[From A Second Manx Scrapbook]
Whereas witchcraft is the most vigorous of the superstitions remaining to the Island, the belief in fairies has suffered greater decay than any other article of the old creed, and I fear I have little to add to the minute and localized fragments of their racial history already noted in A Manx Scrapbook.
Yet although they now exist only as a memory, it is for many people a memory of something which was real, and was by no means a delusion of the weakminded. I met a native lately who had retired to his remote birthplace after nearly fifty years of sea-faring and sea-fishing, a man of unquestionable earnestness and sincerity like most elderly Manxmen of his class and calling, and a preacher of the Gospel, who was occupying his days of leisure with the Bible, the newspapers, and " the wireless." He warned me gravely that " it won't do to run away with the idea that there were no such things as fairies." (I had no intention of doing so, but a silence which can be construed as politely skeptical sometimes stimulates the desire to convince, and I scented a story or two.) He might never have seen any himself, maybe, but there had been enough of them round about there one time. A friend used to be telling him he went early one morning to a quarry in a field yonder (which bordered the Southern village over one of whose low slate walls we were leaning in the rain to talk), and this man came across two of Them. Little fellows they were, between two and three feet high ; they were wearing red caps, and they ran away when they saw he was looking at them.1 That's what he was tellin', anyway. No, he had seen none himself at all, not that he could be sure of. This was our first meeting, and in his future dissertations on religion, British politics and local affairs something to my purpose would probably have escaped him; but before I could go to Cregneish again I heard he was dead.
Those red caps remind me that red, and even blue,2 was preferred by the small Manx fairies to green in their attire, and this is specially true of the fairy animals, which copied their masters in wearing crimson headgear. Roeder has reported a fairy dog thus ornamented, and I am inclined to think I was wrong in suggesting that the " red hat " observed on a fairy pig near Peel was in reality a pair of red ears.3 Possessors of red hair of a certain shade were favoured by the fairies, and their own hair was often seen to be of that colour when they took human shape. The lucky fairy lamb which occasionally appeared among the flocks to the advantage of flockmasters had a fleece which was wholly or partly red. One day, about twenty-five or thirty years ago, Mrs. S., who lived at the top of Close Clarke, Malew, went as usual to look after her sheep, which happened to be in the steep brook-side field containing Chibbert y Wirra, the holy well of Saint Mary. Running amongst them she saw a strange lamb wearing a little red saddle and having a red bridle about its head and face. She incautiously stretched out her hand to lay hold of it, but it sprang from her and vanished. If she had touched it, she said afterwards, she would have had a " poor arm " withered or paralyzed arm. She was not an habitual seer, and this unique experience remained an indelible impression until her dying hour. She then spoke of seeing lambs around her, and a little lamb in particular which was playing about and underneath her bed. Whether this was the fairy lamb again or was a vision resulting from her lifelong affection for her flock, I cannot say. She died in a physical condition which is commonly understood to be the result of buitcheyagh bewitching.4
The luck brought by the Manx fairy lamb is understood to have operated chiefly on the health and fertility of the sheep ; but the saddle and bridle in the foregoing instance strongly suggest that the fairies rode it. In an old Italian legend a similar luck-bringer inspires the artist Giotto and guides him to success and fame. There are gaps in the story as related by Leland (more simply than was his wont) in his Legends of Florence, and its affinities lie as much with the Irish conception of the Lhiannanshee as with the Manx fairy lamb.
" Giotto was a shepherd, and every day when he went forth to pasture his herd there was one little lamb who always kept near him, and appeared to be longing to talk to him like a Christian.5 Now this lamb always lay down on a certain stone which was fast in the ground ; and Giotto, who loved the lamb, to please it lay down also on the same stone. After a short time the lamb died, and when dying, said :,
Giotto, be not astonished
That thus I speak to thee;
I have such love for thee
Wherever thou shalt go
I will follow thee always
In the form of a fairy,
And through my favour
Thou shalt become a famous sculptor
And a noted artist.'6
And so it came to pass that Giotto was an able sculptor by the aid of the lamb, and all that he did was due to the lamb which helped him.7 And when he died, the spirit of the lamb remained in the form of a folletto, or fairy, in the campanile, and it is still often seen there, always with the spirit of Giotto. Even in their death their souls could not be separate."
This incomplete but suggestive legend may perhaps be viewed as a transmutation of a more naturalistic tale about Giotto's boyhood. His father owned many sheep, and it was the boy's task to tend them on the Apennine hill-side. To pass the time he used to draw their outlines on a rock or flagstone with a pointed pebble. The scratchings caught the eye of Cimabue and led to his patronage. That one of these little images should come to life in the ferment of Italian folk-belief would not be incredible.
It may be suggested that the material basis of the Manx fairy-lamb superstition is to be found in an occasional throw-back to the ancient reddish-brown loaghtyn breed of sheep. But there is more in it than that. The Scottish Highlanders had their " Wild Calf " which haunted the oldest byres only. It was never seen, as the lamb was, but was heard lowing at midnight. If it could be gripped in the dark the goodman was thenceforward wonderfully successful with his stock.8 Here we come round to another Manx animal-apparition-one, however, that is not lucky to meet-the black calf, or something like a calf, without a head and having a chain about it which jingles. In the lower part of Glen May a girl who went beyond the " street " one dark evening saw it hanging about the gateway. It jumped across the lane into the deep place below the waterfall, making a rattling noise, and she never did any good after, with the fright she got. Another girl saw one at the Folly, between Castletown and Ballasalla, a spot where many other queer things have been seen and heard.
The lucky lamb, again, may be recognized in a passage contributed by W. H. D. Rouse to vol. xii. of Folk-lore from a fragment of Accius's " Atreus." King Atreus of Mycenæ mourns for a lamb, conspicuous among the flocks for its golden fleece, a heavenly prodigy which guarantees (or sustains) the stability of his kingdom, and which Thyestes thought it worth his while to run off with.
