[from Manx Notes & Queries, 1904]
JOAN MERE'S HOUSE AND WELL.
" Under the Chasms, on the shore, is a well, near the sea. The salt water comes into it at high tide, but when it is ebbing the fresh water spring drives the salt water out of it, and the water is very good. The old men called this well Joan Mere's House. The place is covered with very great rocks, and is something like a cave, and they called it Joan Mere's house, instead of Joan Mere's well perhaps the mermaids were sleeping in it at night. Well, there were two men, but both are dead now, sir, and they used to tell about the mermaids they had seen, near this place. One of them saw them on a rock in the west corner of this bay, and the other in the east corner, which, he said, was a male; the female in the west corner had very long hair, and her skin was white, she had very large breasts, and when she saw them coming too near, she glid down from the rock. She dragged herself along with her hands until she got into deep water, and immediately disappeared. The male, who had his hair and beard like a man, used to swim about the rocks, and once was seen, by one of the fishermen, swimming through the opening between the Sugarloaf and the mainland, and was turning round and watching every object until he got some distance off the land, and then he dived and disappeared."
A DEAD MERMAID.
"I have heard from a man from Ballakilpherick that once, when going down one morning in search of shipwreck, as there is sometimes floating timber coming on shore near the hollow of the church, they found a dead mermaid on the strand, and they went home and got a spade and made a grave, and buried her in Lhag ny Killey."
THE MERMAID'S GREEN.
Between Bow Veg and Glen Wither, on the coast north the Sound, is a place called Lhiondaig Pohllinag, or the Mermaid's Green, or Garden, and the tradition is that the mermaids haunted it and sported about, basking themselves there.
SHENN LAA CHIBBYR USHTEY.
The old fishermen used to mark the twelve days after the fifth day of January, each day representing a month, and they wrote down what airt (quarter) the wind was at, and whether it was wet or dry, and allowed that each month would be like the day that stood for it, more or less, and farmers are keeping it up still. Those that mind it, and mark the days, say it is always coming true.
This is in Manx the Shenn laa chibbyr ushtey (Old feast of the water well) of Bishop Phillip'e time, or twelfth day, and was the last day of Yule in the Northern Calendar. Formerly it was a day of revelling and called Laa giense (Day of dancing) ; no fire was allowed to be lent then and there were many performances, such a: " Cutting off the fiddler's head " and the laart bane (white mare). It was a time of " best wishes," feasting, and merry-making, with lots of mummery, and the season for divination
THE USE OF SEA SHELLS FOR DRINKING, AND OTHER PURPOSES.
Waldron (1726) tells us that in his time and, of course, long before him, the Manx at their marriage feasts sent up broth in wooder piggins. This they sup with shells called sligs he adds, very much like our mussel shells, but larger. But it is the scollop shell, the Pecten maximus, which entered so largely at their festival occasions. Turning to Kelly's Manx Dictionary, we find mention made of the shlig raucan, or the scollop shell, which was formerly used for a drinking cup.
The custom of drinking out of shells is of great antiquity, and was very common among the ancient Gaels. Thence the expression s often met with in the Fingalian poets: The hall of shells, the chief of shells, the shell and the song. The scallop shell is still used in drinking strong liquors at the tables of those gentlemen who are desirous to preserve the usage of their ancestors.* Macpherson says -" After the feast, when the Hebridean chiefs returned home after a successful expedition. . . the harp was then touched, the song was raised, and the slipa-crechin, or the drinking shell, went round." (1) Flintoff observes :"The culinary utensils of the old Britons were earthenware, the shells of risk, and sometimes wooden bowls."(2)
Whitney, in his Century.Dictionary, sub nomen scallop, says:
The shell of Pecten maximus is often used for scalloping oysters. Scallop now in culinary terminology, is a small shallow pan, in which fish, oysters, mince meat, etc., are cooked, or are finally browned after being cooked. This was originally a large scollop shell; it sometimes is so still, or is made in the exact form of such a shell. Scalloped. oysters were at first done literally in distinct scallop shells.
Shell: Icelandic, scel; Swedish, skal; Danish, skaal; Old Saxon and Frisian, scale, skal (3) stand for a bowl to drink from, a cup, a pot, and point to the same use in Teutonic lands.
