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Lyr Req: The Great Silkie

DigiTrad:
GREAT SILKIE
HIROSHIMA
LADY ODIVERE (GREY SILKIE 3)
THE GREY SILKIE OF SULE SKERRY
WOMAN BY THE BAY


Related threads:
(origins) Origin: I Come and Stand at Every Door (P Seeger) (22)
Folklore: Selkie/Selchie? & pronunciation (39)
Lyr Add: Silkie (as sung by Anne Lister) (12)
Tune Req: The Great Silkie (26)
Lyr Req: The silkie of skule skerry (9)
The Great Silkie "earthly norris..." (42)


GUEST,The Celtic Bard 27 Feb 01 - 03:50 PM
Llanfair 27 Feb 01 - 04:14 PM
GUEST,Bruce O. 27 Feb 01 - 04:17 PM
Lonesome EJ 27 Feb 01 - 04:27 PM
Joe Offer 27 Feb 01 - 04:29 PM
MMario 27 Feb 01 - 04:40 PM
SINSULL 27 Feb 01 - 04:45 PM
Stewart 27 Feb 01 - 04:52 PM
GUEST,The Celtic Bard 27 Feb 01 - 05:10 PM
Don Firth 27 Feb 01 - 05:56 PM
Stewie 27 Feb 01 - 06:22 PM
Uncle_DaveO 27 Feb 01 - 06:43 PM
The Celtic Bard 28 Feb 01 - 08:38 PM
The Celtic Bard 28 Feb 01 - 08:47 PM
Hollowfox 01 Mar 01 - 01:59 PM
Herma 01 Mar 01 - 02:38 PM
GUEST,Gerry 28 Jul 05 - 09:59 PM
Stewart 28 Jul 05 - 11:10 PM
Malcolm Douglas 28 Jul 05 - 11:27 PM
Susanne (skw) 29 Jul 05 - 06:36 PM
JohnInKansas 30 Jul 05 - 11:40 AM
Stewart 30 Jul 05 - 02:34 PM
Roberto 31 Jul 05 - 11:55 AM
Susanne (skw) 31 Jul 05 - 05:04 PM
Susan of DT 31 Jul 05 - 07:26 PM
Lighter 31 Jul 05 - 07:37 PM
michaelr 31 Jul 05 - 10:22 PM
michaelr 02 Aug 05 - 01:05 AM
Malcolm Douglas 03 Aug 05 - 12:16 AM
GUEST,Gerry 04 Aug 05 - 01:43 AM
Stephen R. 05 Aug 05 - 12:20 AM
Roberto 06 Aug 05 - 11:02 AM
Stewart 06 Aug 05 - 01:29 PM
Malcolm Douglas 06 Aug 05 - 03:11 PM
Susanne (skw) 06 Aug 05 - 06:08 PM
Roberto 07 Aug 05 - 01:31 AM
Roberto 07 Aug 05 - 01:51 AM
michaelr 07 Aug 05 - 02:24 PM
Malcolm Douglas 07 Aug 05 - 04:00 PM
michaelr 07 Aug 05 - 11:33 PM
Susanne (skw) 08 Aug 05 - 05:12 PM
michaelr 08 Aug 05 - 07:17 PM
Susanne (skw) 09 Aug 05 - 06:04 PM
michaelr 09 Aug 05 - 06:27 PM
Barry Finn 07 Mar 09 - 04:21 PM
Bill D 07 Mar 09 - 04:58 PM
Bill D 07 Mar 09 - 05:07 PM
mg 08 Mar 09 - 12:09 AM
Bill D 09 Mar 09 - 09:24 AM
GUEST,Dave MacKenzie 09 Mar 09 - 08:38 PM
Barry Finn 10 Mar 09 - 12:52 AM
Langtonian 10 Mar 09 - 02:37 AM
GUEST,Atlanticarc 12 Jun 12 - 11:51 AM
JohnInKansas 12 Jun 12 - 05:00 PM
GUEST,Brian Tyson 11 Mar 13 - 03:56 AM
GUEST,Banjiman 11 Mar 13 - 08:45 AM
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Subject: Words for 'The Great Silke'
From: GUEST,The Celtic Bard
Date: 27 Feb 01 - 03:50 PM

I've been taking an intermediate piano class at my university and we were recently were assigned a Scottish folksong called "The Great Silke." I love the tune because it's so haunting and sad and I was wondering if it had any lyrics. I'm more into Irish folk music than Scottish but the tune made me curious. Any help would be appreciated.

Rebecca <><


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Words for 'The Great Silke'
From: Llanfair
Date: 27 Feb 01 - 04:14 PM

It's in the digitrad. Browse in the G section and you will find it. It is a lovely song, I did it on my CD.
Cheers, Bron.


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Words for 'The Great Silke'
From: GUEST,Bruce O.
Date: 27 Feb 01 - 04:17 PM

There are several versions. The best known tune isn't a traditional one. For those you have to look hard.


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Subject: Lyr Add: GREAT SILKIE
From: Lonesome EJ
Date: 27 Feb 01 - 04:27 PM

GREAT SILKIE

An earthly nurse sits and sings,
And aye, she sings by lily wean,
And little ken I my bairn's father,
Far less the land where he dwells in.

For he came on night to her bed feet,
And a grumbly guest, I'm sure was he,
Saying, "Here am I, thy bairn's father,
Although I be not comely."

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

And he had ta'en a purse of gold
And he had placed it upon her knee,
Saying, "Give to me my little young son,
And take thee up thy nurse's fee."

"And it shall come to pass on a summer's day,
When the sun shines bright on every stane,
I'll come and fetch my little young son,
And teach him how to swim the faem."

"And ye shall marry a gunner good,
And a right fine gunner I'm sure he'll be,
And the very first shot that e'er he shoots
Will kill both my young son and me."

-----------------------------------------------------------------
Child #113
"The Great Silkie of Sule Skerry" is one of numerous tales of the Silkies, or seafolk, known to the inhabitants of the Orkney Islands and the Hebrides. These enchanted creatures dwell in the depth of the sea, occasionally doffing their seal skins to pass on land as mortal men. Legend has it that they then accept human partners, and some families on the islands actually trace their ancestry to such marriages. In more complete versions of the ballad, the Silkie's forecast of the death of himself and his son eventually come to pass. The tune is by Dr. James Waters of Columbia University. From "British Ballads and Folk Songs from the Joan Baez Songbook."

HTML line breaks added. --JoeClone, 6-Jul-02.


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Words for 'The Great Silke'
From: Joe Offer
Date: 27 Feb 01 - 04:29 PM

Hi, Rebecca - watch the spelling of the word - I think you'll find it listed as silkie. If you put silkie in our SuperSearch or our blue Digitrad search box, you'll find it.
-Joe Offer-


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Words for 'The Great Silke'
From: MMario
Date: 27 Feb 01 - 04:40 PM

For something a little different to the same tune - you might want to look at The Silkie and The Fause Mermaid


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Words for 'The Great Silke'
From: SINSULL
Date: 27 Feb 01 - 04:45 PM

Mr. Greenhaus had an interesting aside on this one after Susan sang it at Annamill's. Something to the effect that the silkie was actually an explanation for a number of women pregnant by way of visiting New Foundlanders. Did I understand this correctly, Dick?


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Words for 'The Great Silke'
From: Stewart
Date: 27 Feb 01 - 04:52 PM

Rebecca, here's a trad version from the Orkney Islands about a silkie who traveled to Norway land CLICK HERE. I've heard an almost identical trad Irish version where the silkie travels to Ireland.

Also a couple of links to the silkie mythology:

THE SILKIE FOLK

THE GREAT SILKIE O' SULE SKERRY.

