On a cold, wet morning during the last week of the year, I am dreaming of the sea. Our travel plans are limited again due to the latest wave of Covid, but music carries me to the coast and I can almost taste the salt...
Above: "Lá Róúil" by the Irish folk duo Zoë Conway and John Mc Intyre, Irish fiddle/bouzouki player Éamon Doorley, and Scottish singer/songwriter Julie Fowlis. The song -- about new days, fresh starts, grief lifted and hope renewed -- was released as a single last year, and will appear on a forthcoming album inspired by Gaelic poetry of Ireland and Scotland.
Below: "Òran an Ròin (The Song of the Seal)" sung by Julie Fowlis, from the Outer Hebrides, backed up by Pepín de Muñalén, Barry Kerr and Rubén Bada. "It's a traditional Gaelic song," she says, "from the voice of the seal people or selkies -- creatures who were said to shed their seal skin and take on the human form at certain times of the year. Creatures who moved between the parallel worlds of sea and land, but never truly belonging to either. I learned this from the singing of the Rev William Matheson of North Uist/Edinburgh."
Above: "The Song of the Seals" performed by Scottish folksinger Jean Redpath (1937-2014), from her 1978 album of the same name. The song, composed in the early 20th century by Harold Boulton & Granville Bantock, is said to have been inspired by a Hebridean chant used to charm seals (and the selkie folk).
Below: "The Great Selkie of Sule Skerry" (Child Ballad #113), a classic Orcadian song of the seal people performed by the great English folk & jazz singer June Tabor. The song appeared on her solo album Ashore (2011).
Above: "The Mermaid" (Child Ballad #289) performed by Welsh folksinger Julie Murphy for The Mark Radcliffe Folk Sessions (BBC Radio 2, 2015). You'll find a recording of the song on her album Every Bird That Flies (2016).
Below: "Port na bPúcai" performed by Irish folksinger Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh, with Billy Mag Fhloinn. This traditional song from the Blasket Islands of Co. Kerry tells the story of a woman "from across the waves" who has been stolen away by the fairies, never to return.
One more, below: "Fear a' Bhàta (The Boatman)," a Scots Gaelic song from the late 18th century, recorded by Irish folksinger Niamh Parsons. It was written by Sìne NicFhionnlaigh, from the Isle of Lewis, about her passion for a fisherman from Uig. It's a tragic song about love betrayed...but in real life all ended happily and NicFhionnlaigh married her boatman.
Pictures: The seal-hound and me on the south Devon coast this autumn.