[From Manx Yarns, 1905]


Wit and Humour of the Manx Language

(Including Proverbs, Epitaphs. etc.)

" A little nonsense now and then,
Is relished by the wisest men."


Is it not an object of worthy ambition to every one of us to know every particular concerning our native tongue: the various stages it has; gone through, the sources from which its riches have been derived, its; capabilities, its perils, the points in which it transcends. other languages, its peculiarities, etc. ? What national history is embalmed in its proverbs, its varied idioms and its peculiar turns of expression ! My object is to glean and gather from "hearts in Ellan Vannin" a harvest of quaint lore. Verily, the subject is one which, even with imperfect handling, will, I trust, find a response and welcome in the hearts of all my readers.—a subject which every Manxrnan will feel of near concern and interest to himself. For, after all, what is the love of our native language but the love of our native land, expressing itself in one particular direction ? When we sadly contemplate the stern fact that our native language is doomed to decay, that it is like an. iceberg drifting south — when we see the perils that are threatening it, the losses it: has already sustained, and the; ignorance and indifference which the rising generation of our country display, in not being able to speak or read it—we may well endeavour to cherish and keep alive a rich, strong, and noble language, by preserving its proverbs, idioms, and quaint and noble sayings. Of one thing I feel certain, that if we allow our language to melt away and cease to exist, we shall lose the best half of our intellectual independence. Once the ebb and flow of a living language stops, then, indeed, it must perish. Use and growth are the conditions of vitality. Once a language ceases to be used, its death is not far distant. How true is the old proverb, " Dyn glare, dyn cheer" ("No language, no country.")

Manx belongs to the Gaelic family of the Celtic languages, which are composed of five great branches. Our fishermen, on hearing Erse or Scotch Gaelic spoken in Ireland or Scotland, are able to understand what is said with little difficulty I remember, while once on board the small steamer " Linnet," steering slowly up the Crinan Canal, en rout. for Oban, two Gaelic men of the crew were disputing in their native tongue. I sharply shouted out ," Cum dty herigey! (pronounced henya’) ; curn dt.y hengey!" (" Hold your tongue!") Understanding what I said, they turned to me, smiled, and brought their quarrel to an end. I then asked them to speak the sentence in Gaelic, and found it was very similar in sound to the words I had used. The Manx Language Society is doing good work to revive the Manx language. But the use of the language has declined grievously of late years. There is not a native who converses exclusively in his own mother tongue. The elementary schools have ignored it till lately, and children have grown up with the notion that it is old-fashioned and unsuited to the present age—in fact, they are half-ashamed to speak it. Only 4,419 were returned at the last. census as speaking both Manx and English, and these chiefly old people. In a word, the rising generation know nothing about it. At Peel, on board some of the fishing boats, every order as to trimming the sails, steering the boat, and shooting the nets, will be given in Manx ; yet on the quay, these same men will only speak English. But the life of a language is in speech.

It is a remarkable fact that in a small place like the Isle of Man there is a distinctly perceptible difference in the accent, tone, and pronunciation, both in the Manx and English languages, as spoken in the four towns of the Island.

Another characteristic of our language is in our place-names, which have, in every case, appropriate signification. In giving to places their names. our forefathers took cognizance mainly of situation or surroundings, of tie character of the inhabitants, and, lastly, of the use to which the place was or might be applied. Our surnames, too, have all their respective meanings. I will give a batch of nick names elsewhere.

Now, I always think national proverbs and sayings shed considerable light on the habits and; ways and thoughts of a people. Doubtless everybody will admit that there is a remarkable similarity in the proverbs; of different peoples. Most nations, however, can boast of possessing a number of sayings as belonging peculiarly to themselves. Lord Bacon says : " The genius, wit, and wisdom. of a nation are discovered by their proverbs." Strange to say, proverbial expressions are found to be common to peoples living far apart ; for example, the Zulus and Finns have proverbs substantially the same. Let me give a few Manx specimen to illustrate the insular characteristics of the little Manx Nation.

The selections here given portray the thoughts, habits, expressions, and sentiments prevalent among our Island race.

I will not quote all these; examples in their native garb, for readers who, in ten cases out of twelve, do not understand Manx ; but let me give in the original one proverb, which is peculiarly Manx, and worthy to be written. in letters of gold —a noble and beautiful proverb, and probably the finest we possess. It is, moreover, in accord with the circumstance that the native poor are, as; a matter of fact, ever kind 1 one another : —" Tra ta doosinney boght cooney lesh dooinuey boght elley, ta Jee hene garaghtee." (" When one poor man helps another poor man, God himself laughs.")