Cheers, S. in Seattle


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Words for 'The Great Silke'
From: GUEST,The Celtic Bard
Date: 27 Feb 01 - 05:10 PM

Now that you mentioned it, Stewart, I remember hearing a beautiful and haunting Irish folksong about a Weltie (I think that's how you spell it) that got her seal skin taken away from her by a fisherman who made her his wife. Years later her children told her about a seal skin they saw their father oiling and she was able to return to the sea and her other children. The sadness of the song really comes across in the verse where the fisherman finds his children standing on the shoreline calling for their mother. I originally heard it in Gaelic and then found the translation.

Thanks for jogging my memory. Originally I didn't even know that a Silkie was.

Thanks you guys for coming through yet again.

Rebecca <><


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Words for 'The Great Silke'
From: Don Firth
Date: 27 Feb 01 - 05:56 PM

Silky -- Silkie -- Selkie -- Selchie.

The spelling and subsequent pronunciation is a bit iffy. I had always seen the word spelled "selchie." The first syllable pronounced "sell" and the "ch" pronounced almost like a "k", but a bit softer, like a Scottish "ch" as in "Och, mon!" The first time I saw the spelling "silkie" was on the label of a Joan Baez LP in the very early Sixties.

I just typed "selchie" into google.com and came up with a humongous bunch of stuff. Here are a couple:

Click!

Clack!

Clunk!

Also, see People of the Sea by David Thomson, The John Day Company, New York, 1955. Thomson collected oral literature and songs while traveling among the Irish and Scottish isles. He'd drop into a pub for a pint, get to know the locals, then tell them a strange story he had heard. They would then open up with stories of their own. (Just for kicks, I just did a search on bookfinder.com and discovered that it has been reissued or reprinted, 1996.) Fascinating book!

Don Firth

(My great-great grandfather and grandmother came from the Orkney Isles -- Sule Skerry is just to the west, I believe -- and settled in the San Juan Islands. None of their descendants feel all that comfortable unless we live somewhere near large bodies of salt water. . . .)


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Words for 'The Great Silke'
From: Stewie
Date: 27 Feb 01 - 06:22 PM

I have previously posted to the forum the entire epic of which 'Silkie' forms a part. You'll find it here:

The Lady Odivere

--Stewie.


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Words for 'The Great Silke'
From: Uncle_DaveO
Date: 27 Feb 01 - 06:43 PM

One line is wrong above. It says:

"And a grumbly guest, I'm sure was he."

From this you would think the silkie/guest is dissatisfied, and lets everyone know it, but not so. The word is "grumly" (or maybe "grummlie", but no letter "b"), meaning weird, fearsome. I assume it's allied to "grim".

Dave Oesterreich


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Words for 'The Great Silke'
From: The Celtic Bard
Date: 28 Feb 01 - 08:38 PM

As I mentioned above, I found an Irish folksong about the Selkies recounting the famous story about the fisherman and the Selkie that he forces to marry him after he steals her skin. Well, I found it again but it's actually about a mermaid who has a crown that basically preforms the same function as the Selkie's skin. It's called "An Mhaighdean Mhara" and is on Altan's "The Best of Altan" CD.

Rebecca <><


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Words for 'The Great Silke'
From: The Celtic Bard
Date: 28 Feb 01 - 08:47 PM

Also I just remembered that there was a movie made a few years ago about the Selkies called "The Secret of Roan Inish." Very good.

Rebecca <><


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Words for 'The Great Silke'
From: Hollowfox
Date: 01 Mar 01 - 01:59 PM

The same tune is used for the song "Hiroshima" in the Digital Tradition.
For a lovely performance of the Play of Lady Odivere, check out the casette of the same name from Timberhead Music. It's also available through Folk-Legacy or Camsco, so well beloved of us here at the 'Cat.


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Subject: Lyr Add: THE GREY SILKIE OF SULE SKERRY
From: Herma
Date: 01 Mar 01 - 02:38 PM

I have a version of The Grey Silkie Of Sule Skerry, as it was sung (long ago) by the McCalmans (Scottish Folk Trio). I still think it's a beautiful song. Enjoy!

THE GREY SILKIE OF SULE SKERRY

An eartly nourris sits and sings
And aye she sings "Ba lily wean,
Little ken I my bairn's faither,
Far less the land that he lives in."

It happened on a summer's day
When this poor maid fell fast asleep,
A tinder come, a grey silkie,
And sat hirn doon at her bedfeet.

"I pray come tell to me thy name.
Oh, tell me where thy dwelling be.
My name it is Gud Hein Mailler.
And I earn my living oot o' er the sea.

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

"Noo ye will nurse my little wee son
For seven long years upon thy knee,
And at the end o' seven long years,
I'll come back and pay thy nurse's fee.

"An you will get a gunner good,
And a gey good gunner he's sure to be,
And the very first shot that e'er he fires
Will kill both my young son and me."

Oh, she has gotten a gunner good
And a gey good gunner so was he,
And he made oot on a May mornin'
And shot the son and the grey silkie....

HTML line breaks added. --JoeClone, 6-Jul-02.


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Great Silkie
From: GUEST,Gerry
Date: 28 Jul 05 - 09:59 PM

I just learned, in another thread, that the only tune I've ever heard for this song
only goes back 50 years. This is the Waters tune, used by Joan Baez, by Art Thieme,
by everyone else I can remember hearing, and also used by Pete Seeger for I Come
And Stand.

Bruce O. writes above that it isn't easy to come by any tunes other than
the Waters tune. Is that still so? Are there any readily available recordings
to another tune?


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Great Silkie
From: Stewart
Date: 28 Jul 05 - 11:10 PM

The original version of the "Great Silkie of Sule Skerry" comes from the Orkney Islands (off the North coast of Scotland). I have the words, the original tune (midi file), and several links to Silkie lore HERE.
The original tune for this song was nearly lost, but was noted down in 1938 by Dr. Otto Anderson, who heard it sung by John Sinclair on the island of Flotta, Orkney. He said, "I had no idea at the time that I was the first person to write down the tune. The pure pentatonic form of it and the beautiful melodic line showed me that it was a very ancient melody that I had set on paper." I much prefer this version to that of Joan Baez.

Cheers, S. in Seattle


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Great Silkie
From: Malcolm Douglas
Date: 28 Jul 05 - 11:27 PM

Generally when people post what they call "versions" of old songs here, they are just arrangements they have heard on records made by modern professional or semi-professional entertainers; not traditional forms in their own right. That's certainly the case in this thread; and I'm afraid that Lady Odivere is almost certainly a self-conscious late Victorian fake made by Walter Traill Dennison, not the "ancestor" of this song; though partly based on it.

There are perhaps three tunes that have been found in genuine tradition associated with the song, and a few more texts. Not many, though.


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Great Silkie
From: Susanne (skw)
Date: 29 Jul 05 - 06:36 PM

I have recordings by four artists who don't use the Waters tune. Sheena Wellington, Bob Blair and Alison McMorland (all on readily available CDs) use the one taken down from the singing of John Sinclair. Dave Burland has no notes and I haven't compared it to the others, but it doesn't seem to be the Waters tune.


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Great Silkie
From: JohnInKansas
Date: 30 Jul 05 - 11:40 AM

This certainly isn't "The Great" one - but the tune is easy enough to find:

Silkie

Lyrics: Elizabeth Scarborough
(With adaptations by Muriel Doris)
SUNG TO THE TUNE OF:
"Lucille"
© Harold Bynum and Roger Bowling


CHORUS:
You picked a fine time to leave me, you seal.
The babe that I bore you just makes my head reel.
He'll only eat kippers, has four lovely flippers,
Loves to dive down the well for his meal.
You picked a fine time to leave me, you seal.


