[From A Manx Scrapbook]
Secondary heights, a firming curragh, a melting coast, and the birthplaces of the Manx halves of a famous novelist and a famous naturalist, all belong to Ballaugh. Her church must be the oldest still in use, after Kirk Maughold. Among its hoary tombstones is one ornamented with carvings of unchristian trammon-leaves, a reminder of the obsolete custom of burying a few of these leaves with a corpse, especially a child's in later times, " to keep off the fairies " during the hazardous interval which precedes the Day of Judgment. This, like so many other superstitious practices, contained an element of inconsistency, for the fairies lived in trammon-trees, and were not likely to be afraid of its leaves. But we must not expect a superstition in its modern and decayed state to be governed by logically reasoned motives. Many such observances were so inveterately rooted in the common life that they came at last to be performed as matters of routine verging upon the instinctive, with little understanding or questioning of their import, though reasons might be assigned to replace forgotten ones. Whatever may have been the radical significance of the elder-tree to our fore-fathers of the undivided Aryan stock, or to the race from whom they learned it, it has branched out into various allied matters relating to death, to preservation from it by the cure of disease, to the grave, the Underworld, the family ancestors, and the fairies. Celtic-speaking nations have shown less regard for the tree than some of their brethren ; though it entered a little into their cures, Irish fairies were all for the whitethorn. But Puschkait, the ancient Lithuanian God of the Lower World, was understood to dwell beneath the elder, and in the shadow of it, at evening twilight, the country people left their propitiatory offerings of bread and ale. In North Staffordshire he was "the Owd Lad" who was liable to appear when elder wood was burnt. In Denmark his place was filled by the Elder-mother and her brood of little sprites ; once, because a child was laid in a cradle made of elder-wood she gave it no peace until it was taken out. In the Danish island of Zealand there grew an elder in a farmyard, says Keightley, which often took a walk round the yard at twilight, and peeped in through the window at the children when they were alone. A Gypsy charm cited by Leland commands the pain to pass from the eyes, which are first bandaged with elder-bark, down through the body to the feet, from them into the earth, and thence and-re meriben, into death. In Bohemia the growth of a twig planted on a grave was a sign that the soul was happy in its life beyond ; the old Jewish cemetery at Prague was full of elders. Even in Somerset and other parts of England until lately it was thought unlucky to burn elder-wood in the house.
In Man the elder is, together with the rowan and the thorn, the most significant of trees. It protects the house and its vicinity because it is inhabited or frequented by the kind of fairies who were formerly understood (there seems reason to believe) to be the souls of the ancestors ; " the Good People from the sunset land," as a Manxwoman calls them in one of Roeder's anecdotes, "the Good Neighbours" of the Scottish peasantry, the Irish Daoine Maithe. De mortuis nihil nisi bonum. They live in the trammon, not like birds among its branches, though that is where, and sometimes how, they show themselves, but inside its hollow stems, as though they were drawn up through its roots from the earth itself. So, when a soul was dispatched to join its buried kindred, a handful of the leaves (preferably, no doubt, gathered from the house-tree) was laid by its mortal framework with a vague proprietary sentiment, to help its identification in the other world and its consolidation with the collective body of those who awaited it. This I imagine to have been the earlier feeling about the custom ; for it may be supposed that if the fairies, though feared, had been deemed utterly alien and inimical to the living the practice would not have arisen of planting a trammon against the house-wall.
Historically, Ballaugh Church (why are Ballaugh and Jurby, alone among the 17 parish churches, never called " Kirk " ?) was, in the hands of Archdeacon Philpot (1827-1838), instrumental in ending the ecclesiastical punishment called " penance." " By degrees I abolished many old superstitious customs, such as swearing to the amount of the debts claimed on the grave of the deceased debtor, while standing at its East end, also the custom of doing penance in a white sheet in the chancel. Many of the cases dealt with in the Vicar-General's Court were clerical delinquents who had misbehaved themselves. Some concerned those who had been suspended, praying for restitution. . . . The affair which led to the abolishing of penance was this. Three bad characters at Ballaugh, in scorn of Church rites, led a horse into the porch of the Church on a moonlight night and, tying a white sheet upon its head, made game of baptizing it. The case came before me, and I passed the sentence of full excommunication, which included penance in white sheets in Ballaugh chancel. I charged the Sumner to place himself in the rood-loft within sight of the penitents and report on their behaviour at the next Consistory Court at Ramsey. The Sumner reported that they passed the time dancing Scotch reels. After that, I made a general appeal to put an end to these old Popish relics, which was ultimately successful, though the new Bishop for some reason did not like it."-(Our Centenarian Grandfather, A. G. Bradley, pages 162 ff.) The "new Bishop," William Ward, was installed in 1827, therefore the abolition of public penance must have come about shortly after that date; and the late Sir John Rhys, in his Celtic Folklore, i., 351, has a corroborative account of the matter gathered from the lips of a Ballaugh man whom he conversed with in 1888. This man remembered the performance of penance in Ballaugh Church about or shortly before the year 1832, and the Vicar-General's putting a stop to it soon afterwards.
