[from W Ralph Hall Caine Isle of Man]




HE only might with full truth be called a sea-king that never slept under a sooty rafter and never drank in the chimney-corner.' So says the old saga.

King Orry was such a king, and tradition says that when he cast ashore at the Lhane, near Jurby, the native Manx came forward and asked him whence he came.

That path across the sky leads to my country,' said the brave, vigorous, weather-beaten sea-dog.

Then King Orry came from Iceland-not from Denmark, as invariably represented. The Milky Way is still to us 'Yn Raad Mooar Ree Gorree ' (The Great Road of King Orry).

The Northmen, Icelandic, Danish and Norwegian, had their own code of honour. They might pillage the homes of a people whom they had conquered and scattered, but it remained a grievous dishonour to come in secret and steal another man's goods or take his wife and children prisoners.

No sea-king must show fear. He must never turn his back on an assailant of like power and like arms. He must never bind a wound till the same hour of the next day. He must slander no man by a word he would hesitate to publish before his face. A brother's cause must be his own. Charity was a law rather than a virtue.

The Viking conqueror's first conquest was the conquest of his own heart. He must face the fiercest wind, and never furl his sail in the teeth of the blackest storm. His ship must be his home; and when at length death claimed him for its own, no prouder tomb could be found than the ship in which the brave old warrior had faced and overcome every enemy but that last one that humbles all.

Such was the character of our Viking conqueror. Of the ship he sailed several examples have been unearthed in Norway, but not one in the Isle of Man. To Norway, no less than to Iceland, must the eye turn if we would understand this early period of Manx history.

The Norse people, out of the beaten track of the tourist, are still easily the most unspoilt inhabitants of Europe. Sitting about a log-fire in the cool of an autumn evening, no Manxman who has broken through the reserve of a naturally refined and highly imaginative people can fail to realize in folk-tales the connection of the Manx with the Norse which even a thousand years have not served to dissipate.

The Viking ship, as I remember it in the grounds of the University at Kristiania in 1904, was a vessel of about 100 feet length over all, width 16 feet, low in the waist for the oarsmen, drawing about 3 feet 6 inches, and a fast sailer without doubt. The carrying capacity would be no more than 30 tons, and she would be fully manned with a crew of 40 hands.

It was towards the close of the eighth century when that inspiration suddenly stirred the Teutonic people settled in Scandinavia to seek a wider field of adventure and glory across the seas. The earliest date at which the robbers appeared in the Irish Sea was about 795. They came again and again, and then, towards the close of the ninth century, feeling the pressure of exaction and purposeless warfare in the homeland, they began to settle in our midst. Each had already made his own personal conquest in Man. Here made he then, right willingly, his permanent home.

Our Viking conquerors did not bring their wives. By this fact alone I account for the absence of all Scandinavian terms of endearment from our speech. By it I account for the survival of Norse surnames, a few place-names, and a few political terms.

Yet the Northmen's invasion remains the greatest epoch in our national history. It brought us sturdy, manly physique, bigness of bone, breadth of chest, and greatly increased height. It brought us gentleness of manner no less than strength of character, refinement no less than intelligence. Celtic life was impregnated with great and noble gifts-imagination, invention, bravery, initiative.

In a word, some of the least lovable traits of the Celt were minimized, while others were almost obliterated. Would that the conquest had been more complete ! for all that is best in us we owe to that big, burly, broad-minded, generous-hearted, adventurous sea-dog, whose last success was the most enduring-the conquest of the Celtic maiden's heart.


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Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received The Editor
HTML Transcription © F.Coakley , 2018