[From Ellan Vannin, 1895]
THE character of a people will generally reflect their ancient
history and their physical sur roundings. Of none is this more true
than of the Manx people. By an ancient writer in the fifth century
they are termed "a tribe of Scots." Until the ninth century "Scot"
included the Irish.
I. The race is the Celtic. It came, in the distant past, from its Aryan home in the East, and took possession of the countries bounded by the Alps and the Rhine - the ancient Gaul - and spread over Britain, Ireland, Man, and the lesser islands of the west of Europe. The race had two branches - the Cymric, now represented by the Welsh, and the Gallic, now represented by the Irish, the Gaelic of Scotland, and the Manx. The three last have dialects which closely resemble each other, and show the identity of the language; that spoken by the Cymric (the Welsh) is more remote. The four belong to the Aryan group of languages, where also Sanscrit, Zend (the ancient Persian tongue), Greek, Latin, and German have their centre. It has been calculated that only about two-thirds of the Manx language are found in the Manx Scriptures and -Prayer- Book. There is something of the Scandinavian in the Manx nature, as might be expected, and as appears in the liking for a seafaring life in a degree not found in the Irish or Welsh or Highland. The Norse rule for three centuries must have led to a mixture of the two races, which perhaps was more in the south than in the north, where Godred Crovan, after his conquest at Sky Hill, allowed the natives to remain, choosing for himself and his followers the south ern section of the Island. In the schools of fifty years ago, whatever may be the case now, the study of navigation was a marked feature. The Manx sailor has proved himself to be among the most skilful and daring, and has often risen to the command of the ship on his own stormy coasts and on foreign seas. The sailor into whose arms the wounded Nelson fell at Trafalgar, it is related in an account which I have seen, was a Manxman of the name of Cowle. Less honourable, but true to this Norse feature, is the fact that among the mutineers of the. Bounty were two Manx sailors, one Christian and a Heywood from the Nunnery. Still, the Manx element in character is supreme. rhe Anglo-Saxon intermarriages belong mostly to modern days, and there never was an Anglo- Saxon invasion.
The Manx population of the early ages must have been much reduced by savage invasions and insular conflicts. The number given in Bede's time was 300 families, say 1,500 persons. This was in the early years of the eighth century. Eight hundred years after, in 1584, the Manx numbered only about 4,800. In the first decade of this century the numbers had risen to 34,316, in the second to about 40,000, of whom about 20,000 spoke Manx; now the census amounts to 55,608.
The emigration to England, the Colonies, and the United States of America during the last seventy years has been considerable. In Liverpool and Manchester the Manx have held annual gatherings. In South Africa and the Australasian Colonies many of them have found a home; in the United States, yet more, especially in Ohio. In the wider competition which this implies success has not failed, in commerce, in science, in Government, in the professions, in literature; it would be easy to give names typical in the several branches. The Manx and their descendants abroad, added to those within the island home, would raise the total number thousands above the insular census.
The Celtic prefix "Mac" was once common in Manx names, and told of the Celtic origin of the people. In 1408, nearly all the clergy of the island had this prefix, and in 1417 sixteen of the twenty-four Keys. The many names with the initial C and K show the last letter of the original Mac which has been allowed to lapse.
2. From race let us proceed to language, as to which the writer admits that in half a century he has colloquially forgotten much. In the region of Gaul, Spain and Italy, the original Latin of the Roman empire has been broken into the modern languages of the succeeding kingdoms. The Celtic, however, retained its hold in western and south-western Britain, and, of course, in Ireland and Man, which were never a part of that empire. Dr. Blair remarks that Celtic is one of the oldest among the languages of the world. It was at one time the language of ancient Gaul, northern Italy, the western parts of continental Europe bounded by the Rhine, as well as that of the British islands. Celtic history, which begins about the sixth century, includes the two great sections of the race, as already indicated, with the addition to the Welsh of Cornish and Armoric, the last being the language of Brittany in France. Manx is essentially what the Celtic was at first when Ireland and Scotland were peopled by that race. Irish, Gaelic and Manx can easily understand each other. Strangely, on the contrary, modern English has become what the sixth century could not under stand. Saxon and Norman-French invasion accounts for the fact. The surrounding sea in part accounts for the unchanged character of Manx. Some of its terms are singularly suggestive: for "child" the word is "lhiannoo," half a saint; "lhiabbee," a bed, is half food or life. "Balla" stands for a town or an estate: "Sheading" includes the term for six, and denotes the six political divi sions of Man. "Treen" denotes a division of land with tithes divided into three parts. In terms