" Poor once, poor for ever". This is Manx to the core— no enthusiasms, no illusions, a sort of refusal to credit either human nature or Providence—indeed, not very much confidence in either one or the other.

" The crab that lies always in its own hole is never fat."

" Don’t tell me what I was, but tell me what I am."

" A green hill when far off ; bare, bare, when it is near." English : " Far off hills; are green."

" Traa dy liooar." (" Time enough.") Strangers generally delight to admit that this pourtrays a Man characteristic. It is; certainly true in a general sense.

" The greater the calm the nearer the south." A great calm is a sure sign of a coming storm. The worst storms occur when the wind blows from the SE. or S.W., and cease when it. veers to N.W.

" Short West, long East." As a rule, the West winds blow the most frequently, but the East winds last longer.

" A peck of March dust is worth a year’s rent of the Isle of Man." (Compare, " A peck of March dust is worth a king’s ransom.")

" With two there’s a choice, but with three there's a pick."

" Near is my shirt, but nearer is my skin."

" The oven crying ‘ burnt bottom ‘ to the kiln." (Compare " The pot calling the kettle black.")

" The flesh of a black hen is as sweet as the flesh of white one." This is peculiarly Manx.

" It is better to leave something to your enemy than to borrow from your friend."

" Smutty (or dirty) boy, clean man ; luttish girl, sluttish woman."

" What black ox ever stamped on his own foot ?"

" The Commons are stronger than the Lord " (i.e., Lord of the Isle). A Manxman is always keen to maintain his independence and privilege, and uphold the constitution, if menaced by any encroaching upon them by the Crown.

All the above are Manx to the core.

" Blood is thicker than water."

" Wisdom is folly, unless a wise man guides it ; bought wit is the best wit, if not too dear bought."

" When the play is the merriest, it’s time to break up."

" There’s gold on the cushags there." (Cushags, the ragwort.) One of our Governors humorously called the " cushag" the national flower. Its profuse, unprofitably gay bloom is, at any rate, as characteristic a feature of the Island as gorse, ling, or fern. The proverb is used ironically to boasters about El Dorados. Unfortunately, the gold on the cushag doesn’t put gold in the farmer’s pockets, as it impoverishes the soil.

"A short courtship is best."

" There are many twists in the nuptial song."

" Matrimony has its hazards " ; (" Marriage is, not all beer and skittles," etc).

" Give a piece to the raven and he will come again"; i.e., be cautions in giving charity to the undeserving.

" Where there are geese there’s dirt ; where there are women there’s talk."

" Rub grease on the rump of the fat pig " ; i.e., flatter the prosperous ; give to him that hath. It’s the way of the world.

" Maybe the last dog will be catching the hare, for all that."

" A slow fire makes sweet malt."

" There’s much between saying and doing."

" Empty vessel make the most noise."

Phase last four have the same moral : Manxmanlike, recommending caution, reserve, suspicion, and distrust.

" Take an Irishman and his word like an eel by the tail."

"Hit him, he’s Irish."

These describe fairly accurately the Manx attitude to sons of the Emerald Isle.

" Let every herring hang by its own gills." The moral:

Be independent and rely on yourself. Generally a sentiment of fair play. Compare with the Scotch : " Every herring should hing by its ain heid."

" No herring, no wedding." This tells it own story:

The young fisherman could not afford to get married, if the herring fishing failed.

" Life to man ; death to fish." This was the fisherman’s boast.

" Death to the head that never wore hair."

" What’s the use of a man when his wife is a widder." " A stepmother’s breath is cold."

Here are a few quaint sayings, both wise and witty, and the pink of Manxness : —" When I’m not knowin’ nawthin’, I’m not sayin’ nawthin’."

"The dog that brings a bone will carry one away." Let tale-bearers take this good advice to heart.

Here’s a comprehensive toast : —" Health and peace and length of days and happiness for ever."

" Notion can kill and notion can cure." A doctor might quote this to his nervous patients.

The following wise words make us think of the saying:

" Meet not troubles half-way " — " When the day comes its counsel will come with it."

Here is consolation for sad and weary ones, who imagine they are troubled more than other folks : —"There’s lumps in every person’s porridge." " There’s another day coming." Is not this good sage advice to people over anxious about things to be done? " Bannagh dy Lhieu." (" Blessings with you.") This is short but sweet.

