The Great Silkie Of Sule Skerry waltz

There are 4 recordings of this tune.

The Great Silkie Of Sule Skerry has been added to 11 tunebooks.

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Three settings

X: 1
T: The Great Silkie Of Sule Skerry
R: waltz
M: 3/4
L: 1/8
K: Cmaj
G2|G4 B2|A F3 F2|F3 G A2|G4z B|B4 B2|
c4z A|A c3 c2|B4z B|c c3 e|d4 B2|
A4 c2|B4 B2|A4 EE|E4 E2|F4 G2|G3||
X: 2
T: The Great Silkie Of Sule Skerry
R: waltz
M: 3/4
L: 1/8
K: Gmaj
A2 G2 E2|D6|B,2 B,2 D2|E6|A2 G2 E2|D (D D4)|(EF) G2 A2|B6|
d2 d2 c2|B6|A6 A6 A6 G2 D2|E6|E2 A2 A2|B2 B2 B2|BA G2 E2|D6||
X: 3
T: The Great Silkie Of Sule Skerry
R: waltz
M: 3/4
L: 1/8
K: Gmaj
A2|GE (D2 D>) B,|B,D E4 A2|[M:2/4] G>E D(E/F/)|G>A B4 d4|
dc B2>A|GD E4 (EA)|AA B2>A|GE D4||

Six comments

The Great Silkie Of Sule Skerry

A traditional tune from Orkney Islands collected by James Child (Child Ballad #113).

The song tells a story about a male selkie who confronts his human female lover and tells her to hand over their child in exchange for a purse of gold so that he may take their child with him into the sea. The selkie then predicts that she will marry a gunner who will shoot both him and their son.

One version of the lyrics taken from wikipedia:

An earthly nourris sits and sings,
And aye she sings, "Ba lilly wean,
Little ken I my bairn’s father,
Far less the land that he staps in."

Then ane arose at her bed fit,
And a grumly guest I’m sure was he,
Saying "Here am I, thy bairn’s father,
Although I am not comely."

I am a man upon the land,
I am a silkie in the sea,
And when I’m far frae every strand,
My home it is in Sule Skerry."

“It was na weel”, the maiden cried,
“It was na weel, indeed” quo she,
“For the Great Silkie of Sule Skerrie,
To hae come and aught a bairn to me!”

Then he has taken a purse of gold,
And he has laid it on her knee,
Saying, "give to me, my little young son,
And take thee up thy nouriss fee.

It shall come to pass on a summer’s day,
When the sun shines hot on every stone,
That I shall take my little young son,
And teach him for to swim the foam.

And thou shalt marry a proud gunner,
And a very proud gunner I’m sure he’ll be,
And the very first shot that e’re he shoots,
he’ll kill both my young son and me."

An interpolated 5th stanza has also been heard:

‘Twas weel eno’ the night we met,
When I’d be oot and on my way,
Ye held me close, ye held me tight,
"Just ane mair time ere the break o’ day!"

The Great Silkie Of Sule Skerry, X:2

Tune X:1 was written by an American James Waters in the 1950s to provide a tune for the words of the Silkie
song. Since Joan Baez sang it in the 1960s the tune has become so famous that I suppose you could call it "traditional". But this 2nd tune is much older - it was noted down by Otto Anderson from the singing of John
Sinclair in Flotta (Orkney) in 1938. It’s in an odd form as the time signature changes and there are other
slightly different versions of the tune.

The Great Silkie Of Sule Skerry, X:3

Tune changes time every bar i.e. 4/4, 3/4, 4/4, 2/4, 4/4, 3/4, 4/4, 3/4, 4/4. Can this be put in abc notation
or does it not matter? This seems to be an older (though rather similar) version of tune X:2. Otto Anderson
who heard it sung in 1938 said it had a "pure pentatonic form" !

Re: The Great Silkie Of Sule Skerry

X:1 A sad example of the composer losing out on royalties for this NOT traditional tune (James Waters (US) wrote tune in 1950s). x:2 and x:3 - genuinely trad - totally different tune.

Re: The Great Silkie Of Sule Skerry

I’ve just come across this air while reading about Selkies on Wiki. Here is the first recording I came across and it quite haunting and beautiful. If anyone can tell me which version is this, the 50’s one or traditional?

Re: The Great Silkie Of Sule Skerry

It’s the 1950s setting, and I agree it is beautifully sung, and haunting. Thanks.