which express the theological or what relates to the Church, it is indebted to the original languages of Scripture almost entirely. In things sacred, it has a peculiar dignity in expression, of which, to the Manx ear, the last phrase in the Apostles' Creed is an example in the resounding swell of "y yea dy bragh farraghtin," the life everlasting. It has words to express the sublime distinctions of the Athanasian Creed. It can rise to the heights of the Te Deum and to the strains of Paradise Lost in Milton. Its resources now are best found in the Manx Bible. In specific ternis, it is not abundant; the genus has to be united to the various species often with a rather rough effect, instead of some more elegant specific word, as generally in English. In a Manx sonnet on the cuckoo, the word for its call is "gerrym," which means also the crowing of the cock. In the proverb on the divine approval of one poor man helping another poor man, the word means "laughter" for joy. Verbs are sometimes wanting as one Manx idiom may illustrate:
In the Manx Prayer-Book, the clergyman does not say "let us pray" as it is in English, but "let us take prayer," "lhig diun padjer y gooiall." There is a term for a gift over and above what was bargained for, "dooragh": "warp" and "tallee" express the three herrings followed by one more, as the fisherman counts his herrings by the hundred. When a gang of workers is so arranged that one of them is always resting, there is a word to describe the man who rests. There is no term for slave; the nearest approach to it is "stoudaystey," one required by government to work for less than the usual wages. Besides words from Hebrew and Greek, there are some from Latin, and, as might be expected, from Scandinavian, or more definitely, Norwegian and Danish, and many from English. "Qualtagh" denotes the first person you meet in the new year. In the terminations ness, ick, ell, ay, ey, as in Langness, Ronalds way, Snaefell, Soderick, Laxey, Ramsey, we have the Norwe gian; in those ending in "by" as in Jurby and Colby, we have I)anish. Some of the personal names are common to both Ireland and Man. It has been thought probable that the old spelling of the language has been lost in the ages when it was only spoken and not written. The present spelling seems to have been formed from the sound in speaking, and to date from the time of the Manx translation of the Scriptures. The etymology, it is said, is best understood by comparison with the kindred dialects. While the writer notes the features of the language with diffidence, from the long years that have passed since he was fairly familiar with it, he has pleasure in referring to Cregeen's Introduction to his Manx Dictionary, where the Manx student will find a useful summary of knowledge of the language. He remarks that the structure of the language, viewed grammatically, conveys the idea of elaborate culture in its "texture and beauty," and notes its subtle changes in initial letters, "in moods and tenses, and regards it as like a piece of exquisite network, interwoven together in a masterly manner, equal to the composition of the most learned, and not the production of chance. The depth of meaning that abounds in many of the words must be conspicuous to every person versed in the language."
Manx is purest in the north. Unlike English, it generally has the noun before the adjective. The "black horse" in English is the "horse black," "cabbyl dhoo," in Manx. There is a singular exception to this rule in the adjectiv "drough," bad, or evil, which is before the noun in the designation of Satan as the evil spirit, "drogh spirrid," and of bad women as "drough varrane" in the famous old "Carval." The differences between the dialects are less to the ear than to the eye. A Manx friend of mine could easily understand a sermon in Gaelic which he heard in Scotland. The Manx Fencible, when on guard in Ireland in the later years of the last century, easily understood the whisper of one Irishman to another, as they stealthily approached to attack him - " cur daa," "give it him," was Manx as well as Irish, and put the soldier ready for defence. It has been suggested by an article in the Encyclopaedia Britannica that the difference of the Manx dialect from the other two has arisen from the isolation of the Manx people under Norwegian rule. In the earlier third of this century Manx was generally the language of the labouring class and of the farmhouse, and it had its separate and regular services at Church and Chapel. Of the words in the language fifty-nine per cent. are Manx, twenty-one per cent. Norwegian, and twenty per cent. English in origin, with traces of Greek, Latin, and Hebrew.
Manx. literature is within narrow limits. Its first book, printed and published in 1709, was the Catechism of Bishop Wilson, the translation by Cowley from the Bishop's English. The Manx Bible, the Manx Prayer-Book, the Manx Hymn-Book, translated chiefly by Killey, the Dictionaries of Dr. Kelly and Cregeen, a part of Paradise Lost translated by Christian, of Marown, some religious tracts, are among the principal works in the native tongue.
A list of works in Manx may be found in Vol. II. of the issue of the Manx Society.
The Manx had close relations with Scotland and Ireland. The language was but slightly different in dialect from what was spoken at Bangor, Sabal, Iona, and Whithorne, and all were moved by the same religious life. The closest relation, perhaps, was with the Irish.