Episode 11 – The Lady of Gollerus

Primary Tasks:

  • Oral and Publishing History- Spencer Green
  • Cultural and Historical Contexts- Reid Dolyniuk
  • Major Archetypes- Zach Schrage



  • Zach Schrage
  • Reid Dolyniuk
  • Spencer Green


Story Info:

  • Publishing and Oral History:
    • “The Lady of Gollerus” is an Irish tale from Thomas Crofton Croker book, Fairy Legends and Traditions of the South of Ireland, vol. 2. We found this tale on D.L. Ashliman website, pitt.edu, undertale type 4080 which is categorized as “Water Spirit Legends: Stories about mermaids, nixies, and other supernatural creatures who live in the water.” This particular version was published in 1834 in London, England by John Murray, however the original book was published in 1825.
    • There is not too much information regarding the oral history of this collection of tales, although according to Google Books, the tales were gathered from Irish peasants and storytellers. With this information we are led to believe that there was a strong oral history in Ireland well into the nineteenth century.
  • Story Summary: This is a story about a lonely fisherman named Dick who one day, while out fishing for work, encounters a merrow, a specific type of mermaid, out at sea. He thinks she is very beautiful and her voice is a contributing factor. When he approaches her, he snatches her magical cap that allows her to traverse under water, before she can dive back in and escape. Dick soon offers her an invitation to live with him as his wife which she accepts, starting a new life with Dick. These two have a happy life but this is only after Dick convinced the priest to break his code with a little bit of gold. The merrow and Dick eventually have three children together, two boys and a girl. One day Dick leaves to go on a long term fishing trip which entices the merrow to snoop around the house. She comes across her magical cap and is rushed with memories regarding her past and more importantly, her family. With the opportunity to make her own choice, she weighs the options between staying with her family on land or returning to her family in the sea.


Major Archetypes:

  • Characters
    • Charming Price (in a sense): Dick takes the role as the charming prince in this mermaid tale, but rather than the mermaid coming to him, Dick goes to her and charms her into being his wife.
    • The Beautiful Damsel: The merrow is the damsel of the story, but she is not a damsel in distress; she assumes the important female role of the tale while being independent.
  • The Calm Before the Storm: Everything in the world is calm at the beginning of the story. The ocean is smooth, and Dick is just smoking and fishing before the plot begins when he sees and steals from the merrow.
  • The Number Three: The number three is popular in fairy tales. It is usually used in fairy tales to make a comparison among certain aspects in the story, such as characters, as seen with the three bears in the Goldilocks tale or the pigs in “The Three Little Pigs.” In this tale, three is displayed in the number of kids that the merrow and Dick have as well as the amount of adult characters that have dialog. Whether there is a significance to this or not, the use of the number three is very prominent. This may lead us to conclude that there is a comparison between the kids and, similarly, the adults.
  • Setting
    • Kingdom
      • The story does not explicitly depict a kingdom, however it alludes to a kingdom being the home of the merrow, since she is the daughter of the sea king.
    • Ocean vs Land
      • Typical of mermaid fairy tales, there is the setting of the ocean in contrast to the land. This tale focuses more on the life on land than the life in the sea.
  • Family Bond: This tale displays a love for family members by the merrow when she speaks to the ocean to tell her family goodbye and later when she finds her Cohuleen Druith causing her to return to her family, not without experiencing sorrow for leaving her husband and children. The missing of family members alters the story heavily as in other tales.
  • Women’s Choices and Desires (or lack thereof)
    • The story revolves around a man who manipulates a young woman, though for semi-good intentions.
      • Dick “abducts” the merrow from her home, the ocean, when he takes away her power to return to the sea, forcing her to marry him and live with him on land. In mermaid tales it is normal for a man to steal or force the mermaid to give up its magical essence, whether it be skin for selkies or a hat for merrows, binding them to land.
  • The Maturation of Women: Within the story the merrow goes from being a young girl to a strong wife and mother with her own brood of children. The story plays as a timeline for the life of the merrow.
  • Marriage: There is the marriage of the damsel to the “prince”. This seals the damsel’s fate with the prince and locks her into the story. Dick marries the merrow, even though he is not a prince, following the template of two important opposite sex characters getting married.
  • The Happy Family: The family that Dick and the merrow have together follow this archetype that is seen in other fairy tales, like “The Twelve Brothers.”


