Mermaid Myths: The Merrow of Ireland

Like many other aspects of Irish culture, the Irish Marrow almost fell into obscurity. Thanks to the efforts of the Irish to resist the erasure of their myths and legends, the tales of finned fae folk and their magical red caps live on to influence aspects of what we, today, consider mermaids. But what sets the Marrow apart from other Merpeople, and what makes them one of MerMapp’s Mermaid Origins?

Xandria Wilcox

4/16/20243 min read


Merrow, coming from murúch (or in Middle Irish murdúchann or murdúchu) means sea-singer, or siren. There are also scholars who say it comes from moruadh or moruach meaning mermaid, or sea monster in Gaelic. Merrow are described, as most mer-like creatures, as part human, part fish. They have green tails, and green hair that they meticulously groom. They also have webbed hands, allowing them to swim quicker through the water.

Merrows of myth are generally pretty affable, described as gentle and kind. They are known for their ability to form attachments with humans, with some tales of intermarriages; but it is also a well known part of these myths that, if you are to take a merrow as your spouse, you need to hide the red cap they use to transfer between land and sea, or their instincts may cause them to impulsively to return to the sea. Like many Fair Folk, they’re known to be somewhat reclusive, but seem to like humans just as much as we like them.

Thomas Crofton Croker laid the modern groundwork for the folkloric interpretation of Merrow with his book Fairy Legends, Volume Two, published in 1828. After being translated into German by the brother’s Grimm, the stories of Irish Fae exploded into popularity, and the Merrow specifically were reinterpreted into countless stories. John O’Hanlon interpreted the Merrow to be more similar to the selkie, shedding their skin to walk on land, while Croker attributed their ability to shift to their magic red caps.

Murúch Fir

Similarly to Finfolk, Merrow are known to be beautiful and to use this beauty to lure young men into the sea, where they live in an enchanted state as the merrow’s husband. While the women are very beautiful, the men, also known as Murúch Fir (“mermaid man”) or Fear Mara (“man of the sea”), are described as very ugly, which might contribute to the Merrow seeking spouses on land. 

Murúch Fir have very few stories. One of them is The Soul Cages, published in Fairy Legends as part of Croker’s anthology. The Soul Cages is a tale of a merman capturing the souls of drowned sailors in lobster pot-like cages and trapping them on the bottom of the sea. This is one of the only actual descriptions of the Murúch Fir we get. The merman in the story, known as Coomara, meaning “sea-hound”, has green hair like his female counterparts. But unlike the beautiful Merrow we know, Coomara is described as having green teeth, pig-like eyes, and a red nose. He has small, stubby legs on either side of his tail, and fin-like arms. While the ‘ugliness’ of Coomara is widely attributed to the whole of the Murúch Fir, it’s agreed by Croker, O’Hanlon, and other authors that their red nose can be attributed to their love of brandy.

This would later turn out to be a reinterpretation of a German myth, rather than a genuine story if Merrow from Ireland, on the part of Thomas Kneightley: who would later acknowledge that similar stories were told by pure coincidence in Cork and Wicklow.

Cohuleen Druith

Merrow are known for a special red cap they wear, the Cohuleen Druith, which allows them to breathe underwater. They will shed this red cap to come on land, and interact with humans; however, if their hat is lost or stolen, they can’t return to the sea or breathe underwater any longer.

The red cap is described in several ways. In some stories, it’se described as a small red cloak, or cochaillín draíochta. This description is carried over to other stories as “a nice little magic cap,” (Patrick Kennedy, "The Sea Fairies", Legendary Fictions of the Irish Celts, pg. 111-112). Croker would interpret the hat to look like a matador’s montera. Some stories depict the hat as feathered, but this resulted from taking Croker’s description of the caps as “like the feathered dresses of the ladies” in Arabian Nights to literally. He likely meant it to be interpreted as the feather garment motif in stories of Swan Maidens, where a supernatural garment can be taken to keep the mythological creature captive.

The Modern Mer’s Merrow Origin

A Merrow Origin Merperson may prefer colder, harsher water that will keep intruders far from their homes on the seabed. Merrow Origins are known to be skilled puzzle-solvers, hoarders of knowledge, and despise lies. If you’re a Merrow Origin, you're an honest and straightforward person who sometimes struggles to make close friends. You're very intelligent, and you love a good treat from time to time.

To learn more about the Merrow MerMapp Origin, or to find your MerMapp Mermaid Origin, take the quiz here to find out if you’re a Merrow, yourself! And check out our other articles about our other mermaid origins here. Happy Swimming!