[From A Second Manx Scrapbook]
THE most remarkable among Manx Calendar-customs from a mythological point of view, is one which had already died out, apparently, in the early part of the 16th century, but of which the memory had not wholly lapsed at the beginning of the loth. It consisted in the taking by every landholder of a bundle of rushes to South Barrule as a symbol of his rent, on the Eve of St. John's Day. A portion of the rushes was carried to the top of the mountain, another portion was left below. The various printed accounts of the practice will follow. It was probably obsolete at the time of the earliest references to it which now survive, for they speak in the past tense, but the date is given in all cases as St. John's or Midsummer Eve, the 23rd of June.
1. Only one copy of the Rhymed Chronicle in Manx, printed in Douglas as a popular pamphlet in 1778, is known to exist, but translations, complete or partial, have appeared in the works of General Vallancey, in Train's Historical Account of the Island, in Moore's Manx Ballads, and elsewhere. The stanzas relating
to the present subject are the first two. Literally translated, they run thus:
The The tax* each one paid out of his land Was a bundle of green rushes every year; And that was on them to pay as their rent, Throughout the country each St. John's Eve. Some would go with the rushes up
To the great mountain t above Barrule ; Others would leave the rushes below, Near$ Manannan above Keamool."
There are sufficient internal grounds for believing that this chronicle-poem or ballad was composed before the year 1523, but the first few stanzas may be older. They make it appear that the tribute of the rushes and the Golden Age of Manannan's rule were coeval ; but his existence in any capacity, whether deity, arch-wizard, or leader of the people, must have been a hoary legend when the lines were composed. The carrying up of the rushes was a folk-custom, in all probability not long obsolete at that time, which symbolized, as such customs often do, a more substantial offering, rendered when Manannan actually ruled. The strong Celtic sense of the divine right inherent in kings, and of their influence upon the success of crops, fertility of cattle, health of the people, and general prosperity of the countries over which they presided, was doubtless the main motive in making such offerings, and it is the merging, in early * Or " tribute "-keesh.
f Slieu mooav may be intended as a place-name, a name of Barrule mountain.
$ Ec might also be translated " at ," " with," or " by."
societies, of the offices and characters of the god, the priest and the king, which makes it difficult to say, in many cases, for which of these personalities the original sacrifice was intended. In the next passage, however, " Manannan " becomes a place.
2. " Mananan MacLer, the first Man that had Mann, or ever was ruler of Mann . . . he never had any farm* of the Comons,j' but each one to bring a certain quantity of green Rushes on Midsummer Eve, some to a place called Warfield,* and some to a place called Man, and yet is so called." (" The Supposed True Chronicle," originally 16th century, prefixed in MS. to a copy of the Statutes.)
3. " And [Manannan] was never wont to charge his subjects with other service, saving onely, that on Midsomer even, they shuld all bring gruene rushes some to a place called Wragfeld,t and some other to a place called Man." (A Lansdowne MS. dated 1573 ; see Oliver's Monumenta, i., 84.)
4. "One Mananan Mac Bar§ . . . who took of the people no other acknowledgment for their land, but the bearing of Rushes to certain places called Warefield,$ and Mame,11 on Midsummer even." (Chaloner, Treatise of the Isle of Man, 1656.)
f The people. South Barrule.
§ Read " Mac Lear."
11 Read " Mann " or " Manne."
" The first king in it was Manannan beg mac y Leirr,
He did not want rent, but a small tribute out of the land,* But a bundle of green rushes,} that was all. each year."
(" Manninee Dobberan," " The Manxmen's Lament," an 18th-century composition ; see Manx Ballads, page 34. Literal translation.)
6. " Mannanan-beg-Mac-y-Leir, the Druidical chief, had his but or wigwam palace on the East of Barrool, and but a short distance from Tynwald Hill. The wretched inhabitants of Mona acknowledged this conjuror as their liege lord, and their vassalage by carrying annually, on the eve of Midsummer-Day, a quantity of green rushes to the top of Barrool-a portion of the rushes, however, was left at the chief's residence at the foot of the hill ; the payment of the green rushes was the tenure on which the islanders held their lands." (Quiggin's Guide to the Isle of Man,
1848, page 109.) " On the East of Barrool " might mean either the top of Barrule Veg or the neighbourhood of Barrule farm. With " the chief's residence " is to be compared the chief officer's or steward's house in No. 7. These additional particulars were probably derived from oral traditions then living.
7. (Manannan speaks) : " Once upon a time they who were under my sovranty gave me reverence and loving-kindness. They brought me every year a quantity of hay of uncultivated meadows, or else rushes from Barrule-top, to the dwelling-house} of my * Or " tax out of the ground."
t Leaghyr, the word used here, also meant sedge-grass. + Or perhaps " store-house."
high-steward at the foot of the hillside." (" Conversation between Manannan and an old Manxwoman," by Thomas Kelly of Peel, printed at Douglas about 1870, and reprinted in The Manx Quarterly, No. 23.) The Manx text of the reprint is a translation of an unknown English original. The foregoing passage I have translated literally, as in excerpts Nos. i and 5, from the reprint.
