[From A Second Manx Scrapbook]

CHAPTER VIII
SONGS AND RHYMES

2. Folk-rhymes and Children's Rhymes.

An old rhyme formerly current among Manx children began :

" Darraty Bundye sat on a stone,
Combing her hair and singing a song."

" Bundye " being pronounced to rhyme with " shunned ye." Who she was, and the rest of the lines, are equally hidden from the writer. In case she was a mermaid or a relation of Jenny the Whinney, she is given a place here.

The following additional stanza to the English nursery-rhyme " Sing a Song of Sixpence " was " obtained from the Isle of Man " :

" Jenny was so mad
She didn't know what to do;
She put her finger in her ear
And cracked it right in two." 1

Another rhyme repeated to Manx children, but evidently of English origin, ran thus, so far as it can now be recalled:

"Little Brown Betty sat in the wood,
She went to the river and found it in flood,
She went to the mountain and found it on fire.
. . . . .
The cat's in the cupboard washing. the dish,
The dog's in the kitchen frying the fish,
The pig's in the garden digging up spuds,
The cow's in the parlour chopping up wood.
. . . . . .
She turned herself round and went down to the sea,
And Little Brown Betty came singing to me."

An elderly Manxman I knew many years ago in Lezayre was fond of repeating this quatrain descriptive of seasonal signs :

" When the fern is in the nook
The gibbon is in the sand;
When the foxglove is in bloom
The bollan is at the rock."

Another version says " hook " instead of " nook," which suggests the curled-up ends of the fronds. The third line sometimes runs " When the corn is in the ear." The whole thing has probably been translated from the Manx ; I have seen it, in an extended form in Scottish Gaelic, though I cannot recall where. Guernsey has a proverb of which the English is

" When the barley comes into ear, the wrasse [rockfish] is good under the rock." (The Manx proverbial saying, " What comes with the flood will go back with the ebb," is also claimed by Guernsey.) 2

A children's skipping-rhyme used up to twenty-five years ago, and perhaps later, in the neighbourhood of Lezayre Churchtown, is thus quoted from memory by Miss Mona Douglas :

" I saw three goats come over the shore,
I saw three people down at the tide,
The first was the King, the second was the Queen,
The last was the Sailor who walks by their side,
And they all went North (South, East, West)."

At the word " North " the two children who are turning the rope alter its speed, and again at the other three points of the compass. A variant of the rhyme, with changes of speed at the same place, ran as follows, but a line seems to have dropped out:

" I saw three people down on the strand,
A King, a Queen, and a Sailor-man,
And a little white goat ran on before,
And the wind was blowing West O ! "

From the same collector I have this scrap of jingle, but am not told that it was used in a game or in any special connexion. It was heard in North Lonan :

" Juan the Bat
And Tibbet the Cat
Eat their meat without any fat."

Theobald, in various stages of attrition down to " Tib," is a time-honoured name for a cat. Hence, no doubt, the jesting allusion in Romeo and Juliet, Act ii., Scene 4 : " Why, what is Tybalt ? " " More than the prince of cats, I can tell you ! " The Cat in Reynard the Fox (1498) is named Tibert.

The lines

" O Vanannan, Hiarn y ching dorrinagh,
Chur dy brattagh harrin nish ! "

" O Manannan, Lord of the stormy headlands,
Cast thy mantle over us now! "

were perhaps a charm, or part of a charm, for invisibility or protection by means of the magic mist with which he enwreathed the Island and its inhabitants. Manannan's " mantle " is reminiscent of the cloak of forgetfulness or separation which he shook between his wife Fand and Cuchulain in the old Irish story, so that they should never meet again, or should not remember each other if they did meet. Probably both the Manx and the Irish garment were, at some previous stage of the Manannan legend, that favourite property of folk-tale, the Cloak of Invisibility. In Ireland it was the dion-bhrat-dubhra, the CoveringCloak of Darkness, which Aoibheall the Munster banshee lent to an O'Hartigan on the eve of the battle of Clontarf.

