Leprechauns speak out!

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Legends of the Sea Irish Selchies [the seal people]

The seal-folk of Scotland and Ireland, variously called selchies, selkies, silkies, or roanes, have a habit of swimming out of the mists of Faery and landing on the shores of popular culture.

Those of a certain age will remember haunting versions of the ballad The Great Silkie of Sule Skerrie by Joan Baez and Judy Collins in the 1960s, and younger readers will know John Sayles's film The Secret of Roan Inish or the novel that inspired it, Rosalie K. Fry's Secret of the Ron Mor Skerry.

The Selchies
I am a man upon the land
I am a selkie on the sea

The legend of the selchie is found along the shores of Britain and Eire; there are selchie stories from Cornwall, Ireland, and most particularly the northern islands off Scotland: the Orkneys, Shetlands, and Hebrides.
Unlike other merfolk, selchies can shed their seal-skins on the land and pass for humans, usually with tragic consequences.

The Seal-Woman's Croon (An Cadal Trom)
from "Songs of the Hebrides"

The seals are the children of the King of Lochlann under spells -- Clann Righ Lochlainn fo gheasaibh. Beauty, wisdom and bravery were in their blood as well as in their skins, and that was why their step-mother took the bate of destruction for the, and live she would not unless she got them out of the way. Seven long years did she spend with a namely magician, a-learning of the Black Arts, until at last she was as good as her master at it, with a woman's wit, forby. And what think ye of it! Did not the terrible carlin put her step-children under eternal spells that they should be half-fish half-beast so long as waves should beat on the sores of Lochlann! Och! Och!

That was the black deed -- sure you would know by the very eyes of the seals that there is a kingly blood in them. But the worst is still untold. Three times in the year, when the full moon is brightest, the seals must go back to their own natural state, whether they wish it or no. Their step-mother put this in the spells so that there might be a world of envy and sorrow in their hearts every time they saw others ruling in the kingdom which is theirs by right of blood. And if you were to see one of them as they should be always, if right were kept, you would take the love of your heart for that one, and if weddings were in your thoughts, sure enough a wedding there would be.

Long ago, and not so long ago either, a man in Canna was shore-wandering on an autumn night and the moon full, and did he not see one of the seal lady-lords washing herself in a streamlet that was meeting the waves! And just as I said, he took the love of his heart for her, and he went and put deep sleep on her with a sort of charm that he had, and he carried her home in his arms. But och! och! when she wakening came, what had he before him but a seal! And though he needed all the goodness he had, love put softening in his heart, and he carried her down to the sea and let her swim away to her own kith and kin, where she ought to be. And she spent that night, it is said, on a reef near the shore, singing like a daft mavis, and this is one of her croons -- indeed, all the seals are good at the songs, and though they are really of the race of Lochlann, it is the Gaelic they like best.
--Kenneth MacLeod

Pillowed on the sea-wrack, brown am I,
On the gleaming white-sheen sand
Lulled by the sweet croon of the waves I lie
Could slumber deep, part thee and me

Far away, my own gruag-ach lone
On the gleaming white-friend reefs
Lies that cause of all my moan
Did slumber deep, part thee and me

On the morrow shall I, o'er the sound
O'er the gleaming white-sheen sand
Swim until I reach my loved one brown
Nor slumber deep, part thee and me


  • Very interesting and informative - thank you!!

    By Blogger Unknown, at 1:27 AM  

  • Wonder post, thank you. I love Irish legend and folklore. My family still lives in County Tyrone.

    By Blogger Nancy, at 12:32 AM  

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