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Selkie Bairn

Written by Lainey Dempsey (2021)

Selkie Bairn

He came fae the ocean
and dazzled wi his beauty
my man awa’ fishin’
he sat me oan his knee
enchanted I kissed him
and then he lay doon wi me
when dawn broke the mornin,
he returned tae the sea

My lass no yet seven,
I sang her tae her slumber
I tucked her in blankets
and kissed her brow gently
Arose in the mornin’ tae
wake my precious darlin’
found gold neath her blankets
but nae bonnie bairn tae see

Ten sore years passed by and
we ne’er forgot oor lassie
Two more bairns we had but
we aye wished it were three
then ane nicht I heard her
a-keening at the harbour
and joyfu’ I joined her
fer tae sing oor melody

His spell lifted fae me,
I kent I wis wi baby
my husband returned and
a faither he’d now be
the bairn wis sae canty,
her eyes sae black,
sae shiny
my Jamie jist looked at me,
fer ne’er a fool wis he

3 selkie Bairn.jpg

By the licht o’ the poor man,
she dazzled wi’ her beauty
my lass wis a’ grown bit
at ance I kent it she
We sang a’ the nicht then
she kissed my brow gie gently
when dawn broke the mornin
she returned tae the sea

We loved oor wee lassie
and a’ways she wis wi me
we’d sit at the harbour
and sing a melody
oot o’er the wild salt winds,
the ragged rocks and islands
a calling the selkie
who had lay doon wi me

Oh cursed be ye selkie
fer troubles ye have brought me
and blessed be the wee thing
ye’ve stolen tae the sea
ye can keep a’ yer gold
fer whit use is it tae me
if I’ve no ma bonnie bairn
tae dander oan ma knee?

So wimmen beware o’
these other-worldly charmers
they’ll capture yer hearts and
bring tears tae yer ee
And ne’er lose the sicht o
the wee yins that yer raisin’
fer gold brings cauld comfort
when yer bairn is lost at sea

I was fascinated by selkie legends as a child. But even as a wee lass, I sensed an injustice. In the stories about the female selkie, a covetous fisherman steals her sealskin while she is in human form so she can’t go home. She’s distraught at her predicament and the fisherman ‘kindly’ offers to marry her and share his home with her. They’re together for many years and have varying numbers of children depending on the tale. One child usually eventually shows mum where the pelt is hidden. The selkie woman, who has often spent her life on land mute, staring sadly to sea, discovers her sealskin and the skullduggery and heads straight back to the ocean. She usually gets a bad press for leaving the poor fisherman to look after the children. Many years ago now, I wrote a song called The Selkie’s Rant as I felt certain  she would have been ragin’ at the fisherman and may well have had a lover and a family already under the waves.

I had meant at that time to write a second selkie song in response to the male selkie folktales but I never got around to it till over a decade later. In many of these stories the wife and her husband are delighted to find a bag of gold instead of their child and look forward to living out their lives in luxury. Once again, even as a lass, I suspected that this was not a realistic picture and that the mother, and likely her husband too, would have been heartbroken.

At one of the many online singing sessions that kept myself and many others entertained through the Covid19 pandemic, someone sang The Great Silkie of Sule Skerry and another person sang a song that left me with a three note snippet of a melody looping in my head. As soon as the session finished at midnight I began writing and by 3am Selkie Bairn was born.


‘Sea at Elgol’ recorded by Stevie Jones (2022)

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