[From Folklore of the Isle of Man, A.W.Moore, 1891]


THE Isle of Man has been unfortunate in not having had competent collectors of its Legendary Lore. But few have taken the slightest interest in it, and those who have did not understand the language in which they could have learned it at first hand. The earliest of these collectors, and the one to whom we owe most of the tales which are given in the following pages, was George Waldron, an Englishman, who was in the Isle of Man, where he seems to have been acting as Commissioner from the British Government, to watch and report on the import and export trade of the country, between 1720 and 1730. He seems to have had but little knowledge of the Manx people and their ways, and the marvellous tales which he tells are given in his own language, find, probably, with many additions suggested by his fancy. After an interval of a century came Train, who had also the disadvantage of being a stranger, and who was, therefore, obliged to gather the greater number of the few additional tales he gives at second hand. The next collector of Manx Folk-Lore who began his work about 1860, was William Harrison, a Lancashire man, who lived for some time on the Island, being a member of the House of Keys, and devoted considerable attention to Manx antiquities. He has done good service in the cause of Folk-Lore by collecting the ballads, proverbs,&c.,which are printed in volumes XVI. and XXI. of the Manx Society's publications, and in editing Waldron s History. And, lastly, Jenkinson inserted some scraps of Folk-Lore in his " Guide to the Isle of Man," published in 1874. Campbell, the editor of the " Popular Tales of the West Highlands," who visited the Island in 1860, was a singularly competent observer, and might have done much for Manx Folk-Lore, even at such a late period, and in spite of his also being a stranger, if he had thought it worth his while. His visit was, however, only a very brief one, and, being discouraged at his Gaelic not being understood, and at the difficulty of extracting any information from the Manx peasantry, did not persevere. He describes his difficulties in getting into the confidence of the Manx peasants as follows: — "I found them willing to talk, eager to question, kindly, homely folk, with whom it was easy to begin an acquaintance. I heard everywhere that it used to be common to hear old men telling stories about the fire in Manx; but any attempt to extract a story, or search out a queer old custom, or a half-forgotten belief seemed to act as a pinch of snuff does on a snail. The Manxman would not trust the foreigner with secrets; his eyes twinkled suspiciously, and his hand seemed unconsciously to grasp his mouth, as if to keep all fast. "It is remarkable that no native Manxmen have, till recently, troubled themselves about collecting what, we suppose, they considered idle, if not mischievous, tales. If they had done so, and had recorded them in the original Manx, they would have conferred a boon upon those who are interested in such researches. Now it is, unfortunately, too late. The Manx language is moribund, and Manx superstitions, except in the more remote districts, are in a similar condition. Since even so recent a date as 1860, the change in the condition of the natives is simply marvellous, The constant and rapid intercourse with England, Scotland, and Ireland, the large emigration of the Manx, and immigration of strangers, the shoals of visitors who come over in the summer, and the consequent increase of wealth and prosperity, have produced their natural results, There are, however, remote parts of the Island, away from the towns and the main highways, whole beliefs in Fairies, Goblins, Demons, and Ghosts still remain; where the " Evil Eye" is still a power; where there is still a vague distrust of solitary old crones; and where the " Charmer" has a larger practice than the ordinary medical practitioner. But these things are not spoken of either to the stranger or to the educated Manxman, especially if a clergyman, and, even among themselves, they are mentioned with some sense of shame, and with a wish to keep them as secret as possible, so that the most diligent and craftily-put enquiries have extracted but little that has not been hitherto known. On the whole, the present state of the Isle of Man is so antagonistic to such superstitions that, to place the reader in a position which will enable him to understand the sort of people and the state of society in which they originated, it is necessary to draw a veil over the present, and to uncover the past as far as possible. This we are able to do only to a very limited extent, as the old historians, or rather annalists, were not at all concerned with the people whose history they were supposed to write, but merely with the movements of their rulers, dynastic and episcopal changes, battles and ecclesiastical squabbles. We append such meagre accounts as exist. The first writer who mentions the people in anyway was Merick, who was Governor and Bishop in 1577, and who confines himself to the astounding statement that the women when they went abroad, girded themselves with the winding sheet that they proposed to be buried in, " to show themselves mindful of their mortality.[actually Merick strongly criticises Hollingshed for these statements declaring them to be false!] "Speed, writing in 1627, copies this, and adds on his own account the fiction that " such of them (the inhabitants) as are at any time condemned to dye: are sowed within a sack, and flung from a rocke into the sea." Blundell, writing 30 years later, corrects the error about the winding sheets, which, he shows, were merely blankets or plaids, and mentions their houses, &c., as follows: — "These men's habitations are mere hovels, compacted of stones and clay for the walls, thatched with broom, most commonly containing one room only. Very few have two rooms, have no upper rooms — such as in their town they call lofts — nor any ceiling but the thatch itself, with the rafters, yet in this smoking hut ... doth the man, his wife, and children cohabit and in many places with ye geese and ducks under ye bed, the cocks and hens over his head, the cow and calf at the bed's foot . . . their constant diet is only salt butter, herrings, and oat cakes, here made almost as thin as a paper leaf . . . their drink is either simple water, or water mixt with milk, or at best buttermilk." Beer, he says, is only drunk when they meet at market.* Chaloner, who was Governor of the Island at this time, says that the Manx are " very civil . . . laborious, contented with simple diet and lodghings; their drink, water; their meat, fish; their bedding, hay or straw, generally; much addicted to the musick of the violyne bearing a great esteem and reverence for the publique service of God."+ Bishop Gibson's account, in the edition of Camden's Britannia published in 1695, adds nothing new. Waldron (1720-30) says that the houses of the peasantry "are no more than cabins built of sods, and covered with the same, except a few belonging to the better sort of farmers, which are thatched with straw . . . the greater part of them (the peasants) of both sexes go barefoot, except on Sunday or when they are at work in the field, and have then only small pieces of cow's or horse's hide at the bottom of their feet, tyed on with packthread, which they call carranes. Their food is commonly herrings and potatoes, or bread made of potatoes."+