Fairies keep all the domestic animals except cats and fowls, and cats they steal, in Denmark. Is this because cats and fowls came into Europe later than dogs, cattle, horses, sheep and pigs? Hen-eggs and their shells, so useful to witches, have always thoroughly mystified the minds of fairy changelings, no matter how long their memories, and although demon cats and witch-cats are plentiful, a fairy cat is a creature I have never heard of. It is acknowledged that a cat has better vision than the rest of the animals for wraiths, ghosts, and other essences of the duskbetter even than the horse-and this gift of hers may have some connexion with the Manx belief that the cat was the only member of the family whose presence was tolerated by the fairies when they came into the kitchen at night. She saw them better because she had more affinity with them, perhaps.
Fairy horses were often merely the stems of the cushag or ragweed temporarily transformed.9 Red-eared fairy cows came up out of the sea. The little white fairy dog with something red about his head heralded the approach of his owners, especially when they wanted to come indoors for shelter on a wild winter night. He may have been one of them in that serviceable shape.
The Irish expressions " the Gentry " and " the Gentle Folk " were not bestowed on the Manx fairies as a body, or at least they have not survived ; neither has any other title which might testify to their physical or social superiority. They were the sleih beggey, " the little folk "-the right sort for such a little island. Another colloquial name was mooinjer veggey, " the little people " or " kindred." These were translated into the dialect as " the Li'l Fallas," and varied with " the Crowd," " the Mob," or " Themselves." " Them's that's in " covers the fairies and other supernatural beings of the better sort. All these terms, both the English and the Manx, were substitutions ; caution forbade the everyday use of the right name. None of them is likely to be heard now, because the fear has vanished with the faith, and " the feeries " are spoken of without periphrasis. But in place-names, which presumably date some centuries back, both shee and ferrish are found. The Manx must have adopted the English word " fairies " for use in the singular number, and ferrishyn is at the least a double plural. This borrowed word ousted the earlier shee in ordinary usage, but shee has survived, alongside of ferrish and ferrishyn, in at least one place-name. In plant-names, on the other hand, we find ferrish or ferrishyn invariably, from which it may be argued that one or two of the fairy places got their names long before the fairy herbs got theirs. Plant-names are more liable to change than place-names, but it is difficult to believe that in so many of the former the older word shee was replaced by ferrish. Must we therefore conclude that, although magical and curative properties were doubtless attributed to these herbs before Manx existed as a distinct language, their connexions with the fairies were an imported tradition ?
The leaders of the English, Welsh and Irish fairy communities are known to legend by personal names. Irish fairy kings and queens had each his or her own territory, and there are traces of similar limitations in Wales ; but hardly any names of individuals have survived in the Isle of Man. The Manxman has forgotten the names of his fairy aristocracy. Kelly's definition, however, of the older word shee (ignored by Cregeen) as " spirits," and of lhiannan-shee as " an attendant spirit," not " fairy," suggest that Manx fairydom was formerly understood to include the tall and stately beings of the ancient Irish tradition as well as the lively little elves. Were the latter rather the ferrishyn ? At all events, with the exception of Mab, it is the personages of more than human stature and majesty who are sometimes , distinguished in other countries by names of their own.
In the Isle of Man, Daniel Dixon, who was met with high up in Glen Aldyn, was a little fellow,10 but perhaps he was joking when he said he was the fairy king, or he may have had his reasons for giving a false name when interrogated. Hom Mooar, " Big Tom," of the Fairy Hill in Rushen, was sometimes called a fairy musician but more often a glashtyn. Fenoderee is not exactly a fairy, and Teeval, though a genuine fairy princess, appears to have reached Insular folk-lore through a literary channel. In one of the charms in the Mona Miscellany (page 178) occurs the expression fynn firrinagh for an entity of an uncertain nature. There is a twofold reminder here, firstly of the name of Finvarra, the ruler of the Connaught fairies, and secondly of that of his fellow-chieftain in Co. Limerick, Donn Firrinagh. The translation renders fynn as " sprite." In " Finvarra " it means a chief. Is there in either case a clue to the meaning of the Fin- or Fenin " Fenoderee " ?
Of all the probable substitutions of Christian for pagan names in Manx charms the most tantalizing occur in a blood-stopping charm: " Va Philip Yee ray shee as Bahee yn ven echey," " Philip was king of the fairies and Bahee was his wife."11Bahee promises abundance all round as though she were a right fairy queen.
Hereunder follows a list of place-names derived from the Fairy-faith, the definition of " fairy " being stretched wide enough to squeeze in a few Giants, a couple of Fenoderees, some Horses and Bulls of the Water, a pack of Black Dogs, several Hags and White Ladies, Mermen of sea and land, and a Mermaid, together with sundry nondescript Bugganes : the whole mustered from A Manx Scrapbook, where the personal characters of many are delineated : and reinforced by five able-bodied recruits from another camp.12
Chibber Nerrish (probably for C. ny Fherrish), " Well of the Fairy " ; near the Whallag, Malew.
Close ny Ferrishyn, " Enclosure of the Fairies " ; near Gob y Volley, Lezayre. In it is
Chibber my Ferrishyn, " Well of the Fairies."
Loghan y Ferrish, " Lakelet of the Fairy"; Ballacrye, Ballaugh. (J. J. K.)
Paal ny Ferrish, " Fold of the Fairy " ; in Lonan. (J. J. K.)
Thie Ferrishyn, " The Fairies' House." This name was sometimes given to what was supposed to have been the first house built in a village, its oldest house, because the fairies were always fondest of it and more given to " taking " there than in any other building. A family I know, who lived for some time in the thie ferrishyn of a Lonan village, saw nothing uncanny ; but one or more of its members used to hear unaccountable sounds, and sometimes music, before learning the name and reputation of the cottage. There is no stream near which might explain these sounds.
A farmhouse a little West of the Skyhill ridge, referred to on page 235 within, and on page 252 of the first Scrapbook, was probably a thie ferrishyn.
Cronk ny Shee, " Hill of the Fairy, or Fairies," on Windy Common, Malew. A cairn which contained a cist.
Mount Sion or Sinai, Slieu Whallian, Patrick. " Mount Sion " is, in Ireland, often a version of Cnoc Sithean, " Fairy Hill." See Wood-Martin, Elder Faiths, ii., 19 ; Power, Place-names of Decies, page xi. ; Joyce, Irish Place-names, i., 41, 180.
Purt y Shee (commonly " Port-e-Chee") shee here may or may not mean the fairies.