Ballakoig (O.S. map) across the bridge near the old Church, belonged in 1513 to the treen of Balyskebag, and its name as now pronounced, " Ballakeg," is evidently a worn-down form of the treen-name. Another treen to the South-East of St. John's was Balykebag, and there was a Balyskebeg treen in Maughold containing the farms now called Ballaskeg. That the " e " in Balyskebag was short is evidenced by a later spelling " -skebbag," which points to skibbag, a divided portion, as being the qualifying term, now " skivvag " and " scavag," for which see A Vocabulary of the Anglo-Manx Dialect. It is probably referable to the same root as " Cappog or Cappoge (little plot), the name of several places in Ulster, Leinster, and Munster," (Joyce, i., 219), and Keppoch in Badenoch ; diminutive and adjectival forms respectively of ceab, a block, which has the subsidiary meaning of a piece of ground. The Scottish derivative has analogies in Close Keppaugh, a Jurby intack, and The Kappagh, a Lezayre intack. Is it not possible, by the way, to identify the latter with the " Hescana-ap-payze," also, and more plausibly, written Hescanakeppage (" Bogstream of the Tillage-piece ") at which began and ended the boundary between the Lord's and the monks' lands ? If so, it should lie North of Ballamona and East of Close Chirrym (O.S. map), the veterem siccam of the text of the Boundaries.
Much land has been lost here to the sea. The rent of the croft called Crot y Grazy (referred to under Chibber Woirrey, Ballaugh, page 77) which was submerged before 1703, was still being paid by the owner of Ballakoig so late as 1860, when Oliver wrote. Farther inland the place once possessed a venerated tree or trees ; whether they were the two tall ashes which still stand over the site of a recently filled-in well remembered for its excellent and probably curative water, or whether they were the elders mentioned in the following passage, I am not certain: "The old trammons at Ballakoig having been cut down, the fairies (feathag) came every night to weep and lament. So many met that a fight ensued, and the following morning the people found the ' street ' strewn with fairies' thumbs." (Lioar Mann., i., 223.) " Fairies' ears "-cleayshyn hramman-is a fungus which grows on trammon-trees, and I presume their "thumbs" are of a similar vegetable nature. There is a third well of interest, once a cure-well, up the slope Eastward of the farmyard.
Where the Ballaugh river meets the sea was once
a small croft called
Cass ny Hawin or Coshnahowne, "Foot of the Stream," which is now absorbed into Ballakoig. On it stood an old building called " Hackett's Tower," which long ago fell or was washed away by the encroaching tides. Notwithstanding its lofty name it was, I believe, nothing more dignified than a gorse-mill.
Farther down the coast and about half a mile NorthEast of Orrisdale stood
Keeill Pharlane, " Bartholomew's Church," or perhaps Keeill Valane, the Church of (Mary) Magdalen. The site has been destroyed by the crumbling of the cliff. A little farther South is
Cronk y Clagh Vane, "Hill of the White Stone."
Turning inland from Orrisdale and up the long narrow
valley called Ballaugh Glen and Ravensdale, past
Cronk y Chreeney above Carmodil-creeney, frequent in hill-names, signifies bushes of little sap which grow on dry ground, as distinguished from more luxuriant vegetation-the enquiring traveller will find that
Scroundal was once " a great fairy place," a quality which does not differentiate it from most other places in the Island. The better part of their history has been forgotten ; but of Scroundal a woman of 8o who was born and bred there, and bore before her marriage a name celebrated in song and legend, remembers many things with affection and sadness. On the grindingstone of the mill, now at rest, the fairies used to sit with lights in their hands and sing with happiness while it was turning. They often came into the house, and were heard singing there too. Lest it may be thought that the music of the mill was due to lack of lubrication, it should be added that both these manifestations occurred at night only. The fairies were also to be heard sweetly singing as they went about the mountains above the glen. The Fenoderree himself lived among the gorse and oak-trees which encircled Scroundal, and there was something else which was lcss friendly than the Fenoderree. "There was one oak-tree there that a spirit, or whatever it was, lived in, and whenever it was seen it went into the tree. It was the spirit of somebody who was dead." Her father cut down the gorse-bushes and the tree, and was very ill for a long time after. In the bogs above Glenshoggle there was a Tarroo-ushtey which was sometimes seen about, and disappeared into the wet places. It was often heard shouting before rain. The people gathered in the big barn for the Mheillea, and had a great supper, the men drinking jough and the women drinking tea. They danced the Mheillea Dance and the Fathaby jig, and lots of other dances.
