The fireplace in the library at Chirk Castle

Most of our planet is covered with water, and it is surely no wonder that all around the world centuries ago, the oceans were believed to hide mysterious creatures, including sea serpents and mermaids.

Merfolk (mermaids and mermen) were described in ‘The Arabian Nights’ as having  ‘moon faces and hair like a woman’s but their hands and feet were in their bellies, and they had tails like fishes’

In folklore, mermaids could be associated with misfortune and death – luring sailors off course and onto rocky shoals.

Mermaids could, however, signify sweetness and freedom, by singing a sweet song and beckoning a vessel back into calmer waters. They love to bask in the sun, to comb their hair and to gaze into hand-held mirrors – the Christian Church has always used the symbolism of the mermaid to represent vanity, one of the seven deadly sins, whereas in Greek mythology, they are the beloved descendants of Aphrodite and Venus, the goddesses of love and beauty!

Not shy about baring their bodies, they are very often used as symbols of feminine beauty, but the intensely moral Victorians, appalled at this display, were the first to label them as ‘untrustworthy’.

Mermaids were reputed to offer magical gifts, but at a price – they could, for example, bring water for the crops, but they could also create deadly storms and waves which caused destruction and loss of life.

Mermaid stories can be found in every part of the world, but here is one from the coast of Great Britain . . .  a Welsh tale of mermaids.

Many years ago, a country farmer whose land stretched down to the coast at Aberbach in Pembrokeshire came upon a young mermaid sleeping on the beach, curled up on some rocks near the tide’s edge.

Knowing that owning such a fantastic creature could bring him untold future wealth, he stealthily tip-toed up to her, and had nearly reached her when he slipped on some seaweed - falling forward, he broke the silence!

She woke and let out a cry, but she was too late, as the farmer grabbed her and held her tightly. She was trapped, and  could not escape.

He carried her to his farm-house, ‘Tre Seissyllt’ just up from the beach, where he forced her into a dark, windowless room at the back of the house, slamming the door and locking it securely. Initially she was very quiet, but as dusk gradually fell, she began to sing. . .

Such a beautiful song she sang –to a melody never heard by human ears before! The farmer listened to the sound for a while, and he began to believe that the mermaid had now accepted that she was his prisoner.

She continued to sing, and sang all night – until just before dawn, when the night is at its very darkest, other sounds were heard. The almost noiseless sounds of grass moving in the wind grew louder and louder, to be matched by the noise of fingers tapping at the window-panes. . . a great wind suddenly blew up from nowhere, and whirled around the farmhouse – the old building seemed to be at the centre of its own wind funnel: then all the doors burst open!

Amidst the noise and chaos of pictures hurling themselves from the walls and furniture careering about the rooms, the farmer jumped out of bed and raced as fast as he could  to the room where he had left the mermaid - he found the door smashed like matchwood, and the  room empty, so he rushed out, into the night, down the track which led to the beach. In the watery moonlight he could just make out a few silver shapes slipping into the waves.

As they swam further away from the shore, the mermaid and her rescuers turned to the farnerand in an icy, piercing wail she cursed him, his home and his descendants – “No child shall be born here for seven generations!”

The curse proved to be very powerful, as no child has been born at ‘Tre Seissyllt’ to this very day. . .