Oh, you were a silkie, or that's what you told me,
Though I'd have sworn you were a man.
A right comely boy, oh, you gave me much joy, oh,
But I never did understand.
I'd have cause to regret once you got your feet wet,
For a silkie, as I've come to know,
On hitting the water can swim like an otter
And balance a ball on his nose

CHORUS

Though we parted friendly, I think you should send me
Some child support, that is my wish.
Since I moved to Ohio, It's so hard, you don't know,
Just to keep that poor kid in fish.
And if I should remarry, it must be to some faery
Of silkie descent, or at least
To some understanding and most undemanding
Boy in the employ of Greenpeace.

CHORUS


As printed in "The Folk Process," SING OUT, Vol 41 No 2, Aug/Sept/Oct 1996

John


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Great Silkie
From: Stewart
Date: 30 Jul 05 - 02:34 PM

Here's an article on Silkie Folklore that I wrote for the Victory Review.

Cheers, S. in Seattle


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Great Silkie
From: Roberto
Date: 31 Jul 05 - 11:55 AM

16 recordings of The Great Silkie of Sule Skerry (#113). Recently, Aly Bain and Ale Moeller recorded an instrumental rendition, on the tune composed by James Waters (Fully Rigged, Whirlie Records 2001). The recoding by Sheena Wellington, Greentrax, is not included in this post. R

a) The Grey Silkie
John Sinclair, Flotta, Orkney Islands, in Sailormen & Servingmaids, a collection of songs about seamen and their womenfolk, recorded in the field from traditional singers in England, Scotland and Ireland, Topic 12T194 (1961)

In Norway's Land there lived a maid
"Hush ba-loo-lilly". this maid began,
"I know not where my babe's father is
Whether by land or sea does he travel in"

It happened on a certain day
When this fair lady fell fast asleep
That in came a good grey silkie
And set him down at her bed feet

Saying, "Awak', awak', my pretty fair maid,
For oh, how sound as thou dost sleep,
And I'll tell thee where thy babe's father is,
He's sitting close at thy bed feet."

"I pray thee tell to me thy name,
Oh, tell me where does thy dwelling be?"
"My name is good Hill Marliner,
And I earn my living oot o'er the sea.

I am a man upon the land,
I am a silkie in the sea,
And when I'm far from every strand
My dwelling it's in Sule Skerry"

"Alas, alas, that's woeful fate,
That's weary fate that's been laid on me,
That a man should come from the West o' Hoy
To the Norway Lands to have a bairn wi' me."

"My dear, I'll wed thee with a ring,
With a ring, my dear, will I wed with thee."
"Thee may go to thee weddings with whom thou wilt,
For I'm sure thou never will wed wi' me."

She has nursed his little wee son
For seven long years upon her knee
And at the end of seven long years
He came back with gowd and white monie

For she has got the gunner good
And a gay good gunner it was he,
He gaed oot on a May morning
And he shot the son and the grey silkie.

"Alas, alas, that's woeful fate,
That's weary fate that's been laid on me."
And eenst or twice she sobbed and sighed
And her tender hairt did break in three.

(spoken) And that's the finish.



b) The Grey Silkie of Sule Skerry
Bob Blair, Reachin' for the high, high lands, The Tradition Bearers, LTCD1001, 2000 (John Sinclair's version)

In Norway there lived a maid
Bye loo my baby - she begins
Little know I my babes father
Or if land or sea he's living in

Then there arose at her bed feet
And a grumlie guest I'm sure 'twas he
Said - Here am I thy babes father
Although I be not comely

I am a man upon the land
I am a silkie in the sea
And when I'm in my own country
My dwelling is in Sule Skerry

He ha ta'en oot a purse o gold
And he has put it on her knee
Said give to me my little wee son
And take thee up thy nurses fee

It shall come to pass on a summer's day
When the sun shines hot on every stone
That you shall take my little wee son
And teach him to swim in the foam

And you shall marry a gunner good
And a proud good gunner I'm sure he'll be
And he'll go out on a May morning
And kill both my young son and me

And she did marry a gunner good
And a proud good gunner I'm sure twas he
The very first shot that he did shoot
He killed the son and the Great Silkie

In Norway there lived a maid
Bye loo my baby - she begins
Little know I my babes father
Or if land or sea he's living in



c) The Silkie of Sule Skerry
Alison McMorland (vocal and banjo), with Derek Hoy (fiddle), on Alison McMorland and Geordie McIntyre with Kirsty Potts, Rowan in the Rock, Songs of Love, Land and Nature, The Living Tradition, The Tradition Bearers, LTCD3002, 2001 (John Sinclair's version)

In Norway land there lived a maid
Hush, baloo lillie - this maid began
I know not whaur ma bairn's faither is
By land or sea does he traivel in

It happened on a certain day
When this fair maid lay fast asleep
That in cam a grey silkie
And sat him doon at her bed feet

Saying - Awak' awak ma fair pretty maid
For oh how sound as thou dost sleep
I'll tell thee whaur yer bairn's faither is
He's lyin' close st your bed feet

I pray come tell tae me yer name
An tell me whaur yer dwelling is? –
My name it is guid Hein Mailer
I earn ma livin' oot o the sea

I am a man upon the land
I am a silkie in the sea
An when I'm far fae every strand
Ma dwellin t'is in Sule Skerry

Alas, alas this woeful fate
This weary fate' that's been laid on me
That a man should come frae the West o'Hoy
Tae the Noraway lands tae hae a bairn by me

He said - Ye'll nurse ma little wee son
For seiven lang years upon yer knee
An at the end o' seiven lang years
I'll come back again an pay the nouris fee

And she has nursed her little wee son
For seiven lang years upon her knee
An at the end of seiven lang years
He's cam back again wi' white monie

He said - I'll pit a chain roon his neck
An a gey gowd chain o it will be
An if ever he comes tae the Noraway lands
Ye'll hae a guid guess on who is he

An he said - Ye'll wed a gunner guid
An a gay guid gunner it will be
An he'll gae oot on a May mornin
He'll shoot your son and the grey silkie

Oh she has wed a gunner guid
An a gay guid gunner it was he
An he gaed oot on a May mornin
He shot the son and the grey selchie

Alas, alas this woefu late
This weary fate that's been laid on me -
She sobbed and sighed and bitter cried
Her tender hert did brak in three



d) The Great Silkie of Sule Skerry
Paul Clayton, Folk Ballads of the English-Speaking World, Folkways Records FA 2310, 1956. Tune: the one used by John Sinclair.

In Norway lands there lived a maid
Balloo my babe - this maid began
I know not where your father is
Or if land or sea he travels in

It happened on a certain day
When this fair lady fell fast asleep
That in came a good grey silkie
And set him down at her bed feet

Saying - Awake, awake my pretty fair maid
For oh! how sound as thou dost sleep!
And I'll tell thee where they baby's father is
He's sitting close at thy bed feet

I pray, come tell to me thy name
Oh! tell me where does thy dwelling be? -
My name it is good Hein Miller
And I earn my living out of the sea

I am a man upon the land
I am a silkie in the sea
And when I'm far from every strand
My dwelling is in Shule Skerry

Alas! alas! this woeful fate!
This weary fate that's been laid for me!
That a man should come from the West of Hoy
To the Norway lands to have a bairn with me

My dear, I'll wed thee with a ring
With a ring, my dear, I'll wed with thee –
Thou may wed thee weddens with whom thou wilt
For I'm sure thou'll never wed none with me

Thou will nurse my little wee son
For seven long years upon thy knee
And at the end of seven long years
I'll come back and pay the norish fee

She has nursed her little wee son
For seven long years upon her knee
And at the end of seven long years
He came back with gold and white money

She says - My dear, I'll wed thee with a ring
With a ring, my dear, I'll wed with thee –
Thou may wed thee weddens with whom thou wilt
For I'm sure thou'll never wed none with me

But I'll put a gold chain around his neck
And a gey good gold chain it'll be
That if ever he comes to the Norway lands
Thou may have a gey good guess on him

And thou will get a gunner good
And a gey good gunner it will be
And he'll go out on a May morning
And shoot the son and the grey silkie

Oh! she has got a gunner good
And a gey good gunner it was he
And he went out on a May morning
And he shot the son and the grey silkie

Alas! Alas! this woeful fate!
This weary fate that's been laid for me!
And once or twice she sobbed and sighed
And her tender heart did break in three



e) Great Selchie of Shule Skerry
Cynthia Gooding, Faithful Lovers and other phenomena, Elektra 107. Tune: the one used by John Sinclair.