What was known as the Feth Fiadha (spelt variously) had an effect similar to that of the cloak or mantle. It appears to have been more in the nature of a ceremonial incantation, but " cloak " may have been a figurative term for it. Manannan laid this spell on the Tuatha De Danann when they retired into the fairy hillocks, and ever since that time they have been invisible to human beings, except when they wish otherwise. Patrick employed his own adaptation of it to persuade his enemies that he and his clerics were a herd of deer. Lesser persons, mere druids and poets, are said to have used a similar spell to render themselves or other men invisible. The name Feth Fiadha was sometimes given to a concealing mist which gathered of its own accord, a convenient auxiliary for fighters and lovers of which old Irish literature affords many examples.

" Lord of the stormy headlands " is a traditional epithet for the Sea-king. In the first volume of the Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Dublin, published in 1808 (page 69, note) Manannan is said to have been " called by the tale-writers of old Manannan mat lir, sidhe na ccruac, ' man of Manan, son of the sea, superhuman being of the headlands.' " Ccruac here (correctly cruacha) must mean headlands in the sense of mountain-tops. The Manx kione, plural ching, is applied to sea-promontories, not to mountains, and with three or four of these Manannan is still associated —with Spanish Head, with Peel Island and the adjacent cliffs of Creg Malin, with Jurby Head, less definitely with Gob ny Garvan in Maughold, and doubtless with others in traditions which have perished. But more vital in his legend is his presence from time to time on South Barrule and other summits.

If the foregoing couplet was used as a charm and is not a fragment of an old song, it is the only surviving specimen in which the King's name appears, 3 with the exception of a rhyme given in Witchcraft and Second Sight in the Highlands, page 83. " When a person is pulled up at law for abusive language, let him when entering the Courthouse spit in his fist, grasp his staff firmly, and say the following words :

" I will close my fist
Faithful to me is the wood.
It is to protect my abusive words
I enter in.
And Manaman Mac Leth,
And Saint Columbus, gentle cleric,
And Alexander in heaven."

Probably this charm from Kingairloch in Argyllshire (which, in its English form at least, appears to be incomplete), was adaptable to any legal cause, and was not valid only in slander cases. It suggests the question, did the popular belief in the efficacy of " touching wood " take its rise from faith in one's war-club or shillelagh ?

The recorder of the charm, the Rev. J. G. Campbell, thinks that " Leth " is a corruption of " Leirr " (as he spells it), which doubtless it is. He goes on to say, " Ni-Mhanainnein (i.e. the daughter of Manannan) is mentioned in a Gaelic tale as having remarkably beautiful music in her house, and ' the Dairy-maid, the daughter of Manannan ' (Bhanachag ni Mhanannein) is mentioned in another tale as a midwife, whose residence was somewhere near the moon." In her office and in her connexion with the moon she makes one think of Mëre Lucine or Mëlusine, the French fairy evolved from the Roman goddess Lucina who superintended the births of children. She was known in England also. At Calver, near Barlow in Derbyshire, the fairies were accustomed to dance in a certain field at dusk ; in the midst of their ring stood a little woman, herself a fairy, who was called " the Midwife," and was always blindfolded. In that county it is said that when a woman is about to be delivered of a child, the fairies bring this little fairy midwife, her eyes being hooded for the journey. She assists ; and when all is over they take her back to Fairyland. 4

That, needless to say, is a typical example of folk-lore's favourite trick of turning itself inside out. The more familiar story tells of a human woman being called to superintend a fairy birth; the fairies blindfold her for the outward and homeward journeys, so that she shall not remember the way into fairyland. But the fairy presence at the human birth is the truer parable, and should therefore be the older of the two versions. In support of this opinion we have the Hebridean aspect of St. Bride as a midwife ; in the Isles, Carmichael tells us, the ceremonial invitation to Bride to enter the house was made not only at the beginning of February and Spring, but when a birth was imminent. The pre-Christian Goddess Bride no doubt passed through a fairy-queen stage of existence in early Christian times, before she became a saint, and her office of superintending the transit from the formless world into this life has, throughout her changes of condition, clung to her name as a mark of her divine origin. She was a Spirit of Rebirth in Nature and in the human world, and it was probably she who was meant by the epithet " daughter of Manannan."

