The Great Silkie


An earthly nourice sits and sings
And aye she sings by the lily-wean
Little ken I my bairnie’s faither
Far less the land that he bides in

Then up come he tae her bed fit
And grumbly guest I’m share was he
Saying “Here am I, thy bairnie’s faither
Although I may not comely be”

“I am a man upon the land
And I’m a Silkie on the sea
And when I’m far and far frae land
My hame is in the Sule Skerry”

And he has taken a pot o’ gold
And he has set it on her knee
Saying “Gie to me my ain wee son
And you accept your nourice fee”

It shall come to pass on a summer’s day
When the sun shines bright on every stane
That I will tak my ain wee son
And learn him how to swim the fame

And ye will marry a proud gunner
And a right guid gunner I’m sure he’ll be
And wi’ the first shot that e’er he fires
He’ll kill baith my bonny son and me

This ballad originates from the Orkney Islands and dates back to at least 1898, although it is probably much older. A silkie or selkie is a seal when in the water and turns into a man on land. Sule Skerry is a small, currently uninhabited, island Iying to the West of the Orkney mainland.