[From William Cashen's Folk-Lore, 1912]
A BOUT fifty years ago the people were housed in cottages, most of them built of stone, and a few built of clay mixed with straw. They were divided into two rooms on the ground floor, with a loft on one end, and sometimes a loft on both ends. The floor in most instances was made of hardened clay. The walls would be well coated inside and outside with lime-wash, and had a very pretty appear ance. The rooms would be divided with a choolley of straw mattress, and every care would be taken that the sexes would be separated, and all the forms of decency observed. I well remember the cottage where I was born, with its thatched roof, lime-washed walls, and floor of hardened clay, the open chiollagh with its whitened hearthstone and wide chimney where the stars peeped through, the turf fire glinting on the shining lustre ware of the dresser. The better class houses of the farmers would be longer and covered with slates. I take it that the cottages would be warmer in the winter and colder in the summer than the slate-houses would be. When I compare the dwellings of the Manx fishermen or labourers with the dwellings of the fishermen or labourers of the present day, in any place I have been to in the out-districts of Ireland or Scotland, there is a good deal to be said in favour of the Manx dwellings. For either health, convenience, or decency, the dwelling of the Manx is much superior in every way. Fifty years ago if you went into one of the country cottages you would find everything shining with cleanliness; there would be the neat dresser with everything on it shining and in order. When you would see the washing out, it would have done credit to any laundry. in the rivalry between the farmers' wives as to who should have the best bleached linen, they used to burn a sort of fern for the purpose of getting the ashes for bleaching. Very few of the houses had a lock to the door, or any fastening except a latch, and the washing could be left out all night without being molested by anyone. The crosh cuirn, a cross made of mountain ash, was always behind the door, and would be re-newed every May-day Eve. No evil thing could pass in where the crosh cuirn was.
We have a great deal of the outward form of religion now, more than we had then, but somehow or other we don't seem to be any more neighbourly or honest. It may be that as the wheat grows up, the tares grow also. No stranger or wayfarer was allowed to go out of the house without being offered food, and a bed was always prepared for the poor, that had to be kept ready for use. In some cases it was left on the family in the will of the master that a bed was to be provided for the poor and the wayfarer.
When a child was born and the usual offices done to it, care had to be taken to preserve it from the fairies. The father's trousers put across the child was considered a good preservative. If a child was weakly it was of the utmost importance that the parson should be sent for and the child baptized, as in case the child should die unbaptized it would not attain to the same joy and felicity in heaven that a baptized child would. Dying unbaptized, the infant would be doomed to carry in its hands a perpetual light resembling a candle. There is a story which shows the truth of this belief
It is said that an heiress of Eary Cushlin had the misfortune to be a mother without being married, and to hide her shame the child was done away with, without being baptized. And every night as the fishermen would be out fishing they would hear the crying and wailing of a child on the shore. One night a fisherman shouted what for it was crying, when he received the answer: "She lhiannoo beg dyn ennym mee" I am a little child without a name. Then the man shouted back: "My she inneen oo ta mee enmys oo Joney, as my she guilley oo ta mee enmys oo Juan " If thou art a girl I name thee Joney, and if thou art a boy I name thee John.
After that the crying ceased and the child was no more heard.
Day by day when the infant was getting washed, its head had to be washed in rum. The mother took a mouthful of rum and poured it on to the child's head, but it was a puzzle to me to know whether all the rum that the mother took into her mouth was put on the child's head or not. The rum was put on the head for the purpose of hardening its head, and judging from the men of that day I should say that it answered very well. Another practice the nurse had when the child was fed and washed, the nurse gathered its clothes round its feet, and grasping it firm by the two heels she passed it across her lap four or five times head downwards. This practice was continued now and then until the child would be about three months old. When asked why they did so, they said that it preserved the child from being griped. It is not right for a child to eat a kidney, or any part of one, before it can pronounce its own name distinctly. It was very unlucky for a child to be born at low water spring tide, he or she would not prosper. If he was an heir to land, or any property, he would be sure to destroy it in his day. The old people firmly believed in that, and they gave instances where it occurred. At whatever state of the tide the child was born, whether low or high, flowing or ebbing, that is the way it would be when that child came to die.