In conclusion, some comments on two folk-rhymes already published may not be out of place. Roeder records, in Manx, a blessing which he says the shearers used to sing when a sheep bounded away after being released. It was still occasionally heard, he states, both in Glen Aldyn and in the South at the beginning of the 20th century :

" Gow dy lhome as tar dy mollagh,
Cur lesh dy eayn braue bwoirrin,
As dy loamrey braue saillagh ;
My aikys oo moddey, eroym dty chione,
As my aikys oo maarliagh, roie er-y-hon !" 5

In English, literally:

"Go (away) bare and come (back) hairy,
Bringing a fine ewe-lamb,
And a fine greasy fleece ;
If thou west a dog, stoop thy head,
And if thou seest a thief, on that account run !"

Slightly altered, the first line was also used by fishermen when shooting their nets : " Gow magh dy lhome trooid thie dy mollagh," " Go forth bare, come home rough." 6 The emerging net certainly has a bristly look, with noses, tails and fins sticking through the meshes; nevertheless, the saying is evidently one of the many things which have been adapted from a land-use to a sea-use.

The Manx sheep-blessing has kinship with one of the charms in Carmina Gadelica (i., 293), the Gaelic of which need not be given here. They start together, but while the Manx rhyme keeps to the ground, that from the Scottish Isles quickly soars among the saints and angels. " When a man has shorn a sheep and has set it free, he waves his hand after it and says :-

" Go shorn and come woolly,
Bear the Beltane female lamb,
Be the lovely Bride thee endowing,
And the fair Mary thee sustaining,
The fair Mary sustaining thee. "

Michael the Chief be shielding thee
From the evil dog and from the fox,
From the wolf and the sly bear,
And from the taloned birds of destructive bills,
From the taloned birds of hooked bills."

Were there no sheep-stealers in Scotland, or was the Highland poet too polite to speak of them ?

" Ny three geayghyn s'feayrey dennee Finn MacCooil
Geay henneu, as geay huill,
As geay fo ny shiaaill."

" The three coldest winds that Finn MacCooil felt
A thaw-wind, a wind through a hole,
And a wind from under the sails."

This interesting triad recorded by Harrison in his Mona Miscellany, ii., 20, as a proverbial rhyme then current in the Isle of Man, varies in one item from a Scottish prose version given by Macbain in the Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Glasgow, ii., 103, among a number of other traditional sayings in Gaelic about the hero : " A wind through a hole, a wave-top wind, and the thin (literally ' naked') wind of the thaw-the three coldest winds that ever Finn felt."

The damp chilliness of a thaw is obnoxious to beings even more fabulous than the chief of the Fenians :

" The mermaids can ought thole
But frost out of the thow-hole,"

says the Gallvidian Encyclopedia under " Thow." This seems to combine two of Finn's ventilators into one, since " the thow-hole is a name for the South, for the wind generally blows out of the South in the time of a thaw," McTaggart explains.

In Yorkshire it is Finn's closest British counterpart (after Arthur) from whom the thaw-wind is called 11 Robin Hood's Wind," because he found it the coldest of all winds. " Robin Hood could stand anything but a thaw-wind," says a Yorkshire proverb in Yorks, Notes and Queries, part x., pages 180 and 221.

Footnotes

1 Manners and Customs of England (Gentleman's Magazine Library), page 144.

2 MacCulloch, Guernsey Folk-lore, pages 539 and 515.

3 It is said, however, that in the invocation of the Manx fishermen for a blessing on their labours, the name of Patrick has replaced that of Manannan. See Manx Fairy-Tales, page 173, first edition.

4 Addy, Household Tales, page 134, She was probably Mab.

5 Manx Notes and Queries, page 9.

6 Manx Proverbs and Sayings, page 12.


 

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