[from Manx Carols, 1891]


BEFORE giving an account of the Carols themselves, it may be of interest to state how the present collection has been formed. During occasional excursions in Baldwin, Mr Fargher, the proprietor of the Mona’s Herald. came into possession of a number of Carols ; and being conscious of the decay of the Manx language—in 1821, 20,000 of the population of 40,000 spoke it—and remembering a remark by Prince Lucien Buonaparte that the purest Manx would be found in that district, he attached much importance to these discoloured MSS. In 1885, with the object of their preservation, he commenced publishing them in the weekly issues of the Mona's Herald, the translations being supplied by Capt. Robt. E.Christian, of Baldromma, Kirk Maughold, to whom the year before he had entrusted the MSS. Seeing these carols in the Herald, the present writer communicated with Mr Fargher, and mentioned that he had for some time past been collecting MSS. Carols, and, with the assistance and under the guidance of Mr W.J.Cain, had been translating them, with a view to publication. It was consequently agreed to join forces ; the collections which had been placed in Capt. Christian’s hands and those in the hands of the writer were compared, the duplicates or mere variants were rejected, and the result is the collection of Carols which form this book. The lion’s share of the translation work has been borne by Capt. Christian, while the revision of the English has been undertaken by the writer, and of the most arduous part of the whole, the revision of the Manx, the larger portion has been done by Mr W. J. Cain. With regard to this revision of the Manx, the question arose whether it was desirable to leave the Carols as originally written in the books from which they have been taken, or to alter them in conformity with a fixed standard of orthography. After much consideration, the latter course was decided upon, and the Manx Bible was taken as the standard. To enable the reader to estimate the wisdom, or the contrary, of our decision in this respect, it should be mentioned that all the Carols in this volume were written before the publication of a Manx dictionary, the first being that of Cregeen, in 1835, and many of them before the publication of the Bible in 1772, and also that most of them were the work of illiterate men. The result of this is that not only is the spelling of the Carol books atrociously bad, but it varies extraordinarily, and the attempts at phonetics by the writers are useless as guides to students of the language, as those who copied the Carols were ignorant of the value of letters in expressing sounds, and possessed, for the most part, but a rudimentary notion of spelling. With regard to the English translations, the writer’s idea was to leave them in their bald simplicity as literal renderings of the Manx. In this he was over-ruled, but, fortunately, many of the versified translations, especially those by Mr Gasking, are very literal, and the writer has also introduced, under protest, a few absolutely literal, though metred, translations in which no rhyme has been attempted. The chief sources from which these Carols have been derived are the books of Mr J. C. Fargher, of the late John Quine, of Ballacrink, Baldwin ; of the late John Kelly, of Baldwin ; of the late William Wade; of Ramsey, and of the late Robert Gawne, of the Rowany. Many other books have been perused and compared with the above, and, among others, one which had been purchased by the late George Borrow, author of " The Bible in Spain," when he visited the Island. This book is now in the possession of Professor W. Knapp, of Yale University, U.S.A., who is now engaged writing George Borrow’s life. The aforesaid George Borrow wrote as follows about the Manx Carols in his advertisement of a book. proposed to be published by him, containing the narrative of his wandering in the Isle of Man, in quest of Manx literature :—" The Manx have a literature—a native vernacular Gaelic literature. This fact has been frequently denied, but now established beyond the possibility of doubt, . . . . This literature consists of ballads on sacred subjects, which are called Carvals, a corruption of the English word carol. It was formerly the custom in the Isle of man for young people who thought themselves endowed with the poetic gift to compose carols some time before Christmas, and to recite them in the parish churches. Those pieces which were approved of by the clergy were subsequently chanted by their authors through their immediate neighbourhoods, both before and after the holy festival. Many of these songs have been handed down, by writing, to the present time. Some of them possess considerable merit, and a printed collection of them would be a curious addition to the literature of Europe. . . . The carvals are preserved in uncouth looking, smoke-stained, volumes, in low farm houses and cottages, situated in mountain gills and glens. They constitute the genuine literature of Ellan Vannin." We must not be led by George Borrow’s account, or by the name of carval, or carol, given to these Manx poems, to think that they are merely religious songs or ballads in celebration of Christmas ; indeed, out of the whole number, only six are immediately connected with the Nativity, and eleven more mention it, but only in connection with other subjects, such as the life and crucifixion of our Lord. By far the greater number of them are devotional rhapsodies which exhort the sinner to repent by picturing with terrible realism the agonies of hell. The punishment of the