Thomas Quayle, a Manxman, who wrote in 1812 about the agriculture of the Island, also mentions the cottages of the peasantry as follows: ''The walls are about seven feet high, constructed of sods of earth; at each side the door appears a square hole containing a leaded window. Chimney there is none, but a perforation of the roof thatch elevated at one end, emits a great part of the smoke from the fire underneath. The timber forming the roof is slender, coarse, and crooked. It is thatched with straw, crossed chequerwise, at intervals of twelve or eighteen inches, by ropes of the same material, secured either by being tied to the wall by means of coarse slates fixed and projecting, or by stones hanging from the ends of the ropes. From that end of the] roof whence the smoke issues to the other end, thereof gently declines in height. If the means of the inhabitant enable him to keep a cow, a continuation of the roof covers another hovel of similar materials, accommodating this valuable inmate. . . . The floor (of both portions of the hovel) is hardened clay; the embers burn on a stone placed on a hearth, without range or chimney; the turf-smoke, wandering at random, darkens every article of furniture, till it finds exit at the aperture in the roof or elsewhere. A partition separates the cottage into two rooms;over the chamber end is sometimes a loft, to which the ascent is by a ladder from the keeping room. The aspect of the inhabitants is in unison with their abode. The mother and children are bare-legged and bare-footed; their dark-coloured woollen garments squalid and unseemly. Yet, perhaps, this wretchedness is but in externals. This homely abode is warm and evidently not unhealthy . . . In the northern district, where quarries of stone are less accessible and lime more distant, the cottages continue to be built in the primitive manner. In the southern, where building materials are comparatively more plentiful, stone and lime are used in the new cottages more. The ancient mode of thatching and roping is still general"*. He is followed, in 1816, by Bullock, who declares that "what any English peasant would consider a state of actual starvation is scarcely regarded by Manxman as including any particular deprivation; from their birth they are habituated to live very hardly. Herrings, potatoes, oatmeal, and the same very moderate quantities, are the general fare equally of the small native farmer and the labourer. The latter resides contentedly in a cottage of mud, under a roof of straw, so low that a man of middling stature can hardly stand erect in any part of it. If to the common necessaries above stated the good people add a stock of turf for the fire and a cow, fed in the lanes and hedges, they enjoy the utmost abundance of which they have any idea. A chaff bed for the whole family, a stool, and a wooden table constitute the furniture of their mansion."** Finally, Campbell, in 1860, tells us that, "Of the poorer classes living in the mountain farms, and at the points and distant corners of the Island, these are still many who can hardly speak anything but Manx. Their hair is dark; the sound of the voices, even their houses, are Celtic. I know one turf dwelling which might be a house in North Uist. There was the fire on the floor, the children seated around it, the black haired Celtic mother on a low stool in front, the hens quarrelling about a nest under the table, in which several wanted to lay eggs at once. " From other sources we gather the following further facts about the Manx people of by-gone times :— A fireplace or chimney in their houses was quite a modern luxury. the chiollagh, or hearth, was made of a few stones laid on the floor, and the smoke found its way out either through the door or a hole in the roof. Frequently, from the scarcity of wood in the Island, they were too poor to afford a door, and used a bundle of gorse in its place. For burning they used turf, or even dried seaweed, front which latter they also got kelp for washing. Of their costume we have been able to collect the following particulars: — Train tells us, but without giving his authority, that the ancient Manx wore their hair long, and bound behind with a leather thong. The dress of the peasantry was made of kialter, a woollen cloth, neither milled nor tucked. It consisted of trousers, more recently of knee breeches, when blue stockings were worn,and a short coat and waistcoat, The colour of these garments was usually keeir, or dark brown, from the undyed fleece of the loghtan, or native sheep;but