Jeanine Cummins and Irish Mermaids

16 Mar

Today this blog has been taken over by Irish Ne-er-Do-Well Jeanine Cummins, who has managed to author two books (A Rip in Heaven and The Outside Boy) and have two children in the midst of her general from-across-the-gloomy-sea unruliness, which is only exacerbated on days like today. Her no-doubt sinister post about Irishness and mermaids follows. With love and apologies, Carolyn

(Don't let her wholesome good looks deceive you. Helpfully yours, Carolyn )

There is a “famous Irish” saying (used almost exclusively by American east coast morning newscasters) that: Everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day! Seriously – watch Matt Lauer and Meredith Vieira this morning.  Take a shot of Jameson every time they say it.  You’ll be drunk by nine a.m.  So, in the spirit of that somewhat ridiculous sentiment, and because I don’t like to discriminate, I propose that mermaids, too, are Irish on St. Patrick’s Day.  I invite you to join me – today only! – at I am a McMermaid dot com.  Resident Mermaid Expert Carolyn Turgeon is off somewhere, wearing shamrock deely-boppers and drinking green beer by the truckload.  Meanwhile, I’m Jeanine and I’ll be your substitute teacher.

POP QUIZ TIME.  Get out your notebooks. Don’t be nervous. Just answer the questions to the best of your ability. Whoever gets the most right (or leaves the best comment) will win a *REAL IRISH MERMAID!* (while supplies last). Alternate prize: a signed copy of Mermaid and a signed copy of my novel, The Outside Boy. Let’s begin.

1.      Q:  True or False: St. Patrick was actually a mermaid.

A:  The answer is “C”- no one really knows for certain. I mean, I feel it’s unlikely that he was a mermaid, but I don’t like to give a definitive FALSE, because honestly, all things are possible with God.

2.      Q:  The Irish word for mermaid is:

a.       Mermaid (duh!)
b.      McMermaid
c.       Merrow
d.      Mary

A:  The answer is “C” – merrow, which comes from the Irish words “muir” for “sea” +“oigh” meaning “maid.”

3.      Q:  In William Butler Yeats’ “The Lady of Gollerus,” what color is the merrow’s hair?

a.      Red.  Just like Disney’s Ariel, of course.
b.      Red.  I mean, she is Irish, right?
c.      Red.  The color of flame.  For poetic juxtaposition and stuff.
d.      Sea-green.

A.   The answer is “D” – “a beautiful young creature combing her hair, which was of a sea-green colour; and now the salt water shining on it appeared, in the morning light, like the melted butter upon cabbage.” If you read only one William Butler Yeats story about mermaids this Paddy’s day, make it this one. It’s gorgeous and funny and very short.

4.      Q:  In Irish mythology, the merrow has a magical article of clothing that allows her to breathe underwater. If a human man steals and hides this article from the merrow, then she has no choice but to remain ashore with him. Is the article:

a.      A clamshell necklace
b.      A little red cap
c.      A seahorse bellybutton ring
d.      Sequined nipple-tassels

A:  The answer is “B” – a little red cap. I know, weird, right?

5.      According to the The Annals of the Four Masters, which is a real-life ancient text on the history of medieval Ireland, in the year 887, and giant mermaid washed up on Celtic shores. She measured 195 tall, and her hair was 18 feet long. What length were her fingers?

a.       7 feet
b.      12 feet
c.       17 feet
d.      21 feet

A:  The answer is “A” – seven feet, but this account is obviously flawed. How could all of her fingers be the same length? What was she, some kind of freak?

Okay, you can put your notebooks away. You all did very well. You may have noticed that I actually gave you the answers as we went along. So whoever leaves the most astute and insightful comment (as judged by Ms. Turgeon and myself) will win the prize.

I leave you with this: last night, my three-year-old daughter dreamed of a swing made from a purple seashell. I feel like that’s pretty reliable evidence for the existence of Irish mermaids. As if you needed convincing.

12 Responses to “Jeanine Cummins and Irish Mermaids”

  1. I LOVE Soda March 17, 2011 at 10:16 AM #

    Fun article! I love anything to do with Mermaids. When you add Irish to anything it makes it perfect, so this was a perfect blog!!!

  2. Alexis Spiegel March 17, 2011 at 10:20 AM #

    Question five reminds me of the Japanese adaptation of the Little Mermaid called Ponyo. Ponyo is a little gold fish who turns human and her mother is a giant sea mother who, in some respects, could be likened to a mermaid. She was also kown as the goddess of mercy. I feel that mermaids should well versed in mercy because of 1) being hunted and 2) not being believed in. 🙂

    For question five, it made me wonder if that is the reasoning behind the Little Mermaid having red hair?

