The Grey Silkie (Child 113) (Improved) - John Sinclair

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The Grey Silkie / The Selkie / The Great Selchie of Shool Skerrie / The Great Silkie of Sule Skerry (Child No. 113) (Improved) - Sung by John Sinclair of Flotta, Orkney. Recorded by Sean Davies in July 1955. Previously noted by the Finnish folklorist Dr. Otto Andersson in 1938. Sinclair (who learned the song from his mother), worked all his life as a seaman, and a farmer-fisherman until his retirement. From "Sailormen & Servingmaids, a collection of songs about seamen and their womenfolk, recorded in the field from traditional singers in England, Scotland and Ireland" (1961) Topic 12T194.

Compare this to a modern rendition of the ballad by Paul Clayton who based it on Sinclair's version:

Song transcription:

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.
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