The Great Silkie of Sule Skerry

The Great Silkie of Sule Skerry

The Great Silkie of Sule Skerry or The Grey Selkie of Suleskerry is Child ballad number 113, from Orkney.


A woman laments that she does not know her son's father. A man rises up to tell her that he is the father, and that he is a selkie: a man only on the land, a seal in the water. He takes his son, gives her a purse of gold, and predicts that she will marry a gunner, who will shoot both him and their son.


Possibly the most well known version, American folksinger Joan Baez recorded "The Silkie" in the 1960s.

The British folk rock band Trees included one variant, as "The Great Silkie", in "The Garden of Jane Delawney", their debut album.

Similarly, the Irish band Solas included one variant, titled "Grey Selchie", in their album "The Words That Remain".

The Scottish folk band, the Corries, performed a version in their 1971 album, "Live at the Royal Lycaeum".

The Breton folk band Tri Yann also penned an adaptation in french called "Le Dauphin" (the dolphin) on their 1972 album "Tri Yann an Naoned".

Alasdair Roberts included his version of "The Grey Silkie of Sule Skerry" on his limited-edition CD, "You Need Not Braid Your Hair For Me: I Have Not Come A-Wooing", released in 2005.

In their third album, "Fifth dimension" (1966), The American rock band The Byrds set the poem "I Come and Stand at Every Door" by turkish poet Nazim Hikmet to the tune of "The Great Silkie". The song was later covered by Pete Seeger and This Mortal Coil. Roger McGuinn of the Byrds later recorded the the song with its original lyrics as part of his Folk Den project.

In 1981 Angelo Branduardi recorded this tune in his album Branduardi '81, with a lyrics by Esenin. The song is titled "La cagna".

The Philadelphia folk band Broadside Electric included a version of the ballad on their 1996 album "More Bad News ..."

The Scottish band Mac Umba, which fuses Samba, Highland bagpipe tunes and folksongs, included The Selkie on their album "Don't Hold Your Breath" (1996). It was sung to a traditional tune, but also blended with a chorus sung to the goddess of the sea Yemaya, accompanied by the shekere.

External links

* [ History, and two variants]
* [ Child version]
* [ Kentucky ballad singer and artist Daniel Dutton has a painting of The Selkie on his Ballads of the Barefoot Mind website]

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