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The Legend of the Selkie

Mystery, Legend, and Lore

By Caroline-StoryGirlCAPublished about a year ago Updated about a year ago 10 min read

The Legend of the Selkie originated in Ireland and Scotland with dozens of varieties and hundreds of stories. In short, the legend of the Selkie is Ireland’s concept of a mermaid. The Selkie also called the Seal People, the Sea People or the Mermaid is a marine legend that tells of people who are half fish and half-human. In the water, they are seals, but on land, they shed their skin and take on human form. And for some reason, they are irresistible to ordinary humans who are apt to fall in love with the Seal People. Whosoever finds the skin of a Selkie becomes the master of her forever unless the skin is returned to her.

A version of this legend became a film in the 1995 classic, The Secret of Roan Inish, a beautiful story for the entire family. I’ve come up with my own story. I hope you enjoy it.

The 1995 movie about the Selkies


Long ago, in years neither you, nor I, or our great grandparents were alive, there lived a grumpy old seafarer on the island of Inishmore on the West Coast of Ireland by the name of Rory McGuinty. Every day he sailed the cold Atlantic sea in search of fish which he brought into port and sold at top price.

One fine morning, Rory McGuinty, satisfied with his latest cash in at the sales office, shoved his earnings into his coat pocket and decided a quick shot of whiskey at the local pub would do him some good before heading home for the night.

Rory approached the pub and peered through its windows before entering. He knew every man seated at the tables. He straightened himself up, rearranged his worn felt cap on top of his head, and entered the pub. He could use a little of the good cheer which filled the room. Why not? He asked himself. He had money in his pocket and nowhere he needed to be.

“Hello, Rory McGuinty!” Voices called to him as soon as he walked through the door. His boyhood friend, Joe Sweeney, greeted him with a big grin on his face. He dashed to Rory’s side and gave him a friendly slap on the back.

“A little detour before heading home Rory?” He gave Rory a sly wink.

Rory nodded and greeted his friend. As hard as he tried, he still found it difficult to push away his somber mood. He tried but after what happened to Sarah, he didn’t believe he deserved happiness ever again.

“Aye,” Rory said in an abrupt tone, “a wee drink would do this old man a bit of good. I’ve had a long day out on the sea.”

Joe ushered Rory to the table where he and a few other fishermen sat in deep conversation. Rory sat down, removed his cap from his head, and placed it on the table in front of him. He signaled the barman to bring him a drink.

“Hey Rory, ye old man," said Joe, “We were just discussing the Selkies.” He gave Rory a sheepish grin and met his eyes. “You might know something about them now, wouldn’t you Rory?” Joe laughed and took a sip of his whiskey.

Rory didn’t laugh. He knew plenty about the Selkies. He remembered the legends his grandmother told him of seals turning into Humans since he was a young lad. Rory’s eyes filled with tears. He knew plenty about the Selkies and he vowed never to tell a soul.

“Sorry lads, I have nothing to say on the subject.” With his hand, he waved them and the Selkie subject away. The barman brought Rory his whiskey but before the glass hit the surface of the table Rory grabbed it from the man’s hands, feeling a desperate need to calm his nerves with all the Selkie talk, he washed down the whiskey in a matter of seconds.

The other men grumbled and complained at Rory’s announcement. They hoped for more information on the Selkies but soon realized it wouldn’t come from old Rory.

Rory had another drink before deciding to leave. He knew the walk back to his cottage was a good distance for a man his age and he wasn’t keen on doing it alone at night. Fortunately, the full moon was up to guide his way along the shoreline. Rory tossed a few coins on the table to pay for his drink, bade the men goodnight, and left them to their legends and questions.

When he stepped outside, the cold autumn air stung his face. The moon positioned high above the pub provided all the light he needed for the long walk back to his cottage. He pulled the lapel of his coat closer around his neck before beginning his journey home.

As a fisherman, he’d spent many days alone on the high seas. In his younger years, he sailed with brilliant captains who took him under their wing and taught him the trade of the seafarer. He sailed through many storms and learned to respect the sea and her ways. Like a woman, stormy at times while peaceful at others he treated the sea with care and gratitude for the abundance in his life. He also thought of dear Sarah. How he loved her. He felt his heart swelled with affection.

Rory walked at a quick pace along the shoreline. As usual, he passed a massive rock formation on the way but this time when did so he noticed unfamiliar movement within the shadows of the jagged rocks. Rory froze. For an older man, he was in fair shape but not enough to take on a gang of hoodlums.

“You there!” He called. The waves pounded against the rocks drowning out his voice. “Show yourself!”

Moments later from within the shadows, there appeared before him a beautiful young woman with long dark hair. She had fine features, a delicate mouth with rosy lips, and large honey-colored eyes.

A Selkie woman from Roan Inish sends her baby to live with the Seal People

Rory instinctively averted his eyes with embarrassment. She had not on a stitch of clothing except for a long velvety brown cloak that hung about her shoulders. The young woman stepped towards him. The moonlight revealed her long, slender legs and delicate waist. Rory quickly shed his coat and offered it to her.

“Here miss,” he said, holding it out to her. “Take my coat and cover yourself before you catch your death.” The young woman ignored his offer and gazed softly into his eyes. She didn’t speak.

