makes sense. I don’t know if either exist in English.
        I was expelled from the Soviet Union in 1978, way before perestroika, let alone Craft Beer. We had Zhigulyevskoe beer, fondly known as donkey’s urine.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Hahaha sounds like the Soviet Heineken. 😛
        I will have some friends look for this story, as I can read cyrillic, but my vocabulaire in Russian is practically non existing, and my Polish is not much better. 😉

        Liked by 1 person

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