Let me finish counting my string of rich gems by thee. two old humorous saws : —" Lazy to go to bed, lazy to rise, and lazy to go to Church on Sunday."

" Who hasn't’ heard that a Manxman’s Arms are Three

Let me now give a few quaint and figurative expressions, peculiarly Manx : —

It comes with him," is said of a man who is prosperous in his profession or business ; meaning, it is natural, and, therefore, no great credit. This is typical laconic praise.

" Going on the houses," applied to begging from door to door ; or, " wearing out one’s welcome."

Wind " melts " when it shows signs of lulling.

"I’m ‘starved’ with the cold."

Water " is playing " when it boils.

Remorse, or compunction, is " a lil bone in the breas’."

" Thou are as impudent as a white stone " sounds odd. The figure is taken from the white quartz boulders that may be seen in a country walk in any part of the Island, as prominent and obtrusive objects by night or day.

" With me, with thee," is applied to the inconstant or the doubleface.

There is no more specific term for Sunday, in Manx, than "Dhoonagh," meaning " the closing."

Railway is expressed by the Manx equivalent of " iron horse."

The Zodiac is called the " Path of the Sun " ; the Rainbow, " Going North " ; the Milky Way, " Rand Moar Roe Goreei " (" the Great Road of King Gorree "). The tradition is that when Orry (or Gorree), the Icelandic SeaKing, landed on our shores, he was asked what country he came from ; and answered, pointing to the Milky Way, " that is the road to my country." With this compare the Tynedale expression for the Aurora Bocrealis, " Lord Derwentwater’s Lights."

" How brauchy the fellow is ! ‘ ‘ is said of a boaster, or, "he knows a deal."

" Self-praise travels no distance."



I begin this section of the chapter with an illustration of idioms, as exemplified in a letter to me by a Manxman after the manner born. I am assuming, for the nonce, the role of schoolmaster or lecturer, and the letter serves the purpose of an object-lesson : —

" Dear Mastha Limote,—They’re tellin’ it all ova that thou’re writin’ a book—’ Histhree of the Oile of Man,’ isn’t it ? Aw, iss lek thou can, too. The Limotes, thou see, was lawyers. Wasn’t thee brotha’ the Hoigh Bailiff ? There was one of ya a paa’sin in Ki’k Andhriss, Oi’ve h’ard, and addicated hoigh urra massy. Oi didn’t know so much ahur ( about) him at all. Bur even ya faatha’ was a big man in moy young days. Iss a histhree, thou’re writing’, Oi waa towl’ a new histhree of this Oilan’ in pas’ days ; annyway, i’ll not be a novval, lek this Hal Cadyn, they’ve got all the talk about. Oi would lek well to see thee takin’ the win’ urra’f his sails, though, burr Oi’m dubi’sh if thou’l do that, an’ him sarved his toime at Beecham’s Pills. Aw, thass where he l’arnt his thrade, annyway be the talk ; an’ got to be advatisin’ memba’ in the place of John Robbat. Iss nice to see people gettin’ on in the worl’, for all, though. But the thing Oi wrote this lattha’ for was this : Are thou goin’ to be makin’ fun of the Manx ? Iss advisin thee Oi am, for thee own good, because if thou are, ihou bes’ l’ave it alone. Iss not an action for loibel, nor a shuit at Common Law thou’ll hey to face, aw, no ; but isa ass’ult an’ batthery. Oi’m on thee side, mom’ , as long as iss histhree, burr if iss not, an’ thou’ro gem’ a tellin’ anny o’ them stories about moy relations, lek oul Mastha’ Brown that was in Ramsa’, thou’ll get the scriss (skin) tuk off thee this toime, moo man ; moin' that! Aw, aye, this oul Mastha Brown was doin’ too miuch of that to moy likin’ ; an’ there’s more t’an me tha’ says the same. Annyway, ho was tellin’ that moy gran’fatha’ seen the Divvil in Douglis Market-pliss. Moy gran’fatha’ was an hones' man ; one of the oul surt, ‘deed he was ; an’ navva’ seen the Divvil in Douglis Market~-pliss. There’s some tha’ss too civil, to moy likin’, gain’ about in this Oilan’, Iis’nin’ to people an’ tellin’ behoin’ theer backs the thing they war’ say’n’. Moy gough ! look out, mee man, if thass what thou’re up to. If there’s one thing about the Manx, more till anotha’, thou’ll fin’ out, iss this : They won’t stan’ anny talk about theer relations. Histhree! Aye, thass right enough ; but keep thee mouth shut about moy relations. If iss innimies thou want, go ahead ; iss the aisiest job thou ever took in han’. Thou’ll be laughin’ in thee sleeve, maybe, but tbou’ve got the comass (challenge), fair an’ square. Histhree! Go thee ways, an’ do thee bos’ ; but, moy gough, don’t thou say a word about moy relations.

