The Blue Men of the Minch

Lydia Kendall

Hello my wonderful lads and lasses,

From time to time, we’ve explored many legends of the Scottish folklore. But what we haven’t discussed is the Blue Men of the Minch. Who are these men?

Well, to be honest, a wildly inaccurate term would be mermen. But not the ones you are thinking of – they do not have a fish tail, nor do they exchange their voice for a chance to walk on human legs. 

The Outer Hebrides. Image source.


The blue men of the Minch, also known as storm kelpies (Scottish Gaelic: na fir ghorma), are mythological creatures inhabiting the stretch of water between the northern Outer Hebrides and mainland Scotland, looking for sailors to drown and stricken boats to sink. They are mostly found located in the Minch, and they do not seem to have counterparts in any other country of the world. 

Apart from their blue color, these creatures look a lot like normal humans, and are about the same size. Most of the time “The Blue Men Of Minch” swim the seas, but sometimes sleep in underwater caves. While the Blue Men sleep the weather could be fine and the seas calm.

But if they wake up…They can create storms whenever they want, and you don’t want to be caught up in them, especially if they the Men are really mad. So, be careful when you travel in the Minch!

Blue Men of the Minch. Image source

Description and common attributes

It is said that the blue men swim with their torsos raised out of the sea, twisting and diving like porpoises. They can speak, and actually one of the challenges they present to sailors is a rhyming ‘competition’. They engage in a rhyming duel, reciting a verse to the captain of the ship, and if he engages and completes it successfully, they spare the ship. Those with a less sharp tongue and wit, are left to perish at their hands…

I am not sure if I would have survived! I do get tongue-tied under pressure 😛

Here is a description of such a challenge between the Chief of the Blue Men and the Captain of a vessel as described by Donald Alexander Mackenzie, a Scottish journalist and folklore expert:

Chief of the Blue Men:

Man of the black cap, what do you say

As your proud ship cleaves the brine?

Skipper answers;

My speedy ship takes the shortest way,

And I’ll follow you line by line.

Chief of the Blue Men:

My men are eager, my men are ready

To drag you below the waves-

Skipper answers:

My ship is ready, my ship is steady,

If it sank it would wreck your caves.

The Chief of the Blue Men, having been answered strongly and with confidence by the skipper of the vessel, let the ship sail on to safety.

The Blue Men wear blue caps and grey faces which appear above the waves that they raise with their long restless arms.

Different explanations

These Blue Men might be nothing more than a simple personification of the sea. They could have also originated with the Pics, whose painted bodies may have given the impression of men raising themselves out of the water if they were seen crossing the sea in boats that might have resembled kayaks. 

Another explanation might lie with the North African slaves the Vikings brought with them to Scotland, where they spent the winter months close to the Shiant Isles in the Minch. The Scottish Gaelic term fir ghorma, meaning “blue men”, is the descriptor for a black man according to Dwelly. Thus sruth nam fear gorm, one of the blue men’s Gaelic names, literally translates as “stream of the blue men”, or “river, tide or stream of the black man”.

The mythical blue men may have been part of a tribe of “fallen angels” that split into three; the first became the ground dwelling fairies, the second evolved to become the sea inhabiting blue men, and the remainder the “Merry Dancers” of the Northern Lights in the sky. The legendary creatures are the same size as humans but, as the name implies, blue in colour.

Capturing them?

No surviving tales mention attempts to kill the demons, but a Gregorson Campbell story tells of the capture of a blue man. Sailors seize a blue man and tie him up on board their ship after he is discovered “sleeping on the waters”.[9] Two fellow blue men give chase, calling out to each other as they swim towards the ship:

Duncan will be one, Donald will be two

Will you need another ere you reach the shore?

On hearing his companions’ voices the captured spirit breaks free of his bonds and jumps overboard as he answers:

Duncan’s voice I hear, Donald too is near

But no need of helpers has strong Ian More.

Sailors thus believed all blue men have names by which they address each other.

If you ever find yourself sailing through the Minch, have as a shield your wit and a sharp tongue, in case you are dragged into a rhyming competition…Do you think modern day’s rappers would succeed? Like…Eminem?

Let me know your thoughts in the comments! 

Until next time…

Written by Lydia Kendall 

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