Cultural and Historical Background:

  • Location Information
    • Smerwick Harbor is at the tip of the Dingle Peninsula in southwest Ireland.
    • Gallerous is a small village on the eastern side of the harbor.
  • Time Period
    • The time period this story was written in is the early nineteenth century (1825).
  • Religion (http://www.irishhistorian.com/IrishHistoryTimeline.html)
    • The Catholic Association was established in Dublin in 1823.
      • There are strict views on marriage represented with the priest’s unwillingness to marry Dick to the merrow.
      • There is an explicit mention of Christianity.
  • Fishermen (http://www.angelfire.com/mn/marion/fishing.html)
    • Nineteenth century Irish fisheries were underfunded which led to a decline in work for fishermen and therefore a decline in fish. This coupled with the potato famine that was occuring at the time resulted in a diminishing population and financial struggle for those who survived.
  • Famine (http://www.irishhistorian.com/IrishHistoryTimeline.html)
    • The 1816 potato crop failure caused famine and tough times for all, especially those with little money/wealth.
      • This explains Dick’s fascination with the merrow’s status and money as well as the priest’s change of heart in marrying Dick to the merrow once he was offered money. Neither of these men were necessarily greedy, they were just struggling to feed themselves and live comfortably during the time of the famine.
  • Class System (http://www.libraryireland.com/Brehon-Laws/Classification-Society.php)
    • There were six distinct classes in nineteenth-century Ireland, beginning with royalty and ending with those who were non-free.
      • We think Dick would be considered part of the fourth class as he was a free, property owner who had little possessions.
      • The merrow may not technically fit into a social class since she is not fully human, however if she were assigned a class distinction, she would be in the first class as she the daughter of the sea king.
  • Marriage and Gender Roles
    • Marriage prior to the 1850s was important for women, because it declared their personhood.
      • Women’s roles were to be wives, mothers, and domestic workers while men’s roles were to work in order to provide for their family.
        • This story is interesting in that it focuses more on the man’s need for the woman, rather than the typical reverse situation as seen when Dick regards himself as useless without a wife. Also, though Dick works, he does not make much money as a fisherman, yet the merrow has lots of money, so she almost takes the role as the provider as well.


Perform the Story:


Prominent Archetypes Not Included:

  • No prize or reward at the end of the story: There is no golden goose in this story, because all the two main characters want is to be happy.
  • No quest: The story has no plan; things just happen. There is no quest to marry the merrow since she willingly agreed to Dick’s proposal.
  • No important king or queen: The only king mentioned is the father of the merrow but he has no significance besides having wealth and representing family.
  • No real hero: There is no daring hero in the story, making this tale more dramatic than full of action.
  • No helpers to the main characters: There are no active animal helpers seen in the story like in “Snow White.” There is reference of fish that help the merrow, but it’s never seen in the story.
  • No real sacrifice: The merrow gives up being with her family, but that isn’t stressed as a huge sacrifice. She didn’t have to give up her voice or her hair or be in pain just to be human; maybe she sacrificed her power to live both on land and in the ocean?
  • Voicelessness: Unlike most mermaid tales, the merrow in this story speaks and is actually the main reason why Dick loves her so much; he loves her before she reveals that she is the king of the waves’ daughter.



  • Cohuleen Druith: This represents the merrow’s freedom as well as who she truly is. It’s the representation of her past.
  • The Child Echo: The reference of a child’s echo of Dick’s own voice refers to how childless Dick is. This ties together his speech on the need for a women with the idea of children to follow.
  • The Land and the Ocean: These both represent a different state of mind for the merrow. The life on land represents a false life that she was convinced to be apart of. She is hiding the fact that she is a merrow. The ocean is her true world and her true self. Thus why she returns at the end of the story, because she can’t escape who she really is. She cannot stand being away from her home and is even willing to abandon her family to get there.
  • Priest: The priest represents logic and the natural state of things. But like any natural thing, it can be influenced by money. This means throwing logic out the window whenever money is involved.
  • The Strand: The strand is the beach, it represents the border between the two worlds, land and sea.
  • Colors:
    • Green hair- The pigment hair of the merrow must be the first physical trait recognized when finding a merrow, or any other human like sea creature. This is associated with growth, renewal, harmony, and fertility, illustrating the merrow and Dick’s new life with a new family.
  • Numbers: There were three kids (two boys and one girl) and three adults (the merrow, the priest, and Dick).
  • Male Expectation: This speech at the beginning of the story is a symbol of what’s expected of a man at the time which is to find a wife. It also foreshadows the rest of the story.



  • The moral of a man picking a good wife: The man has the freedom to pick any wife he wants and Dick picks a merrow. Could the moral of the story be to pick a good and loyal woman? With the consequences being that you’ll live a lonely miserable life for the rest of existence. Or is the moral more religious, dont marry demons if you don’t want bad luck. This comes from the denial of the priest at the first attempt to marry the merrow.
  • A lesson for women being loyal to men: The merrow abandons the family and never comes back, thus she receives shame from it. Is the moral of the story for young girls saying that when you take on the duties of being a caring wife and mother you need to carry out your duties, or your “family” will suffer.
  • The consequence of dealings with the unholy: Could this story be a simple moral of continue to go to church and do not deal with demons. Such as the merrow. That dealings with anything inhuman will result in bad luck.
  • Don’t disagree with the reverend: The moral being never to disagree and fight the reverend. Because going against the reverends word= bad luck. The reverend is the moral high ground in this story.  He represents what is good and right in the world and how things should be done.
  • The corruption of sins: The reverend as mentioned above is supposed to be the moral high ground and a guiding light to those that are lost. In the beginning he tries to advise Dick clearly, rejecting all  justifications of why it is a good idea. It isn’t until Dick offers the priest or reverend money does he change his mind. He has been corrupted by not only need but a desire to make himself better with the funds. When the reverend accepts and does the sinful deed of marrying the two,things start to go downhill.


Close Readings With Guiding Questions:

  • Do I like the work?
    • Zach: I really like The Lady of Gollerus, its a happy and a sad story that ends simply.
    • Spencer: Yes, I like the work, because it is different than typical mermaid stories.
    • Reid: I like the story too, it was well written in the fact that it made me feel both happy and sad when the characters were. I personally think that that is a sign of a compelling story. When it pulls the reader into it and makes them emphasize with the characters.
  • What words stand out?
    • Zach: Merrow- This word has not been mentioned in our discussions of mermaids. It’s a cross between a Mermaid and a Selkie.
    • Spencer: cohuleen druith→ allows the merrow to change form from human to mermaid/selkie; wife/darling/man→ marriage; speak→ the merrow is able to talk and uses her voice; fish→ the merrow is sometimes referred to as a fish, pointing out her differences to humans
    • Reid: Merrow- we have learned about mermaids and selkies, but these are new. They are somewhere in between.
  • What feelings does it give me?
    • Zach: This story gives me a feeling of satisfaction because the story ends with a draw between the two main characters.
    • Spencer: The story makes me feel indifferent about whether the merrow has a good relationship with her husband or not. They enjoy each other’s company, and even though she willingly agrees to marry Dick, she was almost forced to marry him since he stole her means of returning to her family in the ocean. She clearly loved her family that created with Dick, but that was not enough to keep her from going back home to the sea. Perhaps if Dick had not stolen her cap, she would not have settled for marrying him?
    • Reid: In these types of stories I always feel conflicted. Like yes, Dick was a good man and loved her righteously but she was only there because she had nowhere else to go once he stole her cap. I honestly don’t think she would have stayed there unless for that.
  • Do I identify with any of the people represented?
    • Zach: I identify with the man because I too will never understand women.
    • Spencer: I identify with the merrow in terms of her sibling bond and missing her family while she was away from them.
    • Reid; I identify with the merrow because she struggles with her life even when nothing is really wrong. It shows that you don’t have to be perfectly content all the time.
  • Is there anything about how it’s written that stands out?
    • Zach: The story is written more simply than the other mermaid tales we have written. The story ends not in tragedy or happiness but in contempt.
    • Spencer: Other than the existence of merrows and magical caps, the story seems realistic compared to most fairy tales. Even the priest points out that humans should not marry fish, which I think in any other fairy tale would not be questioned.
    • Reid: I think it’s interesting how the priest changes his mind once money is brought up. That choice plays a direct role in the following events of the story. It brings in the what if game, something that always brings different ideas and situations to light.
  • What is the work about?
    • Zach: The work is about a man who marries a merrow off of the sea. They become wed but she eventually abandons her land family to return to the sea leaving the man behind.
    • Spencer: The work is about a lonely man who finds a beautiful merrow who he steals her cap from (the source of her power to switch from land to sea). These two end up getting married and having children, and even though they are contempt with their marriage and lives, the merrow returns to the sea to be with her family once she found her cap, leaving Dick to care for their three children.
    • Reid: The story is about a man who sees a merrow and steals her cap so that she will become his wife. They are happy for a while until she finds her hat and after a moral dilemma leaves her children and husband on land for her family of the sea.
  • What else is the work about?
    • Zach: The work is also about the taking of a mermaid from her home and converting her on land. Also about how you can’t take the sea out of the merrow.
    • Spencer: There is a slight social commentary on women’s choices and desires, but without many unfortunate sacrifices. For better or for worse the merrow was able to make her own choice in the end.
    • Reid: This story in the end is all about women reclaiming their agency in all situations not only bad ones. It is the fact that life comes at you and you can’t control it you just gotta roll with it and claim it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *