[from D. Robertson, Tour, 1794]
DEPARTURE FROM CASTLETOWN MARBLE QUARRY KIRK-MALEW GIANT'S QUOITING STONE FAIRY HILL VARIOUS SUPERSTITIONS OF THE MANX REFLECTIONS THEREON.
AFTER our return from the Calf we amused ourselves for the next day at Castletown; and early on the following morning proceeded on our journey.
About a mile from Castletown there is a very fine quarry of black marble, which is much esteemed by the natives for chimney pieces, tombstones, &c. That loftier flight of steps, leading to the noblest edifice in the world, was taken from this quarry, and presented to the Dean and Chapter of St. Paul's by the venerable Bishop Wilson.
There are also near Castletown, within the sea-mark, some quarries of limestone, which are wrought at low-water; and, during the recess of the fishery, employ some boats for its conveyance to the more distant parts of the Island.
On leaving the quarries, we visited the parochial church of Kirk-Malew; a gloomy and venerable building, situate, as the Manks churches generally are, in a romantic solitude: and the various monuments in the churchyard gave us another opportunity of admiring the pious veneration of the natives for their deceased friends.
From Kirk-Malew we proceeded to Kirk Christ-Rushen, and in our way passed the Giant's Quoiting Stones; two very lofty square pillars, placed at a considerable distance from each other, concerning which the neighbouring cottagers have a very chimerical tradition, that might astonish, but could not amuse the reader. At a little distance is Fairy-Hill, a noble Tumulus, or Barrow, most probably raised by the Danes over the ashes of many of their countrymen, who were here slain in battle: but tradition says, it was intended to perpetuate the remembrance of the death of Reginald, King of Man, who on this spot was killed, in single combat, by Ivar. This romantic hill, in the opinion of the credulous natives, is still the scene of many a nocturnal revel:
" What time, all in the Moon's pale
Dancing by mountain, wood, or stream,
To magic melody, the Fays
In green and gold and diamonds blaze."
Collins, whose poetry is exquisitely picturesque, describes Mona,
" That Isle where thousand elfin shapes are seen :"
and Dr. Langhorne, in his note on this passage observes, " that the Isle of Man is now almost the only place where there is any probability of seeing a fairy." The existence of these imaginary beings is still most devoutly believed in this Island: particularly, by the inhabitants of the mountains; and as they have invested them with unlimited influence over the fishery, they frequently supplicate their favour, or deprecate their wrath, by various offerings. When I formerly resided in the Island, I one day took a ramble up among the mountains, and, being benighted, sought shelter in a lonely cottage. The sole tenant of this clay built hut was an aged peasant of a pensive and melancholy aspect. He received me with much hospitality; trimmed his little fire of turf and gorse; and, " skilled in visionary " lore, beguiled the lingering hours."
From him I learned, that, notwithstanding all the holy sprinklings of the priests in former days, the fairies still haunted many places in the Island: that there were playful and benignant spirits; and those who were sullen and vindictive. The former of these he had frequently seen on a fine summer evening, sitting on the margin of the brooks and waterfalls, half-concealed among the bushes; or dancing on the tops of the neighbouring mountains. He described them as gay, beautiful, and by no means so diminutive as the English fairies: adding, that they were chiefly like women, but certainly more shy than any he was acquainted with; for they never permitted him more than a transient glance of their charms, and, on venturing to approach them, they immediately vanished. These sportive beings, my host observed, rejoiced in the happiness of mortals; but the sullen fairies delighted in procuring human misery. These lived apart from the others, and revere neither beautiful in their persons, nor gorgeous in their array. They were generally enveloped in clouds, or in the mountain fogs; and haunted the hideous precipices and caverns on the sea-shore. My host added, that to them, Manksmen imputed all their sufferings: for he himself had often heard them, in a dark stormy night, yell, as in barbarous triumph, when the tempest was desolating the country, or dashing vessels to pieces on the neighbouring rocks.
Besides the fairy-superstition, many of the Manks, like the natives of the "Hebrid Isles," believe in the second sight, and in warnings and foresight of their own death. Sometimes, amid the awful silence of midnight, many have heard themselves repeatedly summoned by name to depart: and several, in their lonely rambles, have met with a visionary funeral,which,unseen by any other person, followed the man destined to die, wherever he turned; till the apparition of the nearest relation then present seemed to touch him, when the whole instantaneously vanished; and the devoted wretch immediately felt a cold tremor over all his frame, and his heart affected with the sickness of death.
The Manks have also warnings of the death of others; at least so far as the following story may be credited; which I transcribe from Sacheverell's letter to his friend the celebrated Joseph Addison, who it is well known, notwithstanding the philosophy of his illumined mind, paid some deference to the probability of popular superstitions.
" As to the light being generally seen at people's deaths, I have some assurances so probable, that I know not how to disbelieve them: particularly, an ancient " man, who has been long clerk of a parish, has affirmed to me, that he almost constantly sees them upon the death of any of his own parish; and one Captain Leatines, who was chief magistrate of Belfast, " assured me he was once shipwrecked on this Island, and lost great part of his. crew; that when he came on shore the natives told him, he had lost thirteen of his men; for they saw so many lights going toward the church; which was the just number lost. Whether these fancies proceed from ignorance, superstition, or from any traditionary, or heretable magic or whether nature has adapted the organs of some persons for discerning of spirits, I cannot possibly determine."
So far says Mr. Sacheverell. We may however, without being guilty of presumption, impute these superstitions of the Manks to a native melancholy, cherished by indolence, and heightened by the wild, solitary, and romantic scenes to which they are accustomed from their infancy, A Manksman, amid his lonely mountains, reclines by some romantic stream; the murmurings of which lull him into a pleasing torpor. Half-slumbering, he sees a variety of imaginary beings, which he believes to be real. Sometimes, they may resemble his traditionary idea of fairies; and sometimes they may assume the appearance of his friends and neighbours, attending some nuptial or funeral solemnity. Presuming on these dreams, which the Manks enthusiast accounts supernatural visions, he predicts, with several general descriptions, some marriage or death in the neighbourhood: and when this prediction is lively in the minds of his friends, should any such ceremony occur; it immediately, in their opinion, constitutes the Manks visionary into a real prophet; but should no such prediction be then fulfilled, the credit of his future visions is in no respect diminished thereby.
I make no doubt but, amid hideous solitudes, a man of a melancholy or superstitious mind may insensibly form lively visions of some dreadful calamity he is about to suffer; and which may not only receive strength, but even completion, from a sombrous imagination heightened by traditionary terrors. With the world of spirits we are little acquainted. But I can never reconcile it, even to our ideas of the majesty, wisdom, and benevolence, of the Deity, that he would communicate to a few indolent recluses such revelations of " the unknown world," as could only flatter vanity, or accelerate human misery.