The best comment I can offer on the most interesting of these items is a passage from The Golden Bough, page 115 of the abridged edition : " Sometimes it is the souls of the dead which are believed to animate trees. . . . Some of the Philippine Islanders believe that the souls of their ancestors are in certain trees, which they therefore spare. If they are obliged to fell one of these trees, they excuse themselves to it. . . . The spirits take up their abode, by preference, in tall and stately trees with great spreading branches. When the wind rustles the leaves, the natives fancy it is the voice of the spirit ; and they never pass near one of these trees without bowing respectfully and asking pardon of the spirit for disturbing his repose. Among the Iguorrotes every village has its sacred tree, in which the souls of the dead forefathers of the hamlet reside. Offerings are made to the tree, and any injury done to it is believed to entail some misfortune on the village. Were the tree cut down, the village and all its inhabitants would inevitably perish. . . . In China the trees that grow on graves are sometimes identified with the souls of the departed. Among the Miao-Kia, an aboriginal race of Southern and Western China, a sacred tree stands at the entrance of every village, and the inhabitants believe that it is tenanted by the soul of their first ancestor and that it rules their destiny. . . . In most, if not all of these cases, the spirit is viewed as incorporate in the tree ; it animates the tree and must suffer and die with it. But, according to another and probably later opinion, the tree is not the body, but merely the abode of the tree-spirit,which can quit it and return to it at pleasure." Out of these beliefs, Sir James Frazer proceeds to show, developed Tree-worship. In some European instances, as the village tree of the Basques, they may be merely the vestiges of such a worship. Manx tree-lore in Ballaugh and other parishes is now perhaps too tenuous to bear the weight of theories or generalizations ; the following example of another branch of it may be cited with more profit. The name of the family and village concerned are designedly withheld ; but I believe the practice was by no means singular, though doubtless rarer now than formerly. It was simply to plant a tree at the time of the birth of each child ; the growth and vigour of the tree was then supposed to have an intimate connexion with the health and fortunes of its co-natal patron, or partner in the prevalent influences. In the particular instance now under notice, shortly after one of these secret sharers of life suffered destruction or serious injury, the family received news from Australia of the death of the son whom the tree was understood to represent. It is hard to say which of the two was believed to have reacted on the other ; whether the man's vulnerability was supposed to have been located in the tree, or whether the tree was regarded merely as an indicator of his well-being.
Neither in this nor in the rest of its tree-lore has the Isle of Man, so far as I am aware, any strictly peculiar features, though some may have been last in the general break-up of tradition during the last hundred years, of which the last twenty have been the worst. The cult of the elder has been more vigorous than in other Celtic-speaking countries, and those of the whitethorn and the mountain ash not less so ; but a Manxman who could readily give reasons for the significance of the trammon would be hard put to it to explain the white magic inherent in the kieran and the darker magic inherent in the drine. As their respective properties and uses have already been described by more than one writer, I need not recapitulate them here ; anything of the kind which may have escaped my predecessors will be found in its local setting. One item may, however, be mentioned now, as it is undesirable to associate it with the name of the village where it happened. Its interest lies in its unique contradiction of the beneficent qualities everywhere and always attributed to the mountain ash. A woman who had been ousted from her dwelling left in it, on one of the landings, a pot containing a slip of kieran, with the avowed intention of bringing misfortune to the new occupants. By all repute, she was far from lacking in skill and knowledge of an occult kind ; otherwise one would suppose she had misread her pharmacopoeia. Perhaps she wished to test the principle of corruptio optimi pessima.
It need hardly be added that the thorn-treedrinebetokens fairy activities, especially in secluded spots. To sit too long under one is not advisable ; to sleep under one is dangerous. A young girl of the Northside who did so remained ' away 'ersooylwhat Scotch people call 'fey,' until the fairies finally claimed her.
Scroundal, besides being the name of the treen, is
commonly applied to the mill and its neighbourhood ;
the Ordnance map has simply "Corn mill." Opposite it
a little road branches off the glen road and upward into
Glion ny Woirrey, which is the old name of St. Mary's Glen. As there appears to be no chapel-site or sacred well in this little valley, merely a " Giant's Grave " at the top, perhaps the connexion was with Keeill Woirrey, the site of which, however, lies nearer the parallel glen of Carmodil. A short distance farther up Ravensdale is
Ballathoar (O.S.map), where the Scroundal Fenoderree reappears, or a fellow-clansman of his. The tale of his obliging a farmer by carrying up a boulder from the shore to set at the corner of a new house is connected by Cumming (Guide, page 23), with this estate. It seems more at home here than at Tholt-y-will, which is a good deal farther inland, though perhaps that would not matter much to the Fenoderree. Cumming adds the sequel which is so widely dispersed throughout Northern Europe, the farmer's offer of clothing and the brownie's comment.
In an account of an excursion to Ballaugh parish in 1888 (Lioar Mann., i., No. 10) occur the following unmapped place-names, most of them belonging to tumuli. Creg Bane y Bill Willy, the White or Conspicuous Rock of Bill the son of Willy, whence a circle of white stones had been removed for gateposts ; Cronk Ailey, Fire Hill ; Cronk y Sthower, Hill of the Treasure ; Cronk Coir, Hill of the Chest or Cist ; Cronk Armyn, Hill of the Warrior, Sc. armin ; Cashtal Lajer, Strong Castle, a tumulus on Cronk Ould ; Faaie ny Cabbyl, Meadow of the Horses ; and Cronk Skeylt, Cloven Hill.