In Norway lands there lived a maid
Balloo my babe - this maid began
I know not where your father is
Or if land or sea he travels in

It happened on a certain day
When this fair lady fell fast asleep
That in came a good grey selchie
And set him dowo at her bed feet

Saying – Awak', awak' my pretty fair maid
For oh! how sound as thou dost sleep!
And I'll tell thee where they baby's father is
He's sitting close at thy bed feet

I pray, come tell to me thy name
Oh! tell me where does thy dwelling be? -
My name it is good Hein Miller
And I earn my living out of the sea

I am a man upon the land
I am a selchie in the sea
And when I'm far from every strand
My dwelling is in Shule Skerry

Alas! alas! this woeful fate!
This weary fate that's been laid for me!
That a man should come from the West o' Hoy
To the Norway lands to have a bairn with me

My dear, I'll wed thee with a ring
With a ring, my dear, I'll wed with thee –
Thou may go wed thee weddings with whom thou wilt
I'm sure thou'll never wed none with me

Thou will nurse my little wee son
For seven long years upon thy knee
And at the end of seven long years
I'll come back and pay the norish fee

She's nursed her little wee son
For seven long years upon her knee
And at the end of seven long years
He came back with gold and white money

She says - My dear, I'll wed thee with a ring
With a ring, my dear, I'll wed with thee –
Thou may go wed thee weddings with whom thou wilt
For I'm sure thou'll never wed none with me

But I'll put a gold chain around his neck
And a gey good gold chain it'll be
And if ever he comes to the Norway lands
Thou may have a gay good guess on him

And thou will get a gunner good
And a gay good gunner it will be
And he'll gae out on a May morning
And he'll shoot the son and the grey selchie

Oh! she has got a gunner good
And a gay good gunner it was he
And he gaed out on a May morning
And he shot the son and the grey selchie

Alas! Alas! this woeful fate!
This weary fate that's been laid for me!
And once or twice she sobbed and sighed
And her tender heart did break in three



f) The Great Silkie
Nancy Kerr, on Sandra and Nancy Kerr, Neat and Complete, Fellside FECD107, 1996. Tune: the one used by John Sinclair.

In Noroway there lived a maid
Bye-loo my baby she begins
Oh know not I my babes father
Or if land or sea he's living in

Then there arose at her bedfeet
And a grummlie guest I'm sure was he
Saying - Here am I thy babe's father
Although I be not comely

I am a man upon the land
I am a silkie in the sea
But when I'm in my own countrie
My dwelling is in Sule Skerry

Then he has taken a purse of gold
And he has put it upon her knee
Saying - Give to me my little wee son
And take thee up thy nurse's fee

And it shall pass on a summer's day
When the sun shines hot on every stone
That I shall take my little wee son
And teach him for to swim in the foam

And you shall marry a gunner good
And a proud good gunner I'm sure he'll be
And he'll go out on a May morning
And kill both my young son and me

And she did marry a gunner good
And a proud good gunner I'm sure twas he
And the very first shot he ever did shoot
He killed the son and the great silkie

In Noroway there lives a maid
Bye-loo my baby she begins
Oh know not I my babe's father
Or if land or sea he's living in

I am a man upon the land
I am a silkie in the sea
And when I'm in my own countrie
My dwelling is in Sule Skerry



g) The Grey Selchie
John G. Halcro, on Orkney, Land, Sea & Community, Scottish Tradition 21, School of Scottish Studies, University of Edinburgh, Greentrax CDTRAX 9021 (fragment recorded in 1973).

For I'm a man upon the land
I'm a selkie in the sea
And I do come from the west o' the Hoy
Which wise men do call Sule Skerry

My name it is good Hein Miller
I earn my living by the sea
And when I'm far from every shore
It's then I am in Sule Skerry



h) The Grey Selchie of Sule Skerry
The Gaugers, Awa Wi The Rovin Sailor, Traditional Scots folk songs and music of the sea, Sleepytown Records, SLPYCD003, 1994. Tune: the one used by John G. Halcro.

There lived a maid in the Norway lands
Hush be loo lily – this maid began
I know not far by babe's father is
Whether on land or sea he does travel in

Well, it happened on a certain day
Fan this fair maid fell fast asleep
That in there come a good grey selchie
And sat him doon at her bed feet

Sayin' – Awake, awake, my pretty fair maid
For oh, how sound as you doth sleep!
And I'll tell you far your babe's father is
Oh, he's sittin' close at your bed feet

For I am a man upon the land
Ay, I am a selchie on the sea
And fan I'm far frae every strand
My dwelling is in Sule Skerry

Oh alas, alas, this woeful fate
This weary fate that's been laid for me
That a man should come fae the West o' Hoy
Tae the Norway lands tae get a bairn wi' me

But my dear, I'll wed thee wi' a ring
Wi' a ring, my dear, I will wed wi' thee
You may go wed your weddings wi' whom you will
For I'm sure I'll never wed nane wi' thee

Then you will nurse my little wee son
For seven long years upon your knee
And at the end o' seven long years
I'll come back and pay thee nurse's fee

So she has nursed his little wee son
For scven long years upon her knee
And at the end o' seven long years
He's come back wi' gold and wi' white monie

Oh I will pit a gold chain aroond his neck
Ay, a gay good gold chain it will be
And if ever he comes tae the Norway land
You can hae a gay good guess on him

Oh - says she – I'll wed thee wi' a ring
Wi' a ring, my dear, I will wed wi' thee
You may go wed your weddings wi' whom you will
For I'm sure I'll never wed nane wi' thee

For you will get a gunner good
Ay, a gay good gunner then he will be
And he'll gae oot on a May morning
And he'll shoot the son and the grey selchie

Ay, and she has got a gunner good
Ay, a gay good gunner then it was he
And he's gaed oot on a May morning
And he's shot the son and the grey selchie

Oh, alas, alas, this woeful fate
This weary fate that's been laid for me
And aince or twice she's sobbed and sighed
And her tender heart it did brak' in three



i) The Silkie of Sul Skerry
Ray Fisher, The Bonny Birdy, Leader LERCD2028 (2000), LP originale: 1972. Tune: the one composed by James Waters in the late 1950s.

An earthly nourice sits and sings
And aye she sings, Ba-ba, lily wean,
For little ken I my bairnie's father,
Far less the land that he dwells in.

And he was there at her bed-foot
And a grumlie guest I am sure twas he
Saying, Here am I, thy bairnie's father
Altho' I be not comely

I wasna weel, quo' the maiden fair,
I wasna weel, indeed, quo' she
When the grey silkie o' Sul Skerry
Did cam and brocht a bairn tae me

But I'm a man upon the land
And I am a silkie in the sea
But when I'm far and far frae land
My home is in the Sul Skerry

Then he's ta'en oot a purse o' gowd
And he has thrown it upon her knee
Saying, Gie tae me my bonny wee son
And tak thee up thy nourice fee

For it will come tae pass on a simmer's day
When the sun shines hot upon every stane
That I will tak my bonny wee son
And I'll teach him for tae swim the faem

And thou shalt marry a proud gunner
And a proud gunner I'm sure he'll be
But the very first shot that ever he shoots
He'll kill baith your young son and me



j) Silkie
Joan Baez, on Joan Baez Vol.2, Vanguard 79595-2 and on The Joan Baez Ballad Book, Vanguard ed. Italiana Orizzonte, Ricordi, AORL 28344, first released on Joan Baez Vol.2, Vanguard VSD-2097, 1961. Tune: the one composed by James Waters in the late 1950s.

