Clan MacPhee/MacFie Descended from a Selkie

The origins of Clan MacFie/MacPhee and all it’s name variations are said to be descended from a Selkie or seal woman.

Selkies are a mythical people who can change from human form to seal form with the aid of a detachable skin. These skins are individual and only can be used by the person who owns them. If a selkie loses her skin, she is forced to remain in human form until she finds the skin again. The skins, however, are known to be enchanted and will find their way back to their owner no matter how long it takes. Selkies are found along the coasts of Scotland, Ireland, Britain, and in some parts of Norway and Iceland. When in seal form, the Selkies look like an ordinary seal, but when in human form the Selkies are usually dark skinned, with dark hair and beautiful dark eyes. Human Selkies are quite shy and sing beautifully. Some say a Selkie in human form will be surrounded by a faint glow, which only increases their attractiveness.

While one such selkie was in her beautiful human form, her skin of seal, she married the first MacFie, who hid her fur so she could not return to the sea.

The orgin of Selkies isn’t exactly clear. Some peoples believe that angels who fell to the earth became faeries if they landed on solid ground, and selkies if they fell in the sea. Others believe that Selkies are the souls of people drowned at sea who were being given a second chance at life as a shapeshifter.

Selkies often fall in love with humans and vice versa, but the relationship seldom ends happily. The pull of the sea is so strong that the selkie usually returns, leaving a heartbroken mortal behind, and sometimes the children of the pairing are left as well. A human male is able to force a selkie woman to stay with him as his wife if he can steal away her sealskin and hide it. Only by locating her skin can she return to the sea, and if she does indeed find it she always leaves the man, sometimes taking her children to the sea with her. If the husband was good to his wife, she will protect and assist him from the sea, filling his pots with crab, warning him of storms, and ensuring good fishing for him. If a male selkie leaves his mortal wife for the sea, he will return to claim his children after 7 years, paying the mother for caring for the child and leaving her childless.

The children born of a union between a selkie and a human are known as “Sliocha nan Ron” meaning “children of the seals”. They are known as the Roan, and some are capable of turning into a seal if they possess their seal skin. The child is born with this skin and often with webbed feet or hands and rough patches of skin on their head and body. Parents of Roan children usually take the skin and hide it from the child, giving it back when the child is old enough to understand their gift. Even today, entire families are thought to be the distant descendants of Selkies. One of these families is the clan Macfie of Scotland. The name Macfie is derived from an older version of the name “Macduffie” which is derived from the gaelic term “MacDubhSithe” meaning “son of the dark fairy of elf”. The legend claims that the first Macfie took a selkie as a bride.


About Amanda Moffet

I run with Rodger Moffet. Live in Edinburgh and love travelling around Scotland gathering stories.

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6 thoughts on “Clan MacPhee/MacFie Descended from a Selkie

    • Marissa Maguffee

      Yes! South of America as well, but Maguffee now.
      Doing ancestry research, I have found that my great great grandfather was spelt “MacGuffey”
      Following the lineage up, his grandfather, the one who came to America from a ship carrying people from Galloway, was spelt MacGuffie

  1. Gretchen

    I just returned from the coast of Caithness and while there found a baby seal alone on the rocks in a tiny secluded rocky harbor. It kept starig at me but because there was a local man there showing me around, it eventually went back in the sea. I heard about selkies a few days ago and just came across your post. The first place I visited was the Outer Hebrides because I felt a strange pull to go there. I felt the same way about Wick in Caithness. I have McDuffie ancestors here in South Carolina and just got chills reading what you wrote!

  2. Tanja Cilia

    Here is my Selkie poem:

    Selkie Poem

    See Neil MacCodrum,
    Handsome and rich, old-young man
    Not wanting a wife

    Old before his time
    Blamed Adam for Man’s doom
    And losing Eden

    Old woman warned him
    He might be bewitched himself
    Somewhere in Orkney

    One day in the ebb
    He chanced a crowd of selkies
    With their seal-skins off.

    Bodies white as snow
    They frolicked in the water,
    Relishing the sun.

    Goodman crept closer
    They fled off in disarray;
    Left one pelt behind.

    Seal-maiden bereft
    Of her means of going home
    Had to marry him.

    Bore him seven kids
    Orcadian yet half Selkie;
    Yet remained home-sick.

    Four sons went fishing
    In their boat with Goodman dad
    Youngest girl stayed home.

    Eldest gathered whelks
    Selkie Wife searched but and ben
    For her long-lost skin.

    Peedie lass asked mum
    If she could join the hunt-game
    And what was its aim.

    “Bonnie skin for shoe
    That would cure your wee sore foot”
    Was the vague reply.

    Bairn’s face brightened up;
    She had seen Goodman hide it –
    “He gloured at it for aye!”

    Selkie wife felt bliss
    Took the skin and fled to sea,
    “Fare thee weel, buddo!”

    Goodman and sons saw
    Two Selkies amid the waves;
    Wife and Selkie Man.

    “Goodman o’ Wastness
    Aye, I liked thee weel enough
    But my life’s the Sea.”

    Goodman haunts the shore
    To this day, looking for her;
    She will not return.

  3. Meg

    I am sure that people won’t believe this, but my family can trace our genealogy to clan McDuffy/Macfie and I have a daughter that was born wig webbed fingers on both hands. (Bilateral syndactyly). The doctors say it is a genetic mutation that they can’t explain. After reading about the Macfie origin lore maybe we have an explanation?


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