This letter recalls to my mind a story about the old father of our famous author, Mr Hall Caine. One day, upon going into a poor man’s cottage at Greeba, he was greeted with the exclamation : —" I’m hearin’ that’ thy son is makin’ thousan’s an’ thousan’s o’ poun’s, tellin’ loies."

Mr Hall Caine was one day chatting to his neighbour, an old woman, weeding turnips, when ho explained to her the nature of his work, which drew from her the droll reply:

—" Well, well, what does it matter, so long as a body makes his livin’ honestly ?"

In Anglo-Manx, the prepositions, at, on, in, with, for, etc., have senses quite different from English use ; for instance, a child would say : " My father will be at (with) you in a minute," to a person wishing to speak to the father.

But, also, " there was a stick at him," would stand for " he had a stick," and " there’s money ‘ at ‘ them," for " they’re well-to-do people." A more curious use is in the expression, "Iss forgot ‘ at ‘ me, ‘ ‘ meaning " I have forgotten .‘ ‘ Again, someone will ask, " Has he been. at you ?" Again, " See the cheerful face arrim, and the laugh arrim." In this connection, the change of sound is worth noting : " See the rings arrar (at her)." " Arrim " and " Gor-rim " are only localisms for "at him’ and "got him."

But distinguish, " There’s life ‘ with ‘ you," i.e., " You are heartsome, mercurial, or indomitable". " The day is with ‘ you," means " You are lucky."‘ A man is asked in court if he admits the debt. He answers : " I’ll take ‘ with’ it," i.e., submit to the consequences. An advocate wins a succession of cases, and an. appreciative client says : " Things are comin’ ‘ with ‘ you, this mornin’, though." Or, perhaps, " There’s no doing ‘ with ‘ you."

A friend meets a friend and wants to know where he is going. " Where for ?" is the sufficient question. A Manxman is fend of clipping words and sentences. A man tells his business, and adds : " And tha’s the for I came,"—" for" meaning the reason. T. E. Brown makes the old fisherman in " Jus’ the Shy " say " That’s the for, and that’s the why."

" Hush, man, let him have a chance, for all," is often heard. The use of "on" is exemplified in the following phrases : —" Aw, well, they’re puttin’ too much ‘ on ‘ her." " Now, I’ve h’ard wrong things put ‘ on ‘ people before te-day." " Wha’s come ‘ on ‘ you, at all, at all." " What go there’s on ‘ you " (" go," in the sense of " much ado about nothing "). " What’s the hurry ‘ on ‘ you ?" " What’s come ‘ on’ her ?‘ ‘ Of a person in a rage or in the sulks : " Bless me! wha’s doin ‘'on' the man". "When will you put a sight ‘ on ‘ us again ?" " I never t’ought ‘ on ‘ it till now."

The preposition " in " (sometimes an adverb) has curious uses, e.g. : " Is there ghos’es in, do you think ?" (i.e., in existence) . Of a man successful in business, it will be said : " He’s doin’ all tha’s in " (all the business in the place).

And the following illustrate the use of " of " : —" Iss a pity of him, though.," " Aw, dear, iss what he’s used of."

The comparative word "lek" (like) is habitually used quite superfluously, e.g., " Iss strange, lek." " The man is big, lek " (i.e., in his own opinion). This use is associated with a certain air of apology for the assertion it accompanies.

" Thou’ll get lave", is a favourite expression and thoroughly Manx. Two men are arguing ; one is beaten, but sticks to his contention, with " Thou’ll get lave," meaning that he is of the same opinion still.

" Mortal " is a favorite adverb used seriously and humorously, e.g., " a pity," " a mortal pity," " gran", " mortal gran’," " a mortal gran’ woman," " a mortal gran’ urra massy woman,’ (urra massy, out of mercy)..