Chords (from the Joan Baez Songbook)
      G(D)    F(C)               G(D)
An earthly nurse sits and sings
                      F(C)             G(D)
And aye, she sings by lily wean -
       C(G)      G(D) F(C)         G(D)
And little ken I my bairn's father
      F(C) Am(Em)         Dm(Am) G(D)
Far less the land where he dwells in

An earthly nurse sits and sings
And aye, she sings by lily wean -
And little ken I my bairn's father
Far less the land where he dwells in

For he came on night to her bed feet
And a grumbly guest, I'm sure was he
Saying - Here am I, thy bairn's father
Although I be not comely

I am a man upon the land
I am a silkie on the sea
And when I'm far and far frae land
My home it is in Sule Skerrie

And he had ta'en a purse of gold
And he had placed it upon her knee
Saying - Give to me my little young son
And take thee up thy nurse's fee

And it shall come to pass on a summer's day
When the sun shines bright on every stane
I'll come and fetch my little young son
And teach him how to swim the faem

And ye shall marry a gunner good
And a right fine gunner I'm sure he'll be
And the very first shot that e'er he shoots
Will kill both my young son and me



k) Great Selchie of Shule Skerry
Judy Collins, A Maid of Constant Sorrow and Golden Apples of the Sun, Elektra Records 8122 73560-2; ballad originally released in 1962 (Golden Apples of the Sun). Tune: the one composed by James Waters in the late 1950s.

In Norway, there sits a maid
By lou, my baby - she begins
Little know I my child's father
Or if land or sea he's livin' in

Then there arose at her bed feet
And a grumbly guest I'm sure it was he
Saying - Here am I thy child's father
Although that I am not comely

I am a man upon the land
I am a selchie in the sea
And when I am in my own country
My dwellin' is in Shule Skerry

And he hath taken a purse of gold
He hath put it upon her knee
Saying - Give to me my little wee son
And take thee up thy nurse's fee

And it shall come to pass on a summer day
When the sun shines hot on every stone
That I shall take my little wee son
And I'll teach him for to swim in the foam

And you will marry a gunner good
And a proud good gunner I'm sure he'll be
And he'll go out on a May morning
And he'll kill both my wee son and me

And lo, she did marry a gunner good
And a proud good gunner I'm sure it was he
And the very first shot that ere he did shoot
He killed the son and the great selchie



l) The Silkie Of Sule Skerry
The McCalmans, on The Best of Scottish Folk, 2CD, Castle MusicESDCD 769 (song recorded in 1975). Tune: the one composed by James Waters in the late 1950s.

An earthly nourice sits and sings
And aye she sings - Ba, lily wean
Little ken I my bairn's faither
Far less the land that he lives in

It happened on a summer's day
When this faur maid fell fast asleep
That in there cam a grey silkie
And sat him doon at her bed feet

I pray, come tell to me thy name
Or tell me where thy dwelling be –
My name it is good Hein Miller
An' I earn my livin' oot o'er the sea

I am a man upon the land
I am a silkie on the sea
And when I'm far and far frae land
My home it is in Sule Skerry

Thoo will nurse my little wee son
For seven long years upon thy knee
And at the end of seven long years
I'll come back and pay thy nurse's fee

An' you will get a gunner good
And a gey good gunner he's sure to be
And the very first shot that e'er he fires
Will kill both my young son and me

For she has gotten a gunner good
And a gey god gunner sure was he
And he gaed oot on a May morning
And shot her son and the grey silkie



m) The Great Silkie of Sule Skerry
Art Thieme, The Older I Get, The Better I Was, Waterbug WBG 0045, 1998; ballad recorded in 1978. Tune: the one composed by James Waters in the late 1950s.

In Norway land there lived a maid
In Norway land by the mighty sea
Little know I my child's father
Whether land or sea that he dwells in

And it came to pass in Norway land
As she lay sleeping by the sea
Out of the depths crept a great silkie
And he stood him there at her bed feet

And there he watched her all the day
So soundly that you sleep – cried he
If you'd know your child's father
He's standing here at your bed feet

I am a man upon the land
I am a silkie in the sea
And when I'm far and far from land
My home it is in Sule Skerry

And you shall nurse our little son
For seven years upon your knee
And when I'm returned from my long swim
I will bring your nurse's fee

For I see it clear the days to come
I see it clear the times that be
That a gunner good standing on the shore
Will kill our son and the great silkie

And she has nursed their little son
For seven years upon her knee
And he's returned from his long swimming
He has brought her nurse's fee

And being glad to be near land
And being glad to be at home
He's taken his little son with him
To teach him how to swim the foam

And she had married a gunner good
And a right good gunner I guess was he
And he's stood him there upon the shore
For to kill me out of the sea

And it came to pass in Norway land
In Norway land by the mighty sea
That a gunner good standing on the shore
Killed the son and the great silkie

I am a man upon the land
I am a silkie in the sea
And when I'm far and far from land
My home it is in Sule Skerry



n-1) Silkie
Dave Burland, Songs & Buttered Haycocks, Rubber Records, RUB-012, UK, 1975. Tune: the one composed by James Waters in the late 1950s.

An earthly nurse sits and sings
And aye she sings, My little wean
Saying, Little know I my bairn's father
Far less the land that he dwells in

Then one arose at her bed-foot
And a grisly guest I'm sure was he
Saying, Here am I, thy bairn's father
Although I be not comelie

I am a man upon the land
I am a silkie in the sea
And when I'm far and far from land
My home it is in Sule Skerry

It was not well, said the lady fair
It was not well indeed, said she
That the Great Silkie of Sule Skerry
Should have come and got a bairn by me

And he has taken a purse of gold
And he had laid it on her knee
Sayin', Give to me my little young son
And take you up your nurse's fee

For it shall come to pass on a summer's day
When the sun shines bright on every stone
That I will take my little young son
And I'll teach him how to swim the foam

And you shall marry a gunner good
And a right fine gunner I'm sure he'll be
And the very first shot that e'er he fires
Will kill both my young son and me



n-2) Silkie
Dave Burland, (maybe on Willin'). Tune: the one composed by James Waters in the late 1950s.

An earthly nurse sits and sings
And aye she sings, My little wean
Saying, Little know I my bairn's father
Far less the land that he dwells in

Then one arose at her bed-foot
And a grisly guest I'm sure was he
Saying, Here am I, thy bairn's father
Although I be not comelie

I am a man upon the land
I am a silkie in the sea
And when I'm far and far from land
My home it is in Sule Skerry

And he has taken a purse of gold
And he had laid it on her knee
Sayin', Give to me my little young son
Take you off your nurse's fee

It shall come to pass on a summer's day
When the sun shines bright on every stone
That I will take my little young son
And teach him how to swim the foam

And you shall marry a gunner good
And a right fine gunner I'm sure he'll be
And the very first shot that e'er he fires
Will kill both my young son and me



o) The Grey Selchie
Solas, The Words That Remain, Shanachie 78023, 1998. Tune: the one composed by James Waters in the late 1950s.