Many were the signs that foretold a death. Among the rest, the crying or the howling of the dogs; children walking along the road singing or psalming ; a hen crowing; a cock crowing in the night-time; a winding sheet upon the candle, etc. It is said that a man having died, when the hour for the funeral came there was no clerk to put out the hymn, or rather, psalm. There happened to be a wag of a fellow present, who seeing that it would never do to lift the coffin without singing a verse, undertook the job, and made one extempore, and this is the verse that he gave out:
Fer lurg fer to talkal roue,
As dobberan mooar ny-yei;
Ny laghyn to ain dy ceau ayns shoh,
Mysh three feed blein as jeih.
Cha wooar y foays ren oo rieau,
Cha ren oo rieau monney skielley;
Feer aashagh hie oo trooid y theihll,
Cretoor myr hie sleih elley.
One after one keeps toddling on,
Great lamentations follow;
The days that we have to spend here,
About three score years and ten.
Thou never did very much good,
Nor yet very much harm,
Through the world thou easy did go
Much as other people went.
The coffin was then lifted and carried along.
When the time came round for ploughing the land, and the first day for ploughing commenced, the sumner, or clerk of the parish, was bound to attend on the field, if requested, and sing a verse of any one of the Psalms before he was entitled to the groat shesheragh, the fourpence plough-money, which every one ploughing with a pair of horses was bound to to pay. I may say that the word shesheragh refers to a pair of horses ploughing in company, and not to one single horse ploughing alone. It took two to go with a pair of horses when ploughing one to lead the horses, and one to steady the plough. All cans and pails were made at home. All repairs to saddlery were made on the farm, and an osier garden was on every farm to supply hoops and so on.
The holidays of those old days are interesting December the twenty-first, Oie'l Thomase Doo, or the Eve of Black Thomas' Feast, was reckoned the first night of the Christmas Holidays. The spinning wheel had to be removed from the floor: the making of jeebin had to cease, and no labour of that nature was allowed to be done between St. Thomas' Eve and Shenn Laa Chibbyrt Ushtey, Old Feast Day of the Water-well; that was the Christmas holidays, on which no work had to be done except such as could not be avoided. Any woman who would be bold enough to spin on the Christmas would be sure to repent of it ; and as for making jeebin, it was not to be thought of, that rule must not be broken on any condition. The Christmas holidays are sufficiently well described already on to Shenn Laa Chibbyrt Ushtey.1 January 5th, Shenn Laa Chibbyrt Ushtey, was kept holy in memory of the first miracle that our Saviour wrought in Cana of Galilee. The water was, on a certain time, wine that day, while the cock was crowing. In old times it was kept very holy. Now we come to February 1, Laa Breeshey Bane, White Bride's Day.
Three kegeeshyn dy kegeeshyn slane
Voish Laa Thomase Doo dys Laa Breeshey bane.
Three fortnights and none beside
From Black St. Thomase to white St. Bride.
St. Thomas' Day was called black on account of the rainy weather about that time. The snow had not set in then, and the snow having set in by St. Bride's, it was called white St. Bride.
Laa'l Breeshey Bane,
Dy chooilley yeeig lane,
Dy ghoo ny dy vane.
Bride's day white, every ditch full of black or of white.
Every ditch had to be full of rain or snow on St. Bridget's day, so that the old caillag, or witch, could not gather the brasnags, or faggots for firing.
If she could lay in a stock of firing on that day there would be bad weather in the spring, but if she could not gather the brasnags then there would be fine weather. Another saying was
Eddyr yn Oie'l Thomase as yn Oie'l Breeshey,
Daa-ayrn jeh dorrin ny bleeaney.
Between Thomas' feast-day and Bride's feast-day,
Two parts of the tempest of the year.
Two-thirds of the bad weather was expected between St. Thomas and St. Bride.
My nee yn ushag gherryin er laa Breeshey, nee ee keayney roish laa Parick.
If the bird crow on Bride's day, she will cry before St. Patrick's Day.
On Candlemas Day it was said
Laa Moirrey ny gianle,
Lieh foddyr as lieh aile.
On Candlemas Day, half of the fodder and half of the firing, would be a fair amount to have in un-consumed stock before the new turf and the new fodder would come in.
