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  • Mermaid Monday: Ulster Mermaid 1814 September 25, 2017

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern , trackback


    It is Mermaid Monday and here is an Ulster mermaid from the early nineteenth century.

    Sir, l beg leave to inform you, for the benefit of the curious, that I am happy that have it in my power to set the public mind at rest, respecting the existence of this wonderful animal, having been so fortunate as to take one yesterday morning, which is now alive, and in my possession. The mode in which I took it, was as follows: Yesterday morning, about six o’clock, I went to set my lines on the Turbot-bank, of this place; I had not proceeded a quarter of a mile from the shore, when I saw what I at first thought a seal, appear above water; but, on coining near it to my great surprize, it looked like a Christian, making motion with its hands and head. I immediately thought it to be a mermaid, having seen accounts in the Papers of two or three seen in Scotland. I then told the boys in the boat, if they would try and catch it, it would make all their fortunes: but James Mill, and the other two boys, were terribly frightened, and said we should make for the shore, as it might sink the boat. Finding they were cowardly, I called to a huge water-dog I had in the boat, and hunted him at it; when the dog was swimming to it, I fired at it a musket loaded with large pellets, which wounded it in the body and tail, and in a little time the dog caught it by the hair and held it, though it often pulled him under the water. The boys seeing this, gathered courage, and we rowed the boat up to it, and with the assistance of a herring net, we surrounded it and the dog, and brought both into the boat, it had lost a great deal of blood, and was weak when we brought it in: it struggled hard and kept a noise like a young child. We had to tie it with ropes. When we came on shore, I drew up one of the boats and filled her with salt water, into which I put the animal, and in which I keep it. Its wounds are better, it eats fish, but likes herrings better than any other kind. Its hair is above a yard long, and a dark green; red eyes, a flat nose, and a large mouth. It has but three fingers and a thumb on each hand, and they are taper to the point. It is five feet four inches from the crown of the head to the tip of the tail, and like a woman from the haunches up; the skin is nearly white, except the tail, which is the shape and colour of a cod fish, lt has been seen and examined by Mr. Nash and Mr. A. H. Coats, two of the coast officers, who happened to be here this morning, Mr. Murphy, our Minister, and several others, our neighbours. I will endeavour to keep it alive for a short time, for the benefit of the curious, who are welcome to come and see it. I am, Sir, your obedient servant, Wm. McClelland. Portmuck, Island-Magee, 29th Sept. 1814. (McClelland 1814)

    The editor was suspicious of this letter. He noted that it had been sent from Carrickfergus (this may matter, see map) and that McClelland and others named were known in Belfast. He had not, though, had time to check on site before publications. Yes, yes, mermaid fans, it is a hoax, but an ingenious one and it is worth reading to the end. The letter had consequences.

    A singular hoax was lately played off in the vicinity of Belfast. A letter was addressed to the editor of the Belfast Chronicle signed Wm. McClelland, stating, that a mermaid had been caught at Portmuck, Island Magee, where it was kept in a boat filled with salt water for the inspection of the curious. The letter was published by the editor, stating, at the same time, how it was received; and next morning all was bustle. Gigs, coaches, cars, equestrians and pedestrians, thronged the roads to see the mermaid. The people at Portmuck looked at their continually increasing visitors with astonishment and wondered what it meant. The joke began at length to be discovered and the company to depart; but to their mortification, when they returned by Carrickfergus, they had to pass through a long lane of the inhabitants, who cheered them with loud huzzas, preceding their march with a large cod fish and a horse’s tail hung to its back. (Anon 1814)

    The map at the head of the post marks Portmuck, and shows Carrickfergus and Belfast. Was this planned in Carrickfergus, note the letter was sent there? The Carrick folk waited for the disappointed mermaid searchers to return to have their fun? They would have seen them go out, of course. Any other opinions: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com