On the rocks at Bunessan many seals were once seen basking at low tide, Swire tells us in her book 'Legends of the Inner Hebrides' (1964) "It was once known that these were Pharaoh's army, overwhelmed when the Red Sea, which had parted for the Israelites, fell back upon their pursuers. Seals they became and seals they have remained. There are, however, certain difficulties over this theory of the seals' origin. allowing that seals are certainly men and women suffering under enchantment, if they were Pharaoh's army where do the women come from? " She also mentions that the Selkies of legend when in human form speak Gaelic, and it is unlikely that Egyptians would have known the language.
Swire also gives another theory on the origin of Selkies, suggesting that St Patrick was responsible after he became angry when he preached to the heathens and some would not convert. He was offended and accused them of calling him a liar, and he turned the unbelievers into seals. St Columba was said to be more patient but some of his younger monks lacked his patience and when St Columba was occupied elsewhere "a number of new seals found their way into the sea near Iona". Another theory suggests that those who had been baptised but relapsed into Paganism turned into seals.
Seals are said to love music and occasionally they will sing a song so beautiful but terrible in it's sadness that those humans who hear it can bear their earthly life no longer and plunge into the sea to join the seals. Others say that seals sing only as a death call or warning. On Iona the seals are said to sing for joy when one of their number has extirpated their sins and attained salvation. Others sing when the salmon has drunk 3 drinks of spring water and summer is here.
Sadly we didn't spot many seals on this trip so I have included some photos of seals from previous trips to Mull. We found the seals at Loch Scridian to be particularly friendly and curious, coming closer when we spoke to them. A local lady said they are particularly fond of people singing to them!
View Larger Map
For more folk tales of Selkies I thoroughly recommend Land of the Seal People by Duncan Williamson, and The People of the Sea by David Thomson. The movie The Secret of Roan Inish is also a beautiful take on the Selkie legends.
Sources & Further Information
Legends of the Inner Hebrides, Swire
Land of the Seal People, Williamson
The People of the Sea, Thomson
The Guide to Mysterious Iona and Staffa, Holder