Laa'l Parick arree yn dow gys e staik asy dooinney gys e lhiabbee.
On St. Patrick's day the ox was supposed to be tied to the stake, and the man to his bed at dark. No light was expected to be lighted after St. Patrick's day. It was supper at dark, and then to bed, both man and beast.
The following prayer, Jeeagh Parick orrin ! "Patrick look upon us!" I have heard said hundreds of times, it has probably been handed down to us from pre-reformation times. Lights were a rather scarce commodity in those days, and care had to be taken that they would not be wasted. The poorer class had their houses lighted by fish oil, which they used to burn in broken basins, or roagan shells, with peeled rushes for wicks. The farmers, and better class people, would have candles made of tallow, either moulded or dipped.
One custom they had when perambulating the parish boundaries. When they got to one angle, or to any place which there might be a dispute about, they used to lay hold of a young lad and wring his ears most unmerciful, so that in after years when he would get to be an old man he would be able to remember the wringing that he got when a child, and his wits would be sharpened so that he would remem-ber the parish boundary. At the Oie'l Columb Killey, the Feast of St. Columba, the fishermen always expected bad weather, they called them, Gaalyn yn Oie'l Columb Killey, Gales of St. Columba's Eve. All sheep found on the common lands unshorn on the 21 June, the foster, or forester, had the right to shear and keep the fleece; he also had the right to mark the sheep with a mark that was peculiarly his own. It was called "The Foster's mark."
At the Launys they also looked for gales of wind, which they called Gaalyn yn Launys. Between the two Lammas days, that is the 1st and 12th of August, was considered the right time to cure herrings for the winter stock. The herring would be at their best then. The three moons in the fall of the year would be called, Re-Hollys Mooar yn Ouyr, The Harvest Moon to ripen corn. Re-Hollys mooar my Cabbil, The Horse Great Moonshine, after which the horses would have to be housed at night. Re-Hollys mooar cooil y cleigh, The Great Moonshine that hove no shadow behind the hedge. Whichever way the weather was on the first of these moons it would he expected to be the same all three.
It is said that when two farmers were desirous of making a boundary fence where none existed before, they set poles a distance apart on what they considered the line of boundary, and they took a ball of straw rope and tossed it from one pole towards the other, and the way that the rope lay on the ground they built their boundary fence. That would account for the crooked fences.
In the earlier part of the last century the Island was studded all over with ale-houses and drinking booths, and it is said that two different parties would have a licence to sell under one roof. The Big Man of the district would have the seat of honour, and if there was more than one leading man in the district the honour would be divided between them. They would often boast how Big So-and-So could drink so many kishens of ale. A kishen contained eight quarts, and I am afraid that not a few of the farms of the Island were mortgaged for the love of Manx jough. The drink was served in a quart measure and handed round the house, and each one drank in turn. It was considered an offence against good behaviour to refuse. The last man that emptied the quart was entitled to the first drink when it was filled. Ale would be the chief drink among a company, a good deal of rum was drunk also, but spirits would be drunk by individuals, and not in company, nor handed round. There was no whiskey allowed to be sold in the Isle of Man before the year 1852. I have heard my father say that he and his crew put into the Niarbyl one day, and they went to Betty Hal's house for jough. She was very slow about bringing it in, so he went out to hurry her. He found her in the back-kitchen pouring a bucket of water into the ale which she had ran off into a tub so as to be able to serve it out quicker.
" Och, Betty," says he, "Is that the thing you are going to give us ?"
"Deed, an' it'll not put reaching on you all this way itself," says Betty, quite unconcerned.
To shew you how nearly every person has a nick-name in Mann, a story is told of a Peel coroner who summoned four men in court as jurymen, by the following names, to which the men answered: " Mac y Teare ny mollag, stollag mat y Cleary, guilley bwee glion mooar, glastin mooar mat Killey, hass shiu stiagh dy ghoaill y loo ayns daa ghooinney jeig" (Son of Teare, the mollag, young man, son of Clarke, yellow boy of Glen Mooar, big bulky lad, son of Killey, stand in to take the oath as jurymen).
1: See A. W. Moore's "Folklore of the Isle of Man."