" Jus’ " (just) is seldom or never used in the sense of recently in point of time. An English schoolmaster on the Island, going from the school to the post office, collared a truant in the village street. He said :

" Hello! why are you not at’ school ?"
—"Please, sir, mee faatha is jus’ dead!"
—" Oh ! I’m sorry for that."
—" An’ I’m going for med’cine for him to the dhruggis’ "
—" But.—."
—" Please, sir, he isn’t gone to work to-day with it."
—" With what ?"
—"With the bad cowl he’s got ."
—" But he’s just dead, yuu said; what’s the medicine for ?"
—" Please, sir, for moe faatha.’-
—( Whereupon explanations followed, in which it transpired that ‘jus’ dead" meant being almost dead, or, at any rate, very poorly.

" Ones " is used for persons of a family, e.g., " our ones," meaning the speaker’s family." Who stole the sheep ?" " Aw, lek enough it was Danny’s ones " (Danny’s people).

"‘Deed on Philip! " is equivalent to " Well done, Philip!" but implying that for him to have done anything at all was almost beyond crediting. He was not thought much of at home ; he emigrated to South Africa, and came back rich.

Then it was " ‘Deed on Philip !" He married uncommonly well ; then it was " ‘Deed on Philip!" again.

" As. the man said," or, " As the man said before now," is a common and typically Manx expression, the responsibility being put on another person. Some men will not even quote a proverb without safeguarding themselves against the responsibility of it. A farmer picks up a large potato, with the remark, " Isa a mortal big pridda, as the Irishman said." Another expression of the same sort is : " I would’n’ thruss. ‘ ‘ A Manxman will never swear in court that a man was drunk, but will fence thus : " I would’n’ thruss but he might have had a lil dhrop, mebbe (may be)." Opinions on a subject of that sort " aren’t called for", and cut one never knows how many ways.

Here is another good expression. When a man is trying to evade the strong arm of the law, a fisherman would express the situation by saying that the transgressor " was in the sand," or " had taken the sand " (as a sand-eel would take to the sand to elude pursuit). A farmer would say that " he was in headlands."

These native ways in speech have floated down, in fragmentary form, from generation to generation, derived from Celtic Manx, and are only heard in these days amongst people in country parts. Think, for instance, of a farmer, his sayings and surroundings—suppose him to be " gennal" (genial), " jannagh " (kind-hearted). He talks thus: " Fuirree ! fuirree !" (" Be aisy ! be aisy !") , to a manservant with too rough a voice ; " Don’t be so boosely, man!" (bullying) to a man rough to the horses ; " Cummotha," or " Chee-beck," to the horses (go to the left, or to the right). " Her ! hor ! ‘ ‘ calls cows home ; " Piree ! piree ! ‘ ‘ sends them afield . " Treeagh ! treeagh!" calls the pig to its trough; " hudjags ! hudjags!" dismisses it. " Come! come! thou’ll be tuk at the wife," is a gentle kind of reprimand to a manservant, to the effect that he will be taken to task by the farmer’s wife-—the real authority—and one who will have no compunctions about giving him a " dhressin’ " (sound rating). In the house he sits on the " settle," by the " chiollagh " (hearth), and has a " smock " while the wife makes the porridge in a pat hung on the " slowry ‘ ‘ (chain with hook) over a " turf " (peat) fire on the hearth. He takes a child on his knee, with " bogh mihish " (poor sweet); and his wife’s term of address to the child is " my chree" (my heart) ; to her husband, " Illiam, bhoy " (William, my boy).

The " Dooinney Molla."—This expression may be translated as " the man praiser," and is applied to a friendly match-maker, introduced by the young man, to relate to the parents of the girl of his heart, in glowing terms, what a desirable match his friend would make for their daughter. He praises his good looks, his good prospects, etc., and tells the old people what a splendid husband he would make. The " Dooinney Molla " has another part to play, and that is of lover by proxy. Sometimes he plays this part. too well, and marries the girl himself. He is also supposed to act as guardian over the engaged one while the man himself is away from home.

" Jeel," meaning damage, or harm, is a word in frequent use. A mother will tell her daughter not to"jeel " her pinafore. Or if a trap is upset and smashed badly, an old woman will exclaim : " What jeel . there’s done at them. Aw, there’s pounds theer."

A gossip will say to her neighbour, " Aw, deed, I’m thinkin’ Juan is purrin the ‘ Comawther ‘ on the women," or " purrin the ‘ Kybosh ‘ on them." She means they have fallen in love with Juan, or he has cast a spell or enchantment over them.

