[from W Ralph Hall Caine Isle of Man]
A NEW problem presents itself when we come to ask ourselves, 'Of what race were the earliest inhabitants of the Isle of Man?'
The almost invariable reply is, ' Celtic.'
The term is loose and wide, and does duty to describe a vast number of people who were at one time spread over the whole of Western Europe. The observant visitor to our shores will not fail to notice, however, types that obviously belong to an altogether different category.
The exceptions to the Celtic rule are admittedly not common, but certain of them are none the less sufficiently striking and numerous to form an interesting study. The survival of the physical characteristics of an apparently alien race in our midst may be explained, in odd instances, as the natural result of the infusion of Southern blood that came to us in the veins of those warriors who, setting sail in the proud galleons of invincible Spain, resolved on the conquest of England, were yet happy to escape the fury of the sea, and find sanctuary in the homes of the Manx people.
But if that type, or some other type equally strange, existed on the island long anterior even to the rise of Spain, whence came the beauty from the South-the witch, with her sun-kissed cheeks and dark, flashing eyes, and hair so sleek and black as to shame the raven into envy?
Much learning might be expended in a conscientious effort to solve all the problems to which this question would give rise, and in the end, in the face of the wide destruction of contemporary evidence in remains, we should be probably no nearer a final and convincing answer.
The earliest inhabitant of Man may have reached our shores without touching the sea, or he may have hazarded the stress of the sea in a mere 'dug-out,' impelled hither by force of circumstances -the pressure of an enemy stronger and better equipped, whose exactions he could no longer resist by force of arms.
Robbed himself, he would a robber be, when there was a chance to kill and steal. But on our island he probably found himself dependent for his food upon his subtlety rather than his strength.
He fished with Patience and skill; with Precision he marked down a bird with a shot from his arrow, or a stone from his sling. In times of Plenty he imprisoned or domesticated his captures, and thus replenished his larder at will. He had the crudest tools, weapons, implements, and tackle, but they sufficed.
If we have no trace of a Paleolithic ancestor, we have some Proof of the Presence of man on our island in neolithic times.
Judging by such unreliable indications as have survived-at Fleshwick, on the slopes of Snaefell, along the Lhane trench, and near the Meayll circle --anything, to begin with, that sheltered him from the falling rain seems to have served his purpose very well. A desolate habitation was his security. He was king in his castle, even if it was only a crannog, or lake-dwelling-a mere shallow cavity hollowed out of the rock and the earth by his own strong hands and the rough stone implements he had at command.
In 1660 wc had for a brief while a Governor named Chaloner, who relieved the monotony of his office by a happy thought regarding the burialplaces of the ancient Manx. Forthwith he proceeded to dig out certain of the barrows belonging to the later Stone Age. Justice would not be done to Chaloner's memory if we did not add that he has left behind some account of his rather gruesome investigations.
He found a barrow ' environ'd with great stones pitched endwayes in the earth,' and from beneath he brought to light 'fourteen rotten urns, or earthenware pots, placed with their mouths downwards ; and one more neatly than the rest in a bed of fine white sand, containing nothing but a few brittle bones (as having pass'd the fire), no ashes left discernible.'
Stone chambers, sometimes with a passage leading into them, have been dug out by other hands, and found to contain a rough kind of cist or chest, in which the body was interred in a crouching position.
On the island there are altogether about a score of large upright stones, menhirs, or monoliths, such as Chaloner described as ' pitched endwayes in the earth.' The so-called 'Giants' Quoiting Stones,' in Rushen, are particularly worthy of note, and it is possible that at one time they formed part of a stone circle long since destroyed, notwithstanding the deeply-implanted superstition existing among the Manx people against such acts of desecration.
'King Orry's Grave,' which was visible at Gretch-veg, near Laxey, at a time when King Orry was happy and well, has points of distinctiveness from any other grave on the island. Its date has been assigned to a transition period between the later Stone and the succeeding Bronze Age.
Nothing, however, has been unearthed that would properly answer the question with which this chapter opened. The early Manx people have been described as strangers in this strange land, greater strangers even than were the Basques, gathered together on the sunnier side of the Pyrenees. Between the Basques and these early Manx settlers points of affinity have been discovered. The reader may be incredulous; so am I.
Stranger, however, the islander was not at a time when, richer in knowledge and resource, he had, with all his fellows, developed into a herdsman and tiller of the soil. He had possessed himself of all of our domestic animals. He could (or his wife could) spin and weave and mould in clay.
He had long known how to dress a hide, and his skilful fingers could fashion a fabric out of coarse wool, or create a stout and handy basket out of a bundle of twigs.
His humour, when it suited him to play, was to mimic himself with mock seriousness, to distort the angularities of his fellows, or sportively imitate the cries, the strut, and the antics of the animals he had made subjects of his will. He invigorated his mind and his body by laughter and song and game.
He danced as an act of gratitude or worship no less than as a means of attesting his joy and his sorrow. And, when he would a-wooing go, his courtship was no sad reversal of the conditions of his stern, breezy, manly life. There was no silent holding of the hand. He manifested his love by an exhibition of subtlety, agility, and strength. He evoked the lady's interest by feats of prowess. He called forth her admiration by proofs of bravery, muscle, and powers of physical endurance. He commanded her love by tenderness and devotion.
Non-Aryan these rough ancestors of ours may have been, and therefore wholly dissimilar to the people by whom they were, for the most part, surrounded across the sea. We have no evidence that the painted bodies of the Picts were ever seen within our land.
Limits of time or date cannot be fixed, however, to a period of history shrouded in such obscurity. The later Stone Age probably continued in Man several hundred years after the Celts on the continent of Europe had advanced to a knowledge of the smelting of iron-ore.
But whoever they were or whence they came, we know they suffered the inevitable fate of a weaker people, going down before the victorious hosts of bronze men,' armed with weapons made of an alloy of copper and tin.
It was no bloodless feud, and it would seem that, when ultimately conqueror and conquered settled down to such a life as represented a peaceful existence in those troublous days, they proceeded to evolve each his own story of the bitter war. Struggles were idealized, valour was adored. The splendour of men, the craft of women, the magic of fairies, the fear of devils, the transmigration of the souls of men and women into beasts of the field, and all the rest of the wondrous tale, were established as a deathless cult in our midst.
The influence is with us still, and if it no longer dominates our intelligence, it sweeps a horizon that knows neither material limits nor spiritual bounds. We call it the distinguishing gift of the Celt-the gift of imagination.