Irish stories and the Irish language have always fascinated me. I love the sound of spoken Irish. It sounds like a stream running over smooth rocks, soft and yet strong. Irish fairytales and characters out of Irish history have always caught my attention because of the combination of the mundane everyday existence overlapped by magical beings and creatures who have access to a whole other plan of existence. I love the idea that humans live in a world of magic they just can’t always see.




I’ve provided a quick guide to some of the characters in the story so you have the correct pronunciations and can reference the right background when they pop up.

1.Selkies are a creature which can transition from being in seal form when wearing their seal skin to being in human form by taking their seal skin off.

2.Máiréad is pronounced Mer-aid

3.The Giants Causeway looks like a series of steps or a bridge of sorts. It is is a series of hexagonal shaped rock pillars pushed up off the coast of Ireland by volcanic activity.

4.Fionn MacCumhaill is pronounced Finn McCool and he was a warrior from old stories.

5.Fianna were small bands of warriors led by Fionn MacCumhaill.

6.Sidhe Fey is pronounced Shee Fey and they are fairies.

7.Bean Sidhe is pronounced Ban shee and they come and howl and keen when someone close to you is about to die.

8.Samhain is pronounced Sow-ween, it predates All Hallows Eve and Halloween

9.Seers are people who have the ability to see what isn’t actually visible. They can be clairvoyant or psychic.

10.Travelers are the Romany or ‘gypsies’ of Ireland and have a background encompassing almost all of Europe before it was broken up into countries. They roamed freely before borders cut into their way of life and they still have a very distinct culture within Irish culture as a whole.

11. Seanmháthair means old mother, or grandmother, and is pronounced shan a WAW hair 

12. A Cailleach can be a creator deity, a weather deity, and an ancestor deity, but in the vernacular it can also mean old hag or old witch. It is pronounced ki-lee-ach.



Máiréad the Selkie Queen

She reached into the old open knot in the gnarled oak tree and pulled out a small parcel. She shivered with delight as she ran towards the ocean. With her bare feet in the cool grass and her hair streaming out behind her, she looked like any village girl. She didn’t run to the spot where the village children splashed and swam though; she went to the cove where the seals lay sunning themselves. When she had rounded the bend and knew she couldn’t be seen, she stopped, quickly undressed, and put her clothes into a gap in the rocks where they wouldn’t be seen and the rising tide wouldn’t snatch them away. Then she did an extraordinary thing and unrolled the parcel. It was a sealskin and as she stepped into it she began to transform. She was, you see, a member of the tribe of Selkies. 

Selkies were something everyone used to believe in, but then the world changed and people thought the legends were quaint and impossible. Science explained the rocks in the Giants’ Causeway and Fionn MacCumhaill went from being the leader of the Fianna and the greatest warrior the world had ever known to simple stories to teach children lessons. The Sidhe Fey went from being the mischievous, sometimes dangerous, creators of gods and rulers of the earthen mounds to silly fairies in stories where they did what humans told them to do. The Bean Sidhe went from being the wailing harbinger of the death of a member of your family, to a ghost story trotted out in October when Halloween had replaced All Hallows Eve, which had replaced Samhain when the bonfires burned bright and the line between this world and the next was blurred. Some of the older people in the villages still believed and told the stories, but their grandchildren always seemed to reach the age where the stories were relegated to the back of their minds as nothing more than elaborate tales created to enthrall children.

Máiréad was different. She knew the stories were true because she was a Selkie. As she slipped into the sea, she sighed with joy. She loved the feeling of being back in the water with everyone. She could sense them, swimming nearby, and dove hard under the water to push herself closer to them. She luxuriated in the feeling of being sleek and powerful and knew that the oceans could take her anywhere in the world. She popped up near a kelp bed and rolled on her back and let out a quiet call to let the others know she was nearby, enjoying the feeling of belonging and freedom she never felt as a human. It was glorious, and she relished in it.