The Irish name for a scallop shell or a cup is Creach, and creachan. Creachan in Gaelic means also a rock, a hard rocky surface, a scollop shell, a cup.
In Gaelic it is slige chreachainn ; and in Manx shlig raucan, where the "c" (or "ch") is eclipsed. Shlig, or slige, in Gaelic and Irish, itself means shell.
We see that the Manx name for scollop, which occurs in Kelly's and Cregeen's Dictionaries, as roagan and raucan, has no real existence, and should be replaced by the proper word creachan, to make sense of it!
Then we have in Manx the slblig screebey-a large mussel shell, which the country people used to scrape their sowen pots with.
The scollop shell was also used by the Manx fishermen for a lamp. They put the rush in, which was hanging out from the edge, and the former was filled with cod oil. It is also called tan rogan (from teine and creachan) by them.
The maritime Laplander during the night uses a lamp. A sea shell holds the oil which supplies the wick, made of a kind of rush, and thus is the constant light of a lamp readily procured from materials near at hand. It exactly resembles the Manx tan-rogan! (4)
* See Armstrong's Gaelic Dictionary, 1825.
(1) The Ancient Caledonians, etc., by. John Macpherson, D.D., Minister of Slate, in Isle of Skye. London, 1768: 4to., page 328.
(2) The Rise of Progress of the laws of England and Wales, by Owen Flintoff. London, 1840.
(3) Skal. in Manx, is a flat dish, a saucer; skaaley, a flat wooden dish used in wont (Cregeen).
(4) See Travels. to Sweden, Finland, Lapland to the North Cape, 1798-9, by Jos. Aeerbi. London, 1802: Vol. 2, page 190.
RANGE OF WELSH TRADITIONS IN THE ISLAND.
We have no precise evidence of any Welsh rule in Man, although Cumming alludes to it in definite terms. According to him, the Welsh dynasty extended from 650 to 888. It is thought that both Cynan and Howel lived and fought for the supremacy in Man, that finally Howel was driven out, and that it was then held by Cynan, who died in 816. His daughter, Etthil, is said to have married Merveyn Vreich, her father-in-law being Goriad, that she had a son, Guriad, who was slain by the Saxons in 877.
An inscription, running Crux Guriat, was discovered in 1896 by Mr Kermode, on a stone by the roadside at Port-y-Vullin, 1½ mile S. E. of Ramsey, which stood originally within the burial ground of the old keeill on Ballaterson Treen.
There is a very distinct tradition that the cairn of the Cloven Stones, at Laxey Bay, is the grave of a Welsh prince, who invaded the Island, and, having landed at Laxey, was slain in the first engagement with the natives and interred where he fell. In the genealogies of the men of Cumbria and Strathclyde the name of Guriad (877) is mentioned, and some " Gwryat, son of Gwryan in the North," according to the Triads, was one of the Kings of the Welsh who were of servile origin. As the inscription and the tradition current at Laxey occur on the eastern side of the Island, it wound show that any contact must have come from Cumbria or Strathclyde, but even then their influence can only have been very slight and transitory. There are no traces left of any Cymric place-names, or lore. In the south of the Island we have a hill called Cronk-y-Vretney Veg and Vooar, above the Struggan on the Mull, and another near Castletown, which, is I am told, had their names from the fact that Wales could be discerned from them.
Principal Rhys informs me: "That the story of `Welsh rule over Man' is due mostly to confusing Mona=Anglesey, with Man. Howel and Cynan's contests were for Anglesey, and in Anglesey, and the beaten one seems to have escaped to Man."
THE LEGEND OF CRONK NY MOOAR IN RUSHEN.
In Part I of my "Folk-lore" (see Lhioar Manninagh, vol. xi, p. 144), I stated that this mound is still variously called by the people Cronk How Mooar. To show the great plasticity of tradition, it is interesting to find that Quiggin, in his Guide of the Isle of Man, 6th edition, while speaking of this "fairy hill," says: "The natives supposed that it was formerly the palace of the Fairy King. In some of their tales of wonder yet related by the upland peasantry, the fame of a Glastin Musician, called Hom Mooar, has reached our time, who had, by the melody of his music, decoyed many a wandering wight into the hallowed precincts, from which few ever returned. One of Hom Mooar's achievements is related by Waldron."