In Norwa there sits a maid
"Byloo, my baby," she begins
"Little know I my child's father
For if land or sea he's living in"

Then there arose at her bed feet
A grumbly guest, I'm sure it was he
Saying, "Here am I, thy child's father
Although that I am not comely

I am a man upon the land
I am a selchie in the sea
And when I am in my own country
My dwelling is in Suleskerry"

Then he had taken a purse of gold
And he hath put it upon her knee
Saying, "Give to me my little wee son
And take thee up thy nurse's 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 wee son
And teach him for to swim in the foam

You will marry a gunner good
And a proud good gunner I'm sure he will be
But he'll go out on a May morning
And kill both my wee son and me"

Loath she did marry a gunner good
And a proud good gunner, I'm sure it was he
The very first shot that he did shoot
He killed the son and the gray selchie

In Norwa there sits a maid
"Byloo, my baby," she begins
"Little know I my child's father
For if land or sea he's living in"

In Norwa there sits a maid


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Great Silkie
From: Susanne (skw)
Date: 31 Jul 05 - 05:04 PM

Roberto, thank you ever so much! I'll look up Sheena Wellington's lyrics and post them some time this week if they're markedly different from any of the above.


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Great Silkie
From: Susan of DT
Date: 31 Jul 05 - 07:26 PM

Thank you, Roberto. This was my favorite ballad for a long while. See SILKIE2 The Grey Silkie of Sule Skerry in the Digital Tradition for Jean Redpath's version with the tune she used.


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Great Silkie
From: Lighter
Date: 31 Jul 05 - 07:37 PM

I've read the book Stewart recommends on his silkie website linked above - "The People of the Sea," by David Thompson. It's a great *nonfiction* read for anybody interested in the subject.


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Great Silkie
From: michaelr
Date: 31 Jul 05 - 10:22 PM

Stewart -- thanks so much for posting the link to the older tune. It may be superior to James Waters'.

What strikes me as significant is that all the later versions leave out the most important part: the mother's husband, after shooting the seal(s), brings back to her the gold chain the silkie gave her, which she put around her son's neck -- which is how she knows that her son is dead.

Why, do you think, is that verse omitted, when it would add so much to the story's clarity and poignancy?

Cheers,
Michael


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Great Silkie
From: michaelr
Date: 02 Aug 05 - 01:05 AM

refresh -- how about that missing verse?


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Great Silkie
From: Malcolm Douglas
Date: 03 Aug 05 - 12:16 AM

That "important" verse was obviously not considered crucial by the traditional carriers of the song. Of those who even mentioned it, none sang it; but simply summarised that part before resuming their singing. James Henderson actually learned it that way from his mother; it may have been, as Alan Bruford suggests, "a regular feature of the ballad".

See Alan Bruford, 'The Grey Selkie' in E B Lyle (ed), Ballad Studies. Cambridge: D S Brewer for the Folklore Society, 1976.


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Great Silkie
From: GUEST,Gerry
Date: 04 Aug 05 - 01:43 AM

My thanks to all who have posted in response to my request.
I'm particularly amused to see the reference to a Nancy Kerr recording,
as I own just about every CD she has ever been on - except this one!


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Great Silkie
From: Stephen R.
Date: 05 Aug 05 - 12:20 AM

I believe that I saw an article in _Tocher_, it must have been at least twenty years ago, with a couple of tunes for "The Grey Selchie" that had not been published before. How about someone doing a bibliography on it? It certainly deserves one.

Stephen


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Great Silkie
From: Roberto
Date: 06 Aug 05 - 11:02 AM

Two more recordings (Sheena Wellington and Jean Redpath), but this time I need help (with Sheena Wellington's text) and I have a question on John Sinclair's version.
I can't get a couple of words in stanza 11, and I've put question marks where I'm not sure.
The question: John Sinclair noted by Otto Andersson in 1938 and John Sinclair recorded on Peter Kennedy's anthology Sailormen & Servingmaids (I think in 1961) are the same person?

The Great Silkie o' Sule Skerrie
Sheena Wellington, Strong Women, Live at Nitten (Newtongrange) Folk Club, Scotland, Greentrax CDTRAX 094, 1995. John Sinclair's tune.

In Norwa land there lived a maid
Baloo, balee (?), the maid began
O little ken I my bairn's father
Nor yet the land whaur he belang (?)

For it happened on a certain day
When this young maiden lay asleep
That in there come a Great Silkie
And sat him doon at her bed feet

Saying awake, awake, my bonnie maid
Awake, awake, as thou do sleep
I'll tell you whaur his faither is
He's sitting here at thy bed feet

I pray come tell to me your name
And tell me whaur your dwellin be
My name it is Gunn (?) Hein Mailer
I earn my living oot at sea

For I am a man upon the land
I am a Silkie on the sea
And when I'm far fae ony strand
My hame it is in Sule Skerry

A woe, a woe (?), a woeful fate
A weary fate that's been lain on me
That a man should come fae the West o Hoy
Tae the Norwa land tae hae a bairn wi me

My dear I'll wed ye wi a ring
Wi a ring, cried he, I'll wed with thee
Thou may go wed wi whom thou will
For I'm sure you'll never wed wi me

Then ye shall nurse my bonnie son
For siven years upon your knee
And at the end o siven lang years
I'll come and pay the nouris fee

And she has nursed his bonnie son
For siven years upon her knee
And at the end o siven years
He's come back wi gowd and white money

My dear I'll wed ye wi a ring
Wi a ring, cried she, I'll wed wi thee
Thou micht go wed wi whom thou will
For I'm sure you'll never wed wi me

An' I'll pit a gowd chain roond his neck
An a gey good gowd chain it'll be
And if e'er he comes tae the Norwa land
Ye micht hae ... a guid guess it is he

And ye shall marry a gunner guid
An a richt guid gunner he will be
And he's gaen oot on a May morning
And shot the son and the Great Silkie

A woe, a woe, a woeful fate
A woeful fate has been lain on me
And sighing sair she dropped i' (?) the strand
An her tender hairt, it brakt (?) in three



The Grey Silkie
Jean Redpath, Jean Redpath, Philo CD PH 2015, 1975. John Sinclair's version.

In Norwa land, there lived a maid
Baloo, my babe, this maid began
I ken na whaur your faither is
Nor yet the land that he dwells in

It happened on a certain day
When this fair maiden fell asleep
That in there come a grey silkie
And sat him doon at her bed feet

Saying - Awake, awake, my bonnie maid
For O how sound as thou dost sleep
I'll tell thee whaur his faither is
He's sitting close at thy bed feet

I pray come tell tae me your name
And tell me whaur your dwellin be -
My name it is Good Hein Mailler
An I earn my living oot tae sea

I am a man upon the land
I am a Silkie in the sea
And when I'm far fae every strand
My dwelling is in Sule Skerry

Alas, alas, this woeful fate
This weary fate that's been laid on me
That a man should a come fae the West o Hoy
Tae the Norwa lands tae hae a bairn wi me

My dear I'll wed ye wi a ring
Wi a ring my dear, I'll wed with thee
Thou may go wed wi whom thou will
I'm sure ye'll never wed wi me

Thou will nurse my bonnie son
For siven lang years upon your knee
And at the end o siven lang years
I'll come and pay the nurse's fee

She has nursed her little wee son
For siven lang years upon her knee
And at the end o seven lang years
He's come back wi gold and white money

My dear I'll wed ye wi a ring
Wi a ring my dear, I'll wed wi thee
Thou may go wed wi whom thou will
I'm sure ye'll never wed wi me

But I'll pit a gold chain roond his neck
An a gey good gold chain it'll be
That if ever he comes tae the Norwa lands
You can hae a guid guess it is he

And you will get a gunner good
An a gey good gunner it will be
An he'll gae oot on a May morning
An shoot the son an the grey silkie

And she has got a gunner good
An a gey good gunner I'm sure 'twas he
An he gaed oot on a May morning
An he shot the son and the grey silkie

Alas, alas, this woeful fate
This weary fate that's been laid on me
And ance or twice she sobbed and sighed
An her tender hairt, it brak in three


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Subject: Lyr Add: THE GREAT SILKIE OF SULE SKERRY (P Graber
From: Stewart
Date: 06 Aug 05 - 01:29 PM

I hesitate to add yet another version, but this is the Donegal variant sung by Paddy Graber on his CD "The Craic Was Great." This, he says, comes from his family in Ireland.

