[From King Orry to Queen Victoria, 1899]




‘Oh! it’s a snug little island!
A right little, tight little island.’
DIBDIN. [Thomas John Dibdin (1771–1841), song - The Snug Little Island (1833)+]


ELLAN-VANNIN; Insula Mona; Isle of Man; Manxland, the central sea-girt pivot of the British Islands, has a history but little known beyond the limits of its own shores. No part of the United Kingdom possesses more interesting and valuable Norse and Danish remains and runic monuments than Mona.

The late Mr. Lemuel Gulliver has handed down to an admiring posterity some wonderful descriptions of some very strange lands and very strange people he met with in the course of his celebrated travels.

He dilated at considerable length on the peculiarity of their political constitutions, manners, and customs; but it is very questionable if there is anything in Dean Swift’s most admirable work—a work, if regarded as a political satire, probably unequalled— marvellous as many of his accounts undoubtedly are, that is really more strange or interesting and amusing than can be found in the nooks and corners of the Isle of Man and its most curious history.

The island is situated in latitude 54° 15’ north, and longitude 4° 30’ west, in the Irish Sea, 27 miles west from St. Bee’s Head, near Whitehaven, in Cumberland, 15 miles due south from Burrow Head, Galloway, in Scotland, and 29 miles nearly due east from Strangford, in Ireland. The length from Point of Ayre, at the extreme north of the island, to Spanish Head, at the south of the main island, is 33 miles, and it lies north-north-east to south-south-west. The breadth ranges from 8 to 13 miles, but is much narrower at both the northern and southern extremities. The circumference of the coast line is between 75 and 80 miles, and the area 235 square miles, or 150,400 acres. There are, in addition to the main island, three smaller islets. The Calf of Man, the largest, off Spanish Head—so called from one of the ships of the Great Armada having been wrecked there, after being chased all round the North of Scotland by Sir Francis Drake [incorrect] — on the south, is some 4 or 5 miles in circumference. St. Patrick’s Isle, in Peel Bay, upon which Peel Castle was built, is only separated from the mainland by a narrow channel; and the third and smallest one is situated nearly midway between the main island and the Calf of Man, and is called Kitterland, or Kitter’s Island, and by its position tends to make the navigation of the Sound between Spanish Head and the Calf more dangerous than it would be otherwise.*

The population of the island, according to the return for the census of April 4, A.D. 1891, is 55,413, of which number 19,440 are in Douglas; and the number of houses is 10,097. This census, having been taken in the spring of the year, does not, of course, include any of the great numbers of visitors and ‘trippers’ who go to the island in the summer months in their thousands, far outnumbering the resident population; nor does it take account of the large number of fishermen who at this season of the year are away at sea, engaged on the Scotch and other fishing-grounds.

The Manx tradition is that the name of their country is derived from Mannanan-Beg- Mac-y-Lier, who was the first person that ever conquered the whole island and held it under one undivided rule. From his name is derived the native name Mannin or Vannin, which was afterwards reduced to Man. The people are called Manx, or Manks, and they term their island home Ellan-Vannin.

Tacitus, the Roman historian, named the island Mona, but Ptolemy, a Greek, who lived about A.D. 140, called it Monaeda, or ‘Further Mona,’ to distinguish it from Anglesea.

The shores of the Isle of Man are mostly composed of bold and precipitous rocks, of mica slate and clay slate, with mighty boulders of granite in some parts, and in the south with limestone. These cliffs in many places rise to several hundred feet, and are indented with most beautiful bays and valleys. Perhaps in no other place in the world does the traveller see so many changes of scenery in so small a space.

A bold ridge of lofty hills or mountains intersects the island from south-west to north-east, nearly throughout its whole length. These hills comprise three chains, separated each from the other by high tablelands, traversed by somewhat narrow openings.

The highest mountain, Snaefell, rises a little over 2,000 feet above the sea-level. North Barrule, the next in altitude, is some 200 feet lower. From the summits of all the mountains the coasts of England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales can be seen with the naked eye in clear weather. When the Cumberland Hills are very plainly visible from the east coast of the island, it is a pretty sure sign of rain. Amid the mountain range several small streams take their rise —the Neb, the Colby, the Lhane, the Black and Gray waters and others —and find their way into the sea at Peel on the west coast, Douglas, Ramsey, and Laxey on the east. From the last two streams, the Dhoo, or Black, and the Glass, or Gray, the town of Douglas derives its name. They unite some little distance from it, and enter the sea at Douglas Harbour. The mouth of the river Lhane is where King Orry landed.

It is not only for its beauties of scenery that this land is interesting, but for its peculiar political constitution, which is in reality the oldest in the civilized world, except, perhaps, the Chinese, of which we know very little—comparatively nothing.

It is an inexhaustible field to the antiquary and the statesman. Man is inhabited by an aboriginal tribe of the great Celtic family, upon which have been grafted the Scandinavians from Norway. The Manx language has, during the present century, almost died out from practical and daily use, and, as it should do, has given place to the English tongue, which bids fair to become in time the predominant speech of the civilized world.

