Tuesday 4 March 2014

Here Be Mermaids!

I am just finishing off a folkloric post and received a link from fellow cryptozoological researcher, Scott Mardis. It concerns the tale of the Cromarty mermaid which was not far from Loch Ness. The 18th Century broadsheet proclaims:

"A strange and wonderful Relation concerning a Mermaid that was seen and spoke with on the Cliff of Cromarry, near Inverness in Scotland, by a young gentleman, a Merchant, named Lauchland Mackintosh, who was tossed on the main Ocean for four Days and Nights. Together with an account of his wonderful Dream, and the strange Conversation he had with the Mermaid, and how he was preserved after his Return to Inverness." 

Now I had been aware of this story whilst researching my book on Scottish Water Horses a couple of years back, but ignored it along with the various sea serpent stories as I was more interested in land locked waters and rivers.

However, this blog has put up a couple of pieces on these fair, aquatic females. The first concerned the mermaid like creature of Loch Morar as related by folklorist Carmichael Watson:
  The Morag dwells in Loch Morar. She gives her name to the lake and still appears when any of the old Macdonalds of Morar die. Like the other water deities she is half human half fish. The lower portions of her body is in the form of a grilse and the upper in the form of a small woman of highly developed breasts with long flowing yellow hair falling down her snow white back and breast. She is represented as being fair, beautiful and very timid and never seen save when one of the Morar family dies or when the clan falls in battle."
The second account concerns Loch Duntelchaig which is a satellite loch of Loch Ness: 
"The hill side which sloped down to the lake had the name of being haunted, and the waters of the lake itself had their ghostly inhabitant in the shape of what the Highlanders called the water-bull. There was also a story of some strange mermaid-like monster being sometimes seen, having the appearance of a monstrous fish with long hair."
I do not recall coming across any other such stories of loch mermaids, so they are in even shorter supply compared to their companions, the Kelpie, Water Horse and Water Bull. The old Victorian sceptics mused that the long strands of kelp that dotted the Scottish coastline may have reminded natives of the Kelpie mane and I don't doubt some would have speculated likewise concerning the long hair of the mermaid. 
The trouble was that Kelpies were freshwater creatures, but why let the facts get in the way of a good theory?



  1. You wrote: "strange conversation he had with the Mermaid, and how he was preserved after his return to Inverness." but the article reads "strange conversation he had with the Mermaid, and how he was preserved, but died five days after his return to Inverness."

    Very important that a writer quotes correctly, if they wish to be believed.

  2. Looking at my copy of MacLennan's Gaelic Dictionary (reprinted from 1925) and found an entry:
    seilcheag: snail, slug
    So Loch Duntelchaig is something like Loch of the Fort of the Slug. Ted Holiday would have loved this.
    And the entry immediately above is:
    seilch: water monster, supposed to inhabit certain lochs.
    Strangely enough, "each uisge" never made it into this particular compilation.


  3. This is intriguing because back in 1989 I found a copy of the Reader's Digest Folklore myths and Legends of Britain up in a spare and was surprised at how many legends there are of 'Merfolk' up in the highlands of Scotland. However, Mermaids/Merfolk inhabiting freshwater domains aren't so common as their coastal counterparts, this account you've published concerns a Mermaid who seems to inhabit this particular Loch. I don't know if you've got a copy of this book in your possession GB, and I have a sneaky suspicion that you have, but it is a 'goldmine' of information about folklore legends of our glorious isles.

  4. Hi GB,
    I think what I actually meant when stating that this book is a 'goldmine' for folklore information is that each chapter in the book features a gazette of folklore tales and legends on each county of the British Isles. I have a copy of the book (really my Dad's) and it doesn't really delve too far into the Scottish Loch Monsters as other books do. It does have a fairly comprehensive selection of mythic lore and historical customs on every county that's featured. I checked for a copy on Amazon.UK last night and the copies of the book aren't cheap (£70 upwards) but if your curious about anything mythical then I'd be happy to have a browse for you.