THE GREAT SILKIE OF SULE SKERRY - Donegal version by Paddy Graber.

In Donegal there dwelt a maid, "O hush my babe" this maid sang she,
"I wonder where your father is. Is he on land or in the sea?"

It fell upon that self-same night, when that fair maid lay fast asleep,
In there did come the great Silkie, and sat him down at her bed feet.

"Awake, awake, my bonnie wee lass, just like your babe, soundly you'll sleep.
You wondered where his father is, he's sitting now at your bed feet.

"I pray you tell to me your name, and tell me where your dwelling be."
"My name it is Good Hein Mailler, I take my living from the sea."

"I am a man upon the land, I am a Silkie in the sea,
And when I'm far from ev'ry strand, I make my home in Sule Skerry."

"Alas, alas, this woeful fate, this woeful fate that's laid on me,
That you should come to Donegal, and lie and make a babe with me."

"My dear I'll wed thee with a ring, with a ring of gold I will we thee."
"O you may wed with whom you will, I swear you'll never wed with me."

"And you must raise our bonnie-wee son, for seven long years close by your knee,
And at the end of seven long years I'll return with gold for the nourishment fee."

And she did raise their bonnie-wee son, for seven long years close by her knee,
And at the end of seven long years, he came with gold for the young silkie.

Saying "I will wed thee with a ring, with a ring of gold will I wed thee."
"O you may wed with whom you will, I swear you'll never wed with me."

"But I will place a collar of gold, around his neck where all might see,
And if he returns to Donegal, I'll know right well that it is he."

"O you will marry a gunner good, and a right good gunner he'll prove to be,
And he'll go out to the Head of Hoy and he'll shoot your son and the great Silkie."

It's true she married a gunner good, and a right good gunner he proved to be,
And he went out on a May morning, and he shot her son and the great Silkie.

And he returned to Donegal, and a joyous man surely was he.
He went straightway to his good wife, with a collar of gold from her young silkie.

"Alas, alas, this woeful fate, this woeful fate that's laid on me!"
And once or twice she sobb'd and sigh'd, and her tender heart it broke in three.


Cheers, S. in Seattle


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Great Silkie
From: Malcolm Douglas
Date: 06 Aug 05 - 03:11 PM

Hmmm. One of Paddy's little stories, I suspect. I'm afraid I find it rather hard to believe.


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Subject: Lyr Add: THE GREAT SILKIE O' SULE SKERRIE
From: Susanne (skw)
Date: 06 Aug 05 - 06:08 PM

Roberto beat me to Jean Redpath's version. Still, I think her notes are worth adding:

[1987:] Stories of the seal-folk are legion - Ireland, the Outer Hebrides, Argyll, Orkney, Shetland, Caithness, Sutherland, Northeast Scotland and even Norway and Greenland share the tradition of the silkie, or selchie (prob. from Norse selch: seal). Thomas in 1852 described this as "the superstition of the seals or selkies being able to throw off their waterproof jackets and assume the more graceful proportions of the genus Homo". The ballad in this form was recovered in 1938 by Professor Otto Andersson of Finland from John Sinclair of Flotta in the Orkney Islands. Sule Skerry [Sula Sgeir] is a rocky islet 25 miles west of Hoy Head in Orkney. Professor Bertrand H. Bronson (University of California/Berkeley) has a note and further references.
In singing the ballad, the repetition of the verse beginning "My dear, I'll wed the(e?) wi' a ring" left me a little confused as to who was speaking the second time [...] and why. I assumed that the silkie offered marriage the first time, but couldn't quite decide who proposed and who refused the second time. I resolved the dilemma to my own satisfaction, having read the epic of the "Lady Odivere" which includes a similar encounter. On the silkie's return, his reply to her proposal is:
Doo wad no', whin I wad gudewife;   (You wouldn't when I wanted to
I winno, whin doo'r willan noo,      I won't now that you are willing
Dat day doo tint doo'l never faind; That day you lost you'll never find
He's late, he's ower late tae rue    It's late, too late for regrets)                              (Notes 'Jean Redpath')


And this is Sheena Wellington's version (very close to Jean Redpath's) without the question marks. Any further corrections are welcome:

THE GREAT SILKIE O' SULE SKERRIE
Sheena Wellington, Strong Women, Greentrax CDTRAX 094, 1995. Tune: the one used by John Sinclair

In Norowa' land there lived a maid
Baloo, balee, the maid began
Oh little ken I my bairn's father
Nor yet the land whaur he belang

But it happened on a certain day
When this young maiden lay asleep
That in there cam' a great silkie
And sat him doon at her bed feet

Sayin', Awake, awake, my bonnie maid
Awake, awake as thou do sleep
I'll tell you whaur his faither is
He's sittin' here at thy bed feet

Ah pray come tell tae me your name
And tell me whaur your dwelling be
My name it is guid Heim Mailer
And I earn my livin' oot at sea

For I am a man upon the land
I am a silkie on the sea
And when I'm far frae ony strand
My hame it is in Sule Skerry

A woe-, a woe-, a woefu' fate
A weary fate has been laid on me
That a man should come frae the wast' o' Hoy
Tae the Norowa' land tae hae a bairn wi' me

My dear, I'll wed ye wi' a ring
Wi' a ring, cried he, I'll wed wi' thee
Thou may go wed wi' whom thou will
For I'm sure you'll never wed wi' me

Then ye shall nurse my bonnie son
For seeven years upon your knee
And at the end o' seeven lang years
I'll come and pay the nourris fee

And she has nursed his bonnie son
For seeven years upon her knee
And at the end o' seeven years
He's come back wi' gowd and white money

My dear, I'll wed ye wi' a ring
Wi' a ring, cried she, I'll wed wi' thee
Thou micht go wed wi' whom thou will
For I'm sure you'll never wed wi' me

And I'll put a gowd chain roond his neck
An' a gey guid gowd chain it'll be
And if e'er he comes tae the Norowa' land
You micht tak' a guid guess it is he

An' ye shall mairry a gunner guid
And a richt guid gunner he will be
An' he's gane oot on a May mornin'
An' shot the son and the great silkie

A woe-, a woe-, a woefu' fate
A woefu' fate has been laid on me
And sighin' sair she drapped tae the strand
And her tender hairt it brak'd in three

[1995:] Stories and songs of the silkies or seal-people and their dealings with humankind are found widely in both Norse and Celtic tradition but Francis James Child's 'English and Scottish Popular Ballads' has only one fairly short version of this ballad and, of course, no melody. This stark tune and the fuller story were recorded in the thirties from John Sinclair of Flotta in the Orkney Islands. In some versions it is the Silkie who offers marriage the second time but while collating my text from various sources I decided that it was likely that the woman would see marriage as the only way to keep her child. (Notes Sheena Wellington, 'Strong Women')


Dave Burland (Roberto's n-2 above) does not use the James Waters tune, but the John Sinclair one, though with a slightly 'funky' beat, at least on my copy of 'Willin'' (1989).


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Great Silkie
From: Roberto
Date: 07 Aug 05 - 01:31 AM

Yes, you're right, Susanne (skw), Dave Burland's tune in Willin' uses John Sinclair's tune. I take the chance to ask once again: the John Sinclair noted by Otto Andersson in 1938 and the John Sinclair recorded on Peter Kennedy's anthology Sailormen & Servingmaids (I think in 1961) are the same person?