A recent verbal tradition remains to be added to the foregoing quotations. About twenty years ago Miss Mona Douglas was told by an elderly Manxwoman that the rushes were burnt on the hill-top by " magic fire " which Manannan brought with him out of the sea, and that it was by means of the resulting smoke that he concealed the Island from unwelcome strangers.*
It is strange that nothing is said about burning the rushes in any of the early records of the custom; but if we may accept it a genuine part of the tradition the comparison is obviously with the Midsummer Fires common to all Europe, and not unknown in the Isle of Man. One Continental celebration in particular, described in The Golden Bough (abridged edition), page 623, in two details agrees strikingly with the Manx practice. In the 16th century, "at Lower Konz, a village situated on the hillside overlooking the Moselle, the midsummer festival used to be celebrated as follows. A quantity of straw was collected on the
* A mysterious fire of the sea was known in Scandinavian mythology. A Chaldean hymn of unknown antiquity addresses the element of Fire as " Hero, Son of the Ocean, who mountest aloft in the land ! "
top of the steep Stromberg Hill. Every inhabitant, or at least every householder, had to contribute his share of straw to the pile. At nightfall the whole male population, men and boys, mustered on the top of the hill; the women and girls were not allowed to join them, but had to take up their position at a certain spring half-way down the slope." The straw was then burnt in the form of a wheel and as torches. The contributing of a share by every householder, and the division of the participants into two parties, one at the top of the hill and the other lower down, will be recognized as special features of the Manx rushbearing ceremony.
The reason given why every householder should contribute his share was-in Baden at any ratethat otherwise no blessing would rest on his crops, just as with the Manx bonfires. The Manx explanation that the rushes or dry grass represented a rent or tribute (without mention of their being burnt) belongs to quite a different category of customs, with which may probably be included the annual providing of rushes for churches in England, and for Tynwald Hill and its approach from its chapel on 5th July. In the latter case the rushes came from a particular farm in the neighbourhood. The parish of Clee, in Lincolnshire, possesses an ancient privilege of cutting rushes from a piece of land called " Bescars " for the purpose of strewing the church on Trinity Sunday. A small quantity of grass is annually cut to preserve this right.* * Edwards, Old English Customs, page 217.
There are many other examples of this right, privilege, or duty of supplying rushes or hay for churches. In many cases it fell due in the Spring, but at Braunston, in Leicestershire, the date was 29th June, at Glenfield, in the same county, it was the first Sunday after 5th July, and at Ashby Folville, also in Leicestershire, it was the first Sunday in August. Curious traditions were attached at all these places. At Clee-cumCleethorpes, Lincolnshire, a belief was found in 1897 that the contribution of rushes was " in virtue of an acknowledgment of rent " ; and at some places in Gloucestershire money is paid instead.
Several questions are suggested by the foregoing resemblances to the Manx customs. The contribution of rushes to English churches and to Tynwald Chapel and Hill served a useful purpose, that of a carpet for a sacred precinct ; did it fulfil any such purpose on the summit of Barrule ? Again, have two quite separate observances been combined in the fullest surviving account of the Barrule ceremony ? If so, was the tribute-payment a transference from 12th (for 1st) August ?
It is familiar knowledge that from prehistoric times the Celtic-speaking world began its year with the onset of winter darkness at the beginning of November, just as a day was reckoned from one nightfall to the next. Hence the Manxman's New Year's Day, starting at sunset on the 31st October (later 11th November) was the most critical point of his twelve months, a time when the accumulated traditions and age-hallowed practices demanded strict observance ; when the
spirits of his ancestors, gathering at the death of summer and the birth of winter as fairies gather at human births and deaths, clamoured for remembrance and were placated to keep them quiet for the rest of the year.
Another method of year-division has, in the Isle of Man, been superimposed upon the Celtic one-the Scandinavian method with its Quarter-days at the 25th December, March, June and September.* Hence the once-important Tynwald Fair Day, formerly the Manx national holiday until it was superseded as such by the institution of motor-racing on the main roads (with which, however, it is permitted to rank as an advertised attraction to trippers), was observed on the 24th June prior to its being set forward to the 5th July in conformity with the adjustment of the European Calendar.f
It is to be presumed that a ceremony connected with Manannan must be considered Celtic. Was the commemoration of the tax or tribute, then, brought by Scandinavian influence from the Celtic Quarter - day to the Northern one, the Summer Solstice ? And is the only remaining vestige of it on its original day of celebration the time-worn custom of ascending
* It is noteworthy that Howth with its Scandinavian name, the eminence nearest to the Scandinavian headquarters at Dublin, is said to have given the lead to the St. John's Eve bonfires all over Ireland. But the non-Celtic festival-dates may well have been observed among Gaelic peoples long before the historical invasions from Scandinavia.
f The alteration was made in the Isle of Man as from the end of 1751 and was ratified by Act in 1753.
