Honors Program

University Honors

Date of Award


Thesis Professor(s)

Jane MacMorran

Thesis Professor Department

Appalachian Studies

Thesis Reader(s)

Alison Deadman


Mermaids and human-seal hybrids, called selkies, are a vibrant part of Celtic folklore, including ballad and song traditions. Though some of these songs have been studied in-depth, there is a lack of research comparing them to each other or to their contemporary renditions. This research compares traditional melodies and texts of the songs “The Mermaid,” “The Grey Selchie of Sule Skerry,” and “Hó i Hó i” to contemporary recordings by top female vocalists in Scottish and Irish music.

The texts and melodies I have identified as “source” material are those most thoroughly examined by early ballad and folklore scholars. The source material for “The Grey Selchie of Sule Skerry” is a 1938 transcription by Otto Andersson. The source of notation and text for “The Mermaid” is the ballad’s A version from the Greig-Duncan Collection. The melody of “Hó i Hó i,” collected by folklorist David Thomson and published in 1954, serves as the third source version. Modern recordings included in the study are “The Mermaid” by Kate Rusby, “The Grey Selchie” by Karan Casey with Irish-American band Solas, and “Òran an Ròin,” a variant of “Hó i Hó i,” by Julie Fowlis.

This study compares the forms, melodic contours, and texts of these variants, examining ways that contemporary recordings have maintained the integrity of traditional songs and ballads from which they are derived while adapting them to draw in a contemporary audience. The thesis illustrates the continued and evolving presence of mermaids and selkies in Scottish and Irish song.


East Tennessee State University

Document Type

Honors Thesis - Withheld

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