This remark has reference to the tale of the Fairy Cup of Kirk Malew, the substance of which shows certain variations and omissions from my own recovered version, and contains some of the details of my legend: Dancing twelve months with fairies (see my " Folk-lore," p. 146-147).
Waldron collected his legends in and before 1726, and it not only proves the tenacity with which these old traditions live on, nearly 200 years having passed since, but also confirms the veracity and genuineness of his often doubted legends, of which, however, alas ! he has only preserved for its a comparatively small number, merely touching the surface.
We have a similar tale in the Altar Cup, in Aagerup, a village in Zealand. The tale of the Fairy Cup of Malew seems derived from a Norse origin, and may go back to the 10th or 11th century.
Dr J. Jakobsen, who lately made a prolonged stay in Shetland to investigate the traces of the Scandinavian language, published his results in 1897 (1). It offers many points to stimulate research in the Island. I must especially refer to the vocabulary used by Shetland fishermen when at sea. The number of words that are tabooed is, indeed, large.
He says (page 23) : "As is well known to all Shetlanders, the Shetland fishermen before this day, like the fishermen in Faroe and Norway, had a great number of lucky words that they would use only at the haaf, or deep sea fishing. Haf is the old Norse word for ocean. The origin of this custom is not easily explained, but the custom itself is very, very old, and deeply rooted in Pagan time. The likely explanation seems to be that before the introduction and spread of Christianity, and also long after that period, the people, and especially the fishermen, believed themselves surrounded by sea-spirits, whom they could not see, and who watched their doings. In the Pagan time, people believed in the sea god, and he had his attendant minor spirits, who watched intruders upon his element. The feeling of the fishermen was one of mysterious dread. They considered the sea a foreign element on which there were infringers, and, in consequence, the sea spirits hostile to them. They had, therefore, when at the fishing, to be careful what they did, and it became to them very important to have a number of mystic names, to a great extent agreed upon among themselves, although derived from words common in the Norse language. The oldest portion of haaf-words seem to have been originally worship words. The haaf terms extend much further. All the domestic animals, for instance, got separate names at the haaf. For the ocean they had ljoag, jube, maar; they had special words for scan, moon, horse, wind, fire-these of a poetical character. He continues: "A sufficient proof that the custom of using lucky words at the haaf was rooted in the Pagan times, is to be found in the fact that the minister and the church were on no account to be mentioned by their right names at sea."
Persons, animals, and things are named according to some striking characteristics about them.
The cat, for example, was called foodin, kisert, poosi, raami, voaler, and skaavin, and skavnashi, the latter means the shaver, the nose-shaver, for the cat's habit of washing itself up around the lugs and down over the nose.
There were special names for the cow, otter, seal, whale, halibut, ling, dog, horse, limpet-bait, the staff to strike the fish with, the boat, mast, sail, the sharpening-stone. There was a word for cutting the fish-bait, the fishing lodge, the fire tongs, the kettle, the end of the fishing line, the wife, &c.
Catton (2) speaking of the ancient inhabitants of Orkney and Shetland, says: "They also believed in a God Shupitter that presided over all waters, and who used to assume the shape of a Shetland pony. This deity, or water Trow, is the same as is referred to in the Edda, and which recommends prayer to him for success in navigation, fishing, and hunting. The mermaids had the power of entering the skin of some animal capable of existing in the sea. The most favourable form was the large seal. Each merman and mermaid possesses but one seal skin, and if they lose it while visiting the abode of man, they either must perish in the ocean or become an inhabitant of our earth. He also quotes Dr. Edmondstone respecting their superstitions. From knots in the bottom boards of a boat they can foretell whether it will be lucky to fish or not. When they go fishing they carefully avoid meeting any person unless it be one who has long enjoyed the reputation of being lucky. Nor when the boat has been floated is it deemed safe to turn it but with the sun. They also observe omens. When at sea they seldom call things by their usual names, but by Norwegian. Certain names must not be mentioned while setting their lines, especially the minister and the cat.
(1) See the Dialect and Place Names of Shetland, by Dr. Jakob Jakobsen, Lerwick, T. J, Monson, pp. 125 -1897.
(2) The History and Description of the Shetland Islands, by the Rev Jas. Catton, Wainfleet, 1838, pp. 14 & 114.