The Fairy Bridge, near Oakhill, Braddan. This name used to be applied occasionally to Ballalonna Bridge, Malew, also, for sufficient reasons. There is another somewhere in Rushen.
The Fairy Broogh, Glen May, Patrick.
The Fairy Glen, near Ramsey. This and the next name may be modern.
The Fairy Glen, Lag Mooar, Patrick.
The Fairy Ground, Douglas Quay. Perhaps for " Fair-ground."
The Fairy Hill, Ballastole, Maughold. The Fairy Hill, near Orrisdale, Malew.
The Fairy Hill (alias Cronk ny Mooar, Cronk Howe Mooar, etc.), near Kirk Christ, Rushen. Professor Herdman, in an article in the Liverpool Daily, Post of 5th February, 1912, stated that local tradition has it that King Reginald II. of Man was buried in the Fairy Hill at Port Erin, in his armour, standing erect. " Local tradition " was suspiciously definite in its details, and it may be surmised that local antiquaries are ultimately responsible for the " King Reginald II." at the least. Herdman found no signs of burial there, and thought the mound had been used as a fort on which guns may have been mounted.
The Fairy Hole (otherwise The Hall), a marine cave in the Sugarloaf, Rushen.
The Fairy Orchard, Ballaquinney, Marown. Site of a keeill. This is a plantation (of larches), so the name may have been given comparatively recently. " Orchard " in Man, by the way, does not necessarily imply apple-trees.
The Fairy Place, a fishing-ground off Peel.
The Fairy Well, at the Fairy Bridge, near Oakhill, Braddan.
The Fairy Well, on Slieu Rea, Lonan.
The Buggane, Andreas and German. Two mounds, both no doubt haunted formerly.
Creg Towl y Buggane, " Hole-of-the-Buggane Rock " ; near Laxey.
Calliagh ny Groamagh, " Hag of the Gloominess " ; near Ballagilbert, Malew.
Creg ny Caillee, " Rock of the Hag " ; on Shen Curn, Ballaugh. (J. J. K.)
Gob ny Callee, " Point of the Hag " or " Point of the landing-place " ; on the Barony shore, Maughold.
The Fenoderee's Hole, Glen Rushen, Patrick. The Fenoderee's Path, or Track, at the head of the East Baldwin valley, Braddan.
Claghyn y Foawr, " Stones of the Giant," Cronk y Chuill, Lonan.
Creg y Foawr, " Rock of the Giant," Glen Mona, Maughold.
The Giant's Quoits, monoliths at the Four Roads, Port St. Mary.
The Giant's Foot, at the head of Glion Mooar, Michael.
Lhiaght y Foawr, " The Giant's Grave " ; a mound at Peel Castle.
Lhiaght y Foawr, a passage-grave, Kew, German.
Meir ny Foawr, " The Giant's Fingers " ; boulders on Lhergydhoo, German.
Meir ny Foawyr, "The Giants' Fingers"; boulders at the Dhoon Bay, Maughold.
Lady Port, German. Probably so-named for the same reason as the next item.
Lady's Strand, or Port Lady, Michael. Haunted by a White Lady. (J. J. K.)
The White Lady, monoliths at Glencrutchery in Conchan, Ballafreer in Marown, and elsewhere.
The Nikkesen's Pool, in the Groudle river, Conchan, and in the Awin Ruy, Lonan. The Nikkesen was a longshore Merman.
Lhiondaig Pohllinagh, " Greensward of the Merman " ; in Glen Wither on the Rushen coast. His basking-place.
Chibber Yoan Mooiy, " Sea-Joan's Well " ; near the Chasms, Rushen. Probably a name for the Mermaid.
Ghaw ny Spyrryd, " Creek of the Spirit " ; near the Sound, Rushen. What kind of spirit is uncertain, but perhaps the howling Buggane who was known to reside there.
Trowl-pot or Trowly-pots, near Ballamooar, Patrick. Probably the Norse troll.
Lhing y Glashtyn, " River-pool of the Glashtyn " ; Ballacorris, Lezayre (J. J. K.), and Glen Mona, Maughold.
The Terroo, a field on Baldromma, Maughold, may imply the former presence of a Tarroo-ushtey, Water-bull. So also may
Pooyl Therriu, " Bulls' Pool," and possibly Magher yn Tharroo, " Field of the Bull." Both these are taken from Moore's Manx Place-names.
The word moddey, " dog," undoubtedly signifies in some place-names the supernatural Black Dog, Moddey Dhoo. The wolf must have become extinct in Man at such a remote period that it need not be considered in connexion with extant place-names. Among the spots likely to have been named for their being haunted by a Black Dog are :-
Cooill y Voddey, " Nook of the Dog " ; intack in Lezayre Curragh.
Ellan y Voddey, " Island of the Dog " ; intack in Ballaugh Curragh.
Jeeg y Voddey, "Water-ditch of the Dog," adjoining W. Nappin, Ballaugh.
Lag y Voddey, " Hollow of the Dog " ; adjacent to Perwick, Rushen.
Loghan y Voddey, " Lakelet of the Dog " ; a half quarterland in Jurby.
Moaney ny Moddey, " Turf-ground of the Dogs " ; intack in Malew.
The above are old documentary names in MSS. except Lag y Voddey, which I picked up lately. There are also the well-known Cronk y Voddey, German, " Hill of the Dog," and Mwyllin y Voddey, Lezayre, now called the Dog Mills. Moddey in certain other place-names leaves room for a good deal of doubt as to its interpretation. If Ballamodda, Malew, was formerly Balnemoddey, as it is in the Parish Register, 1649, it is a plural (correctly spelt -moddee), hence it is unlikely to refer to the Moddey Dhoo, which is always seen and spoken of in the singular.
Recently I have been told (once spontaneously and in a second case in reply to a question) that the adjective spelt feeyney in place-names and pronounced " feenyeh," which is usually translated " wine," really means " the fairies, or something to do with them." It is not generally understood in that sense nowadays, but " wine " is not satisfactory in any of the cases in which feeyney occurs, except perhaps Traie Feeyney, which might allude to smuggling; in Traie ny Feeyney an article is placed before a word purporting to be an adjective. Already recorded in the first Scrapbook are :
Chibbbey Feeyney, situated in Lheeaney Feeyney, Ballaeree, Bride. Chibber Feeyney, Glen Roy, Lonan. Cooill ny Feeyney, Clenaigue, Maughold. Gayer Feeyney, West of Greeba, German. Tyaie Feeyney, Ballaquane, Patrick.
