Sandy's Garden ... Hornygollachs

I seem to be obsessed with creepie-crawlies as species of garden bugs which have been scarce during the summer appear, seemingly from nowhere.

By Herald Reporter
Monday, 5th October 2020, 8:57 am

Snails have turned up in large numbers; daddy-longlegs are clustering on window frames; and our blue waste bin is a muster-point for hornygollachs, or, if you prefer, horny-gollachs or, perhaps, horny gollachs.

I trust you know what a horny-gollach is? If not, this quatrain, by an unknown versifier according to some authorities but ascribed to different rhymers by others, may help.

I was told, when I first heard the verse, that its author was Douglas Young, the Scottish poet, scholar, translator and politician, who was on the academic staff of St. Andrews University while I was an undergraduate there.

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Falkirk Herald gardening guru Sandy Simpson

Whatever, the author, whoever he or she was, penned these wonderful lines: “The horny gollach's an awesome beast, / Souple and scaley; / He has twa horns an a hantle o feet / An a forky tailie.” Do you recognise the horny gollach now?

I was surprised to learn that Wikipedia is available in the Scots language as ‘the free beuk o knowledge’, where I read that, “Horny-gollachs are maistly nocturnal, an coorie doun in sma, clammy neuks in the day an snaik about bi nicht, feedin on a hantle o sindry plants an ither beasties. Gairdners an fermers aye faut horny-gollach wi skaith til their flouers an craps.”

Yes, I thought that forkie-tails cooried doun in sma, clammy neuks in the day and am surprised that a colony of them chose to live in my blue bin; and they have shown a healthy appetite for the leaves of my geraniums, munching some impressive holes in the foliage.

So, despite being aware of a belief noted as prevalent in St. Monance in Fife in 1844, that “the horned golock is esteemed a very lucky creature, and the good housewife will frequently put herself to considerable inconvenience rather than incommode this lucky insect in its grovelling pursuits,” I am less forgiving towards their depredations!

As regards that wonderful name ‘hornygollach’, the Scots language edition of Wikipedia has this to say: “That they are aye seen in maist gairdens, horny-gollachs are, an hae syne, been cried a wheen o sindry names. The wird gollach itsel comes frae the Scots Gaelic gobhlag, meanin "a stick wi sindert ends", effeirin til the beastie's kenspeckle cerci. Mair bi taiken, the cleek-shapit cerci hae gart fowk cry the beastie sic names as forkietail an clipshears. The name eariwig (frae the Inglis, earwig) effeirs tae the freit o lang syne that the beastie bigs its bourie in a body's lug an sets its eggs on their harns.”

I’m not going to translate that into English, trusting that you, gentle reader, have at least gathered the general sense of the words even if there may be one or two with which you are unfamiliar.

The belief which gave the earwig its English name … that they use your ears as a burrow and lay their eggs in your brain … is, of course, entirely mistaken. Yes, pregnant female earwigs do like to lay their eggs in a tunnel or burrow, which is the mother’s home while she cares for her eggs and for her nymphs.

And yes, you did read that correctly. In the words of the Royal Horticultural Society, “Female earwigs remain with their eggs until they have hatched. The nymphs look like smaller versions of the adult insect.

Earwigs are one of the few insects where the adults show some parental care, protecting the eggs and nymphs from predators and fungal infections.” Is it possible that the hornygollach’s party described by the poet Sheena Blackhall is a baby shower? “Daddylanglegs, flees, flechs, minnie-mony-feet / Emerteens an wyvers fechtin fur a seat / Foggy bummer, butteries, ettercaps an slugs / Snailies, slaters, a heeze o ither bugs / Pairtyin wi midgies wi a forkietail as cook. / At the hornygollach's pairty ye cud either sting or sook.”

All the party-goers are here in my garden!