Epitaphs are—what? The thoughts of the living (and sometimes of the dead, too,) expressed in words and engraved in memory of those who have gone before. I have often wandered who were the funeral poetasters responsible for the comical versifications upon old tombstones. Surely not the relatives. To crack jokes on a tombstone most people would deem the very depth of wickedness and irreverence. The following epitaph in Santon Churchyard, on Daniel Teare, aged 100, said to be written by the then Attorney-General, is singularly witty : —

" Here, friends, is little Daniel’s tomb,
To Joseph’s age he did arrive;
Sloth killeth thousands in their bloom,
While labour kept poor Dan alive;
How strange, yet true’, full twenty years,
Was his wife happy in her Tears."

During the visit of the. Cambrian Archeological Association to the Island in August, 1865, the grave of :Bishop Rutter, one of the eight bishops of the Isle of Man buried within the precincts of the cathedral at Peel Castle, was opened. At about a foot under the surface, a freestone slab, 4 feet by 3, was discovered. It bore round the edges the following inscription : —


The slab was much broken, but the fragments, having been carefully collected, were cemented together, and the whole laid in a solid bed of concrete. Let in on the upper face of the stone was an oval brass (10½ by 8 inches) supposed to have contained either his armorial arms, or those of the diocese, and in the centre a brass plate (16 by 7¾ inches), bearing the following inscription, said to have been written by the Bishop himself, who was both a wit and a poet : —


The translation of the inscription. is as follows : —" In this house, which I have received from my little brethren, the worms, in hope of the resurrection to life, I lie, Samuel, by divine permission Bishop of this Island. Stop, reader. Behold ! and smile at the. palace of a bishop. Died on the 30th day of May, in the year 1662."

Here are some in the Manx language (largely stolen from Dodgson in Manx Church Magazine) : —

At Kirk Arbory, on the tomb of Paul Keig, who died 15th May, 1870:

O vraar tea scarrit vooin son tra
Ny smoo cha glinu mayd dy charaa
Choud vees mayd bio syn. eill
Gys fagys mayd yn thie dy chray
As roshtyn gys yn boal dy fea
Raad nee mayd oo veeteil.

These lines are thus rendered by Mr Wm. Cashen, the Custodian of Peel Castle:

O brother, thou art separated from us for a time;
No more shall we hear thy voice
While we remain alive in the flesh,
Until we shall leave this house of clay
And reach unto the place of rest
By the road where we shall meet thee.

On the pedestal of a Keltic cross, in memory of Elizabeth, wife of Thomas Leece, in Peel cemetery. She died 22nd May, 1892:

Cur graih da Joe, as jean mie.
(Give love to God, and do good.)

In the Churchyard at Kirk Patrick, Peel, on the stone of John. Gill, who died 21st February, 1872:

Stop, traveller, as thou passest by,
As thou art now, so once was I;
As I am now so shalt thou be;
Fow aarloo dy gholl quail dyt Yee.

Mr Edmund Goodwin, who teaches music and Gaelic in Peel, and is capable of writing a good treatise on Manx parsing and syntax, translates the last line thus : "Get ready to meet thy God." " Dyt " is a blunder for " Dty."

On the stone of John Quane, who departed this life 23rd January, 1853:

In Kione shen veagh ching ta ec aash,
E smooinaghtyn coilley ec fea;
Vu aigney ta seyr veigh angaish;
Ny smoo cha jean gennaght anvea.

These lines are taken from the Mann Hymn Book of 1799 (hymn 26, p. 31). The carver has put I for Y at the beginning. Mr Goodwin translates them thus:

The head that used to be sick is at ease,
All its thoughts are at rest;
The mind is free from anguish,
No more will it feel unrest.

On the stone of William Quirk, who died 7th May, 1867

Nish, ta aym yn boayl dy fee,
Ayn ta m’annym nish ac aash.

In, the 79th hymn, on page 85 of the Manx Hymn Book, these lines are printed thus:

Nish, nish, ta aym boayl dy faa,
Ayn oddys m’annyin ye ec aash;

their meaning being, according to Mr Goodwin, as follows:

Now, now, I have a place of rest,
In which my soul can be at ease.

On the tombstone of Eleanor, wife of Thomas King, who died 28th March, 1863:

Kys ghoghe shin aggle dy chur sheese,
Nyu girp syn oaie gys fea,
Raad lhie corp ooasle Yeesey Creest,
Te’r yannoo maynrey jeh.

Translated thus:

Why are we afraid to put down
Our bodies in the grave to rest,
Where lay the worshipful body of Jesus Christ?
He has made a happy place of it.

The following is found on the stone of Robert Moore, who died 6th August, 1826, and was buried in Kirk Patrick:

In youthful bloom I’ve quit this Earth,
And bid adieu to all it’s Toys:
Have enter’d on a heavenly birth,
And bask in bright Celestial joys.

