In the folkloric traditions of the Orkney and Shetland islands, a trow (alternatively trowe or drow) is a small, troll-like fairy creature.1 Trows, in general, are inclined to be short of stature, ugly and both shy and mischievous in nature. Like the troll of Scandinavian legend, with which the trow shares many similarities, trows are nocturnal creatures; venturing out of their 'trowie knowes' (earthen mound dwellings) solely in the evening, they often enter households as the inhabitants sleep. Trows traditionally have a fondness for music, and folktales tell of their habit of kidnapping musicians or luring them to their dens.
According to Sir Walter Scott: 'Possession of supernatural wisdom is still imputed by the natives of Orkney and Zetland Islands, to the people called Drows, who may, in most other respects, be identified with the Caledonian fairies.'2
Dey (1991) speculates that the tradition, and perhaps that of the selkie, may be based in part on the Norse invasions of the Northern Isles. She states that the conquest by the Vikings sent the indigenous, dark-haired Picts into hiding and that "many stories exist in Shetland of these strange people, smaller and darker than the tall, blond Vikings who, having been driven off their land into sea caves, emerged at night to steal from the new land owners."3 However most Roman sources describe the Picts as tall, long limbed and red or fair haired.
Some Shetland fiddle tunes are said to have come to human fiddlers when they heard the trows playing. One example of such a 'trowie tune', "Winyadepla", may be found in the playing of Tom Anderson on his album with Aly Bain, The Silver Bow.
... a troop of peerie folk came in. A woman took off the nappie from her baby and hung it on Gibbie's leg, near the fire, to dry. Then one of the trows said, "What'll we do ta da sleeper?" "Lat him aleen," replied the woman, "he's no a ill body. Tell Shanko ti gie him a ton." Said Shanko, "A ton he sall hae, an we'll drink his blaand." After drinking, they trooped out of the mill, and danced on the green nearby ...4
- Dictionary of the Scots Language
- Sir Walter Scott, Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft (1830), p. 122. Sometimes "drow" is used as a synonym for devil.
- Dey (1991) p. 12.
- Dey, Joan (1991). Out Skerries - an Island Community. Lerwick: The Shetland Times. ISBN 0-900662-74-3.