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The fishy tale of that lovely mermaid from Islandmagee

By Eddie McIlwaine

Islandmagee has always been a place laden with folk legends and tales, so in the summer of 1816 - 200 years ago - it was no surprise that every hill and dale along the coastline was buzzing with the story of a beautiful mermaid being captured at Port Muck.

It all began with a letter in a local newspaper, the Belfast Chronicle, from one William McClelland in which he claimed to have been a member of a group of fishermen - aided and abetted by a large Water Dog - who caught the mermaid in their net and, after calming her down and assuring her they meant her no harm, carried the fishy one up the road to a row boat they owned at Port Muck where they made her comfortable in a bath of salt water.

McClelland later claimed he wanted to show the mermaid off to the local people to prove she really did exist.

And from all over Co Antrim and beyond people flocked to Port Muck to see the mermaid whom he called Julie. But all they glimpsed in the boat was a shadowy figure which could have been one of McClelland's human girlfriends. He wasn't letting spectators get too close.

There are several versions of the story of the Port Muck mermaid going around to this day. One, in a 1927 book called The History of Islandmagee by Dixon Donaldson, dismisses the whole thing as a hoax by McClelland, who was known to be a bit of a joker.

But there are people in Islandmagee - especially around the Port Muck region - who aren't so sure. They will tell you there is a glimmer of truth in the story.

But was it a mermaid or just a big fish that McClelland and his mates had hooked and then allowed their imaginations to run riot?

What does intrigue me though is the story that keeps popping up about a different mermaid altogether - one who made her home on Rathlin and earned it the title of The Enchanted Isle.

A poem was written about her and contained the lines:

A Mermaid rises from the deep

And sweetly tunes her magic shell

The name of the author has never been traced. There are those, mind you, who will tell you it was penned by the mermaid herself.

Belfast Telegraph


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