This is not a bad specimen of English verse for a Manxman of the time of King George IV. It seems to me that Manx, unless the speakers unite, will flourish longer on these few sad beds of the dead than in the heads of men of Mann.

I came across the following in an old church yard:

"I await my husband."—May 26th, 1840.
"Here I am."—December 14th, 1861.

Some joker has added : " Late as usual." This reminds me of a similar joke of my own. Having some important business to transact with a friend of mine, who imbibed " not wisely, but too well," I called several times at his office, but always found a notice on the door, " Back immediately"; under this I wrote, " Drunk as usual" Needless to say, I did my business with my bibulous friend by letter for some months after.

Surrly the following must be of Manx-Irish origin : —

Here lies the body of Nicholas Round,
Who was lost in the sea and never was found.

The following epitaphs, placed by Bishop Hill on boards erected in various parts of the Bishopscourt Glen to commemorate pets of his who had departed this life, are distinctly good : —

" Beneath this spot of earth, in cairn repose,
Rests what was mortal of my poor dog Rose;
To tell her faithfulness my pen would fail,
So like a true Manx dog she lies without a tale."

" After years of good service, to nature a debtor,
Poor Mona exchanged this sad world for a better;
And here we remark, without wishing to flatter,
She hadn’t her equal as sheep.dog or ratter;
That to keep her in mind, her disconsolate owner
Thus tries in the future himself to be-moan-her."

" Two cygnets from Hertford, a son and a daughter,
Were sent by the Bishop to furnish the water;
Alas! one cold winter they suddenly perished,
Although with episcopal care they were cherished.
The case of their death, as the inquest asserts,
Was perplexing ; it may have been.—coming from Herts."

In Peel Cemetery I came across an epitaph., the meaning of which seems to become more obscure the more one puzzles over it : —

" His precious life was soon cut short,
When anchored in that. deadly port;
Two hundred miles he sailed from home,
And found at last his silent tomb."

The following, on the grave of a person who was drowned on his passage from Whitehaven to the Island, is delightfully ambiguous:-

" The’ Boreas’ blasts, and Neptune’s waves
Have tossed him to and fro,
In spite of both, by God’s decree,
He’s anchored safe below."


An amusing and droll chapter might be written on colloquial and insular nicknames. Various parts of Manxland, like Wales, are replete with people of the same surnames, so resort has to be made to nicknames in order to distinguish the particular person you wish to identify.A common mistake among the Manx is to use the expression:

"Who So-and-so," instead of " Which So-and-so."

The surnames Kelly, Quayle, Quirk, Christian, and Corlett are names perhaps most frequently met with. It may be noticed that the great majority of Manx names commence with C., K., or Q., the reason being that they originally bore the Celtic prefix Mac 'son', which has been thus shortened.

In many parts of the Island almost the entire population bear one of half-a-dozen or so common surnames. The following couplet, illustrative of this, refers to the parish of Maughold:—

" Christian, Callow, and Kerruish,
All the rest are mere refuse."

The name of Kelly is very frequent in the Western districts, especially in Peel. In order to distinguish which Kelly is meant he has to be designated by some peculiar trait in his character, or person, or profession, or the locality where he resides ; abs Kelly Potter ; Kelly the Lame ; Kelly Button ; Kelly the Windmill ; Kelly Buck ; Kelly Deugh (a baker); Kelly Timber (having a wooden leg) ; Mrs Kelly, the Gingerbread (the poor lady sold it in her shop). Among the Quirks, we have : —Quirk the Collar ; Quirk, Seven Waistcoats ; Quirk the Cumberland (name of his inn), etc. Christian Lewaigue (name of his farm) ; Teare the Hairy; Cottier Harriet (name of his wife) ; Kitty Behind (one who lives behind the church) ; Peggy the Loose Boa ; Johnnie Be Wise ; Betsy Blowhard, etc., are further examples.

Another mode of identification is to add to a man’s Christian name the name of his father and grandfather. Thus : Johnnie, John Andrew, will mean Johnnie, the son of John, the son of Andrew. In the same way we have Juan, Jack Isaac ; Ann, Joe Nicky ; Nicky, Nick, Nick, would be Nicholas, the son of Nicholas and’ grandson of Nicholas. Christian, Tommy Neddy, refers to Tommy Christian, the son of Neddy Christian. Billy, Bill John, Freddy, Johnnie Freddy, are now quite plain, as are Jack Molly, Harry Caesar, Harry Barrule (Harry, who lives at Barrule), Nancy Joe, Juan Paddy, Johnnie the Donkey (a carrier, with donkey and cart), etc.