damned is contrasted with the reward of the saved, but the former received much more attention than the latter. Old Testament history also received much attention, the Fall of Adam, and the lives of Joseph, Jacob, Jonah, and David being favourite subjects. With the exception of the Carol entitled "Jacob’s Ladder ". (p. 218), the first part of which is copied from the English Carol of that name, they in no way resemble the familiar English Christmas Carols, being of purely native origin, and none of them have anything of the ballad character. But few of them are dated, and fewer still have their author’s names attached. The majority of the recorded dates belong to the first part of the 18th century, some perhaps, such as the Carval Drogh Vraane (p. 236) are earlier than this, but the greater number of the Carols probably date from the latter part of the 18th century (though there are probably earlier fragments, handed down by oral tradition, to be found in most of them), as it is clear that they were written by men who had the Manx Bible in their hands, and who were under the influence of strong religious enthusiasm. Now in 1772 the Manx Bible was published ; in 1775, John Crook, and, in 1777, John Wesley visited the Island, and stirred up the religious fervour of the Manx to an extraordinary degree. A few extracts from Wesley’s diary may be of interest, as they show the sort of people he found here at that time, and what he thought of them. On his first visit, in June 1777, he made the following entry :—" A more loving, simple-hearted people than this I never saw. And no Wonder, for they have but six Papists, and no Dissenters in the Island." On his second visit, four years afterwards, be wrote :—" I soon found what spirit they were of. Hardly in England (unless perhaps at Bolton) have I found so plain, so earnest, so simple a people. . . . . I met our. little body of preachers, they were two-and-twenty in all. I never saw in England so many stout, well-looking preachers together. If their spirit be answerable to their look, I know not what can stand before them. Having now visited the lsland round, east, south, north, and west I was thoroughly convinced that we have no such circuit as this either in England, Scotland, or Ireland. ; it is shut up from the world, and, having little trade, is visited by scarce any strangers. There are no Papists, no Dissenters of any kind, no Calvinists, no disputers. There is no opposition, either from the Governor (a mild, humane man), from the Bishop (a good man), or from the bulk of the clergy. One or two of them did oppose for a time, but they seem now to understand better. . . . The natives are a plain, artless, simple people ; unpolished, that is unpolluted ; few of them are rich or genteel ; the far greater part moderately poor. The local preachers are men of faith and love, knit together in one mind and judgement. They Speak either Manx or English, and follow a regular plan, which the Assistant gives them monthly. The Isle is supposed to have thirty thousand inhabitants Allowing half of them to be adults, and our societies to contain one or two and twenty hundred members, what a fair proportion is this ! What has been seen like this, in any part either of Great Britain or Ireland Here we have a picture of an undoubted religious revival Yet the people described seem to be scarcely of the same mould as the authors of the Carols before us Wesley, himself an Arminian in doctrine declares that there were no Calvinists in the Island, yet one who peruses the Carols which follow will own that many of them are imbued with the spirit of the sternest Calvinism — a spirit which was opposed to the teaching of Bishops Wilson and Hildesley, and of Wesley himself it is hard to explain how this came about. It may be that Puritan influence was very strong in the Island during the middle of the 17th century, a period of which we know very little and that the descendants of the men thus influenced were excited to enthusiasm by having the Bible at last made accessible to them by being printed in their native tongue. It was this possession of the Bible, we believe, together with the suppression of smuggling, that largely contributed to the success of Wesley where Wilson and Hildesley seem to have partially failed, though, of course, the marvellous power of the former in appealing to the people must not be lost sight of. Bishop Wilson had, in his long episcopate (1698-1755) succeeded, during a period in which the Established Church in England had sunk into the lowest state of inertness and neglect, in maintaining a high level of religious life in the Isle of Man, a truly notable achievement. His successor, Bishop Hildesley, who died in 1772, endeavoured with fair success to follow in his footsteps, while there was, on the whole, an efficient body of clergy who had been trained by them. And yet, only five years later, there was room for a great religious revival. At the beginning of the present century, however, this revival of religious enthusiasm received a serious cheek. At this period strangers began to come to the Island, either seeking refuge as insolvent debtors, or being attracted by the comparative cheapness of living, and, after the Tithe Riots in 1825, the Manx began to emigrate in large numbers. In this way the Isle of Man lost many of its Manx speaking people, and received a population which chiefly inhabited the towns and contained a dissolute and irreligious element. One result of this change was that Manx Carols ceased to be written, the last not being of later date than 1825.