The peculiar laws and institutions of the land still survive, and are likely to do so, as long as the inhabitants continue the course they have pursued ever since the island has been attached altogether to the English Crown, and wisely adopt such reforms as improve and do not destroy their several laws and institutions.

The Isle of Man was never at any time thoroughly and completely united to, or absorbed by, either England, Scotland, or Ireland. To this day it is a perfectly distinct realm, independent, to a certain degree, of the British Imperial Parliament, and under its own native Legislature, the House of Keys, and its Tynwald Court, with a most singular relation between its Church and State, having, as Lord Coke says, ‘Such laws, the like whereof are not to be found in any other place’; so that, said Lord Chancellor King, ‘if the ancient discipline of the Church were lost, it might be found, in all its purity, in the Isle of Man.’ Burke once, speaking of this island to Dr. Johnson and his friend Boswell, and alluding to its most interesting laws and customs, jestingly, but very appropriately, quoted the famous line of Pope: ‘The proper study of mankind is Man.’

The Isle of Man, or Mona, is the central isle of the British group, connected geographically and geologically with Scotland, ethnologically with Ireland, politically with England, and ecclesiastically with all three. It is said to have been the central fane of Druidism, in the old Celtic period, and it was most certainly the great stronghold of the Vikings and Norsemen—those noted sea-kings of old—long before the Saxons or Danes established a footing in either England or Ireland.

In the Mona’s Isle the ancient mariners — those gallant Norsemen (call them pirates, sea-robbers, buccaneers, and filibusters, if you will)—introduced trial by jury, and constituted a representative Parliament in the House of Keys and Court of Tynwald, years—ages, before either of these two great and free institutions was known in Britain. Indeed, England has learned and copied very much from Mona.

The Manx were the first inhabitants of the British Isles who threw off the great Papal yoke. Single-handed, they cut themselves free from Papacy so early as 1430 A.D., a century before the English Reformation under Henry VIII.

Although the Bishopric of Man is the oldest in the British Islands, the first Bishop being St. Germanicus, who was constituted by St. Patrick in 424 A.D., when that great man landed in Mona on his way to Ireland, the Manx is the only Protestant nation of Europe that has not been excommunicated by one or other of the Popes of Rome; and it consequently holds alike towards Papal and other Protestant kingdoms — the most peculiar position in Christendom.

The Manx claim the institution of what is now the highest order of British chivalry, if indeed it is not the noblest order in the world. Tradition states that a King and Queen of Man instituted the Order of the Garter many years previous to Edward III. doing so in England.

They are also not a little proud of the acknowledged fact that both Sir Robert Peel and Lord Brougham modelled several of their great fiscal and legal reforms after Manx examples.

No doubt the very littleness of Mona has been the cause of its having kept intact; and it is a singular Spectacle, in these days, to see an independent European nation—which Mona really is—without any National Debt; indeed, having a heavy claim against the British Treasury, and a yearly income actually more than its expenditure.

The miniature kingdom of Man, while it has marched in the front rank of European progress, still preserves with Asiatic immobility the old Tynwald Government, older than any of the Thrones or Constitutions of Europe.

The Protestantism of Mona is untainted, and dates from the days of Wycliffe. Her Sabbaths are a pattern—even to Scotland. In every family there is a Bible, and a domestic government; the latter, quite patriarchal in its way, is influenced greatly by the peculiar tenure of its lands—more akin to France than any other country. The relationship between the clergy and laity is most peculiar. Here it is really pastor and flock, without the slightest approach to priestly domination on the one hand, or abject submission and veneration on the other; there is that mutual love and respect subsisting between the clergy and the people that is both a pattern and a wonder. Superstitious the Manx people most certainly are — undeniably and perhaps grievously so—but, curiously enough, they are utterly free from anything of the kind in religious matters. Their religion is as orthodox as their belief in good people and fairies is absurd. The belief in the existence of these fabulous little creatures seems to be inherent in a Manxman’s blood, and from the highest to the lowest there are few, if any, who do not, more or less, entertain just a suspicion of credence in their existence.


* An amusing story is told about the Calf of Man and Kitterland. A certain Jarl or Earl, in the olden times of the Norse Vikings, who possessed both these islets, when on his death-bed called his old housekeeper to his bedside and asked her which he should leave her—Kitter’s Island or the Calf. The old woman, being of a rather avaricious disposition, turned up her nose at the idea of having a mere calf left to her, and at once chose to have Kitter’s Island. After the Jan’s death, when the distribution of his belongings was made, she was greatly chagrined and disappointed, to say nothing of being surprised, to find she had greedily chosen a mere barren rock in the midst of the ever boisterous channel of the Sound, instead of the Calf which, far from being a cow’s son or daughter, was a habitable island of some seven hundred acres in extent.

+[a fuller quote from Dibdin (son of the more famous Charles Dibdin is

"Daddy Neptune one day to Freedom did say,
If ever I lived upon dry land
The spot I should hit on would be little Britain,
Says Freedom, "Why, that's my own island.'
Oh! 'tis a snug little island,
A right little, tight little island;
Search the globe round, none can be found
So happy as this little island!"

Many Manx authors post Callow have 'borrowed' this quote and applied it to the Isle of Man - the London Manx even use the term in one of their toasts!]

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