selkie that deud no' forget
The following tale was written
by the eminent Orkney Folklorist, Walter Traill Dennison.
Dennison was born in Sanday
and, from an early age, was keenly interested in the oral traditions, language and folklore of the people of Orkney.
With the object of preserving this, he wrote a series of stories as well
as documenting most of the folklore that has since been forgotten.
"The Selkie that deud no' forget" was published in 1880.
To the uninitiated, the combination
of the old Orkney dialect and Dennison's style of spelling makes
the story quite difficult to read.
I have therefore provided
a translation of the tale.
langsine, Mansie Meur wus pickan' lempeds i' the ebb, on the wast
side o' Hacksness i' Sanday, whin he wus stunned tae hear some
wey amang the rocks a unco' ceurious soond.
Sometimes hid wus
like a bothy i' terrable pain, makin' meen; an' dan hid wad mak'
a lood soond like the root o' a deean' coo. An' dan again de soond
wad dee awa' tae a laich an' maist peetiful meen, as gin hid been
a bothy ootmucht i' a bought o' the wark.
The soond wus sae awfu'
peetifu', hid meed Mansie think lang tae hear hid. Mansie could
see naethin' for a peedie while, bit a muckle selkie doss in at
the rocks, rakin' his heed abeun de skreuf o' the water, an leukan'
wi' baith his een i'tae a geo a peedie bit awa'. An' Mansie noticed
that the selkie wus no f'aer'd, niver dookid, an' niver teuk his
e'e aff o' that geo.
Mansie geed ower a muckle rock 'at lay atween
him an' that geo; an' theret i' a cunyo o' the geo, he saw a mither
selkie lyan' i' a' the trouble o' her callowin'-pains. An' hid
wus her that meed a' the sair meen an' lood yowlin'; an' the faither
selkie lay i' the sea watchin' his marrow i' her trouble. Mansie
steud an' watched her teu, an' said it wus peetifu' tae see what
the peur dumb animal suffered. An' there he steud, a bit aff,
till sheu callowed twa bonnie selkie calves, that wur nee seuner
on the rock or dey grippid for de pap. Mansie t'ought tae himsel'
the calf hides wad mak' a bonnie waistco't tae him; an' he ran
tae whar dey wur a' t'ree lyan. The peur mither selkie rowed hersel'
ower the face o' de rock i'tae the sea; bit her twa birds hed
no' wit tae flee. Sae Mansie grippid dem baith. An' dan hid wus
sae winderful' tae see the atfares o' the mither selkie. She teuk
sic' t'ought for her young. Sheu rowed aboot an' aboot i' the
sea, an' baeted hersel' wi' her megs, like a t'ing distracted.
An' dan sheu wad climmer ap wi' her fore megs on de face o' de
rock, an' glower'd i' Mansie's face, wi' a luck sae terrably peetifu',
hid wad hae melted a he'rt o' steen tae seen her. The faither
selkie was ga'n the sam' wey, only he wad no' come sae near Mansie.
Mansie turned tae gang awa' wi' the twa selkie
birds i' his erms - dey wur sookin' at his co't as gin dey been
at the mither's breest - whin he heard the selkie mither gae a
groan sae dismal an' how, an' sae human like, that hid geed stra'cht
tae his h'ert, an' fairly owercam' him. He luckid about an' saw
the mither selkie lyan' on her side, wi' her heed on the rock;
an' he saw - as seur as iver he saw a t'ing on earth - the tares
feeman' fae baith her e'en. Tae see nater wirkan' sae sair i'
the peur dumb aater, he could nae bide hid mair. Sae he looted
doon an' passed baith the peerie selkies on the rock. The mither
teuk dem i' her megs, an' clespid dem tae her bosom, as gin sheu
been a bothy wi' a bairn. An' sheu luckid i' Mansie's face; O!
sic' a blithe luck the selkie gae him. Sheu deud Mansie geud tae
see her. For dat day the selkie deud ivery t'ing but speak.
Mansie wus dan a young man; an' a while efter
dat he merried.
An' a lang while efter he merried, whin his
bairns wur groun-ap folk, he geed tae bide on the wast side o'
Eday. Ae bonnie e'enin', Mansie geed tae fish sillos aff o' an
oot-lyan' rock. He wus a ootflow rock, that ye could only gang
tae dry shod wi' low water. The fish wad no' tak' ava' for a peedie
while; bit whin be begood tae flou, sheu set on an' teuk brawly,
sae that Mansie steud an' hauled whill he filled his sea-cubbie.
The fish teuk sae bonnie, that i' his feurcness tae fish he forgot
the gate he hed tae gang. An' whin he cam' tae gang heem, he was
sairly stunned tae see the trink atween him an' the land fairly
flou'd ower, an' the sea sae deep he wad taen him abeun de heed.
Mansie cried an' better cried; bit he wus far fae ony hoose, and
nee bothy heard his cries.
The water raise an' raise, cam' ap abeun his
knees, abeun his henches, ap tae his oxters; an' miny a sair sich
gae he, as de water cam' aye hicher an' nearer tae his chin. He
cried whill he wus trapple-hers', an' he could cry nee mair. An'
dan he gae ap; a' hup' o' life, an' saw naething afore him bit
dismal daeth. An' dan, as de sea wus comin' roond his hass, an'
comin' noos and dans i' peedie lippers tae his mooth, jeust as
he f'and the sea beginnan' tae lift him fae the rock, - summin'
grippid him bae thc neck o' the co't an' whippid him aff o' his
feet. He kent no' what hid wus, or whar he wus, till he f'and
his feet at the boddam whar he could wad ashore i' safety. An'
whin de craeter 'at hed haud o' him passed him, he wadded tae
the dry land.
He luckid whar he cam' fae, an' saw a muckle
selkie swiman' tae the rock whar sheu dookid, teuk ap his cubbie
o' fish, an' swam wi'd tae the land. He wadded oot an' teuk the
cubbie fu' o' fish oot o' her mooth; an' he said wi' a' his he'rt, "Geud bliss the selkie that deus no' forget."
luckid tae him, as gin, if sheu could hae spoken, sheu wad hae
said, "Ae geud turn meets anither."
Sheu wus the sam'
selkie that he saw callowan' on Hacksness forty years afore.
He said he wad hae kent her mitherly luck amang
a thoosan'. Bit she wus groun a arkmae. Sae that wus the selkie
that deud no' forget.
I wiss' a'bothy may mind on what's geud, as
weel as that selkie.