[From Ellan Vannin, 1895]
BOLD words affirmed, in days when faith was strong
And doubts and scruples seldom teased the brain,
That no adventurous bark had power to gain
These shores, if he approached them hent on wrong;
For suddenly, up-conjured from the main,
Mists rose to hide the land - that search, though long
And eager, might be still pursued in vain. - WORDSWORTH.
We have now passed through the mists in which some real things could not be seen, and in which often some things have been unduly magnified; and we have at last landed on Ellan Vannin, and can see it apart from the fabulous.
Much of its history grows out of its geographical posi tion in the northern angle of the Irish Sea, between the 54th and 55th degrees of north latitude, and between the 4th and 5th degrees of west longitude, in the line of the North Channel as it enters the Irish Sea from the Atlantic, almost directly south of the Hebrides along which the Norwegian pirates came on their southern raids. It lies, as if pointing to the Solway Firth, just where the three king doms come within sight of each other and of Man. On its west, Ireland is within sight; on its north the Scotch shore round to the Mull of Galloway; on its north-east, Whitehaven, St. Bees, and the mountains of Cumberland; by a line direct towards the north from Kirk Bride, the fields of Scotland show their workers in harvest. The main features of Manx history arise from this central position among greater countries. It was in the natural course of things that the island should be peopled by the Celtic race near to it on the neighbouring countries, and that those countries should covet its possession; that, small and helpless, it should tempt the violent injustice of the early ages; that, when Christianity triumphed on the shores not distant, Christian zeal should seek the welfare of the little island within sight; that, in the line of the pirates from Scandinavia as they came south, the Manx, as well as the people of the Hebrides, should be plundered and oppressed; that, sheltered in comparative seclusion, its ancient ruins should be among the least disturbed; that, with its climate and attractions, and so easily accessible, it should now be a chief watering place for the peoples around; a climate not so severe in winter, or so oppressive in summer, singularly even in temperature, and in quality for health not inferior to some favoured places in the south of Europe. Plants and flowers elsewhere needing artificial shelter in winter, or cold season, flourish in the mild open air. The sea breezes are everywhere; the atmosphere is full of health; vegetation is rich, and sometimes rare; scenery is varied in form and colour; the free outlines of the fields tell of freeholds and independence of great ownership. The bold outline of the rocky coast agrees with the storms and tidal currents around. The transparent sea is free from the pollution of great rivers with crowded cities and towns on their banks; there is pleasant fishing in stream and sea, and opportunity for searching the rocks for shell-fish. The position of the island is thus an explanation of past and present, and a prophecy of its future. Its Ordnance Survey reports as its area 145,325 acres (Blue Book, 1893, p. 50).
Judging from the oldest map, the island has undergone great changes in outline and interior. On the north-west, it has been worn away by the tidal current that sweeps around Point of Ayre; on the north-east, it has gained on the sea: from the "Lhen Mooar," the great lake, to "Carlhane," the crooked lake, there are traces of the channel of the sea which once made Jurby an island. In the interior, there were extensive bogs where remains of the oak forests have been found in the depths, and lakes of which vestiges are still visible. Ballaugh was anciently Ballalough, the last syllable being the Manx for lake. In Lezayre, and Closelake, and Kirk Andreas, and Kirk Bride, were lakes whose marshy lines have not been entirely dried up; from the Sulby river, across the Regaby road, and towards Ballavoddan, are still traces for a student of the past when what is now land abounded in fish, in which the monks and bishop had an interest. The tenure of the land in some of those parts, I understand, is "Intack," which means that it was once common, as it would be if formerly the bed of a lake. Along the depressed line of road from Douglas to Peel, lakes are marked on the oldest map. At Port e Chee, near Douglas, is the wide area where probably the tide used to spread out beyond the point of meeting where the "Dhoo" (Black), flowing past Kirby, and the "Glass" (Grey) past Port e Chee, blended, and gave to Douglas its name. The idea seems not improbable that, once, the valley between Douglas and Peel was a channel of the sea, making the southern section an island. The skeleton of the Elk, and similar remains, found in the deep turf of the north, tell of a fauna different from the present, when animals of orders now unknown to Man had their place and home within its bounds. To pass from the animal to the human, there are the graves without a history, with inverted urns suggestive of heathen burial, as at Cronk ny Marroo, "the bill of the dead." There are the "Cronks," whose line from the north might be part of a system to telegraph round the Island the news of an invasion from Norway or elsewhere. The cross roads still remain, narrow and steep, that used to shorten the road from Douglas to Ramsey, and in other parts; they were the high ways, at last set aside by easier roads, some of which are now superseded by the electric tram.