After she had eaten and played with the other Harbor Seals, they stayed closer in than the Gray Seals and although they shared the coastline, there was still a difference and it was one she was aware of since she was younger and smaller than almost all of the seals. She had been a late birth to a mother who had been caught in the nets of a big fishing boat that Winter, so she had ended up on land as a matter of survival. She was lying there, mewling pitifully, when a village woman picking up kelp had seen her. She was clearly a Selkie, half in and half out of her seal skin from trying to crawl onto land and find something to eat, but the old woman took pity on her instead of shunning her and brought her home as a niece visiting from the city to heal in the fresh ocean air. The old woman never tried to tell her what to do and never tried to deny her the comfort of the ocean, so Máiréad made a point of being helpful and pleasant company, but she never quite felt like she was home. The village children accepted her differences because they assumed it was because she was from the city, but it meant she never fully belonged in a group where children had been friends since they were born because their parents had been friends before they were born. The same thing happened when she was at sea, though. She loved the water, and it felt like home, but living in it wasn’t second nature to her like it was with the other seals. They played with her, warned her when there was danger, and hunted with her, but at the end of the day she went back to the village woman’s cottage and slept in a bed in her human form, and they knew it.

So Máiréad was never exactly alone, but she was sometimes lonely. And that is where her story begins.


Máiréad was swimming along the shore on a sunny afternoon when she saw one of the village children run onto her beach. She was surprised because she had never seen any of them come down to her spot before. She had hidden her clothes well so she wasn’t worried, just cautious in case she somehow gave herself away. She watched him chase a seagull, making her smile, and skip rocks into the ocean. She waited for his friends to join him, but they never came. She had seen him before, his name was Liam, and she had thought she was friends with the other children, but he seemed to be alone today. She wondered if he wanted to be alone or if he, like her, was lonely.

He stayed a little longer and then went tearing off, chasing another gull. After she was sure he was gone, she carefully swam towards the shore and came up onto the beach. As she dried off, she shed her seal skin and carefully rolled it up. She gently tucked it in her secret spot after she removed and then put on her dress. When she was sure her hair was dry enough that it wouldn’t look suspicious if she ran into one of the villagers, she started home.

That night after dinner, as they sat by the fire, Máiréad asked the Seanmháthair about Liam. She clucked her tongue and shook her head and told Máiréad, “Now that’s a sad tale, my sweet”. She told Máiréad about how his parents had been lost at sea and how Liam was saved because his cradle had floated and the fishermen who tried to rescue the family were able to scoop him out of it before it sank. 

Máiréad asked where he lived and the old woman went on to tell her about the aunt and uncle who had taken him in. They weren’t bad people, she said, just older, and they had no children of their own, so Liam had spent his childhood alone more often than not. She also told Máiréad that because the family farm was so far outside of the village that Liam only came in for school, so while he was a well-liked child, he hadn’t made any close friends over the years.

When Máiréad went to bed that night, she was thinking about Liam and wondering what it would be like to have him as a friend.


Several days later, while Máiréad was out swimming, Liam came into the cove again and, after wandering around for a bit, began building a castle in the wet sand by the edge of the water. He wasn’t really paying attention though; he kept looking around like he was hoping to see someone. She wondered who he was waiting for. One of the other children? His family? She wondered for a split second if he was looking for her…and then dismissed the idea. He didn’t know her at all, there was no reason he would be looking for her. 

After he left, she left the water and got dressed before she headed home, thinking of Liam and wondering what he was doing in her cove. When she got home, the woman mentioned that she talked to Liam’s aunt that day at the market. When Máiréad asked what they had talked about, the Seanmháthair hesitated and finally reluctantly replied the Liam has apparently been asking his aunt about selkies. Máiréad was surprised, but the thought made her smile a bit. The Seanmháthair saw her reaction and shook her finger at Máiréad and warned her to be careful, telling her that humans don’t always handle the reality of selkies well. She added that humans like thinking about magic, but the reality of it is that magic often scares them when they come face to face with it.

As the weeks went by she saw him more and more often until one day when she looked across the waves at him and saw him looking back at her. Not staring out into the vastness of the ocean but instead looking directly at her. She was startled and quickly slipped below the water and swam out to the break to put some distance between them before she came up for air. When she dared swim in towards land again, he was gone, but she was left with the suspicion that somehow he had known who she was. She reminded herself not to be ridiculous. He was just looking at a seal as far as he knew. 


