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The Great Selkie o' Suleskerry

Selkie Pup: Sigurd TowrieThe 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 Suleskerry."

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:

Version 1   Version 2

One Spared to the Sea - A tale of the selkie-folk

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The uninhabited island of Suleskerry lies due west of the Orkney Mainland, about 37 miles away from Marwick Head in Birsay.

The island is very small - about half a mile long and perhaps a quarter of a mile wide. There was formerly an important seal fishery on Suleskerry, shared by Orkney and Scottish county of Sutherland.

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