To these must be added
Cleigh Feeyney, Patrick (O.S. map). There is some doubt about this name. Moore (Place-names, page 166) says " formerly Cleigh Cheeiney," which he translates " Green Hedge " ; Kneen (Place-names, page 336) says " Cleigh Fainey, ' Ring Fence'" is correct, according to the late Wm. Cashen.
Cronk Feeyney, field on Mwyllin y Quinney, Santon. Gayer Feeyney, triangular piece of rough ground at junction of Foxdale - Castletown road and Bayr Ballaquane, below North Star Inn, Malew. The fairies once punished a man for cutting down their trees here.
Traie ny Feeyney, Maughold (O.S. map). Probably many more instances exist or have existed among field-names.
The only plant-names I have been able to gather from printed and verbal sources, which contain a distinct reference to the fairies, are :-
Bee feyrish, " Fairy food " ; the wall-pennywort.
Blaa ferrish, " Fairy flower " ; the red campion (lychnis diuyna). Also known as
Pinkyn ferrish, " Fairy pinks."
Cleaysh hramman, " Ears of the elder-tree " ; a fungus which was understood to be or to resemble fairies' ears. It was used as a poultice for the reduction of enlarged glands.
Lieen ny ferrishyn, " Flax of the fairies " ; the greater stitchwort (stellaria holostea).
Mairanyn ferrish, " Fairy thimbles " ; the harebell (campanula rotundifolia). This is a name for the foxglove in the Scottish Highlands. In Man the flower is known also as
Clag ferrish, " Fairy bell."
" Fairy bottles," " Fairy shoelaces," and " Fairy purses " are various kinds of seaweed. A blue " fairy flower," now unknown by a more definite name but having magical properties, grew near the Cairn on Laxey Head, whence it was introduced at a spot in the Laggan Agneash in Laxey Valley. In both places it has since been exterminated by its admirers.
The airs of two or three Manx songs have the name of being " fairy tunes " which were overheard in lonely places, especially on the banks of streams. Some account of the most famous of these songs will be found in the chapter devoted to Songs and Rhymes. Other melodies from the Middle-world are " Tappaghyn Jiargey " (The Red Topknots), and the " Arrane Ghelby " (The Dalby Song). The link with the supernatural is furnished by the words in the cases of " The Song of the Travelling Fairies," of " Arrane ny Ferrishyn " or " y Fenoderee " (The Song of the Fairies or of the Fenoderee), of " Yn Folder Gastey " (The Nimble Mower), of a portion of the Hop-to-Naa song, and of the remainder of " Arrane y Glashtyn " if we had it.
Drinking-cups have been won from feasting fairies, and most of them lost again-perhaps all. Girls have been rapt from this world by their fairy lovers, and men have entered the hills for various reasons ; some have returned, but not many. Between a breath and a breath a mortal might spend a hundred years in fairyland, or after a lightning-glimpse of fairyland he might come back a hundred years later. Or again, his body might live in this world and his soul in the other. Something of this last idea has survived the general belief in fairies, and certain abnormal states of mind are still liable to be interpreted, though rarely and privately, as a lapsing into the fairy sphere of influence. So too was phthisis, a century ago.
A Lezayre girl was seen to be failing in health ; she grew thin and listless, and lost her interest in the ordinary affairs of life. Her mother accused her of having dealings with a spirit or with the fairies, but she would not confess to it. So from time to time the mother watched by night in the churchyard, and on other nights in the woods above the church, and eventually she saw her daughter dancing with the fairies among the trees on the hill-side. She did not dare to go near them, but next morning she gave her a good beating. Not long afterwards the girl died. She was, of course, supposed to have joined the fairies for good.
It was seldom the adventurer or captive or victim returned, once he or she was taken, though he might be sighted in the midst of a troop of shadows or phantoms met with in haunted places-ghostly rabbles which were not clearly distinguished in people's minds from the fairies. Quite healthy and normal human beings might find themselves mixed up with " the Crowd " if they were not careful to keep their stables well protected with the usual horse-shoes, kieran crosses and so forth. For a horse accustomed to being borrowed at night by the fairies might at any time be attracted by the fairy hunt as irresistibly as the Cabbyl-ushtey was attracted by water. To catch a note of the fairy horn, or the tinkle of silver bridle-bells, or the twitter of a silver whistle, or the yelping and whining of the little red-eared, skewbald hounds, or to get a glimpse of the green and scarlet cavaliers themselves winding along far up the ferny glen-side, was enough to make him prick up his ears and gallop away with his reluctant rider to join them.
The fairies were most frequently to be seen, heard and smelt (" a stale, sour smell ") in the lonely upper parts of glens, where the bright slender rivers tumble swiftly and musically from pool to pool and only a narrow strip of sky shines down between the high green banks; but they dwelt also on bare, dry hill-tops where dancing could be enjoyed, and in places where green burial-mounds swell from the level sward so delightful for dancing. There was hardly any kind of place indeed, by all accounts, which they would not transfigure with their presence if the humour took them. At night, from a long way off, they could be seen trooping or dancing on " the tops "-the high places-as drifts of sparks or little flickering flames.
Glen Aldyn has always enjoyed the honourable reputation of being " a great place for fairies and the like," and the clearest and fullest first-hand account of a view of them which has come my way belongs to that once-beautiful glen. It is the only experience among those I am relating that occurred to a person other than Manx by descent, for the narrator of the following story is a Cestrian in business in Liverpool. I have known him well for the last 35 years. About 34 years ago, when he was 23, at zo a.m. of a brilliantly sunny summer morning he was walking on the short grass below the debris at the West side of the Glen Aldyn slate-quarries, which lie far above the inhabited part of the Glen. Here he came to a sudden stop to avoid stepping on something alive between two and three yards in front of him. It was five little creatures dancing in a ring, hand in hand. They stood a foot or 18 inches high and were greyish in colour like fungus, their bodies seeming to be swollen in front, their limbs and eyes clearly distinguishable, and their heads moving as they danced. He speaks of them as " little men " because they gave him a strong impression of being of the male sex. After he had watched them for a short time they vanished from his sight and there was nothing there but the grass. Thinking his eyes or brain might have played him a trick, he went to the same spot a couple of mornings later, and saw them again, just as before. He has hardly ever spoken of it to anyone, for fear of ridicule. These are the only times he has seen anything of the sort which is called supernatural, and the first of the two encounters made him, he says, feel a bit queer.
