Woman Who Removed a Thorn from a Seal’s Fin, The

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  • Teideal (Title): Woman Who Removed a Thorn from a Seal’s Fin, The.
  • Uimhir Chatalóige Ollscoil Washington (University of Washington Catalogue Number): 840113.
  • Uimhir Chnuasach Bhéaloideas Éireann (National Folklore of Ireland Number): none.
  • Uimhir Roud (Roud Number): none.
  • Uimhir Laws (Laws Number): none.
  • Uimhir Child (Child Number): none.
  • Cnuasach (Collection): Joe Heaney Collection, University of Washington, Seattle.
  • Teanga na Croímhíre (Core-Item Language): English.
  • Catagóir (Category): story.
  • Ainm an té a thug (Name of Informant): Joe Heaney.
  • Ainm an té a thóg (Name of Collector): unavailable.
  • Dáta an taifeadta (Recording Date): 22/11/1983.
  • Suíomh an taifeadta (Recording Location): University of Washington, United States of America.
  • Ocáid an taifeadta (Recording Occasion): evening class.
  • Daoine eile a bhí i láthair (Others present): unavailable.
  • Stádas chóipcheart an taifeadta (Recording copyright status): unavailable.

A woman of the roads   a travelling woman   and her two children are walking by the edge of the sea, when they see a seal lying on a rock. This particular seal appears to be in pain, moaning; and when the woman approaches it shows no fear, but allows her to remove a thorn from its fin. The seal looks very grateful to have the thorn removed, and departs out to sea.

Some time later, the woman and her two children are in another part of Ireland, and they come to a house. The door is opened to them by a handsome old man, who invites them in. As he makes them welcome, he asks the woman about any interesting experiences she might have had. ‘I don’t get out much,’ he tells her.

At first she says she can’t think of anything. ‘I just have my two children here, and an older daughter who’s working; I don’t know how she’s getting on.’ When the man asks her again, she at length recalls the incident with the seal, and remarks on how thankful the creature appeared to be once the thorn was removed.

‘Your’re right about that,’ observed the old man. ‘I was that seal.’ He tells her he had been put under an enchantment by his stepmother, and would have lived in the form of a seal his whole life unless someone was kind enough to remove the thorn from his fin. The next time he came out of the water, he told her, he had resumed his human form, as a rich man.

He told the woman to send for her daughter so that she could marry his son, and that the woman and her other two children were welcome to live with them there.


Seals were believed to be magical creatures; see Joe’s story about The Seal-Woman. Other stories involving the enchantment of people into different forms include Oisín in Tír na nÓg and The Twelve Swans; in The Witch in the Stone Boat the enchanted character is the witch herself.