Welcome to my Celtic Folklore Blog. Each month I’ll be giving some information on the creatures that populated the Celtic imagination in previous centuries. The short stories in the Blue Men, Green Women Series are designed bring these creatures to life. Here, I’ll just be giving basic information about them and some internet links.
This month’s entry is on the Blue Men of the Minch, which so happens to be the title story for the first book in the Blue Men, Green Women series!
The Blue Men of the Minch – also called Storm Kelpies – are a race of blue sea-men thought to live in the waters of the Minch, which runs between the Inner and the Outer Hebrides. In particular they were thought to dwell in the little strait between Lewis and the Shiant (Enchanted) Isles which are an uninhabited group, off-shore from Lewis. They were believed to cause shipwrecks in that dangerous stretch of water which is the location of a strong current. There’s links to an old map of the area up here, or check the ever-reliable streetmap.uk for the Ordinance Survey map.
The Blue Men were thought to be interested in poetry and if you could best their leader – Iain Mor – in a poetry competition, or at least answer him in a rhyming couplet, you’d be safe from their aggression. In my version of the tale I did away with that aspect of the Blue Men, but other accounts focus on it exclusively.
The main source for the Blue Men is Donald Alexander MacKenzie’s classic account in Wonder Tales from Scottish Myth and Legend, which, like a great many good things, is up over at sacred-texts.com. The actual account is here.
Most other stuff on the internet is repetitive of that source, with some variations. For instance, the Mysterious Britain page for the story suggests that they are a folk memory of marooned Moorish slaves! I rather wish they gave a source to that suggestion.
There was formerly a very unusual entry on the Blbiotheca Arcana, now defunct, which links the Blue Men to a Greek myth about the Glaukidai. The writer claims that his ancestors were actually Mermen, after Kerling of Kintail was seduced by a Blue Man in the fourteenth century. Well, can you prove him wrong? He provided several illustrations showing the Fear Gorm (blue men) with fishes tails. This is neither confirmed or contradicted by MacKenzie’s account.
Like my story about the Blue Men, the Biblioteca Arcana entry played around with the honorific ‘Gorm’ (The Blue), which was common in the Hebrides in the Middle Ages. In fact the honorific refers to blueness of blood as an attribute of royalty and has nothing to do with the Blue Men myth.
When I first began the Blue Men project in the early 2000s I was the only writer giving the Blue Men a literary treatment. Now, the virtual shelves of Amazon are brimming with Blue Men! The connections of the Blue Men with music and poetry have also inspired several Celtic musicians. There is an album by Celtic Folk Group Meantime called Blue Men of the Minch. There is also a song called Blue Men Of the Minch by Chris Watson.
(note: I still believe my version of the story is one of the better ones around...)