|dc.description.abstract||This dissertation is a study of the migratory supernatural legend ML 4080 “The Mermaid Legend” The story is first attested at the end of the eighteenth century, and hundreds of versions of the legend have been collected throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in Ireland, Scotland, the Isle of Man, Iceland, the Faroe Islands, Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. I explore a number of related questions concerning this legend: its development and dissemination throughout this geographic area, the meanings it conveys for its traditional audiences and performers, and its afterlife in contemporary media and literature.
The first chapter provides an overview of all the known versions of The Mermaid Legend, demographic information about storytellers and collectors, its typical forms, and the motifs or subtypes which are subject to geographic variation. I argue that the legend originated in Ireland or Gaelic Scotland and spread from Gaelic Scotland to Shetland and Orkney, and from there to the rest of the Norse world. My second chapter explores the relationship between The Mermaid Legend and other Irish and Scottish traditions about seals and mermaids. I conclude that they represent a stable body of belief concerning such beings, and relate to broader concerns about the relationship between humans and their environment. In my third chapter, I explore medieval and early modern Irish literary depictions of seals and mermaids.
The fourth chapter explores the question of the possible functions and meanings of the legend, at both the collective and individual level. I include two individual case studies of versions of the legend recorded from storytellers with large repetoires and sufficient biographical information: Éamonn a Búrc of Carna, County Galway, and Peig Sayers of Dún Chaoin, County Kerry. In the fifth and final chapter, I explore a number of films and literary works by Irish creators which retell or draw inspiration from this legend. I explore both the relationship between these creators and oral tradition, as well as the ways in which the legend is adapted to address contemporary issues and debates about transnationalism, gender, the environment, and more.||