Catch of the Merrow

Aran Islands seen from Renmore - taken by Tomas O Carthaigh 2016
Aran Islands seen from Renmore – taken by Tomas O Carthaigh 2016

The Merrow

(Moruadh or Murrúghach, from muir, sea, and oigh, a maid) was a sea spirit thought to lure people to their deaths.

Alas in Galway we have too many coming to an end in the water, whether at their own hand or through misfortune. This is dedicated to their memory and to the excellent work that Search and Rescue do to recover the bodies for the grieving families. Unseen in all this are the river patrols in Galway city and other cities who prevent many more tragedies such as these occurring.

The waves in time give up the sight
Of the Merrows catch that fishes at night
The tears that washes faces with grief
Wash them anew bittersweet relief
At least their flesh is among their own again
To be laid with forfathers and remembered then
The Merrows of life, misfortune or folly
Or pressures too great for a person to carry
No creature is it as once believed to be
Still the Merrow takes her share to the waves of the sea…

The Merrow

The Merrow, or if you write it in the Irish, Moruadh or Murrúghach, from muir, sea, and oigh, a maid, is not uncommon, they say, on the wilder coasts. The fishermen do not like to see them, for it always means coming gales.

The male Merrows (if you can use such a phrase — I have never heard the masculine of Merrow) have green teeth, green hair, pig’s eyes, and red noses; duck-like scale between their fingers.

Sometimes they prefer, small blame to them, good-looking fishermen to their sea lovers. Near Bantry in the last century, there is said to have been a woman covered all over with scales like a fish, who was descended from such a marriage. Sometimes they come out of the sea, and wander about the shore in the shape of little hornless cows.

They have, when in their own shape, a red cap, called a cohullen druith, usually covered with feathers. If this is stolen, they cannot again go down under the waves. Red is the color of magic in every country, and has been so from the very earliest times. The caps of fairies and magicians are well-nigh always red.

  • Source: W. B. Yeats, Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry (London: Walter Scott, 1888), p. 61.
  • Compare Yeats’s etymology with the following words, all of which mean, respectively, sea-woman (or maid) and sea-man:
    • Danish: havfrue, havmand.
    • English: mermaid, merman.
    • German: Meerfrau, Meermann.


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