A very common way of identification is the name of a man’s farm, as Moore, Lhergydhoo ; Corlett, The Craig; Quayle, Ballamoer ; Kelly, Ballacottier ; and Quirk, Raby. Craig Willie Sill is the Hill of Willie, the son of Silvester (wrongly called Craig Willie’s Hill in these degenerate days).

I might give many more instances. The owners of land are always proud to be given their territorial titles and to be called the Ballabeg, the Booliley-velt, the Ballaquane, or the Ballaquayle. It is common to hear such remarks as : —" Aye, I spoke to the Ballaskyr himself." " And what said the Ballamoar to that?"

While on the subject of proverbs and epitaphs and nick-names and other things exclusively Manx, it is but right to mention the Manx cat. This animal is one of the thing that strikes everyone on a visit to the Island, and various explanations are put forth as to his freedom from caudal appendages. They are thus summarised in a recent number of "Madame":— " Travellers in the Far East—Japan, China, Siam, and the Malay region—have noticed how rarely long tailed cats are found in these regions. They are generally kink tailed, forked tailed, or tailless. The naturalist Kempfer asserts that the specimens of this breed all came originally from Japan. The theory has been advanced that the Manx cats are derived from the Japanese, and were imported by the Spaniards or Dntch in the seventeenth century.

" It is quite probable that so-called Manx cats originated in ‘ a sport,’ as we find in dogs and fowls, and that they have been perpetuated as curiosities, and in modern times on account of their commercial value.

" There is a quaint old versified explanation, which runs as follows:—

" Noah, sailing o’er the seas,
Ran high and dry on Ararat;
His dog then made a spring and took
The tail from off a pussy cat.
Puss through the window quick did fly,
And bravely through the waters swam,
And never stopped, till high and dry,
She landed on the Isle of Man.
Thus, tailless puss earned Mona’s thanks,
And ever since was called Manx."

" And now having given various theories as to the origin of these cats, I will allude to the distinctive features of this breed. First and foremost, Manx cats should have no particle of tail, only a tuft of hair, which ought to be quite boneless. The next most important point is length of hindquarters, which gives a 'rabbity' appearance. The fur should be longer and softer than in the short-haired breeds. A oohby body is very desirable in a Manx cat."

I may also mention a few very peculiar customs and laws, now, of course, obsolete or repealed, such as the stocks, pillory, and wooden horse.

Here is a drastic law against male offenders : —" If a single woman prosecute a single man for rape, the Ecclesiastical Judges impanel a jury, and if this jury find the defendant guilty, he its so returned to the temporal court. If he be again found guilty, the Deemster delivers to the woman a rope, a sword, and a ring, and she has it in her choice to have him hanged or beheaded or to marry him." She always chose the last alternative.

In 1659, we find from the Insular Records, a man was ordered to pay a girl £10, and, when she was married, to provide " 2 dishes of meate " for her wedding, because he had broken his promise to marry her.

In 1686, Thomas Curlett was put in the pillary, had his " eares cut off," and was fined 20s., for " contemptuous expressions against the Lord."

Another curious punishment was being whipped on the wooden horse : —

" Whosoever shall be found or detected to pull horse tayles shall be punished upon the wooden horse, thereon to continue for the space of two hours, and to be whipped naked from the waist upwards."

The arms of the Island, as all will be aware, are the " Three Legs," an ancient Scandinavian device, it is generally supposed, with the Latin motto : " Quocunque Jececris Stabit " ("wichever way you throw me I will stand"). An unknown poet, applying this motto to the Manxman, writes : —

" However through the world he’s tost,
However disappointed, crost;
Reverses, losses, fortune’s frown,
No chance or change can. keep him down.
Upset him any way you will,
Upon his legs you find him still;
Active and quick as any monkey,
Stabit, Jeceris quocunque."

Let me conclude with the following whimsical old rhyme, which is scarcely complimentary to the inhabitants of the Lsland : —

" When Satan tried his arts in vain
The worship of our Lord to gain,
‘ The world,’ said he, ‘ and all be thine,
Except one spot, which must be mine;
That little place—’tis but a span,
By mortals called ‘ ye Isle of Mann’;
This is a place I cannot spare,
For all my choicest friends are there.’ "


Back index next

Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received The Editor
HTML Transcription © F.Coakley , 1999