Sometimes fairies were heard without being seen. It is remembered in Arystine that a former tenant of Ballakillowey used to hear them making music in the kitchen after he had gone to bed, and one of them was playing on a trumpet. Before Castle Mona at Douglas was turned into an hotel nearly zoo years ago there was a small garden in front of it. This is now a bare, open space, but a tradition still survives that the fairies used to be heard singing there in the days when it was a garden.
Old water-mills were dear to the fairies, and Scroundal Mill in Ballaugh, now abandoned to silence and decay, was "full of them" during its busy lifetime, a former miller's last surviving daughter has told me. Her father called her and another child down to the bottom of their garden one summer evening to see the fairies walking on the wall of a tholtan that was there. She saw their legs stalking along the top of the wall. On account of the leaves she couldn't see their bodies very well at all, but judged they would be about two feet high altogether. Having volunteered this estimate, she added that when They were seen or heard near the house they were a sign of death or trouble of some sort, and it always came true.
During an unusually busy season it was decided to run the old mill at Kiondroghad by night as well as by day. This innovation was strongly resented by its invisible occupants. The human tenants, two brothers, went in one evening before retiring to see that all was working smoothly; as they opened the door a broom which was standing against the wall shot across the floor in front of their faces and hit the opposite wall with a brisk smack. Slightly mystified, but suspecting a practical joke by some of the village lads, they called to their dog, and with his help searched the mill thoroughly, both the floors and the cellar. The result was that they found nobody. They then went home and told their mother what had happened. She advised them to stop the mill at once, lock the door, and leave everything alone for three days. This they did, and nothing unusual was seen or heard when they restarted it ; but they never ran the mill at night again.
Manx fairies were often described as being quite tiny, less than a foot high. This follows the English tradition as we have it in Shakespeare, Drayton, Herrick and other Elizabethan and Jacobean writers. True, fairies could assume any size and shape that suited their convenience, but whence arose the now prevailing belief that they were so small ? Part of the explanation may be that supernatural beings were deemed to differ so entirely from humanity that their stature must necessarily be unlike ours, and in the course of time they became exaggerated into rockhurling giants and diminished into fairies of these absurd proportions. Apart from mere size, it is not always easy to feel sure what people meant by " the fairies," " the mermaid," and other terms for supernatural beings. So far as the Manx tales are concerned, I have no doubt that gambolling rabbits, flocks of birds feeding, and other natural phenomena, were sometimes mistaken for fairies by men whose sight was permanently or temporarily impaired. Yet could not the fairies turn themselves into such commonplace spectacles in a flash, if they thought they were seen and didn't wish to be ? Of course they could ! And the question is further obscured by the fact that Manx supernaturals of all kinds dreaded artificial light, for which reason a rushlight or a night-light was kept burning all night in some houses.
Certain of the manners and customs of the Insular fairies have been recorded by Roeder and Moore so far as the surviving material permitted ; valuable glimpses of an earlier state of the belief are afforded by Waldron, and by the historians who touched on such matters incidentally.13 The local branch of the clan did most of the things that foreign fairies did, with a marked tendency to mimic human activities. They loved to imitate us in our tasks after these were finished for the day. There used to be a small boatbuilding yard in the East corner of Perwick shore, at the foot of the brooghs. Here the boss would often say to his men towards dusk, " Now, boys, it's time to put away your tools, They'll be wantin' to get to work ! "
Notably missing from the accounts are tales of the " Good Neighbour " type so numerous in Scotland and other countries, where human dwellings are sometimes found to have been built over the fairy dwellings, especially when the latter occupy the interior of a hillock. The only Manx specimen of this type I can find is one rescued in Lezayre by Roeder in 1883.14 The fairies' fostering of human children and the visits of these in later life to their old nurses, a not uncommon feature of the older Irish tales, is likewise unknown in the Isle of Man. Only hinted at is the use by fairies of an unknown language and their childlike attempts to express themselves in the speech of their supplanters.
If these " neighbourly " characteristics had ever been conspicuous in Manx folk-lore a few stories of the sort must surely have survived, and it may be possible to draw some conclusions from their absence. Their frequency in other lands and the striking realism of their details have been justly accounted for by supposing that in them two of the main sources of the fairy tradition have coalesced : the indigenous inhabitants and the souls of the dead. It may be gathered that for some reason there was in Man little or no ordinary communication between the two living races, perhaps because the older one was few in number and dwelt far apart. Indeed, the idea of their remoteness survived into the 18th century, when Waldron wrote that " As they confidently assert that the first Inhabitants of their Island were Fairies, so do they maintain that these little People have still their residence among them. They call them the good People, and say they live in Wilds and Forests, and on the Mountains." This belief is well illustrated in the two following reminiscences, which I owe to Miss Mona Douglas.
The last sod-house on the Island is said to have been one which stood on Skyhill and was inhabited by a family named Ribbat (Redpath) ; it was built on the spot " where the oldest farm on the North used to be." Miss Douglas's nurse had it from her own father that " the fairies used to have a regular city just about there, and ones had seen it all lit up at night when they would be passing."
The same tradition in greater detail, as heard about twenty-five years ago, I will give in Miss Douglas's own words. " Johnny Callow, an old grave-digger of Lezayre, often used to tell me when I was small about a man who was crossing Skyhill one night, and was ' took ' and lost his way. At last he saw a great house before him, bigger than Ballakillingan, all lighted up and the door open, and ones going in and out. He never thought where he was or what it would be, but went on towards it, and inside there were scores of grand ladies and gentlemen in silks and satins and velvet, and all the tables and chairs and dishes were of gold and silver, shining fit to blind you, and there was mortal grand food and drink all set out ready. He walked right in, but none of the ones that was there seemed to see him, so he thought he would take shelter and watch them for a bit, and he did, sitting all quiet in a corner. But he was tired coming in off the mountains after his day's work, and before long he went to sleep, and when he woke up in the morning house and people and all was gone, and he was lying in the fern up on top of Skyall. I don't remember whether Johnny said he had eaten of their food or not." Most likely not, or he would have been drawn into their world, for a while at least. R. J. Kelly, who published his Sketches in the Isle of Man in 1844, relates a tradition attached to the same place which anticipates this man's adventure.
