The Great Selkie o' Suleskerry
Great Selkie o' Suleskerry - or Grey Selkie of Suleskerry, as it
is also known - is one of Orkney's best-known and most haunting ballads.
It recounts the tale of a young Orcadian
maiden who falls in love with an elusive selkie-man. She has a child
by him but, shortly after, the selkie-man disappears, leaving her alone
with her baby son.
Some years later the maiden comes
across a grey seal by the shore. The seal says to her:
"I'm a man upon the land, I'm a selkie in
the sea; and when I'm far frae every stand, my dwelling is in
She realises the creature before
her is none other than her selkie lover, but he once again vanishes
beneath the waves, only to return again seven years later. After
giving his son a golden chain, the boy leaves his mother and goes
with father to the sea.
The woman marries and some
time later, when her husband is out hunting, he shoots two seals
- one old and grey, the other younger. Around the neck of the young
seal was a gold chain, which the hunter takes home to give his wife.
Upon receiving the gift she realises
her son is dead.
Some of the verses of the ballad
are still remembered in the islands, but the tune was very nearly
lost. As with all folk ballads there are various versions.
Two variations of the ballad can
be read by selecting either of the following links: