Wednesday, July 19, 2017


I have been seeking a folk song.  Several years ago, while I was my mother's sole carer and thus not my usual otherwise alert self, I happened across a television programme of a folksong gathering.  A woman described the folk tale behind the song she was about to sing - perhaps in Gaelic (Irish, or Scottish, I cannot remember).
It was the story which gripped my mind.  I do not remember it at all clearly except the bare bones:
There were two sisters; one - let's call her Catriona - had a lover that the other - let's call her Fiona - coveted.  So while Catriona fell asleep at the low tide edge, Fiona tied her hair to the rocks.  The tide inevitably came in, and Fiona walked off with the lover.
I cannot remember enough details to google effectively, so have not been able to track down the folk song, or the tale.  I keep trying at odd moments, but meanwhile the worm has been at work in my mind.  The seaweed on the shores of the Outer Hebrides provided the hair.
It is not a literal illustration of a mis-remembered story, but what hearing the story generated within my well-established relationship with the sea.  After my return from holiday I have been working on the idea above. 


  1. Olga, this piece is so beautiful, it brings tears to my eyes. I had to look for the song and think I found it:

    The Cruel Sister
    The Cruel Sister

    There lived a lady by the North Sea shore
    Two daughters were the babes she bore
    One grew as fair as in the sun
    So cold, dark, grew the elder one

    A knight came riding to the ladies' door
    He travelled far to be their wooer
    He courted one with gloves and rings
    But the other he loved above all things

    "Oh, sister, sister won't you walk with me
    To see the ships sail o'er sea"
    And as they walked the windy shore
    The dark girl pushed her sister o'er

    Sometimes she sank, sometimes she swam
    Crying "Sister, reach to me your hand
    Oh sister, sister please let me live
    And all that's mine I'll surely give

    "It's your own true love I want, and more
    That thou shalt never come ashore"
    And as she floated like a swan
    The salt sea bore her body on

    Two minstrels walked by the windy strand
    They saw her body float to land
    They made a harp of her breast bone
    Who's sound would melt a heart of stone

    They took three strands of her yellow hair
    And with them strung this harp so rare
    They took this harp to her father's hall
    There to play before them all

    But when they set the harp upon a stone
    It began to play alone
    The first song sang a doleful sound
    "The bride her younger sister drowned"

    The second string, when this they tried
    In terror sits the black haired bride
    The third string sang beneath their bow
    "And now her tears will surely flow"

    Child #10
    version by David Webb
    The Twa Sisters, of course, but odd. AJS
    oct97 -

    Susan Sawatzky, Port Townsend, WA

    1. Hello Susan. Thank you for your comment - and I'm so grateful that you found this song. Perhaps I'll finally track down the version I heard through it.

  2. Further to Susan's research I have found a reference to the version - or a version of the version I probably heard. Google Books found me page 50 of The Ballad and Oral Literature where there is a quote from Shields: Old British Ballads in Ireland
    Two women were down at the shore gathering dulse or carrageen (edible seaweed) one time. And both of them were after the one man. And she would have liked to get rid of the other woman, and she didn’t know the best thing to do. One of the women had three children and the other had none, and she was after the woman’s husband. And she wanted to get rid of the woman. And she didn’t know the best thing to do. And when she got a chance – the woman’s hair was long, and she tied it to the seaweed that was floating on the rock and left her there until she was drowned.

    I am so grateful to Susan for pointing me in what now is obviously the right direction. I seem to get myself in a muddle when researching things with google.

    I also found this YouTube sung version which I like:

  3. Replies
    1. Hello Linda - it's a while since I thought about Pentangle. It takes me back! I don't know who the singer was that I heard, but she was a soloist. I'm not looking for her, but shall now go back to remind myself of Pentangle's songs.