Sunday, 21 November 2010

The Mermaid

There was a merchant from Dumbarton.  It happened that the merchant and his crew left the rock, and had been at sea for a long long time when they sailed straight into a storm. The boat was wrecked, and the crew all drowned, except for the good merchant, who found himself washed ashore on an island. He wandered around for a time, looking for food and somewhere he could shelter, and he came across a little hollow by the shore. Being altogether shaken and tired from his ordeal, he lay down on the rock and fell instantly asleep. When he woke, there was a mermaid beside him, and thereafter she came to the cave everyday to sing to the merchant, and to bring him provisions. Not only food, but gold, silver and jewels."

A year passed and then one day, when the mermaid was away, a ship passed by the island. The Merchant hailed the ship, and the vessel spied him, and sent a boat ashore. And the merchant told them all about his shipwreck and the mermaid and his gold and silver and jewels. The crew of the boat explained that they were outward bound, but suggested that if the Merchant gathered together a sizeable booty, then they would come again in a year and a day to take him home. 

So a year and a day passed, and everyday the lovesick mermaid brought more food and wine and treasure to the Merchant. And at the appointed time, the ship again dropped anchor by the island. Again the mermaid was away, and again a boat came ashore. The merchant and the crew made quick despatch to get all the stores on board before the mermaid returned.

The ship set sail, but the mermaid returned to her cave, found it herried, and angrily she swam after the ship, overtook it, and demanded that her husband and her stores be returned. Now the skipper, was a canny man, so he cast off a bundle of hoops and he agreed to hand over her man and her stores only if the mermaid could count the hoops. This she did and she then repeated her demands. But the skipper cast off another set of hoops again and again and again until they reached Gourock. The Captain had a lot of hoops.

The Dumbarton merchant, set foot again on dry land at Gourock, and refused to go with the mermaid. And she pleaded with him to return to their cave where they had spent so many happy days. But he refused again, so the Mermaid gave to him the baby she had borne him, demanding that he give it a good home with all the gold and silver he had stolen from her. She then gave the merchant a book which he was instructed not to let the child see til he was full grown.

The child grew and took up residence in the old castle of Ardrossan, taking the name Michael Scott, later more commonly known as The Devil of Ardrossan. It was by the means of his mother's book that he commanded the foul thief, that imp who carried out his every dark request. And the very first command given to this devil was to rid Michael of his own father, the merchant. You could hear his screaming all the way to Ireland.

The mermaid meantime, befriended the great serpent Clutha of the Clyde, and she lives in the waters to this day. She pops her head out of the water now and then for to sing a wee song. She might even tell your fortune, depending on your luck.

Over a hundred years ago, the funeral procession of a young girl, taken long before her time, passed along the riverside on its way past the Newark castle on route to the old church. The Mermaid appeared out of the water and sang

"If she drank nettles in March
And mugwort in May
Sae many braw maidens
Wadna gang to the clay."

Have a read about more mermaids around the UK in Caught By The River's scans of the classic rural folk zine The Country Bizarre.

The Port Glasgow Mermaid also makes an appearance in our book Wee Nasties, which you can read for free online on scribd or ibooks.