A fisherman and his wife lived on the coast of Ireland. They had one child, a beautiful daughter named Maire, who loved the sea.
When she was a small girl, her mother told her stories of the mermaids and selkie folk, and of Spanish shipwrecks, pearls and gold spilled among the ribs of sunken galleons, where fish played in silvery shoals.
When Maire was older, she gathered seaweed on the shore to fertilize her mother's garden. She looked for pearls but found only shells and sea-smoothed glass. She looked for the selkies and mermaids but saw only seabirds. When she became a woman, she walked by the sea for the pleasure of her own company and the deep silence under the roar of waves and wind.
One evening Maire found a dead seal by the water. Its dark eyes were dull and the gulls were wheeling overhead to pick her to pieces. Maire crossed herself and said a prayer for the poor thing and stayed to shoo the gulls until falling dark drove them away.
In the morning she emptied her creel of seaweed to dig into the garden and saw something flash as it fell. Wondering, she picked up a slender gold chain bearing a pendant of three pearls. She put it in her pocket and said nothing to her parents about it.
That evening she walked again to where she had seen the dead seal. The beast was gone; high tide had washed it away. As she turned towards home, a man called her name.
"Maire," he called, "I thank you for your kindness. Will you not wear my gift?"
She turned to see a young man walking up out of the sea. He skin shone white, and his eyes were wide and dark. Long, black hair lay wet over his shoulders and a sealskin was wrapped around his waist.
"Who are you?" she asked, stepping back.
"I am the son of the selkie for whom you prayed last night," he said, "I've watched you walk beside the sea many times. I left you a gift for your kindness to my mother, a necklace of Spanish gold and pearls.
Maire pulled the necklace from her pocket. The young man came forward, so softly that she felt no fear, and took the necklace from her hand. He fastened it around her neck, and it slipped into place, the gold smooth and cold on her skin, the pearl
pendant lying between her breasts.
"Maire, bring me your father's sealskin vest," he said, "and I will give you all the gold in a Spanish galleon, and more."
"Why would you want my father's vest?" Maire asked.
"It is my beloved's skin, and she cannot come back to the sea without it. I have waited long years for her, but I cannot venture into a house to take back her skin."
"Then I will surely bring it." "I will be here at midnight."
That night, after her parents slept, Maire took her father's vest down to the sea. The young man was waiting, a white gleam against the dark ocean.
"Here is the vest," Maire said, holding it out to him. He stepped close and took her hand. The touch of his cool skin made her shiver, but not with cold.
"And here is my beloved." He took the vest and wrapped it around her. He kissed her, and a long, sweet shudder coursed through her body. The world became brighter, full of rich smells and sounds, and the sea called to her. She flung herself into the water, rolling and playing in the waves with her lover, in her new skin.
"How can this be?" Maire asked, when they rested again on the shore and could speak.
"Your father found a selkie on an island, dead and cold with her living babe asleep in her arms," her lover said, "He took you back to his own wife, who was childless, and made your skin into a vest, to keep it from you by wearing it."
"They loved me as their own," said Maire.
"For that they will have luck at sea, and friends among the selkie-folk for all their lives."
Maire went back to the selkie-folk. But she visited her foster-parents often, first with her lover, and Spanish gold to ease their lives, and later with her children. She taught her children and grandchildren to call them Grandma and Granda. And even her great-grandchildren learned to call them so, for those who are good to the selkie-folk live long lives indeed.