Sometimes I wake up and I’m thinking of a story. I love to write. I love to think through plots. I love to create stories that make me love a character. Lately, I’ve been thinking about some of the stories of Irish culture and history that first caught my attention when I was younger and a bunch of characters I really like. Currently, it’s Máiréad. Why? She was someone from Ireland who I met when I was around 12 years old. She was over for a job as a nanny for a young child and as far as I was concerned she was magical. When I went to name this character her name just seemed to *be* Máiréad. I’ve begun her story but I don’t know yet what happens to her so for now all I have is the first part. When I figure out the next part I’ll share some more.
Máiréad and the Selkies
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 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 Banshees 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 elaborate tales created simply to enthrall children.
Máiréad was different. She knew the stories were true because she was a Selkie. As she slipped into the water 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 ocean 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.
After she had eaten and played with the other Harbor Seals, they stayed closer in that 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 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 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 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 to a group where children had been friends since they were born and their parents before them. 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 together, 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…