Tom Moore and the Seal Woman
A PROPOS of the following tale, I may say: The intermarriage with and descent of men from beings not human touches upon one of the most interesting and important points in primitive belief. Totemism among savage races in our day, and descent from the gods in antiquity are the best examples of this belief; derived from it, in all probability but remotely, are family escutcheons with their animals and birds and the emblematic beasts and birds of nations, such as the Roman eagle, the British lion, the American eagle, the Russian bear. The Roman eagle and the wolf which suckled Romulus may have been totems, if not for the Romans, at least for some earlier people. The lion, eagle, and bear of England, America, and Russia are of course not totemic, though adopted in imitation of people who, if they had not totems, had as national emblems birds or beasts that at some previous period were real totems for some social body.
There is a tale in Scotland concerning people of the clan MacCodrum, who were seals in the daytime, but men and women at night. No man of the MacCodrums, it is said, would kill a seal. The MacCodrums are mentioned in Gaelic as "Clann Mhic Codruim nan rón" (Clan MacCodrum of the seals).
In the village of Kilshanig, two miles north-east of Castlegregory, there lived at one time a fine, brave young man named Tom Moore, a good dancer and singer. 'Tis often he was heard singing among the cliffs and in the fields of a night.
Tom's father and mother died and he was alone in the house and in need of a wife. One morning early, when he was at work near the strand, he saw the finest woman ever seen in that part of the kingdom, sitting on a rock, fast asleep. The tide was gone from the rocks then, and Tom was curious to know who was she or what brought her, so he walked toward the rock.
"Wake up!" cried Tom to the woman; "if the tide comes 'twill drown you."
She raised her head and only laughed. Tom left her there, but as he was going he turned every minute to look at the woman. When he came back be caught the spade, but couldn't work; he had to look at the beautiful woman on the rock. At last the tide swept over the rock. He threw the spade down and away to the strand with him, but she slipped into the sea and he saw no more of her that time.
Tom spent the day cursing himself for not taking the woman from the rock when it was God that sent her to him. He couldn't work out the day. He went home.
Tom could not sleep a wink all that night. He was up early next morning and went to the rock. The woman was there. He called to her.
No answer. He went up to the rock. "You may as well come home with me now," said Tom. Not a word from the woman. Tom took the hood from her head and said, "I'll have this!"
The moment be did that she cried: "Give back my hood, Tom Moore!"
"Indeed I will not, for 'twas God sent you to me, and now that you have speech I'm well satisfied! And taking her by the arm he led her to the house. The woman cooked breakfast, and they sat down together to eat it.
"Now," said Tom, "in the name of God you and I'll go to the priest and get married, for the neighbours around here are very watchful; they'd be talking." So after breakfast they went to the priest, and Tom asked him to marry them.
"Where did you get the wife?" asked the priest.
Tom told the whole story. When the priest saw Tom was so anxious to marry be charged £5, and Tom paid the money. He took the wife home with him, and she was as good a woman as ever went into a man's house. She lived with Tom seven years, and had three sons and two daughters.
One day Tom was ploughing, and some part of the plough rigging broke. He thought there were bolts on the loft at home, so he climbed up to get them. He threw down bags and ropes while he was looking for the bolts, and what should he throw down but the hood which he took from the wife seven years before. She saw it the moment it fell, picked it up, and hid it. At that time people heard a great seal roaring out in the sea.
"Ah," said Tom's wife, "that's my brother looking for me."
Some men who were hunting killed three seals that day. All the women of the village ran down to the strand to look at the seals, and Tom's wife with the others. She began to moan, and going up to the dead seals she spoke some words to each and then cried out, "Oh, the murder!"
When they saw her crying the men said: "We'll have nothing more to do with these seals." So they dug a great hole, and the three seals were put into it and covered. But some thought in the night: "Tis a great shame to bury those seals, after all the trouble in taking them." Those men went with shovels and dug up the earth, but found no trace of the seals.
All this time the big seal in the sea was roaring. Next day when Tom was at work his wife swept the house, put everything in order, washed the children and combed their hair; then, taking them one by one, she kissed each. She went next to the rock, and, putting the hood on her head, gave a plunge. That moment the big seal rose and roared so that people ten miles away could hear him.
Tom's wife went away with the seal swimming in the sea. All the five children that she left had webs between their fingers and toes, half-way to the tips.
The descendants of Tom Moore and the seal woman are living near Castlegregory to this day, and the webs are not gone yet from between their fingers and toes, though decreasing with each generation.