In the modern changes there has been loss as well as gain to the scenery. The piers, the breakwater, the tower of refuge, in Douglas Bay; the marine drive on the Head, and the improvements at Port Skillion, on the one side; and, on the other, the splendid promenade to the hill of the Burnt Mill, with the electric tram to Laxey and Snaefell as an extension, are all additions to nature's beauty; and yet there is some loss of beauty in having Castle Mona shut in by other buildings, however comely, instead of being alone in grounds extending from Broadway to the ancient dwelling of McCrone, and from the coast line back to the road where the duke's gardener had his cottage in the good old times. To the modern improvements at Douglas should be added those at Ramsey, Peel, Port St. Mary, Port Erin, Laxey, and other places. Obscure recesses, but full of curious beauties, are rapidly opening out, such as Cregneash, which represents the oldest times in Man. The modern advance of agriculture also adds to the scenery as .well as the wealth: fields once lying waste are brought under cultiva tion, and districts unsuited for the plough are planted with trees, a measure which, if fully followed out, would, in the course of years, add much to the resources of the Island.
It may not be easy to define the special attractions of the Island. There is, of course, the sense of seclusion from the whirl of ordinary life in the larger country; there may be the sense of solitude in the quiet recesses by sea, or on mountain range. Besides isolation from the wider world, there is the life-giving atmosphere, the fresh scenery, the pure sea ever near. On each week-day there are the stirring scenes of departure and arrival from the chief places on the opposite coasts of England, Ireland, and Scotland. In addition to the unusual variety of fine scenery, there are the ruins - a study by themselves. To some, no doubt, the sail is a drawback, with liability to storm; but the steamers are among the finest in the home navy of the United Kingdom, and the voyage is not much beyond three hours and a half, and the accommodation, easily obtained, all that reasonableness in charge, courtesy in bearing, and trustworthiness in provision, can make it.
There are three methods of seeing the Island. One is by sailing round it on a fine day, a trip of six hours from Douglas Bay, turning northwards. Along the coast head land and bay alternate, Groudle, Laxey, the Dhoon, Maug hold Head, Ramsey. At Ramsey the Bahama Bank, with its flashing light by night, is not far away; King William's Bank also, so named from his narrow escape there from shipwreck on his way to the battle of the Boyne. Then, with glimpses of Scotland on the right hand, the course, bending round Point of Ayre, brings to the north-west, where the brave Elliot, in 1760, defeated the French Squadron under Thurot. Along the west side of the Island rich views rise in succession : the Islet of Peel, with harbour behind; "Purt ny Hinshey," as it used to be named- in English, "The Harbour of the Island"; and just opposite to it, on the sea, the meeting-place of the tidal currents from north and south at "Contrary Head." Farther south projects the rock of Niarbyll, where crabs shelter in good numbers, and Fleshwick Bay; yet grander scenes open next at The Calf Spanish Head, and Langness; and so, passing Port Soderick, Douglas Bay finishes the excursion.
There is a grander view of the Island from the summit of Snaefell, two thousand feet above the level of the sea, and commanding, at one glance, one of the finest views in the United Kingdom. Immediately under the eye of the spectator is the Island, with its range of mountains from north to south, with many a valley and glen, and an area of 140,985,470 acres of land; beyond the sea are Whitehaven and the mountains of Cumberland, the fields of Scotland, the Mull of Galloway, the mountains of Mourne, and perhaps, if the day be clear, Snowdon - a total extent of prospect of about 3,000 square miles.
But neither the sail nor the ascent should prevent a minute inspection of the inland scenery. I knew a visitor who, becoming specially absorbed in one object, made the view from Snaefell suffice for his sight of the Island. The better method is to take road and rail and walk, to trace the pure streams in the cascades of Glen Helen, Glenmay, Rhenass, the Dhoon, and elsewhere; and to find out in valley and quiet recess the gems of the scene, the rare plants or flowers, the glimpse of the sea, the secluded places, where most of the poetry of the Island will be found.
The authorities of the Island are awake to the import ance of guarding public order amid the myriads of visitors from all parts of the kingdom. In such vast gatherings there will naturally be some of the less reputable. The large watering places have seen the necessity, in their own interest if not for higher reasons, of maintaining sufficient p6lice supervision, and that it would be commercially unwise to allow in those who refuse the moral restraints of public decency, what would offend the moral sense of their best customers, and lower the reputation of the place. in a similarcourse, the authorities, whether in the governor and magistrates, or municipal powers, will not lack the support of an enlightened public opinion in the Island. Such care may drive away the worthless and the profits of their habits of excess, but more than an equivalent will be realised in the well ordered families with their young people, whose moral surroundings will be thus guarded.
One great difference between the present and the past of half a century may he mentioned as to public Sabbath observance. The old times had their defects, but on the Sabbath Douglas, for example, had no shops open, no boating in the bay as now, no excursions by sea, and few by vehicle, no oyster and cigar shops doing business, nor sacred concerts, as some term them, with which to while away the evening hours.