  3. mary yetta alexander March 17, 2011 at 10:29 AM #

    I loved this test on what is a mermaid.I learned a little but knew some of the answers. If a memramid is that large how would she ever capture a human male attention? Other than a curiosity.The red cap was curious. But I knew he had to capture an article of clothing.On st. Patricks day every thing should be green.CAn’t wait to get the book and read it . I loved Godmother. hope I win a book as my book allowance is getting shorter every day.Have a green beer for me I gave up alcohol for lent. ARg!

  4. Mary McMyne March 17, 2011 at 10:48 AM #

    I believe in McMermaids. That is all.

    Oh, except: you two are hysterical!

  5. Sharon March 17, 2011 at 11:18 AM #

    Mermaids (and mermen) are the rulers of the sea! Loved the blog, and would love to review the books for you ladies! Happy swimming!

  6. Mark D. Cantoni March 17, 2011 at 11:50 AM #

    Are all mermaids Irish? For today they just might be. One frightening thought is if I were an Irish or Italian or an Irish/Italian Mermaid! What a sight to see!! Would I drink green beer or green wine? Both? God only knows. Another scary thought: A Weremermaid prowling around in a red cap.

  7. Maripat/Luna Doyle Oberg March 17, 2011 at 12:00 PM #

    Mermaids, if Irish have hair and skin of green,
    shimmering reflection of Eire’s hills is sheen.
    I think I’ve glimpsed a mermaid but n’er to Ireland I’ve been,
    but I believe in Irish Mermaids and that Jeanine Cummins is their queen!
    MO 3/17/11

  8. Kurt Cagle March 17, 2011 at 12:14 PM #

    A few comments of my own on your quiz:

    #1. Patricius was actually somewhat hostile about mermaids – according to at least one folktale, he transformed all of the witches in Ireland into merfolk for their heathen ways. It’s worth noting that during the period where Patricius returned to Ireland there were a number of loch and spring cults with their associated priests and priestesses. The legend of St. Liobhan (Liban) may in fact have been derived from this association as well, and they may have visualized these demigoddesses as mermaids. As such, the legend about the witches (priestesses) being transformed into mermaids may be an indication of a struggle between the church and these cults.

    #4. I like the nipple tassles myself. However, the cap may actually have been a caul, or hood. This MAY have derived from births in which the amniotic sac gets twisted over the head during a breach birth, creating what would appear to be a red “hood” on the babies; the babies so born would appear to be able to breathe “underwater”, especially if the midwife was not fast enough to get the caul off of them before they took their first breath. Having such a caul eventually was seen as being a sign that the person in question was descended from a mer, if not a mer outright.

    #5. This one was almost certainly the result of coming across a heavily decomposed sperm or bow whale on the beach. A whale’s flippers actually have five phalanges inside of them, sperm or bow whale skulls are somewhat blunter (and hence more humanoid) than other whales, and the baleen could easily be mistaken for hair. This is even more likely to have been the case if the person seeing this was NOT a local, and the locals were ribbing them. “Oh, aye, she must ‘ave bin a right bonny sea lass – just look at all yon mickle hair!”

    Good quiz. Merrows and their soul cages have long intrigued me.

    I’ll have to do a little research to give you the references for those.

  9. Jill March 17, 2011 at 4:44 PM #

    Do mermaids have jobs?
    Or is it just sushi and dance parties all day and night long?
    Either way, I think being a mermaid would be pretty damn cool!

    Can’t wait to read the book(s)!!!

  10. Julie March 18, 2011 at 1:08 PM #

    If I were a mermaid, this blog post would be my nipple tassels. You both are hilarious.

    I didn’t realize how prominent mermaids are in Irish mythology. I wonder if they are distantly related to banshees, although I suppose creating a blog called “I am a banshee” would not sound nearly as flattering.

  11. Don September 28, 2011 at 4:54 AM #

    I came across this by chance and many thanks for the silly grin I now have. Unfortunately now have an image of a mermaid drinking green Guinness in a red balaclava spinning her tassles…off now for counselling.


  1. Bonus Post « I am a mermaid - March 28, 2011

    […] finally, I must announce the **WINNERS** of the St. Patty’s Day contest written about by the wily Ms. Jeanine Cummins last week. Because we have huge hot bleeding hearts (well I do, Jeanine Cummins is rather heartless) we have […]

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