top of page

The heART of Ritual


Blúiríní Bealoidis 26 - Seals In Folk Tradition

Seals have been an integral part of coastal life in Ireland for generations, and as such there exists a large body of tradition, belief and narrative regarding them. They were described in tradition as being enchanted people, wise women, fallen angels and drowned (or indeed reincarnated) fishermen, and encounters with them often relate how they would speak to, plead with or warn those fishermen who were about to attack or kill them out at sea or on the shore.

Certain families in Ireland (Coneelys, O'Kanes, Dowds, O'Sheas and Gallaghers among them) were considered to have been the result of a union between a mortal and an enchanted seal, and many narrative accounts collected in Ireland describe how such unions came about when a mortal man who came upon a seal-woman in human form on the shore stole her cloak (which allowed her to change form) took her home, married her and had children with her, until one day she discovered her hidden cloak and left her children and husband to return to the sea.

For this month's edition of Blúiríní Jonny is joined by Ailbe van der Heide to discuss the topic of seals in folk tradition, join them as they traverse the coasts and islands around Ireland and further afield to consider the interplay between nature, culture, appearance and reality which is brought across by these liminal beings.

Some material mentioned in this episode:

'Monolingual Irish Speaker':…hannel=AnGhaeilge Seán Ó hEinirí (John Henry) in conversation with Professor Séamas Ó Catháin of the Department of Irish Folklore. This video is from a documentary called 'In Search of the Trojan War' from 1985. 'People of the Sea' by David Thomson:…eople_of_the_Sea Bairbre Ní Fhloinn: 'Tadhg and Donncha...' in Islanders and Water Dwellers (1996)…ter-dwellers/ Linda May-Ballard: Seal Stories and Belief on Rathlin Island in Ulster Folklife Martin Puhvel, 'The Seal in the Folklore of Northern Europe' Folklore, volume 74 issue 1:…7X.1963.9716898 Bo Almqvist 'Of Mermaids and Marriages. Seamus Heaney's 'Maighdean Mara' and Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill's 'an Mhaighdean Mhara' in the Light of Folk Tradition', Béaloideas, Iml. 58 (1990), pp. 1-74 (Available online through JSTOR) Alexander H. Krappe, 'Scandinavian Seal Lore', Scandinavian Studies , Vol. 18, No. 4 (1944) pp. 156-162


bottom of page