South Barrule and other Manx hills on the first Sunday after the ist of August ?
This customary offering of rushes (or, alternatively, as a later account of it says, of sedge-grass) has the look of standing in the place of a primitive pagan rite, in which the first-fruits offered to a deity or his priest (often a king) were in later times replaced by symbolic rushes. To the best of my knowledge the carrying up of rushes was a custom which stood alone in the British Isles. Though there is a small body of Celtic rush-lore, none of the numerous Irish references to Manannan hints at a tribute of that nature, or any tribute, having been rendered to him, nor is there a hint of such an offering to any other personage.
On the Continent, however, a somewhat similar hill-top offering has been recorded in a 2nd-century Calendar engraved in a Celtic language on metal, which was discovered in 1897, together with the fragments of a statue of a deity, at Coligny, near Lyons. The following passage from a monograph by Sir John Rhys,* previously read before the British Academy, refers to the month of Rivros (Harvest) or August, of which Rivos was the god. " On the fourth day of that month in the first year we have the entry
.` Rivos is with us. We have Rivos.' The corresponding entries in three of the other years represent some of the harvest being taken to the hill or
* The Coligny Calendar. For the ensuing quotations see pp. 13, 64 and 35. The author had previously discussed the Calendar in the course of his ethnological study, Celtae and Galli.
eminence, while the fifth year has an entry which meant probably the same thing, though it employed a different word, tio, house, which may be interpreted to mean the house of Rivos. Those four entries refer to the taking of firstfruits to offer to the god in his sanctuary." Later in the month a share of the crop goes to the priest or druid at the temple of the god below. Rhys would identify Rivos as a local form or representative of Lug, the most powerful and widely worshipped of the Celtic deities. " The month of August is dominated by Lug, and the festivities at the beginning of Autumn* were meant to mark the successful close of the prolonged struggle between the sun-god and the Fomori whose spells and evil magic produced the blasts and blights that were harmful to the growing crops and to the dairy. The first event in the Coligny Calendar for the month of Rivros was the carrying of the firstfruits to the hill, otherwise to the house ; the statements combined favour the idea that the house was on the hill."
If the suggested parallel with the Manx rite is worth pressing, either tio, the house, or the temple of the god below the hill, would be represented by the " place called Man," " the chief's residence at the foot of the hill," and the "house of the steward" in the same place.
As is pointed out in a mass of evidence supporting the identification of Rivos with Lug, Lug is represented to have been the founder and patron of the most * i.e., the beginning of August.
important popular gatherings in ancient Ireland, which took their origin from the respect paid to the tombs of great leaders.* He was traditionally connected with the great fairs of Taillte and Tara, and with the long obsolete meetings at Knowth and the Brugh of the Boyne, indirectly also with the fair of Carman, said to have been founded by Labraid Loingsech. It was during the Feast of Lug in Ireland in the early days of August that reverence and sacrifice were accorded to the harvest-god or idol Crom Dubh, whom Rhys would equate with Rivos, and hence with Lug. So completely did Lug dominate the beginning of August that it is called in Ireland and Scotland Lugnasad, Lug's Fair-day, and in Manx Laa Luanys. With regard to the tradition that Lug established fairs in his own person, Rhys conjectures that " we have probably to substitute for the god Lug some king who worshipped Lug."
Lug, we may remind ourselves, is said to have been the foster-son of Manannan, and to have dwelt, temporarily or permanently, with him in the Isle of Man. In one passage in the Irish romances the Manx Lug comes thence at the head of a brilliant cavalcade, wearing weapons lent to him by Manannan. In another he is said to have slain the Sons of Uisnech "at Mana, over the clear sea." Manannan as a demi-god may be imagined to have been a transfigured leader whose successors bore his name in some form,
* Both Thurneysen and MacNeill, writing later, take the word vivos in the Calendar to mean literally " the Great Feast," the date of which therein corresponds to 16th August.
as men in later times bore the names of the saints whom they adored or whose shrines they served and protected. The whole subject of Manannan is extremely obscure, but taking this view of him, it is possible to understand how a god (Lug) could, in myths which survived in literary allusions, have been imagined as dwelling with and being fostered by a less divine and less ubiquitous personage (Manannan), who was, perhaps, confused with the god or regarded as his representative.
Although no records exist of other hill-top tributes having been paid to the harvest-god under other names than Rivos in the Northern part of Gaul and nearer to the British Isles, it is unlikely that the Coligny ceremony was unique. The difference of the dates is an obstacle in any attempt to derive the Manx observance from it ; but certain resemblances between them must be admitted. If they are accidental only, the Isle of Man can claim one custom, at the least, which it shared with no land.
This is but a tentative sketch of a matter which might reward investigation more richly than any other Insular tradition.