While touring recently around the islands of the Outer Hebrides we came upon this strange story.
In 1830 people were busy cutting seaweed at Sgeir na Duchadh near Grimnis on the west coat of the island of Benbecula. One woman spotted a creature several yards out in the water. The creature looked like a woman in miniature. Alarmed she called to the others working on the shore who also saw this strange sight. Men went into the water to try to catch the creature but she evaded them. A boy aimed a rock at her which struck her on the back, she cried out in pain and disappeared beneath the waves.
A few days later a creature was washed up dead on the beach at Culle bay near the township of Nunton which lies a few miles north of this spot. The creature was said to have the upper shape of a well developed woman but was around the size of a 4 year old girl. She had long dark glossy hair and white skin, however her lower half was described as being ‘like a salmon’ but without the scales.
As the crowds gathered on the beach they all agreed that this was the body of a mermaid.
The factor for the chief of MacDonald of Clanranald who was also the local sherif was called. On seeing the creature he called for a shroud and coffin to be brought to the beach and the creature was layer into this and buried in the nearby churchyard. It was said that the funeral for this creature was one of the largest attended on the island and was carried out like any proper christian burial.
No grave marker related to the incident can be seen at the churchyard and others have said that the creature was buried near the dunes and not in the churchyard at all, in fact a recent survey of a large stone near the south end of the bay was carried out, suspecting that this may indeed be the resting lave of the mermaid but this was inconclusive.
So what do you think? evidence of mermaids or another ‘fishy tale’ from the islands. Certainly mermaid stories like this do bring in the tourists who were beginning to find their way to the islands in the mid 19th century. Many other tales of mermaids exist on the islands. A crofter from Barra called Colin Campbell spotted what looked like an otter fishing near the shore, he was about to shoot it but decided to check it though a telescope only to see what he described as a woman carrying a small baby in her arms. the creature then spotted him on the shore and disappeared. Whatever the truth is they do make great stories.