Friday, 14 September 2012


Scribble City Central's twenty-ninth Fantabulous Friday comes from Malachy Doyle, fairytale expert, and award-winning author of many wonderful books, including the just-published Too Noisy! (Walker Books).  It was a treat to read this one aloud to a small neighbour - the rhythm and rhyme rollicks along, the story has a loud beginning, a scary middle and a fine happy ending, and the rich, gorgeous jumble of colours and pictures make a perfect marriage with Malachy's words.  I don't talk about picture books often enough on SCC - so I'm delighted this one came my way. The small neighbour loved it, by the by - I had to read it to her three times!

My own favourite of Malachy's books is Tales of Old Ireland- a real treat of a collection, illustrated by Niamh Sharkey, Ireland's new Laureate na nÓg in a delightfully quirky palette of muted colours just perfect for these stories.  Malachy has a way with words which just begs to be read aloud to a child, and there's a sly sense of humour in these stories which had had me laughing out loud.  What I love about the art of retelling is that each writer picks out different elements to highlight, so that each version, however well you think you know it beforehand, reveals new things about itself.  As Malachy says, quoting an old Irish proverb, "a tune is more precious than birdsong, and a tale more precious than the wealth of the world". So it is - stories are the most precious legacy we have, whether they be from the Irish tradition or any other.  However much technology we have, however many clever gadgets, children will always need stories, and retellers to make them new again.  Malachy seemed the perfect man to tell you about a sea creature not many people know about - crowded out perhaps by its more popular cousin, last week's M for Mermaid.  Here he is then to talk about:

M for Merrow
Soul Catcher of the Sea

MD: When I came to choose the stories to retell for my collection, Tales from Old Ireland, The Soul Cages just had to be in there.  Jack Doherty, a fisherman, wants more than anything to meet a Merrow. 

 ‘Now, merrows are the men who live under the sea, and it is said that if you meet one it will bring you great luck.’ 

One day Jack meets one in a sea-cave – 
‘he was a big fellow with green hair, long dark teeth, a red nose and piggy eyes.  He had a fish’s tail, legs with scales on them and short arms with fins.’
The merrow, who’s called Coomara, invites Jack down to dine with him, and gives him a cocked hat, just like his own, to wear for the dive.

They eat fish and drink brandy together, but Jack is shocked when Coomara shows him the cages in which he keeps the souls of drowned sailors.  Jack knows that souls have to be allowed to wander free, and determines to release them.

Merrows are the Scottish and Irish equivalent of mermaids and mermen.  While female merrows are beautiful and affectionate, male merrows are ugly, which is why their women sometimes seek out human partners. 

Living on the wild west coast of Ireland, I have long been captivated by tales of the sea and  often, on my walks, I find myself singing to the seals, drawing them ever closer to shore.  It’s no wonder than that tales of merrows have found their way into my writing.  Two of my picture books tell of underwater women who come ashore.  Una and the Seacloak (Frances Lincoln) is an original story, while Lake of Shadows (Pont), is my retelling of the beautiful Welsh legend of the lady of the lake, Llyn y Fan Fach, written while I still lived in Wales.  My first in the Irish language, just published, is called Cillian agus an Rón (An Gúm), and is a picture book heavily influenced, I now come to realise, by the story of the Soul Cages. 

I actually know a Donegal man who keeps a particular armchair by his fireside for a seal who regularly comes to visit.  I live in the sort of place where the old tales are somehow much much closer to everyday reality. 

SCC: Would that I lived in such a place, Malachy.  I spent time by the sea in Donegal a few years ago, finishing a novel, and had two swans calling and swimming in Bruckless Bay, just outside my window.  I could swear that they were the spirits of the swan soul-twins, Aonghas and Caér - the Irish landscape made me feel that anything could be true. Thank you for visiting, and for sharing your wonderful Merrow story.

You can buy Malachy's books by clicking HERE

Next week: Saviour Pirotta tackles the mysterious N for Nien. See you then! 

1 comment:

catdownunder said...

Oh, a merrow! I think I will keep an armchair for a seal instead!

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