One factor in their ability to make themselves known to us was the place; they might become visible to one who inadvertently walked over a potent herb or a hollowness beneath the surface of the ground. Another factor was the hour; the phase and position of the moon and the state of the tide promoted or prevented a rapport between them and human beings. The temporary mental vacuity called "thinking of nothing," or an unintentional posture or gesture or sign-all these helped to put us into touch with them.
A fairy in human semblance could be scented for what he or she really was by the preterhuman brilliance of the eyes, or by odd-coloured or oddlooking eyes.
They conferred the power of charming and curing on some of those who were away with them, and allowed them, after their return to this world, to pass their knowledge on to others. Perhaps not all the fairies were good-tempered at all times, any more than we are ; but much, I feel sure, has been put down to their discredit which was really due to the indifference of non-human Nature towards the well-being of humanity, and to our own ill-will towards one another. The chief risk lay in injuring or offending them unintentionally.
More is known of their personal natures and habits, but it is not necessary to tell all. Of the Dead and of the Gods, say classical writers, we should speak nothing but what is good. Neither should we of the fairies, flocking or lonely.
Farewell now-or au revoir ?-to the gregarious little fairies, who lived and moved as unanimously as a flock of starlings or a shoal of herring. Let us call up instead some individual members of their community; those who, though seen in many places and by many persons, always walked alone.
Of the Island's individual fairies the best known-unless we call the Fenoderee a fairy-is the Lhiannan-shee. She is, in the literal meaning of her name, a fairy follower or sweetheart, but she stands apart from the main body of the fairy inhabitants and is capable of a more purely psychological explanation. No superstitious conception, however, is wholly unmixed with another, and more than a single quality is covered by this name. On one side of her traditional character she is the " succuba " to whom so much attention was paid in medieval times, and thereby she belongs to the subject of demoniality ; she is the modern form of the classical lamiae and of the ancient Gaulish bandusiae, and Merlin's Nimiie or Vivien was one of her manifestations. Thus she is for the Manxman, In the opposite extreme, she has in some parts of Ireland added to her nature the compensating qualities of a guardian spirit and inspiring genius of poets and musicians ; this is also the motive of the Italian legend concerning Giotto and his fairy lamb, previously cited. Though called a fairy she comes, in her character of lamia, from the land of the dead ; hence in the main she is a vampirish kind of creature who attaches herself to a man, in the form of a woman invisible to all save himself, whom eventually, if he yields to her seductions, she ruins, body and soul. Among the Manx people, in whose ethos the artistic impulse is weak, this is her normal character. Dr. Kelly in his Dictionary compiled about the junction of the 18th and 19th centuries, translates " Lhiannan-shee " as " a genius, a sprite or spirit, a familiar spirit, a guardian angel " ; but he adds significantly, " I have seen this word used for nightmare."15 It is still occasionally used as an affectionate reproof to a small child which clings to its mother's skirt and demands an undue share of attention ; just as an urchin who is restless or mischievous out of the ordinary is " a little ferrish."
The Lhiannan-shee often haunt the vicinity of wells and pools, whence they attach themselves temporarily or permanently to the men of their choice. There was one at the Chibber Roon in Marown, another at the Fairy Well near Tholt y Holt in Lonan, and something of the kind at some roadside water near Glen May. Of the male of the species we hear very little, doubtless because he does not take up his residence with his human bride but carries her away privately to his own country. His presence, however, may be detected in a beautified tale related by Train 16 which pretends to be an explanation of the Fenoderee: a fairy-man woos a Glen Aldyn girl under the Blue Tree there.
Roeder has a story about a Lhiannan-shee that a man picked up at a dance at Ballahick, Malew, and could never shake off,17 and half a dozen other tales of the same kind, all belonging to the South..18 One I heard last year needs a good deal of filling in to make it satisfying. A former tenant of a Port St. Mary farm -remotely former, be it understood, though the narrator's tone, as is often the case, was that of a man going back a dozen years or so-was haunted by one of these instruments of darkness. " The people could hear it noising when all was quiet." The man thought it might be one of the women he employed on the farm, and he dismissed one after another in the hope of getting rid of the culprit, but this did him no good, she kept on bothering him. Some men from another part of the Island stopped in the house and watched for her, but they could do no good for him either. He died in the end.18
The man's suspicion of his female servants belongs to the belief that strong passions focussed by a strong will can send out an influence in a more or less material form on an errand of hatred, envy, or love. An account of such a sending at Dalby has been given in the previous volume ; another, having a different motive, will be found herein on page 99.
In a Manx legend which has already seen publicity the Lhiannan-shee has developed from a personal familiar into a family guardian. She has, in fact, come to resemble the fairy being of the Highlands called a Glaistig, who " was held to have been a woman of honourable position, a former mistress of the household, the interests of the tenants of which she now attended to."19 With her in the Manx instance was associated a glass tumbler with flutings resembling fingers and a scroll-work ornamentation, called the Fairy Cup of Ballafletcher because it pertained to the old manor-house of that name. In honour of the good fairy it was ceremonially drained at Christmas (and Easter ?) by the head of the Fletcher family. It was a fetish or palladium ; whoever should break it would be haunted by the Lhiannan who was hidden in it or to whom it belonged, and the family fortunes would be similarly shattered.
