Supping with the Devil – or a Fifer

The proverb It taks a lang spuin to sup wi the Deil is at least as old as Chaucer (Squier’s Tale), but very often, in Scotland at least, the warning about the Devil is changed to reflect the half-envious banter of non-Fifers for the canny folk of the Kingdom. They are reputedly fly, i.e. cunning, crafty, not easily deceived, knowing, clever, alert. Why this should be the judgement of others is obscure, but it is partnered in a way by the Fife saying Ye’re queer folk no to be Fife folk. This stand-offish attitude probably is connected with the proud history of the shire. It’s called “the Kingdom” because it was there that kings had their palaces and courts –
                               The king sits in Dumfermline toun,
                               Drinking the blude-reid wine
And Falkland, just over the hill from my home town of Leslie, has its palace still; in the old days it was the favourite hunting lodge of James V, “The Guidman o Ballangeich”, and where he died. He had just been told of the birth of his daughter Mary, and he is reputed to have said “Adieu, fareweel! It cam wi a lass, it’ll gang wi a lass.” Which came true, for the Stewart dynasty, that got the throne though the marriage of the sixth High Steward of Scotland, Walter Stewart (1293–1326), to Marjorie, daughter of Robert the Bruce, began its downfall with Mary Queen of Scots, and ended with the death of Queen Anne.
But long before that, , long before Dunfermline was a royal residence or the Stewarts moved into Falkland, the kings of the Picts ruled there. The name is found as Fib c.1150, and Fif (1165), i.e. “the Territory of Fib”, who was (we’re told) one of the seven sons of Cruithe, legendary father of the Picts. But the personal name seems to date later than the territory associated with it, so some earlier name must be involved.
However that may be, Fife has always, it seems, tried to be different, and act contrair to the expected. In the 1973 local government reorganisation of Scotland, Fife fought a successful campaign to be left as a unitary council area instead of being lumped together with Perth and Kinross, and as of 1996 it is still as proudly on its own. Others see it as a place not unique perhaps but definitely not usual. There’s the tale of the Edinburgh woman going over in the ferry and calling back to the shore “Fare-ye-weel, Scotland! I’m away to Fife!”

1 Comment

Filed under Fife, Texts

One response to “Supping with the Devil – or a Fifer

  1. As a Fifer living in Australia I am so glad I have found your blog.

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