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Blue Men of the Minch

Loch Broom
[58.05404160601192, -5.892065604932105]
Siobhán Beatson
Ullapool Museum

When the tide is at the turning and the wind is fast asleep, And not a wave is curling on the wide, blue deep, Oh, the waters will be churning in the stream that never smiles, Where the Blue Men are splashing round the charmèd isles.1

The Minch, also known as Struth nam Fear Gorm, or the Stream of the Blue Men is notorious for its violent seas and restless waves, that are often caused by fierce Atlantic storms. However for many years the treacherous currents have often been blamed on a clan of mythical beings that have the ability to stir up the waves with their violent swimming and create storms.2

The Blue Men or Storm Kelpies are mythical creatures that are said to live in caves under the Minch, and resemble men in almost every way apart from their bright blue appearance and shiny scaly skin, some myths have hinted to them having tails like mermen, but most accounts only describe them from the waist up. They work together as a family or clan, with a chief ruling over them, and search the Minch for sailors to drown and stricken ships to bring down. Legend says that if the Blue Men are respected and treated well by the sailors then the humans will be treated well in return.

Their leader is said to challenge the captain of the ship to a rhyming contest and should the captain win the ship would be saved. Many ships are said to have floundered due to the lack of skill of the captains. 

One story goes as follows…

The chief of the Blue men bobbed up in front of the ship, and , when waist-high among the tumbling waves, shouted to the skipper:

Man of the black cap. What do you say,

A your proud ship cleaves the brine?

No Sooner were the words spoken that the skipper answered;

My speedy ship takes the shortest way,

And I’ll follow you line by line.

This was at once an answer and a challenge, and the chief of the Blue Men cried angrily:

My men are eager, my men are ready

To drag you below the waves

The skipper answered defiantly in a loud voice:

My ship is speedy, my ship is stead,

It is sank it would wreck your caves.

The chief of the Blue Men was worsened. Never before had a seaman answered him so promptly and so well.

He has no power to injure the ship, because the skipper was as good a bard as he was himself… He signalled to his followers to dive; and down below the wave ridges they all vanished.3

This tradition resembles that of norse flyting, where opponents would challenge each other to a battle of verse and wits, exchanging rhyming insults. 

There are many variations of the origins of the Blue Men of the Minch, some suggest that they originate from the Norse having North African slaves and throwing them over the side of ships, others that they derive from the Tuareg people of Saharan Africa, who were known as the Blue Men of the Desert. Another possibility is that they are linked to the Picts, or ‘painted people in latin’. 

Regardless of their origin they have become one of the most popular folk tales in the North West Highlands and their myth has terrified generations of fishermen.

 1 Donald Alexander MacKenzie, Wonder Tales from Scottish Myth and Legend (Ontario, 1997),  p. 79

2  Fee, ‘Wordsmiths of the Waters: The Blue Men of the Minich’, Wee White House Blog, (2015),  [Accessed 22nd March 2023].

 3 Donald Alexander MacKenzie, Wonder Tales from Scottish Myth and Legend (Ontario, 1997),  p. 79