Na Murúcha

The Norman-Irish Mermaid or Muruch of Cluain Fearta
The Norman-Irish Mermaid or Murúch of Cluain Fearta (Íomhá: Trounce/Wikimedia Commons)

Na Murúcha

Supernatural beings in late Irish, Scottish and Manx folklore.

Glossary

All spelling, names and terms in Modern Irish unless stated otherwise.

The modern singular and plural forms of the name are:

Murúch (gs. Murúiche) “Mermaid; merrow, murrough”

Murúcha “Mermaids; merrows, murroughs”

The race is also known by an alternative modern name:

Maighdean Mhara (pl. Maighdeana Mhara) “Maiden, virgin of the sea; mermaid”

Introduction

The Murúcha are the supposed mermaid race of late Irish, Scottish and Manx folklore. However their existence owes more to the imagination of modern writers and illustrators than any genuine mythological antecedence amongst the north-western Celtic peoples.

Origins

Despite the frequency and popularity of the claim (particularly online) there is very little evidence from the literary traditions of Ireland, Scotland or the Isle of Man for a belief in specifically mermaid-like creatures. The rare early instances of these beings being mentioned are all clearly derived from Classical influences (especially in relation to the Sirens of Greek myth) or result from confused interpretations of the indigenous pre-Christian beliefs of the Gaelic world.

In fact most references to stereotypical representations of mermaids (or mermen) are confined to quite late Irish and Scottish folktales and can frequently be traced to foreign sources like the so-called Selkie tradition (which is largely of Scandinavian and Germanic origin. See Na Púcaí). Otherwise sea-dwelling beings are a distorted reflection of the Celtic Otherworld, the supernatural realm that lay beneath the earth and sea. As Gaelic civilization in Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man began to crack under the force of colonial pressures in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries native literary traditions lost their cohesion or integrity giving rise to much that is now regarded as “genuinely” Celtic. Pookas, Kelpies, Selkies, Leprechauns and others represent this phase of Gaelic folk tradition though much of it is derived from the perception, imagination or writings of non-Gaels.

© An Sionnach Fionn

 

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