sometimes it was keeir-as-lheeah, `. brown and gray,"or keeir-as-gorrym" brown and blue, " the colours being mixed in the wool, Gorrym, " blue", was also a favourite colour. On their feet they wore oashyr voynee, a stocking without a foot, but having a string to fasten it under the sole; or oashyr-slobbagh, a stocking having no sole to the foot, but a tappet covering the top of the foot, with a loop to the fore toe, and a heel strap. Over these they had the carrane or kerrane, a cover for the sole and sides of the foot,made of raw hide, salted and dried, and laced with thongs of the same at the top of the foot. Train says that, in 1836, these were still worn by the peasantry in the uplands, but that they were being rapidly displaced by a shoe with a large buckle, and with the buckles the knee breeches came in vogue. Sometimes elderly people made inner soles to their carranes of pitched sheep skin, but this was generally regarded as effeminate. On their heads they had a bayrn, or cap, like the Scotch bonnet, but, at the beginning of the present century, this was discarded in favour of the tall beaver hat. The women wore a petticoat, of oanrey, of eglhinolley, or linsey-woolsey, which was usually dyed dark-red with scriss-ny-greg, a moss which grows upon the rocks by the sea, but it was also blue, keeir, or keeir and white chequered. It was full and loose, and fell to within six inches of the ground, Over this there was a loose jacket with a broad collar, called the "bedgown", usually made of linen, and dyed some bright colour, drawn in at the waist by a linen aprons On the head a mob cap, called quoif cooil corran, or cap shaped like the back of a sickle, dark blue or keeir stockings and carranes,or, at a later date, buckled shoes, completed the attire. A sun-bonnet was substituted for the mob cap in the summer, but frequently no cap at all was worn in the house, and when they went out they wrapped themselves in the plaid or shawl, which Bishop Merick called their winding sheet. It seems probable that in early days, before the time of English rule, the men wore the Scotch kilt, which at that time was worn by both Scotch and Irish. It must be remembered that all these garments we have mentioned were made either at home, or in the immediate vicinity of it. The women spun both wool and linen, which was woven by the weaver, or fidder, who was to be found all over the country. When the cattle were killed at Martinmas, and salted for winter consumption, their hides were kept and tanned at home; and the light beer, or jough, which was the usual drink, was generally home-brewed. The woollen and linen cloths were made into garments by tailors, who travelled from farm house to farm house, and who were usually famous gossips and story tellers. Stories, or skeeal, were told also by the old people during the long winter nights, which stories they had heard from their forefathers, and which they in their turn handed on to their children. As an illustration of this method of oral tradition, it is recorded that the poem of " Fin and Ossian " was written down a century ago from the recitation of an old woman, who, when she was. asked how and where she had learned it, replied "from her mother and grandmother and many more." She told them also that she remembered the name of Farg-hail, the man with the terrible eyes; and Lhane-jiarg, the man with the bloody red hand. Can the existence of superstitions among a people so excluded from the outer world be wondered at ? It is difficult in these days to estimate how complete this seclusion was, but a fair idea of what it was, even at the beginning of the present century, may be arrived at from considering the fact that the Battle of Waterloo was not heard of in the Isle of Man till the beginning of September, six weeks after it had taken place. Apart from their isolation, too, the people, who are of mixed Celtic and Scandinavian race, were naturally superstitious, so much so that Waldron stated "he verily believed that. idolisers as they were of their clergy, they would be even refractory to them were they to preach against the existence of fairies;" and at the beginning of the present century, we have the evidence of Sir Walter Scott, who was well informed about the Folk-Lore of the Island by his brother, who lived there, to the effect that "Tales of Goblins, Ghosts, and Spectres; legends of Saints and Devils,of Fairies and familiar Spirits, in no corner of the British dominions are told and received with more absolute credulity than in the Isle of Man.

