Track 4 (CD2) KEEPING
OUT THE SEA MAN James Henderson,
James Henderson was born
in Garth, near St. Margaret’s Hope, South Ronaldsay, Orkney, in 1903:
he started his working life on his father’s croft, which he inherited
at eighteen, but when the estate was sold he could not afford to buy the
land and had to go south to Edinburgh. He found work as a delivery man
and later as a bus driver and conductor, and returned to Orkney, to a
house in Burray just across the water from his birthplace, as soon as he
retired in 1968. (For a fuller biography see Tocher 4:77).
Despite the long absence he remebered a great deal that he heard as a
boy, both from his father (born in 1837: James was the son of his second
marriage) and from his mother, whose mother Jeannie Halcro belonged to a
family rich in tradition which had returned to South Ronaldsay from the
small island of Swona. She was the source of "The Grey Selkie"
and other interesting ballads, and also of this tale. James tells the
story in dialect as he first heard it.
Though there are partial
parallels to this story in Gaelic and Scots tales which tell of a fairy
or warlock suitor duped by getting hairs from a cow in place of hairs
from the girl he desires, or the like (for example Tocher 1:11-13,
3:128-29), there is an even closer parallel in a Norwegian story, No.
6000 in R. Th. Christiansen’s catalogue, The Migratory Legends. Christiansen
lists 35 versions, in which a girl gets rid of a fairy lover by asking
him "how to free one of her cows from the advances of a fairy
bull." Such close resemblances between tales from Norway and Orkney
or Shetland are rather rare. The actual remedy is quite different (the
Norwegian tale usually involves the use of herbs and tar) and the
appearance of the fairy as a "sea man" is perhaps an
adaptation to the different background: sea as well as land fairies are
well-known in Norwegian tradition, but not in this story. A "sea
man" in South Ronaldsay was not necessarily thought of as one who
became a seal in the sea. -AJB
WELL, THIS HAPPENED
in a hoose - it was supposed to be somewhere in the Sooth Parish o Sooth
Ronaldsay. It was a man, a widower man and his daughter, they lived
together on a wee croft. And there was one night, the man - he was awey,
he was in bed before the girl. An the next mornin she tell'd him she'd
haen an aafu experience. She'd barred the door an was sittin at the fire
when the door opened an a man came in. An he sat aal night beside her.
An she said there was somethin funny aboot him, she said, an she didna
like to ask him who he wis or what he was doin - there was somethin
queer aboot him.
Saa he says: 'Ye're no
barred the door right,' he said. 'I'll bar the door mesel the night.' So
when that night cam he barred the door an made sure it was fixed an geed
awey tae his bed. In the mornin she said the sam thing happened - the
door just opened an the man came in.
'Ah weel,' he says, 'I
think he must be a sea man.' So he says: 'But I'll sit op the night an
wait tae he comes in.' So they barred the door as usual, an sittin one
at each side o the fire, an the door just opened and the man waaked in.
Oh, the old fellow said, 'Oh, com in, com in,' an made him very welcome.
'Sit doon!' an start to taak awey aboot different things tae him, an he
says: 'Mön,' he says, 'I'm hevin an aaful bit o bother.'
'Oh,' he says. 'What's
'Weel,' he says, 'there a
sea bull teen to comin an haantin a quey [heifer] I hev in the byre, an
no matter hoo I fasten the door, or hoo I tie her, he gets in an he's in
there all night, an he's just ruinin my quey. I donno what I'm gaan to
do wi her.'
'Ah,' he says, 'that's
aesy pitten right, mön. Aal ye need to do is cut some hair aff o her
tail, an pare her hoofs, an pit the hair an the parins abov the byre
door, an he'll no be able to com in.'
'Oh,' he says, 'thanks
very much' - he was terribly grand, he would try that. So he geed awey
to bed an left them: sam thing, he sat to mornin an awey he gaed.
So that day they clippit
a lock of the girl's hair an pared her nails an pat it all together an
stuck it up abov the door, barred the door as usual an sat waitin. Aboot
the usual time he cam: they heard the sneck o the door liftin, an the
door tried but shö wouldno open. An they hears him sayin: 'Eh my,' he
says, 'there mony a man done themsels ill wi their tongue, and I'm don
the sam.' An that's the last they're hard o him.
I heard my mother tellin that one. It was
her mother that had told it - she belonged to the Sooth Parish . . . She
would have known where the hoose was an probably who the folk was, or
was supposed to be.