Time continued to pass in much the same way until the day she arrived at the cove and Liam was there before her. She was brought up short. What was he doing here? She didn’t know what to say, so she just smiled at him shyly. Liam smiled back and told her she could join him to build a sand castle if she wanted to. They worked companionably for an hour before he said he had to go so he could get home in time to do his chores. 

The next week he was there again, this time with a thermos of hot sweet milky tea and some biscuits his aunt had made. They met several times this way, accidentally, but it felt to her like he had sought her out. On the days she was there first, she watched him come into the cove and look around. To her, it almost seemed like he was looking for her. There were several times they made eye contact and she could have sworn he looked like he recognized her. That was impossible though, she was in her seal form and she looked nothing like she did as a human. He couldn’t possibly know. Could he?

She spoke to the Seanmháthair when she got home that day and asked if it were possible that he could recognize her when she had her seal skin on. The woman stared thoughtfully into the fire for a few minutes and then started to tell Máiréad about the seers. The seers, she explained, were people who had the ability to see into the future. Not like the Travelers who roamed the countryside in the summer telling fortunes and reading palms, but real seers. A real seer could do more than look into your future, some of them could actually see into your soul. She said she didn’t know if Liam had the gift of sight, but if he did, it was entirely possible he could sense her inside the sealskin. Máiréad was startled and, in some ways, fearful. If he knew it was her inside her sealskin, she could have a problem. The old woman had taught her to hide her seal skin from everyone, even the woman herself, just in case she ever slipped and mentioned it by accident. Máiréad decided she would just have to be more careful. She decided to avoid him for a while to give herself some space and some time to decide what to do.  

Weeks had gone by since she had appeared on the beach in her human form. She swam around in the shallow water and watched Liam build castles and cities and drink his tea and eat his biscuits and watch the ocean. Then it changed and instead of watching the ocean, he was watching her. She felt his eyes on her often. She swam back into the deeper water, but it didn’t seem to matter. Every time she came up for air or turned around or rolled over he was watching her. 

Máiréad floated in the kelp bed one blustery day eating fish and just generally enjoying the feeling of being rocked by the ocean when he arrived in a heavy woolen sweater and Wellington boots, looking very determined. She watched him carefully to see what he was going to do. To her surprise, he started motioning for her to come in. She knew she had to be imagining it, but he kept motioning her to come in closer. Then he appeared to get frustrated at waiting and started to wade out into the ocean. He went as far as he could in his big boots and then started motioning for her to come in towards land again. When she didn’t respond, he started shouting into the wind. The sound carried away from her and she couldn’t make out what he was saying. Máiréad wondered if she should move in closer to shore. Should she make sure everything was alright? 

The decision was made for her when Liam sighed heavily and waded out in the water up to his waist. She felt her mouth drop open in shock. She knew that because he had almost drowned as a baby that he never went into the water above his knees at the highest. She’d seen him recoil in fear as waves had lapped at his knees this summer. Now it was Fall, and the seas were rougher and the water colder. What was he doing?

She watched him and, almost without meaning to, she swam closer. She didn’t miss the look of satisfaction on his face when she did. It made her wary. What was he trying to accomplish? What did he want from her? Why did he continue to motion towards the shore, almost pleading with her to come in closer?

Suddenly her questions were immaterial. A rogue wave slapped at Liam’s chest and knocked him over. He was sputtering and spitting out seawater and trying to pull himself upright, but the shifting sand and rocks under his feet made it impossible to find his footing. It didn’t help that his Wellington’s were full of water and weighed so much he could barely pick his feet up. His thick waterlogged sweater didn’t help him find his balance either. She could see real fear in his eyes and couldn’t help herself. She had to go help him. She got as close in as she could and nosed at him to put his arm over her. He used her to steady himself and stand up so he could get out of the water. But he didn’t move, he just looked at her. 

“Thank you”, he said. 

“I know you can’t answer me right now, but I wanted you to know that I know about your secret and I’ll never tell anyone. But I hope that now that you know I think we can be real friends. I didn’t mind you playing hide and seek from me in the ocean but I couldn’t go out swimming with you and I want to play with you not watch you play.”

Máiréad was stunned.