Some reference has already been made to the main characteristics of these Carols, which perhaps may be most satisfactorily illustrated by a few extracts :



But who can paint the woes that fell
On those within the gates of hell!

And torments added to their woe
‘Twixt mountains crushed, of frost and snow,
And others suffering scorchings dire,
Condemned to lie on beds of fire.


What will become of those who swear?
What will become of those who curse?
When thou wilt draw near to them
In the form of a lion?
Thou wilt tear out their hearts;
Thou wilt rend them in pieces,
No one will assist them,
Or pity them.


Then the great wrath of God
Will burn for ever,
All must go to hell
Who will not repent,
They will burn in a lake of fire, Sinners for ever.


There are many that swear great oaths The Lord shall tear them in pieces.


The fire of Sodom would not be felt
In comparison with the eternal fire.


Account we soon must render,
The time is drawing near,
Soon shall the dreadful trumpet
Proclaim the judgement day.


Hell is the place of torture great,
Where they do cry and shout,
Burn’d in the everlasting fire,
Which never is put out.


Who will not repentance know,
Jesus tells us they shall go
Into hell, with fiends to be,
And the damn’d eternally.

(The New Jerusalem)

The greenest garden is as nought to it,
But only a a desert dark and cold;
With priceless gems of pearl its gates are set,
The very stairs and streets are made of gold.


Of the happiness in this city
My tongue cannot speak;
No mortal man ever of woman born
Can give an account of it.
With pearls and costly diamonds
The lofty city shines;
The streets are all paved with gold
As bright as the sun.


With golden crowns upon our heads,
To sing the Lamb and Moses’ song,
And eat with Christ of trees of Life,
While endless ages roll along.

These Carols were formerly sung in the parish churches on Christmas Eve, or Oie'l Verrey (a corruption of Ole Feaill Voirrey—Eve. of Mary’s Feast), as it was called, though many of them, both from their contents and their enormous length, were quite unsuitable for such an occasion. It was the custom for the people on this night to bring their own candles, so that the church was brilliantly illuminated. The decorations were of a very primitive kind, mainly consisting of huge branches of holly and festoons of ivy or hibbia. After the prayers were read and a hymn sung, the parson usually went home, leaving the clerk in charge. Then each one who had a Carol to sing would do so in turn, so that the proceedings were continued till a very late hour, and sometimes also, unfortunately, became of a rather riotous character, as it was a custom for the female part of the congregation to provide themselves with peas, which they flung at their bachelor friends. On the way home a considerable proportion of the congregation would probably visit the nearest inn, where they would partake of the traditional drink on such occasions, viz. : hot ale, flavoured with spice, ginger, and pepper. After this the parting song :—

Te traa goll thie dy goll dy lhie, &c.,
" Tis time to go home to go to bed," &c,

would be trolled out, and the last of the revellers would depart. The Oie’l Verrey services are still continued, but are entirely shorn of their riotous accompaniments.

It should be mentioned that of the Carols which follow, only two have been published before, and it is to be hoped that our readers will bear in mind that the difficulty of transcribing from the ancient and smoke-begrimed Carol books, and of rendering their contents into correct Manx has been very great, and will consequently deal gently with us. They must also remember that the translations and versifications have been done by various writers, so that there are some divergencies of method, which the revisers both of the Manx and English have not felt it within their department to do away with. The time, too, for revision, as is necessarily the case in a newspaper appearing weekly, and occasionally biweekly, has been very brief, so that acute observers will, we fear, be able to detect errors in spelling, which a second revise would have prevented. We hope, however, that whatever may be, thought of the merits of our work and its subject, we may be considered to have accomplished something by preserving a unique and curious literature from certain destruction within a few years.

Our hearty thanks are due to those who have co-operated in making this book. Of the chief workers, Captain Robert E. Christian of Baldromma ; and Mr W. J. Cain, of Mullin-e-Corran ; we have already spoken. They are, without doubt, the most accomplished Manxmen now living in the Isle of Man. Mr Robert Christian, of Cleveland, Ohio, has also given much assistance, both in translating and versifying ; the late Robert Craine, of Ballaugh, translated three carols ; and the late John Kelly, of Baldwin, one. Among the versifiers, the Rev S. Gasking has contributed by far the larger number. Next come the late Mrs S. N. Harrison, the Rev A. Beal, and Misses Bardsley and Dickson. The Rev F. B. Kermode, the Rev S. Hughes-Games, and Mr C. Hughes-Games have versified one each.


Note. — * There is a serious erratum which should be noted, viz. : on page 217 the fourth, fifth, and sixth lines in Manx should be omitted, and then the first nine lines of Manx will correspond with the first six of English,

fpc :

see R.L.Thomson The Genesis of Carval Gailcacgh J. Manx Museum vol VI #77 1960/61 pp102/3 in which he shows that the book was effectively set from the same type as used in the newspaper publication, the sheets being printed at the time (on newsprint) and then held in reserve until sufficient to warrant publication. My copy is already disintegrating into brown fragments as the newsprint deteriorates.


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Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received The Editor
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