In the Orkneys a notion formerly prevailed that drowned people were changed into seals. Old women still retain an unaccountable aversion to turbot, and avoid naming this excellent fish when crossing sounds and bays in boats. Some people also deem it unlucky to pall things by their proper names at particular times, and there is a strange prejudice against turning a boat " widdershins," or contrary to the sun, at the beginning of a voyage. So late as 1814, an old beldame in Stromneys, named Bessie Miller, sold favourable wind to mariners at the charge of sixpence (1).
Let us now go to Aberdeenshire (2). When at sea the words minister, kirk, swine, salmon. trout, dog, hare, rat, and certain family names were interdicted. A white stone would not be used as ballast, To meet one of the family of Whyte when going to sea, was held unlucky. A horseshoe was nailed to the mast of the boat. It was disastrous to ask a fisherman, on proceeding to sea, where he was going. It was believed fish could be taken away. It was unlawful to point with a finger to the boat at sea, nor must the boats there be counted; neither must any gathering of men, women, or children be numbered. To pronounce the word sow, or swine, or pig, when the line was baited, was sure to cause its loss. If it is mentioned, the fishermen cry out: Cold iron; even in the church, when the same words are uttered by the clergyman, this is done, &c., Szc.
The salmon was called so and so's fish, or the beast, or spey codlin.
At Flamborough (3) a fisherman, 30 or 40 years ago, would not go to sea if a hare or rabbit crossed his path. As late as three years ago, they would not go out if anyone mentioned a pig in any way when they were baiting their lines; and they had a great fear if rabbits or eggs were spoken of. It was considered very unlucky for a woman to walk over the nets, or any of the fishing tackle, although the women take a very active part in collecting bait, and helping their husbands to bait their lines. It was considered a most unlucky thing for a clergyman to enter a cottage when the " gude men was baiting his lines, or to meet one on his way to the beach. " I'd as soon meet the devil as the parson " they would say. A few years ago no fisherman would go out to sea on Old Christmas Day, it being considered heathenish to do so. At Preston Pans (4) if the fishermen, on their way to their boats meet a pig, they at once turn back and defer their embarkation. The event bodes ill for their fishery. It is a favourite custom to set sail on the Sunday for the fishing grounds. A clergyman of the town is said to pray against this Sabbath-breaking, and to prevent any injury accruing from his prayers, the fishermen make a small image of rags and burn it on the top of their chimneys.
Impelled by Jakobsen's labours, and with a view to discover, if possible, traces of a corresponding character in the Island, I have for the last few years paid particular attention to this most interesting subject. Unfortunately, the number of old conservative Manx fishermen is on the decrease, and even these have only retained fragmentary recollections of old " sea. ways." However, enough has been preserved to prove the close relation of these ancient customs between Man, the Shetlands, Orkneys, and the North-East coast of Scotland and Yorkshire.
Isle of Man.-To begin with, the proper old Manx word for the sea was, as in the Shetlands, mooir or muir, not faarkey or keayn It was also called Joan gorrynz (blue Jane). Near the chasms Joan muir or mere had her house and well.
The merman (and also the mermaid) was on land pohllinagh, but it was not allowed at sea to call him so, but gilley beg,* (little young fellow). Just as the fairies were called mooinjer veggey by the peasants for safety, when mention was made.
It was not allowed, at sea, to mention any animal with hair on, by its proper name. A hare was called fer yn cleaysh wooar (the man of the big ear) ; the mouse, lonag at sea, and lugh on land; the rat, even to this day, suckots, also uncle; the rabbits,,were known by the name of p6mmits ; the cat is seraaverrey, scraavrey or scraper, and there is a place between Bradda Head and Fleshwick Bty, called among the fishermen scraavrey Harry, or Harry's cat; it is noteworthy that, according to Dr Jakobsen, the cat is called by the same word in the Shetlands. The pig is swoiney ; the dog, moddey, is called sometimes choll in a boat; nor was the horse allowed to be mentioned when on board (haaf-name lost). It was, of course, also unlucky to carry a cat, or hare, &c., on board, and if anyone mentioned the name of these tabooed animals, a fine of a shilling was inflicted.
