The Selkie

by Kate Murphy

Once a young fisherman lived by himself in the little fishing village of Portrush. He was a handsome young man. He owned his own house and boat and he made a good living from his fishing. Many’s the local girl fancied him and their mothers thought he would make a suitable husband for their daughters but he showed no inclination to marry and took little interest in the local girls.

He was given to taking solitary walks on the shore in the evening and one evening as he neared Reviggerly Point, at the foot of Ramore Head, he heard and saw a beautiful young woman sitting on the rocks, singing and combing her hair. As he watched, she rose and picked up something grey and wet that looked like the skin of a seal. The woman threw it round her shoulders and slid into the sea. Of course, the young man knew the stories of the selkie who could shed her skin and assume human shape on land but he had never believed them.

The next evening she was there again, and the next and the next, and each time the fisherman got a little bit closer until he was close enough to reach up and grasp the skin which he stuffed in his pocket and then went home.  The selkie maiden followed him – she could do no other.

They became man and wife and in due time she bore him 3 children.

The neighbours gossiped – ‘Where did he get her from?  He was always uppity! Could he not have married one of his own?  She kept herself to herself – sang strange songs, had a funny accent….’

One night there was a great storm and the thatch of the fisherman’s cottage was damaged. He went to find the thatcher to repair it and when he was away the littlest boy saw a strange grey thing peeping from the rafters. He climbed on an old box and was just able to reach the tip of it. What he pulled down was the selkie skin, fresh as the day the fisherman had hidden it in the thatch all those years ago.

Delighted with his new plaything, the little boy was running round with it draped over his head when the fisherman returned and was horrified. He snatched it from the boy and spoke roughly to him. The boy went running in tears to his mother and his father hurried out to the barn to hide it again.

Of course, the boy told his mother what had happened but, beyond seeming preoccupied, she said nothing until the children went to bed when she went out to the barn and searched till she found what she had long sought.

That evening, the fisherman was out in his boat checking his lobster pots and as he came round Reviggerly Point he saw his wife on the rocks. He called to her by the name he had given her but she didn’t seem to hear him.  He called again and now she reached down and drew up her seal skin.  Desperately he called their children’s names to her but she took no notice and as he watched, helpless, she slid off the rocks into the sea.

The fisherman and his children never saw her again but when the sea was stormy and fishing impossible they would find baskets of fish on the doorstep in the morning and the girl often dreamt of someone combing her hair as the moon shone through the attic window…..

Kate Murphy