We have divided our consideration of the Folk-Lore of the Isle of Man into the following chapters:-

(1) Legendary Myths.

(2) Hagiological, and Mytho-Historical Legends.

(3) Fairies and Familiar Spirits.

(4) Hobgoblins, Monsters, Giants, Mermaids, and Apparitions.

(5) Magic, Witchcraft, Charms, &c.

(6) Customs and Superstitions connected with the Seasons.

(7) Superstitions connected with the Sun, Animals, Trees, Plants,Sacred Edifices, &c.

(8) Customs and Superstitions, connected with Birth, Marriage, Death, &c.

(9) Customs formerly enforced by Law.

(10) Proverbs and Sayings.

Folk-Lore may be defined as being " the comparison and identification of the survivals of archaical beliefs, customs, and traditions, in modern ages;and though many will doubtless think that the attempt to perpetuate these figments of an ignorant and superstitious past is a mistaken one; yet, on the other hand, there has been a disposition of late years to recognise that they contain elements of instruction as well as of amusement, for they are.' often the only possible means of penetrating to the historic past of nations, and they are "certainly the only means of tracing out many of the landmarks in the mental development of man.'*

The wonders of the Isle of Man, according to Nennius, are " a strand without a sea . . . . a ford which is far from the sea, and which fills when the tide flows, and decreases when the tide ebbs"; and " a stone which moves at night in Glen Cinden, and though it should be cast into the sea, yet at morning's dawn it would be found in the same valley." I cannot display such wonders as these in this little Compilation, yet I think there will be found in it many quaint and Curious "things not generally known"; and I trust that it may not only interest Manx Folk and Visitor Folk, but that it may be accepted as a contribution —though an insignificant one to the science of Folk-Lore.

Thanks are due to the many kind friends* who have contributed scraps of Folk-Lore, and to Professor Rhys and Mr. Alfred Nutt, for assistance in Chapter 1.

A. W. MOORE. Cronkbourne, June, 1891.

1 Manx Society, Vol xxv., p. 57.
2 Manx Society,
Vol. x, p. 11.
3 Manx Society,
Vol xi, p. 2,
4 Quayle;
General View of the Agriculture of the Isle of Man, pp. 22-3.
5 "History of the Isle of Man, pp. 350.-1,

* In some cases the name of the contributor has been attached; but in others, as similar information has been given by so many different persons,this has not been practicable. Stories told to the writer, which have not been committed to writing by the teller, are marked Oral,


index next


Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received The Editor
HTML Transcription © F.Coakley , 2000