When the young men were leaving home to go to the herring fishing, if the first person they met was a woman they thought it a bad sign. If a boat comes to another boat for the leesn of salt, they refuse it. They also reckoned it unlucky to turn the boat round against the sun at going out of harbour, and a great many of the fishermen will take a lot of trouble to turn the boats round with the sun even now. The third boat going out of harbour is supposed to be unlucky. They don't care to make a start on a Friday. On St Columba's Day (21st June) the fishermen always expected gale and bad weather. Black pigs see the wind (" Muekyn doo to faskia yn geay.") I have heard of an old woman shutting the black cat in the cupboard to make stormy weather, and I was likewise told that a family that kept a black cat without a speck of any other colour would never have anyone drowned at sea. For a child to be born at low water when it was roayrt, or spring tide, was very bad, as it would never prosper. It was also unlucky to take white stones as ballast. It was time for the fishermen to look for land when a merman whistled at sea. " When I went first to sea, the old fishermen did not allow anyone to whistle at sea, as they bad some superstitions that whistling was bothering the wind, and made it blow; and I don't like it myself, although I have no belief it will make more wind to come." To ward off any ill they used to scratch the mast. Sailors don't like to carry a dead corpse in the boat, as it was held to be unlucky. "I was with a skipper some years ago, and he would rather go back to port again than to go to sea if anyone mentioned a bishop or a priest." There was a parson in Rushen some years ago, called Lhergy, when they talked about him on board the boat. There is some place in the North they call Lhergy Grawe, where the sheep-stealers used to steal sheep, and the parson was born somewhere near the place. (Lhergy is a gorsy hillside.)
"Yn nhee' bwoirrinagh"was at sea chunnag. " There was a boat called so, but her proper name was 'Diamond."' The Sun they called sometimes, when rising above the sea, Gloyr yn seihll (Glory of the world) and Ree yn laa (King of the day), and the moon Ben-rein ny hoie (Queen of the night).
" The old fishermen, when leaving their crofts to prepare their boats for the herring season, I have heard, could tell whether the season would be good or bad by the kind of fairies they saw on their way home in the evening." They had some old notions about herring bones, and did not allow to burn them in the fire, for it was thought that if his bones were burnt in the fire the herring could jeel it. In eating the herring, when coming to the bone, it must be taken away before eating the other side, for it was believed to tur:z the herring was sari to overturn the boat in which it was taken at sea, if they happened to be out fishing. They considered it unlucky for anyone to ask for one of the herrings which they are usually carrying on a string for their own consumption from the boat, unless they first put salt on it, so that no harm could be done. To ask a man on his way to fish " where he was going," is held to be very unlucky, some even, if asked, would turn back for tear it might put a spell on them. As charms they carry: The crossbone of the bollan fish as a good protection at sea for not -straying; a horse shoe is nailed to the mast, and the rowan is also used; and the witches are burnt out of the boat before going to the fishing grounds.
Some charms also were used to secure luck in fishing, as sweeping the dust off the steps of the lucky skippers houses, and putting it in a bag to sprinkle on the nets. They also used to go to old Ballayeigh, the witch doctor, who would take out in his garden a small bunch of vervaine, which had to be boiled in a little water in the boat's pot, and when shooting, some of the water had to be sprinkled on each net as it went over the vessel's side. It was sure to bring up the nets brimful with herring, while the scoffers of these charms earned nothing but gobbacks (dogfish) and torn nets. Sometimes the vervaine was put in the buoys (mollagyn) which floated the nets.
Every man at sea is supposed to give a civil answer to every question, and cursing each other is prohibited.
When at sea they call each other by nicknames, or slightly alter their surname on purpose. On a certain fishing boat, I am informed, the skipper was called Billey Yemmy, and another Manwhose (whose Christian name was Tom), was called Joe by some, and Butters by others. Another was called Meseff, and the cook garron (=pony). For another boat they called the skipper Thomas Nickey, and others called him Gaaue garroo (or coarse Smith), there was Jem Fayle (Jim Gale was his proper name), and others called him Tabernacle, another was Jonny Yoan Bet or Polly beg (=little Parrot), another Clim, Danny, Jenny, Tom, Etty, Nick.