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Great Silkie
From: Roberto
Date: 07 Aug 05 - 01:51 AM

I've listened again to the other recording of Silkie by Dave Burland, on Songs & Buttered Haycocks: he uses the same tune, similar to John Sinclair's, in both recordings. I take the chance to ask once again: the John Sinclair noted by Otto Andersson in 1938 and the John Sinclair recorded on Peter Kennedy's anthology Sailormen & Servingmaids (I think in 1961) are the same person?
Thanks. R


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Great Silkie
From: michaelr
Date: 07 Aug 05 - 02:24 PM

Stewart -- thanks for posting that! There is the missing verse!

Lave it to the Irish...

Cheers,
Michael


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Great Silkie
From: Malcolm Douglas
Date: 07 Aug 05 - 04:00 PM

Yes, it's there; but made up by Paddy Graber, I strongly suspect, to fill a gap in a song he probably learned from a record, turning it into an "Irish version" by adding "Donegal" wherever it would fit. The language of that verse isn't really consonant with the rest.

This is too rare a song to have turned up unremarked in Donegal (there's no evidence that it's ever been found in tradition outside Orkney and Shetland); and I'm afraid Paddy has on other occasions made claims for some of his material which are are very unlikely to be true. Treat with extreme caution in the absence of supporting evidence.


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Great Silkie
From: michaelr
Date: 07 Aug 05 - 11:33 PM

I take your point, Malcolm. I'm almost as much interested in authenticity as you are. But I'm also a working performer, and as such I'm thrilled to find that verse, which I consider important for the continuity (and the audience's comprehension) of the ballad.

If Paddy hadn't made it up, I'd have to do it myself!

Cheers,
Michael


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Great Silkie
From: Susanne (skw)
Date: 08 Aug 05 - 05:12 PM

Can't agree with you, Michael. Sometimes spelling it all out can be too much. I'm quite prepared to believe 'he shot the son and the grey silkie' and believe the mother just knew without any material proof.


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Great Silkie
From: michaelr
Date: 08 Aug 05 - 07:17 PM

That's OK, Susanne. We can't all agree on everything, can we?

Cheers,
Michael (aus Hamburg)


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Great Silkie
From: Susanne (skw)
Date: 09 Aug 05 - 06:04 PM

So why haven't you been to any Eurogathering??? Shirker! :-)


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Great Silkie
From: michaelr
Date: 09 Aug 05 - 06:27 PM

Because I live in California :-)


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Great Silkie
From: Barry Finn
Date: 07 Mar 09 - 04:21 PM

Does anyone know where I might hear the John Sinclair's version of the Great Silkie on the internet. On U-Tube the only performances of the song I could find were all done to the tune Waters composed?
Thanks
Barry


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Great Silkie
From: Bill D
Date: 07 Mar 09 - 04:58 PM

Barry.. I have that.. I'll post it where you can listen.


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Great Silkie
From: Bill D
Date: 07 Mar 09 - 05:07 PM

John Sinclair

(I'll leave this up 'for awhile')

The Gaugers treatment of the Halcro tune is nicely done, also. Halcro himself was a bit 'rough'.


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Great Silkie
From: mg
Date: 08 Mar 09 - 12:09 AM

I met a distant cousin by the name of O'Shea with roots where my family has roots in Dingle, Ireland..and she said I think that they believed themselves to be Selkies..mg


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Great Silkie
From: Bill D
Date: 09 Mar 09 - 09:24 AM

refreshing in case Barry missed this...(where did you go, Barry?)


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Great Silkie
From: GUEST,Dave MacKenzie
Date: 09 Mar 09 - 08:38 PM

I have the words of "The Play o' de Lathie Odivere" that I copied out in manuscript on quarto sheets over 40 years ago from the Proceedings of some Antiquarian Society,the held in Edinburgh Corporation's Scottish Library. There was a bit more than just the song text, and if I remember rightly, the author was explaining how the original had been lost so he/she had had to reconstruct it from fragments, and also discussing various points such as the implications of making an oath to Odin. The spelling was slightly different from the posted version. Here's the first verse, umlauts and all.

In Norowa a lathie bed,
A bonnie lass in muckle gare;
An' hid wus soothly sung an' said,
Shü wus a lathie sweet an' fair.


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Great Silkie
From: Barry Finn
Date: 10 Mar 09 - 12:52 AM

I did get that, thanks Bill.
I'm not done rolling the tune around but I'm leaning more towards the Waters tune, it's no wonder that so many folks have taken to it over the traditional tune.

Barry


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Great Silkie
From: Langtonian
Date: 10 Mar 09 - 02:37 AM

I was sent a private email about my recordings of this mentioned above, so just to clarify for anyone else that's interested, and hopefully deflect any further attacks, here's some background.

I originally learned the tune from print, circa 1967, following the publication of it in Bronson where it is attributed to John Sinclair of Orkney.

I learned the tune specifically for a recording project by Argo Records, "Poetry and Song" On that occasion I was accompanied by two fellow members of the Critics Group, John Faulkner and Terry Yarnell, both playing fiddle. My text came from an amalgam of sources and was deliberately not John Sinclairs

Many years later, John Purser added some seal sounds in the background, and as much as I love and admire John's work, I cannot accept any responsibility for the seal sounds. :-) (For those unfamiliar with John's work it is well worth reading his book "Scotland's Music" and if possible listen to the 30 radio programmes that parralled the book)

Over the last 40 years or so since I first learned them, my tune and the text will have no doubt undergone changes, and for that I make no apologies - it is the way of the tradition.

Bob Blair


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Great Silkie
From: GUEST,Atlanticarc
Date: 12 Jun 12 - 11:51 AM

Good version on Naked Voice by Elspeth Cowie, ex Seannachie and Chantan

mp3 album and trax from http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/elspethcowie

artist website htpp://www.elspethcowie.com


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Great Silkie
From: JohnInKansas
Date: 12 Jun 12 - 05:00 PM

Thread drift - related(?) subject:

A parody on the theme, titled "You picked a fine time to leave me, you Seal" (to the tune of the pop song "You picked a fine time to leave me, Lucile") was mentioned in a thread here some time ago, but I didn't find it with a quick search.

Lyrics were published in !Sing Out, and IIRC were posted here.

Info for the the curious (or demented) only. The rest may resume the serious and scholarly discussion.

John


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Great Silkie
From: GUEST,Brian Tyson
Date: 11 Mar 13 - 03:56 AM

In Archie Fisher's beautiful version of this song, we have the verse:
"My dear, I'll wed thee with a ring,
Wi' a ring, my dear, I'll wed wi' ye;
Now thou may wed with whom thou wilt
For I'm sure we'll never mair atwee."*

I'm quite sure the Fisher version is accurate. Of the hundreds of versions of the lyrics of this ancient ballad, he is the only one who makes sense of this verse. "I'm sure we'll never mair atwee" is a variant of "we'll never mair atwin" (i.e. "separate.") It is akin to the line in the ballad of Clerk Saunders, where May Margret says:
                        "Your faith and troth ye never shall get,
                         Nor our true love shall never twin"
He is saying, in effect,I'll marry you (with a ring)--then, afterwards you can "marry" any human you wish; for I'm sure you and I will never be separated." The other versions make no sense. Their verses begin with the Silkie saying "I'll wed you" and end with his saying "You'll never wed me!"


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Great Silkie
From: GUEST,Banjiman
Date: 11 Mar 13 - 08:45 AM

Here's a pipes, harp, guitar and vocals version from Wendy Arrowsmith and John & Caroline Bushby.

Great Silkie


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