Kirby, (Ballafletcher) House, A hundred years ago
[from Ashe 1825]
Of the two themes here interwoven, the fairy and the drinking-glass, the former is the more promising from a folk-lore point of view. The original cup was probably brought into the Island by the branch of the Lancashire Fletchers who took possession of Kirby and renamed it Ballafletcher at some date previous to 1580. By what whim or accident it became associated with a fairy can now only be guessed at ; Manx legends of cups won from the fairies, and English traditions such as that of the Luck of Edenhall, were perhaps jointly responsible. But it may be remarked that the house occupied by the Fletchers adjoined the great boulders of the prehistoric " fort " on the river-bank, and stood within a stone's-throw of the old Kirk Braddan graveyard and the Chibber Niglus.20 Wherever the Fletchers' invisible châtelaine came from, she had so far departed from her presumable native character of lamia or seductive vampire that Dr. Oswald, whose account of the matter is much the earliest, calls her " the Lhiannan-shee of the hearth and domain."21
Perhaps it would be juster to her memory to think of her as a family banshee ; if so, she was the only Manx one I have heard of. The Fletchers died out a hundred and fifty years ago, and the house she presided over, having been superseded by one built by Colonel Wilkes in another part of the estate in 1820, has long been merely a site ; so the influence of this particular Lhiannan-shee and the virtue of her cup may be deemed to have perished equally.
To sum up the several accounts of the vessel's wanderings: after leaving its home at Ballafletcher it passed from the Fletchers to the Caesars, from them to the Bacons, from them to Colonel Wilkes, from him to Lady Buchan, and from her to the Bacons again.22 Reasons other than superstitious ones can doubtless be found to explain the dying out of the three Manx families which in turn held the cup. When in recent years the Bacons became extinct in the male line it passed into other hands. Whether what is now called the Fairy Cup of Ballafletcher is the original one or one substituted at a date unknown is open to doubt.23
In looking through Mr. J. J. Kneen's Place-names of the Isle of Man 24 from my own standpoint I notice brief allusions, in the parishes of German and Michael, to two strange visitors called White Ladies, who came out of the sea and married local farmers. (Probably one and the same story has been attributed to the two places concerned, which bear similar names and lie near each other.) Here a term which belongs to certain land-dwelling apparitions has been given by the country-folk to what must originally have been either mermaids or " seal-women." A seal-woman is no spectre, like a White Lady, and no fairy, like a Lhiannan-shee. While she is living ashore she makes a good wife, mother and housekeeper, and is indistinguishable from ordinary women except by a few inconspicuous physical and mental peculiarities. Chief among these are : a slight web between fingers and toes, roughness of palms and soles, slow breathing, fondness for the shore and sea-bathing, expertness in swimming and diving, instinctive knowledge of the state of the tide at any moment and foreknowledge of storms, foreknowledge in general and understanding of secret matters, with skill in medicine and cures, especially in midwifery. She is said to be very fruitful herself. But sooner or later in her married life she comes across the seal's skin, or the mermaid's scaly sheath, which her husband has hidden away from her, and she cannot resist the temptation to try it on again. The feel of it awakens the sea sleeping in her blood, the ties of earth cannot hold her and she is drawn back reluctantly, or she forgets them and goes with delight. Why her partner does not burn or otherwise get rid of the covefifig to prevent her deserting him and the children is a mystery ; but among the dozens of tales of sea-women and bird-women which I have met with, in one only is the transforming integument destroyed, and even then without the desired effect.25 Are we to understand what is never stated or hinted that the skin is magically indestructible ?
Quite different from these are the White Ladies. Those whose home is in the mountains are the fierce hag-like creatures called Calliaghs ; they are eminently unweddable. The White Ladies of the lower levels are milder phantoms, who flit silken-robed and silkenfooted at twilight among the trees in the grounds of large houses, or by wells and rivers like the Lhiannanshee. There is one at the Folly near Castletown, another in the glen above Lewaigue farmhouse in Maughold (where there is also a small waterfall). The latter lady is still being seen by various people, and " no one will pass that little glen at midnight," says a local unbeliever.
For some reason I do not clearly understand, monoliths on farms are in a few cases called " the White Lady " and kept carefully whitewashed. Ballafreer, Marown, has one ; another near Glencrutchery House stands on the site of an old chapel and burial-ground. Does the implicit argument run somehow on these lines : Calliaghs and Hags were associated in many lands with dolmens and standing-stones, often they lived inside them when at home. When seen abroad they usually wore flowing white garments, and so did the Banshee always. (One of Roeder's informants called the Lhiannan-shee a " white woman.") Hence the White Lady in stone is the spectral lady of the estate turned into stone, like the Irish Vera and her cow, the Cailleach of the Hag's Head in Clare, and others all over the kingdom. Was there ever one at Ballafletcher who became associated with the Fairy Cup belonging to that house ?
Unlike all the other Manx supernaturals, the White Lady has no specific name in the vernacular. There is the Ben Varrey of the tidal waters, and the Shen Ven of Carraghyn, but I have never heard of a Ben Vane or a Ben-ainshter Vane.
Nor is the Banshee native to the Isle, at least not under that title. Train supposes that her duties were performed by the Dooinney Oie, the Nightman, because he " appeared only to give monitions of future events to particular persons."26 But this is a misconception of his office, which, as Train himself more credibly tells us a little later, was confined to foreboding storms to the Islanders in their beds.
The spectral ladies are not always white. A friend whose visionary experiences do not amount to more than three or four in a lifetime of over forty years was coming from Lewaigue farm one evening, before it was quite dark. Just after he had turned into the main thoroughfare which connects Ramsey with Laxey and Douglas he saw the greyish form of a woman, accompanied by a low-bodied, shaggy dog like a poodle or spaniel, coming down the road towards him. Before they reached him the dog ran across the road and disappeared where the ditch lay, and the woman seemed to melt into the hedge on the opposite side. He went up to the spot, but found no opening through which she could have passed, nor any possible way out for the dog on the other side, where there was no aperture except a pipe from which water was trickling. He wondered vaguely what had become of them. A minute or two later the bus for which he was waiting came round the bend, and he got in. As soon as he sat down he suddenly felt a strange weakness, and began to tremble all over. Only then did he realize that he had seen something spectral. The effects remained with him for the rest of the evening. When I chanced to be passing the place in his company a few months later he showed me where he had first seen the lady and her dog, and where they had vanished. Other tales are told, and unfavourable opinions expressed, of this locality.
1 If you saw them before they saw you, they couldn't do you any harm ; they would disappear. But it wasn't often you could see them first, for they knew when you were coming.
2 Henry Jenkinson, who walked about the Island a good deal when collecting his materials was told by a farmer's wife that her mother " always maintained that she had once actually seen the fairies, and described them as young girls, with scaly, fish-like hands and blue dresses." (Guide to the Isle of Man, 1874, page 75.) A blue-clad fairy man was described to Roeder also.