Answers and replies, having reference to any operations or occurrences while engaged at sea, were rendered in certain phrases or jargon, perfectly known and understood by the initiated, but unintelligible to other people. This slang is very curious, and I will give now some examples:
When one of the boats heave to, the other boats run for him, and ask him " if he had seen any signs." He is supposed to tell what he has seen. I have heard them ask: "Did you see the hog?" and heard them answer sometimes "Have you lost one?" And when fishing off Douglas the boats sailing about speak the boats lying by their nets asking: "if they uvere proving ?"-if they had been, they said: " Yes, boy." " Then what did you se.?" "So many casts or hundred"; and if no herrings, the answer was: " Water, boy ; what store have you?" and the answer would be if we had a good fishing : " Thirty or forty mease"; and sometimes they would say " A child," " What is the age of the child" ? "-Fifteen or sixteen years"; and sometimes I have heard them say: "This cook is getting rough" (if there was near twenty mease), that would be the answer. They would be asking " what, strap they had," because we used to sound the water before shooting our nets, and sink them to the bottom. I have heard them answer: "Salt water," and the other would tell.
To pick out only a few items from this mass of information we find: In the Shetlands the sea god called Shupittrr, changing himself at will into a pony. Drowned people are changed into seals; mermen and maids are possessed of a seal skin, which they don at pleasure.
The names bishop, priest, minister, parson, kirk, or church must not be mentioned; to prevent injury if the forever has been spoken of, at Preston Pans a small image of rags was made, and burnt on the top of the chimney ; if church was mentioned, cold iron was called out immediately.
Black cats brew strong winds and storm, if shut up in a cupboard (the cats are old witches).
Of land animals, the swine, sow, pig, hare, rabbit, rat, mouse, cat, cow, and horse, were tabooed, which belonged to a different element. Of sea animals, the seal, whale, halibut, ling, salmon, otter, turbot, and trout, must be left unnamed, or only indicated by their haafword. The merman and maid were called at sea by another word, Gille boy, and Yoan gorrym.
The belongings of the fishers and sailors, such as boat, mast. and sail, bad haaf-names ; also their wives, the bait, the fish staff, spear, and sharpening stone; so had wind, fire, firetongs, and kettle; nor must the boats or men be counted.
The men were not allowed to whistle on sea; the mast was scratched to ward off ill (stroking, an act agreeable to both mortals and gods).
The loan of salt must be refused.
No white stones were allowed as ballast; and anything white, and even the surname of White, was objectionable. May it have been a reminder of the priest's Alba?
The boats must not be turned widdershins.
On Columba's Day the Manx expected gale (he was a Christian missionary).
The fishermen must not divulge where they went to (the sea god has to be kept ignorant). The sounding at sea. the result of their catch of fish, is only communicated in unintelligible speech, or he may understand it.
The fishermen have to assume nick-names, or make a slight change of their real name. Even the shape of the boats originally were in form of a sea snake, dolphin, or water-horse, &c., and the keel bore the image of mermaids, sea animals, or the figure of Neptune, to impose on the inimical sea gods.
The sea even had to be called by other names, as ljoag, grebe, mooir.
The leading feature of these various observances is the constant and conscious terror and dread of the sea spirits and deities they express beings to be cajoled, deceived, mystified, propitiated, and humoured, while encroaching on their element, on which the fisherman appears as a timid poacher and intruder vho proceeds but stealthily, and with a knowledge of the danger of his trespass and thieving.
That mighty ruler of the seas and winds and waters was Neptune. We find him again as the Celtic Nudd, Nodens, Nudens, as the Hnikudar, Nyker. He was the most powerful deity of a ship, and sea-faring nation, and also the great war god, and worshipped as such by the pagan Goidels. To break his power in the eyes of the pagan worshipper,, the church degraded him finally into "Old Nick."
The above list exhibits various forms and stages of early cults, but it is not my intention to develop the matter further. We see tho Goidels and Norse, as they pass gradually through various cycles of conception and belief; and we watch the contact points of incipient christianism. so largely pereucated and tinctured with pagan colour.
(1) See Summers and Winters in the Orkneys, by Daniel Gorrie, 1868.
(2) See Notes in the Folklore of the North-East of Scotland, by the Rev W. Gregor, 1881, pp. 197-202 and 129.
(3) See London Notes and Queries, 13th April, 1871;.
(4) See London Notes and Queries. V, p. 5, 1852.
*In Gaelic, gille fionn is the small white Periwinkle; in Manx, gille purn is the devil fish.
