A contemporary Irish seanchaí, or storyteller, uses a bit of historical text from 558 C.E.—the Annals of the Four Masters—to fashion a story about a wondrous creature from the sea.
In this story, Brother Declan finds an unconscious boy on the rugged shore of Belfast Lough near Bangor Abbey, an early monastic community in Ireland. When the kind monks treat Rónán, he tells them of his rescue from the sea by “the lady with the golden hair.” He explains that “she sang to me till we reached the shore,” gave him the silver ring he was found clutching, marked with an L, and “told me that one day I would help her.” As Rónán recovers, Brother Declan tells him ancient stories about selkies and singing mermaids, including Líban, who “roamed the lonesome seas” for three centuries. When the boy’s health is fully restored, he works alongside the monks, but he is enchanted by music. Wise Brother Declan makes him a harp, and Rónán becomes a musician. Fishing one day, he plays his harp, and “a lonesome song came in reply.” Líban surfaces and asks to be taken to the abbey, to be blessed by the abbot, who christens the mermaid Muirgen, “born of the sea.” The painterly illustrations, with their natural browns, greens, and blues, are somber but fit well with the traditional tone of the story. All characters appear to be white.
With this ode to music and mermaids, McShane deftly uses old stories to create a lyrical, satisfying new one. (author’s note)