3A Manx Scrapbook, page 486. Nevertheless, ears have always been a strong point of the entire fairy creation--men, women, children and domestic animals. In Roeder's Manx Notes and Queries, page 55, a Glenchass woman saw some bigheaded fairies whose ears were the size and shape of wine-bottles, and that was a sight for sore eyes.
There is said to be a kind of fairies having feathers growing in their hair.
4 What is sent by a spell can be removed by a spell ; in Germany lice are charmed away by magicians. Grimm, Teut. Myth., page 1068, note 3, mentions the trial of a family who had inherited this power. The lice in such cases are the " spontaneously germinated " kind.
5 Shepherds in Roumania, as in other countries, often lead lonely lives. " They will choose out a favourite lamb as a companion, and talk to it and console it, so as to console themselves." (Princess Bibesco, Isvor, page 112.)
6 I have made a trifling correction in the translation of the verses.
7 Of the painter, sculptor and architect Giotto a critic (Basil de Selincourt) says, " His is a genius that we dare not limit by our preconceptions of what is possible to man ; we can but admit in humility that what is conceivable by us falls short of what was practicable to him."
8 MacDougall, Folk Tales, page 291.
9 Henderson, Folk-lore of the Northern Counties, page 227, says that if a Manxman happens to tread on the herb luss-ny-chiolg [belly-wort, hypericuin perforatum], a fairy horse rises out of the earth to carry him about all night. Moore (Folk-lore, page 152) reproduces Henderson's words.
10 Moore, Manx Folk-lore, page 2.
11 Mona Miscellany, page 178. Shee is there translated " peace," but " fairies " seems preferable.
12 Mr. J. J. Kneen's Place-names of the Isle of Man.
13 Robertson (Tour, 1790 was told that the Manx fairies were of two kinds: the playful and benignant, and the sullen and vindictive. The former were gay and beautiful, but shy; the second kind dwelt apart from the others and from men, " in clouds, on mountains, in fogs, on the hideous precipice, or in the caverns on the sea-shore " ; where they were frequently heard to yell. These two divisions were, doubtless, in the main descended from the Norse and Icelandic elves and trolls respectively, but the second kind would now be termed bugganes by the Manx.
14 Lioar Manninagh, i., 325. It is of the standard pattern. A little old woman in a red skirt and a petticoat thrown over her head comes in to borrow meal. Next day she returns it, and at the same time asks that the cows in the cowhouse may be turned round, because their dung was coming into her house below. Until this is done the cows are ailing.
15 By "nightmare" we may understand " succuba." The true origin and nature of the Lhiannan may be recognized in an Ulster account of one of the species, where she is not given the honourable title of fairy. " The ancient churchyard of Truagh, County Monaghan, is said to be haunted by an evil spirit, whose appearances generally forebode death. The legend runs that at funerals the spirit watches for the person who remains last in the graveyard. If it be a young man who is there alone, the spirit takes the form of a beautiful young girl, inspires him with an ardent passion, and exacts a promise that he will meet her that day month in the churchyard. The promise is then sealed by a kiss, which sends a fatal fire through his veins, so that he is unable to resist her caresses, and makes the promise required. Then she disappears, and the young man proceeds homewards; but no sooner has he passed the boundary wall of the churchyard, than the whole story of the evil spirit rushes on his mind, and he knows that he has sold himself, soul and body, for a demon's kiss. Then terror and dismay take hold of him, till despair becomes insanity, and on the very day month fixed for the meeting with the demon bride, the victim dies the death of a raving lunatic, and is laid in the fatal graveyard of Truagh. . . . But the evil spirit does not limit its operations to the graveyard ; for sometimes the beautiful demon form appears at weddings or festivities, and never fails to secure its victims, by dancing them into the fever that maddens the brain, and too surely ends in death." (Lady Wilde, Ancient Cures, etc., of Ireland, page 8q.)
16 Probably from the " MS. Account of Manks Superstitions, etc.," which was afterwards in the possession of the original Manx Society, but is now lost.
17 Manx Notes and Queries, page 55.
18 Lioar Manninagh, iii., 161-2.
19 They usually do everywhere. In the first volume of the Folk-lore Record, page 108, Andrew Lang, in alluding to this " very primitive superstition, the belief in the deadly love of the spectral forest women," says that " so wide-spread is this superstition, that a friend of mine declares he has met with it among the savages of New Caledonia, and has known a native who actually died, as he himself said he would, after meeting one of the fairy women of the wild wood."
20 Campbell, Superstitions of the Scottish Highlanders, page 19r.
21 Two holed stones formerly in Braddan churchyard, according to Wood-Martin, are described by him, in reference to his photograph of them, as having been connected with aphrodisiac and wedding-customs. " In times gone by," be says, " it was the custom for the brides and bridegrooms during the wedding-ceremony to clasp hands through the holes in the stones, but though this ancient Manx custom has fallen into desuetude, these old waifs of antiquity remain," etc. (Elder Faiths of Ireland, ii., 248).
22 Train's information (History, ii., 154) was received from Oswald in 1830.
23 Oswald in Train's work; Oswald, Vestigia, pages 189 and 192 ; Jenkinson's Guide, page 24 ; Moore, Lioar Manninagh, i., 318. Joseph Johnson in his scarce booklet entitled Legends, etc., of the Isle of Man (1881), states on page 15 that the cup, which had been preserved in a strong oaken box mounted with silver, had recently been sold by auction for a few pounds.
24 Manx treasures, like Manx men, are prone to emigrate. A critical notice in the 1911 Year Book of the Viking Club has a reference to an early Celtic casket-shrine bearing a runic inscription, " Ranvig owns this casket." The reviewer comments " The runes belong to the peculiar group found on the monumental crosses in the Isle of Man, from which it may be inferred that Ranvig was a Norwegian woman, perhaps settled in Man at the time when she first possessed the casket, which was afterwards taken to Norway, whence it found its way to Copenhagen."
25The Times Literary Supplement has charged me with having overlooked this collection, but I have had the pleasure of knowing Mr. Kneen, and his work in various fields, for nearly twenty years.
26 In Beza's Paganism in Roumanian Folk-lore, page 76.
27 History of Isle of Man, ii., 147.