It brings ill-luck to mention a whistle, or to whistle on board a boat, as it might be confused with the merman's whistle. The merman's whistle was a notice for all hands to go on shore, rough weather being at hand, and it is always heard before, a gale. (It may be that the fishermen mistook for a merman's whistle the whistling sound often made by the carrag-cooar, or great Northern Diver, before a storm.)
It is lucky if a Roman Catholic priest comes on board, but a clergyman of any other denomination was very strongly objected to. The first herring caught on a fishing boat in the season was always split open to see whether it had a roe or a milt : the roe herring being the lucky herring, and the milt herring foretelling a bad season.
It was a common practice for farmers to buy two or three mease of herring for winter stock. When the herring was brought home to be gutted, there was always green fern put under them on the ground, and no other thing would do. The reason for this was that the fern was supposed to be the fairies' plant, and that this little attention would please them.
A Peel vessel, bound from Liverpool to Peel, became becalmed some miles off Douglas. One of the crew suggested to the informant that they ought to stick a knife in the main mast to raise the wind. A knife was accordingly stuck into the mast, immediately a gentle wind rose up, and increased into a stiff breeze which continued until the vessel was off Contrary Head, about a mile off Peel, when it was decided to take the knife out of the mast.
This was done, and at once the wind fell to a dead calm, and it took the men all their time by towing and rowing with the small boat to get their vessel into the harbour that tide. (I have forgotten to mention that the boat was thought to be becalmed by reason of three women -wives of some of the crew-being on board.)
On Old Xmas Day, the fishermen could tell by the way the wind blew and the sun shone on Peel Hill, whether the coming herring season would be a good or bad one, and where the greatest bulk of the herring could be caught, whether in the Big Bay to wards the South, or off Maughold Head, or on the West. This sign is still looked for on this day and believed in.
The herring caught on the West, though small, were considered particularly sweet and good, but were best eaten quite fresh, as they more liable to fray (?) or black gut than those caught elsewhere. There is still heard a saying that " Sheddan beg er y hayrit " (best herring ever caught) ; but when the time came to buy the winter stock of herring, herring men liked best the larger and firmer herring from off the South.
When herring were prepared for breakfast on board, the cook always threw a few overboard, for luk, to the merman for his breakfast.
The Fairy Fleet. It used to be a common ocurrence for the fairies to put to sea from Peel in their fairy fleet, and fish in the Big Bay which is that part of the sea that lies between Niarbyl Point and Bradda Head. Their lights would be so numerous that they sometimes even deceived the fishermen. The fleet, being so clear to sight that their floats were even seen on their nets, but if the real boats came among them the lights would go out. When the morning dawned no boats or nets would be seen. These lights were always seen where the herring was most numerous.
Fairy Coopers. Down at the sea shore, under Cronk-ny-Irree-Laa, there is a cave known as Ooig-ny-Sieyr (=Cooper's Cave). Here the fairy coopers used to be heard making barrels to hold herring. If they were heard making barrels in the month of May, it was a sure sign that there would be a good herring season that year.
After hauling in the nets, and when the herrings are shaken out, some salt is taken and thrown over both herrings and crew. No one but the man that pulls the end of the net is allowed to look over the side of the boat into the water.
The first herring taken out of the nets the first shot of the season, is always put aside and boiled whole to mark it from the others in the pot. Then when it is cooked every man on board must come and take a pick of it, so as to share and share alike through the season.
There are fishermen yet on the quay on Monday morning who will not give you a match if they were asked one. If they had to, they would break it in two pieces, and keep a part.
If you had a good fishing, and a man outside your own crew walked across the deck, it would have to be swept after him, or else some of your luck would go with him.
To raise the wind, it was common to stick the knife in the main mast. It must be put in the side of the mast according to the girt (=direction) from which you, wish the wind to blow.
THE ANCIENT ROAD OF THE TWENTY-FOUR KEYS. AT MAUGHOLD.
