Thursday, 3 March 2011

Mermaid of Galloway

"Once a young crofter was wandering below the cliffs on a beautiful summer night when the wind was still and the silver moon shone through the clear depths of ocean, casting a flood of light through Land-under-Waves. He heard sounds of song and laughter. He crept softly towards a shadowy rock, and, climbing it, looked down on a bank of white sand. There he beheld a company of mermaids dancing in a ring round a maid who was fairest of the fair...

At length he crept stealthily down the rock, and ran towards the skin coverings lying on the sand. He seized one and ran off with it. When the mermaids saw him they screamed and scattered in confusion, and snatching up their skin coverings, leapt into the sea and vanished from sight. One maid remained behind. This was the fair one round whom the others had been dancing. Her skin covering was gone, and so she could not return to her sea home.

Meanwhile the crofter ran to his house and hid the skin covering in a box, which he locked, placing the key in his pocket. He wondered what would happen next, and he had not long to wait. Someone came to his door and knocked softly. He stood listening in silence. Then he heard the knocking again, and opened the door. A Maid-of-the-Wave, clad in pale sea-blue garments, stood before him, the moonlight glistening on her wet copper hair. Tears stood in her soft blue eyes as she spoke sweetly saying: "O man, have pity and give me back my skin covering so that I may return to my sea home."

She was so gentle and so beautiful that the crofter did not wish her to go away, so he answered: "What I have got I keep. Do not sorrow, O fair one. Remain here and be my bride."

This is an extract from the tale of the Mermaid of Galloway, a famous Scottish tale of a man who captures a mermaid and makes her his wife. But of course, you can no more tame a wild maiden of the sea than you can tame the wild sea itself, and the ending is far from happy for the young crofter. The above extract was taken from "Wonder Tales from Scottish Myth and Legend" by Donald Alexander Mackenzie (1917) and the rest of the story can be read here.

This is one of many tales surrounding the Mermaids that once dwelled in the sea and rivers of Galloway. They were mostly friendly creatures, and some were skilled in the art of healing. In 'Remains of Nithsdale and Galloway Song' by R. H. Cromek (1810), a mermaid cures a young maiden:

"A charming young girl, whom consumption had brought to the brink of the grave, was lamented by her lover. In a vein of renovating sweetness the good Mermaid sung to him-- 'Wad ye let the bonnie May die i' yere hand, An' the mugwort flowering i' the land.' He cropped and pressed the flower tops, and administered the juice to his fair mistress, who arose and blessed her bestower for the return of health."

Another poem of the Mermaid of Galloway can also be found in this same book, it's a rather long poem and too long to include in it's entirety, but here is it's poetically beautiful beginning:

"There's a maid has sat o' the green merse side
Thae ten lang years and mair;
An' every first night o' the new moon
She kames her yellow hair.

An' ay while she sheds the yellow burning gowd,
Fu' sweet she sings an' hie,
Till the fairest bird that wooes the green wood,
Is charm'd wi' her melodie.

But wha e'er listens to that sweet sang,
Or gangs the fair dame te;
Ne'er hears the sang o' the lark again,
Nor waukens an earthlie ee."

The photographs in this blog were all taken by myself in Galloway during Valentines weekend, the perfect time to perhaps spot such a beautiful and romantic creature. It's not a challenge to see why this beautiful coastline gave birth to so many mermaid stories, with it's wild untamed coastlines and rocky beaches with many a perfect spot for a mermaid to sit and comb her silky golden hair and admire the beautiful sunsets.

Sources & Further Information
Wonder Tales from Scottish Myth and Legend, Donald Mackenzie
Remains of Nithsdale and Galloway Song, R. H. Cromek
The Maid-of-the-Waves


Celestial Elf said...

Wonderful post :D
thought you might like my Mermaid Queen machinima film
set on the virtual isle of Iona and with Lia Thiels lovely song
Bright Blessings ~

The Faery Folklorist said...

Hi Celestial Elf, glad you enjoyed my blog post! :) I love your video! So beautifully made. Hoping to visit Iona, maybe next year, I hope it's as magical as the virtual one you've created!

Molly Bauckham said...

You should most definitely check out Emily Smith's utterly gorgeous musical setting of the poem. Haunting and beautiful! It's on her album "Too Long Away".

The Faery Folklorist said...

Thanks Molly! Hadn't heard of Emily Smith before but just gave the song a listen on Amazon and it's beautiful, think I might just have to get one of her albums, she's got a beautiful voice! :)