She was also speechless. In her seal form she couldn’t speak human words, so instead she gave him a soft chuffing sound. She honestly wasn’t sure what she was conveying since it was a language he didn’t speak, but he seemed satisfied and used her strength to push himself out of the water. Máiréad swam right back out into the deeper water but stayed closer to shore in case something happened to him. 

Once he had dumped the water out of his boots and pulled off the sodden sweater, he waved at her and headed home to get warm and dry. As he reached the edge of the sand, though, he turned around and shouted that he would see her tomorrow.


Máiréad tossed and turned all night, wondering what to do. She had asked the Seanmháthair what to do, and she had told Máiréad it was her decision. But it was a scary choice to make, and she wasn’t sure what she wanted. 

She could tell Liam he was right, and then he and the Seanmháthair would both know her secret. She could avoid the cove and swim somewhere else and just see him as Máiréad and deny she was a selkie. She could also avoid him entirely. She could stop going to the cove altogether and just stop talking to him. She didn’t want to stop talking to him but she also didn’t think she wanted to lie to him, but that meant confirming his suspicions and admitting she was a member of one of the ancient races. She barely ever even thought about that herself. She wasn’t sure she wanted it to be something he was thinking about because that would mean he’d probably ask her about things she didn’t know how to talk about. In the 14 years they’d lived together, the old woman had never asked her any questions beyond the few she had asked as Máiréad had grown up about if she needed certain things so she could live freely and safely, but had never asked any in-depth questions or tried to figure out anything overly personal about her selkie side and Máiréad appreciated it. 

She didn’t know what to do, but she knew she had to decide quickly, and since she did her best thinking in the water, she slipped out of the house and ran down to the cove. It wasn’t an ideal time for a swim since it was almost dawn and the fishing boats were starting to haul in their nets, but she figured they were out far enough that she wouldn’t run into them. 

What Máiréad forgot about in her haste to get into the water was to watch out for nets off the rocks, where fishermen on the shore went to pull in their catch. She dove in and hadn’t swum more than a dozen strokes when she felt her flipper brush against the netting. She knew the instant she felt it that she was in trouble because when she went to pivot away she felt more netting scratch against her back and knew she had just pushed herself further in rather than avoiding it like she had hoped.

She told herself she wouldn’t panic, that was the worst thing to do. She wasn’t sure there was a good option at this point, but maybe she would be lucky and she could swim down and find the bottom of the net. 

Máiréad realized too late that the edge of the net was wrapped into the kelp and was floating on the water. She had spun around to try to pull herself free when she felt her tail pull up short. Her heart skipped a beat, it was stuck in a loop the netting had drifted into near the rocks. She was trapped. She tried to remind herself that if she stayed calm she could drift out of the loop as the tides shifted the netting back and forth, but her seal instincts were hard to fight and she wanted to thrash around and fight to free herself. 

After drifting for the better part of an hour she hadn’t managed to free herself and she was tired from holding up the weight of the net wrapped around her tail. She was almost relieved when she heard the fishermen come. She hoped that in pulling in the net they would unfurl the loop in the netting that had caught her tail and she could escape. Even if that didn’t work, they might cut her free. She could only hope.


Máiréad recoiled as she heard them cursing when they tugged on the net and felt her weight. She had hoped for one of the fishermen from outside the village because she knew they freed the seals they caught, but she didn’t recognize the voices. What she did recognize was the tone. The fishermen were angry. She didn’t like the way they were talking; it made her nervous. As they hauled her in instead of cutting her loose or freeing her tail, they lashed the netting tighter around her and tied her to the back of a dinghy they had floated out in order to collect their catch. As they pulled her along, she struggled and tried to push her way free but she only made it worse and finally stopped when she had rubbed the skin around her tail raw from the heavy rope cutting into her each time she tried to maneuver free. She had no idea what to do next. She hoped she could escape when they reached the docks, but for the first time since the old woman had found her alone on the shore she felt true despair. 

