Seals, protests, and selchies


(Photo credit: Nic, used under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

One of the reasons that I am passionate about Seal tales:

One day in November 1982, I was out in a powered boat – with some other protestors – in the Orkney Isles. We were part of a group of people protesting against the annual Grey Seal Cull. The person in charge of the boat told the rest of us that the engine had been sabotaged and that he was lost. I helped him navigate to where I thought a group of protestors were staying. It was a little island about three miles away. By the time we arrived at the island it was totally black – you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face. A Force Seven Gale was blowing. Two of our tiny group had hypothermia.

After a few hours (using a torch), I managed to find the deserted farmhouse that another group of protestors were in. I then climbed up on the roof of a nearby shed and set off some flares for a lifeboat to come and take off those with hypothermia (a man and a woman). I was soaked and had to have someone sleep on top of me to stop me from freezing.

In the morning, two boats with the seal hunters came, and also a boat with police. The hunters were from Westray. The minister in Westray had been quoted in the local newspaper as saying that all the protestors were agents of the devil.

The killing was done very quickly. Young grey skinned pups were killed in front of their mothers. I kept standing in front of seal pups but the nearest hunter just shot another one. Eventually, I pushed his rifle up in the air and away from a pup. I was arrested and the pup was killed.

At the end of the previous day, my Mum and Dad were watching the TV when a news flash came on about the group I was with being missing at sea. The next day they phoned the place where the main group of protestors was based. They were told that all the missing people were now safe and eating a vegan meal. What they weren’t told was that we were in Kirkwall Jail at that time.

A reporter from the Scotsman magazine was in Orkney at that time and wrote a story about what happened. I still have the article and all the pictures of the poor seal pups piled up high.

When I was at Kirkwall Court (the year after), I read out a submission to the Judge about my feelings for Orkney and for the Seals. It got some nice comments from some animal rights campaigners who were there and it was published in a magazine. It was my first adult bit of writing.

The woman that had been taken off by the lifeboat, I met a few months later at a Save the Seals fund raising disco. We went out together for a while.

When I had been in the mini-bus travelling up to Orkney, an American photographer asked me to tell her all about Selchies. When I said, “What?” The shocked look on her face made me determined to learn more about Selchies. As I now “know”, a Selchie is a seal that can change into a human (or a human that can change into a seal) when the moon is full. There are a few other powers that go along with this ability.

After reading some of the folklore relating to Selchies (and listening to the songs), I wrote a modern day Selchie story. It was published by Cutting Teeth Magazine. Even at that time, I was trying to find people who would help me put on a Selchie and Seal celebration, with songs, poems, and stories, but no one was interested then.

A few years ago, as a multi-voice writer and performer, I wrote a ten minute Selchie Play. In June 2011, it was picked to be developed and performed at the Actor’s Church in London. And now, I have just finished a full length Play based around some ideas and some passages of prose from the previous two works. The Play is entirely Multi-voice. The first multi-voice Play in the World. The first scene met with a geninely wonderful reception from the audience at a hosting of new playwrights’ work (7 actors came out of the audience and wanted to perform in it). And I am still looking for a group to perform it. It is not an animal rights play but is a celebration of the mysteries that surround a beautiful creature.

I have also written and performed a Poem about Selchies, using the Selchie as a metaphor for the Gael trapped in a World dominated by another’s language. I never mastered Gaelic, but the Poem was one of many I wrote for a Gaelic / English multi-voice Poetry (and Music and Drama) Project that I instigated and toured Scotland with.

If the Play (Birth of a Selchie) manages to find others interested in it, and its performance on Stage is successful, I will then hopefully proceed to work next on a Television programme based around the adventures of this supernatural creature, the Queen of the Selchies, and others like her who live an almost ordinary life three weeks out of four. I have half-finished a novel about the Queen of the Selchies.

Over the last few months, I have been telling a lot of Selchie stories at literary nights. Most people are fascinated by tales of the Selchie. I think that the Selchie has as much right to Media fame as those well-known American superheroes, Spiderman and the X-Men. I genuinely think that the Selchie could be a kind of Scottish superhero (and it has the added advantage of having hundreds of years of Folklore behind it).

The Orkney Island of Westray is where the seal hunters came from, and is where Angus (in my play) lives.

I really feel that the Selchie could be much more of a hero than any of the well know superheroes. The Selchie has hundreds of years of stories and songs about her / him. It represents something that you feel in the blood when you are at sea or near seals. Many of my poems are about the sea or about Selchies.

The protestor has the ability to look at things from an unbiased viewpoint. And not be persuaded by what the majority of people do. I think this ability allows a protestor to have the potential to write in a genuinely creative manner.

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About Author

I am a performance poet. I take part in human rights and animal rights non-violent protests. As a Buddhist I believe in Ahimsa. Click to see author's profile.


    • Thanks Kim, I hadn’t heard about that film. I will have a look at it. Ashby
      PS I enclose some songs I know of:

      Haisgeir Seal Song
      cho: Ho i ho i hi o ho i
      ho i hi o ho i i
      ho i ho i hi o ho i
      Cha robh mi’m’ aonar an raoir. [I was not alone last night.]

      ‘S mairg ‘s an tir so, ‘s mairg ‘s an tir,
      ‘g ithe dhaoine ‘n riochd a’ bhidh;
      nach fhaic sibh ceannard an t-sluaigh
      Goil air teine gu cruaidh cruinn.

      Sad the land is, sad the land,
      Eating people for its food;
      See how the chief of all our men
      Boils on fire that’s hot and round.

      ‘S mise nighean Aiodh mhic Eoghain,
      gum b’eolach mi mu na sgeirean;
      gur mairg a dheanadh mo bhualadh,
      bean uasal mi o thir eile.

      [I’m the daughter of Hugh mac Ewen,
      And I know the skerries well;
      And woe to him that would strike at me,
      A lady from a far country. ]

      Thig an smeorach, thig an druid,
      thig gach eun a dh’ ionnsaigh nid,
      thig am bradan thar a’ chuain;
      gu la Luain cha ghluaisear mis’.

      [Come the mavis, come the thrush,
      Come each bird that seeks its nest,
      Come the salmon over the sea —
      Till the day I shall not move. ]

      Above is a seal song from the rocks of Haisgeir, in the Hebrides. It is sung by a seal woman, and was heard by some sealers while they
      were cooking some seal flesh. The MacOdrums and other families who claimed descent from seals did not eat seal. The style of the song is not very different (other than the first verse) from laments for historical human chiefs.

      A2 G>E D (E/F/) G> A B4
      d2 dc B3 A G D E4
      (EA) AA B3 A G E D4|]

      The third and seventh only occur as unimportant passing notes.

      T:The Seal-Woman’s Sea-Joy
      S:David Thomson, The People of the Sea
      N:from Marjorie Kennedy-Fraser; collected in Uist
      |: (A3 |D3)| (A3 |G3)|({d}A3 |D3)|C C2|D3:|
      ({A}G F) G|A3 |({A}G F) G|A3 |({A}G F) G|A3 |C C2|C3||
      |: (A3 |D3) | (A3 |G3)|({d}A3 |D3)|C C2|D3:|

      Kennedy-Fraser claimed that she sang that to a seal once, and the seal
      sang back to her, a narrow-range melody in the sol-pentatonic mode:

      T:the seal’s reply
      S:David Thomson, The People of the Sea
      N:from Marjorie Kennedy-Fraser; sung by a seal
      G3 A/G/|F2 d2|c4-|c4|] (is an interesting site with the music of the above songs on it) (has more amazing traditional seal songs) (traditional song). (for video of grey seals swimming etc)

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