Sunday, October 4, 2015


An earthly nourris sits and sings,
And aye she sings, "Ba lilly wean,
Little ken I my bairn's father,
Far less the land that he staps in."

Then ane arose at her bed fit,
And a grumly guest I'm sure was he,
Saying "Here am I, thy bairn's father,
Although I am not comely."

I am a man upon the land,
I am a silkie in the sea,
And when I'm far frae every strand,
My home it is in Sule Skerry."

“It was na weel”, the maiden cried,
“It was na weel, indeed” quo she,
“For the Great Silkie of Sule Skerrie,
To hae come and aught a bairn to me!”
Then he has taken a purse of gold,
And he has laid it on her knee,
Saying, "give to me, my little young son,
And take thee up thy nouriss fee.
It shall come to pass on a summer's day,
When the sun shines hot on every stone,
That I shall take my little young son,
And teach him for to swim the foam.
And thou shalt marry a proud gunner,
And a very proud gunner I'm sure he'll be,
And the very first shot that e're he shoots,
he'll kill both my young son and me."
An interpolated 5th stanza has also been heard:
'Twas weel eno' the night we met,
When I'd be oot and on my way,
Ye held me close, ye held me tight,
 "Just ane mair time ere the break o' day!"

The 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 was first written down in 1938 by one Dr Otto Andersson, who had heard the song sung on the island of Flotta.

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.