As they reached the quay in the village, Máiréad heard the galloping of dozens of feet as the young boys came to the edge of the dock to see what the fishermen had caught. A row of smiles turned sour when the expected boat full of fish was almost empty, and the boys saw the seal floating off the back of the boat. As the men went to talk to the other fishermen, the boys started to laugh at her. Calling her names and cursing her for being bad luck. Then one of the boys took a gaff and poked her. When she bobbed back up after being pushed down into the water the boys laughed but it wasn’t the joyful sound she’d heard them make before as they ran and played outside the school but a hateful glee at causing her discomfort. When the boy accidentally tugged the rope that was cutting into her flesh and she moaned, they stopped for a minute and then saw the welt where the rope was cutting into her skin. Instead of stopping, though, they did it again. She started to cry, she couldn’t help it, it hurt. She couldn’t understand how boys she’d seen laugh and play and sat in a classroom with could be this cruel. All of a sudden she felt a lessening of the pressure on her wound and blinked her eyes clear. She couldn’t believe it, but there, in the mix of boys, was Liam. He had his hand on the gaff and was pulling it out of the water while the other boy was recovering from the surprise. Liam raised his voice and told them to let go and go on their way to school. Liam was older than most of them at 15 and bigger than all of them, so even though he was usually soft-spoken, he was big enough and old enough that the younger boys listened. 

Máiréad breathed a sigh of relief at the lessening of the pain and the removal of the jeering faces that had been treating her like a plaything instead of a living being. Liam leaned over and told her she needed to hold still so he could get her untangled before the fishermen came back. He got into the dinghy and unwrapped the rope they had used to tether her to the boat and let it drop into the water. He pulled at the edge of the net and told her to roll over so he could untwist the ends and get her tail out. She was so tired and drained she almost couldn’t do it. He kept talking to her, encouraging her and telling her she needed to move or he couldn’t help her. She forgot everything except the sound of his voice and rolled over, feeling the water holding her up as the last loop of the net came free and she was no longer a prisoner. He lowered his voice and fiercely whispered that she needed to dive deep and then go back to the cove so he could meet her and help her. He urged her to move quickly, looked around and sprang up onto the dock and started to run out of the village. 


When Máiréad finally made it back to the cove, she was exhausted. She just wanted to get out of the water and go home to bed. She had no idea how she was going to make it home, but she hoped she could hide in the rocks to rest for a while and then go home later. As she swam up to the beach, there was Liam. 

She froze. She had to make her decision right now. She couldn’t pretend she was herself if she went up onto the beach but she didn’t think she could swim somewhere else. It had taken all the energy she had to make it to the cove. She decided that she had no choice but to trust him. He had helped her when the other boys had wanted to hurt her, and he had risked getting in trouble with the fishermen for setting her free. He had also, she realized, skipped school to come to the cove so he was probably not going anywhere, anytime soon. 

Máiréad swam up to the beach and got out of the water, wincing as her tender skin grated against the sand. She collapsed once she was above the surf line and just lay there for a long time. When her breathing had normalized and she was feeling a little more in control, she opened her eyes and found Liam sitting on the sand next to her, looking at her. When she opened her eyes, he smiled and the worried look on his face eased somewhat. He started telling her that he had been worried about her making it back to the cove, that he was still so mad at the boys for hurting her, that he had hoped she would come onto land and not try to avoid him when she saw him. He talked and talked until he had run out of things to say. She watched him the whole time. She watched his hands move softly as he spoke; she watched his face, calm and friendly, she watched his body language and listened to his tone and decided that she was going to confirm his suspicions that she was a selkie. There was really no way she could avoid it since he was sitting there and she had to change into her human form in order to go home. Plus, she didn’t want to be sitting here if the fishermen came back looking for her. She closed her eyes and felt herself begin to make the change. As her face transformed and she could talk, she asked him to go to her secret space in the rocks where she always put her clothes so she could get dressed. 

Liam brought her clothes to her and then told her he’d go around to the other side of the rocks while she changed and she could call him when she was ready or if she needed any help. Máiréad smiled gratefully and, after he was out of sight, threw on her clothes before rolling her seal skin up carefully. She had no safe place to put it since he now knew her hiding place, so she made do as best she could by putting it in the fork of a branch in a nearby tree out of sight. She’d have to come back later and move it, but it would do for now. 

She softly called his name when she was back within earshot and he came around the corner quickly, smiling and talking a mile a minute about how relieved he was to see her looking so much better already. 

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