Rory didn’t need to ask where she came from. He already knew which is why he didn’t join his friends in their conversation. Many years ago, he made a solemn promise never to speak of the legend again. He glanced behind her at the rocks. He wondered if her seal skin lay somewhere hidden within its crevices.

As if she knew what he was thinking, the young woman turned to him and said, “Sir,” Her voice was kind and soft. She reminded him of his Sarah. “Please leave it where it lies.”

Rory stared at her.

“I mean no harm. If you take my skin I’ll never return to my home. If you leave it where it is you will be greatly rewarded for your kindness.”

Rory considered this for a moment while memories of Sarah flooded his mind. If he took the skin, what would he tell everyone? If people knew he had a real Selkie living in his cottage villagers would swarm the cottage every day wanting to get a look at her. They would destroy her.

He stepped closer to the girl.

“If I let you go, young Selkie girl, there is a reward?”

“I give you, my word. And Sir, you know it is the right thing to do.” She gazed into his face searching for signs of compassion and kindness she knew lay hidden within the depths of his broken heart.

Rory agreed. He lowered his head and told her to return to the sea where she belonged.

“Thank you, kind Sir. I will not forget my promise to you.”

The young woman began to walk away but not before Rory reminded her to use great caution when she came ashore. She smiled warmly at him and promised she would. He watched her disappear behind the rocks. He waited to hear a splash confirming her return to the sea but the battering of waves against the rocks wouldn’t allow it. A few minutes later, standing alone once again on the beach, he turned en route to his cottage.

Days later, Rory rested in his favorite chair in front of his hearth when a sudden knock at the door startled him. No one ever ventured this far up the beach for a late-night visit.

With caution, he stood up and peered out the tiny window. He was met with darkness and a starry sky. He walked to the door and slowly opened it. No one stood there to greet him but much to his surprise, there on the ground in front of the door lay a pile of fresh clams.

Night after night he was gifted clams, fish, and once, a bundle of seaweed. His fishing skills improved so much; his fellow fishermen began to feel disgruntled with Rory’s increasing earnings at the sales office every day.

One night, he heard another familiar knock at the door but when he opened it the same young girl stood before him. He invited her in to sit by the fire. She settled herself in the chair next to him. Rory had so many questions but couldn’t bring himself to speak until the girl broke their silence.

“Rory McGuinty, you are a friend to me. You have gained the trust of a Selkie. I am aware of how important this is for you. No longer shall you be alone and sad.”

Rory smiled while starring into the warm flames of the fire; oddly saddened by her words. Again, he thought of Sarah. He missed her so much.

The girl spoke again. “She didn’t die in vain, Rory. You loved her so much yet you feel incredible guilt. You’ve blocked out the truth. Do you remember the day you found her? You were a young man full of magical ideas from the Selkie legends until one day you found one. Her name was Sarah.”

Rory hung his head in shame. His stupidity and selfishness caused Sarah to leave her home and her life for him. Eventually, she learned to love him but her truest love was that of the sea. She did her best to live out her new life but with a broken heart, it wasn’t enough. One night, Sarah went to sleep and never woke up.

The Selkie girl’s voice suddenly awakened him from painful memories of his past.

“I told you, you would be rewarded for your kindness. Come with me to the water's edge. Dive into its depth. Your reward awaits you.”

Rory gazed into the lovely girl’s face.

“Can I trust you?” He asked. “I’m just an old man, hardened by life itself. I have nothing to offer you and nothing to gain.”

“Come Rory.” She stood up and took his hand in hers. Together they walked out into the early morning light stopping where the water met the pebbled beach. He saw many seals swimming in the surf. One seal swam significantly close to the shore.

The Selkie smiled at him and said. “She’s waiting for you.”

“Is that? Is that my beloved Sarah?”

“Go to her Rory and you shall see.”

Rory slowly waded into the surf. His strong sea legs pushed against the force of the waves. The seal swam closer to him and looked deep into his eyes.

Rory began to cry. He reached out to touch her but she swam farther into the surf. Rory, so overtaken with happiness and love for Sarah followed the seal. Soon his feet no longer touched the sandy bottom. His heavy boots and clothing pulled him under the water.

Rory panicked at first. He fought the current but when the other seals surrounded him as he sank deeper and deeper beneath the waves, a gentle peacefulness flooded through him. He stopped fighting. He allowed the current to sweep him away until Rory too, fell into a deep sleep only to awake no more.

To this day, the legend of the Selkie remains strong and readily spoken of on the lips of men. The tale of the old fisherman, Rory McGuinty, captured by the Selkies and taken out to sea only added to the mystery and magic of Selkie lore.

Did they seek revenge? Or was it truly an act of kindness for a good deed done in their favor? No one will ever know the truth but some say they have seen two seals who never leave each other’s side sunbathing on the rocks near the island. Could this be Rory McGuinty and his beloved Sarah?

We may never know but legend says, it may be so.

The Island of Inishmore off the West Coast of Ireland


About the Creator


Hi there! I’m a fiction writer. Written all my life. Want to inspire if I can. Living on a guest horse ranch in Baja California, Mexico. Married to a Mexican Cowboy!


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