Perhaps in the whole range of ecclesiastical history, in early times, there is no more venerable spot in Man than shat is now the quaint little parish church which clusters at the sheltered slope of Maughold Head. In summer time the old kirk offers an unparalleled view against the delicate sea line; while North Barrule gives a bold touch to the surrounding scenery. When we approach its tiny porch we almost forget that it once was the cradle, and a great centre of an early Manx Christian mission. Here, in the sixth century, driven in his frail curragh of wicker-work, its hull wrapped up in a cowhide, Maccill reached its creek from Ireland, and in a hollow built his little Keeill of sods and stones. He became in course of time a powerful influence, gathering round him a crowd of devoted followers, and ceaselessly employed in fervid prayer and conversion. The stream of religious life runs uninterruptedly onward till, like a river that has divided its strength in many channels, it was shorn of its ancient lustre, and finally, when the dissolution of the hierarchic church swept over the land, its ultimate sequestration and stripping brought about its utter decay. It only flickered on as a modest parochial wayside church-its work was done. Its early numerous sepulchral crosses, so precious as a telling record of its past history, exhibit the influence of four distinct schools-the Irish, Anglican (derived from Cumbria), Cymric and Norse, extending from the 6th to the 13th century. It is particularly mentioned in 1231 as the Ecclesia Sancti Maughaldi, and for many centuries had the privilege of a sanctuary.
The Northern part of the Island, during the 10th and 11th century, stands out as the great and memorable battle-ground on which the Scandinavian earls and kings fought for supremacy in Man. (n 1079 a hot contest was fought at Sky Hill by Godred Crovan; another in 1142, when Godred II. met Olaf in Ramsey harbour; and again in 1164, on Godred coming from Norway. Until the Scandinavians firmly settled down, and prior to their acceptance of Christianity, probably effected about the beginning of the 11th century, the little valiant Christian centre at Maughold, which had weathered so many storms, cannot have escaped the throes and pangs of wholesale pillage and destruction from the hands of the heathen warriors who had occupied Ramsey and the neighbourhood. On the conquest of the Western Islands and Man in 1098, by Magnus Barefoot, a union took place of the two Sees of Sodor and Man, and about 1050 Roolwer (Hrolfr), a Scandinavian, held the Bishop's staff in Maughold. He was buried here, and an elaborate cross in the church commemorates his name, and is referred to by the distinguished Ramsey antiquarian, Mr P. M. C. Kermode. Hrolfr was an ambulatory bishop attached to the king's court.
Up Maughold Head, which rises to a height of 600 feet, there is a zig-zag path, ascending a grassy hollow, which is known as the Raad Kiare as feed,* or the Road of the Twenty-four. Tradition says that here the original twenty-four Keys first landed.
It would seem from this that at the period of the Godred dynasty, when the Keys were instituted, the "sixteen free houlders in the land of Man," probably met the eight taxiaxi of "the Out Isles" on their bi-annual visit to the Island, where the king resided, for attending the customary Thing, being received in ceremony by the bishop previous to their united out-set to the Tynwald, held anciently at Croak y Keill Abbane or Cronk Rule,in Baldwin; either by taking ship to Douglas, or following the king's highroad along the coast, which, starting from Ramsey, joined a by-road from Maughold, and passing Laxey, the Stad of the Salmon River, terminates half-way between Douglas and Conchan. The assembly would probably proceed thence to Kirk Braddan, a nucleus teeming with Scandinavian life, as attested by its rich Runic crosses. Here Bishop St. Brandinus held away in 1025. After holding their Thing at Cronk Rule, they would pass across the mountain path via Baldwin, Ulican, Injebreck, to Kirk Michael, situate at the north-western coast, a place no less conspicuous for its Norse ascent and strength. Here the Thing was held at the Hill of Reneurling, also called Crook Urley.
These Things were primarily held ambulatorily, and as circumstances or requirements would dictate, for we have a distinct declaration of the Deemsters and the Twenty-four in 1422, made to Sir John Stanley, King of Man, that " the Lord or his Lieutenant may hold a Court or Tinwald wherever he pleaseth him," and in fact we find in 1422 a Court held at the " Hill of Rencurling"; 1419 at Castle Rushen; 1429 at Tinwald (and before this) " in the last Tynwald at Killabane."
It would appear as if originally the Deemsters were on circuit in the north-western and north -eastern parts Killabane and Rencurling)--of the South, or visits to it separately, we have no indication-and that in much later times, for better despatch and concentration, St. John's Tynwald was fixed upon, and the spheres of Deemsters re-adjusted, viz., into complete jurisdiction extending over the whole territorial North and South halves of the Island.
* See Backwell's Handbook for visitors to the Isle of Man, edited and revised by James Burman, Esq., F.R.A.S., Douglas (1862).