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A word in your shell-like about mermaids and other fishy 'tails'

By Eddie McIlwaine

Published 19/05/2015

Did you know that sailors do not like mermaids? They foretell shipwrecks and these maidens of the sea were a real terror to bygone generations.

I only mention mermaids today because way back in May 1815 the story goes that in the island of Benbecula in the Hebrides a mermaid is supposed to have been shot dead by mistake by hunters and placed in a coffin for a normal human burial by the islanders who were shocked by what had happened.

A book called Ulster Parade, which was published in 1942, takes the tale a little bit further with a short story now out of print, called The Mermaid Of Dunluce, by Sam Henry.

"There are families in Scotland and Ireland who, to this day, concede descent from the mermaid, or sulkie, as they are known in some parts," wrote the late Sam, a Coleraine authority on folklore who died in 1952.

He was convinced that every mermaid is a fallen angel with a touch of the supernatural. Another folksy tale was that a few breeds of seal turn into humans at dusk on certain calendar days and dance for hours on the horizon.

Sam often told the tale of how an islander on Rathlin fell in love with a mermaid. She agreed to marry him if he took off her tail and hid it where it would never be found. The tail was replaced by two shapely legs and they lived happily as man and wife until their 12-year-old son found the tail in the barn. Mum pulled on the tail, slipped down to the shore and swam away, never to be seen again.

And if you believe that folksy old tale you'll believe that the Earth is flat!

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