Historical Topics

One 'problem' with 'Manx History' is that expounded by Prof Dolley[1976]:

The evils of perverted nationalism are more the product of smug Victorian distortions than many would be prepared to admit, and an excellent case-history of this overflow of what could be termed post-nineteenth-century attitudes into historical thinking is afforded by the Isle of Man. Since the 1330s Man has floated more or less securely in the English orbit with an originally healthy, contractual and so conditional allegiance of the early mediaeval kind deteriorating almost imperceptibly into the blind, absolute and jingoistic loyalty which was to become increasingly fashionable with the disintegration of political Christendom and with the emergence of the modern state. As regards Man, too, there can be little doubt but that this degeneration has been facilitated alike by premature dissent, as when the unhappy Illiam Dhone sought to take advantage of the embarrassment of the spirited Charlotte de la Tremouille, and (since 1765) by the relative beneficence of English royal lordship when set beside pre-Revestment exploitation of the islanders by successive Earls of Derby and Dukes of Atholl. One result of this dependence has been that Manx history has been looked at either through English eyes - which has meant hardly at all - or else through anglicized Manx eyes. To understand what this last has meant it may be helpful to postulate a history of Scotland written only by Lowlanders or by Britons posing as Scots, the last one would imagine an infallible recipe not just for dullness but for incomprehension of the problems of a frontier society, and even here Scotland would still have the advantage of having had for centuries her own universities. With merely 60,000 inhabitants Man can have no such aspiration - though Charlotte's husband has been represented as toying with the idea - and the upshot has been that the Manx historical tradition for too long has been an amateur one, even if in fairness to nineteenth century luminaries of the calibre of Deemster J. F. Gill[sic Gell] and Speaker A. W. Moore it must be remarked that in this century their immense erudition has still to be superseded. It is curious and even significant, too, that the ouvres de vulgarisation undertaken by Professor Kinvig and Archdeacon Stenning should have proved even more unsatisfying in their revised editions than in the originals. As so often in history, second thoughts are not necessarily the best. One worrying consequence of all this is that when a Manx student spends years acquiring a specifically Manx historical expertise there is no obvious opening for him on his own island. For the historian, too, there must always be misgivings that the best work on Manx history at the present time should be by archaeologists, and here there come to mind at once the names of Mr Basil Megaw and of Professor David Wilson building on foundations well and truly laid by the almost legendary P. M. C.Kermode.

A similar view that Manx History has been neglected is given by R. A.McDonald in his introduction to The Kingdom of the Isles.

The fate of the Isle of Man between 1266 and 1333 neatly exemplifies the fate of the kingdom of the Isles at the hands of modern historians. As rulers on what British historians have come to term the periphery, or margin, of the Scottish kingdom, the descendants of Somerled, as well as their relatives and rivals, the Manx kings, have fallen between the cracks in modern historical writing. Most recent Scottish historical writing, for example, takes as its central theme the 'making of the kingdom' - the development of the Scottish monarchy and the territorial consolidation of the kingdom - and has paid relatively little attention to the peripheral regions. Where these regions are discussed, it is seldom in their own right, but rather in the context of the so-called 'winning of the West,' the process whereby the Hebrides and Argyll in the west, Galloway in the south-west, and Moray in the north were brought under the authority of the Scottish king. Hence, the Hebrides and their rulers, the MacSorleys, are thrust into the mould of nationalistic historical writing, which relegates them to the margins of Scotland and Ireland; they are seldom, if ever, viewed in a maritime context in their own right. Even R. H. Kinvig, in his History of the Isle of Man, had surprisingly and disappointingly little to say of Somerled and his descendants, while a more recent biography of King John of England ignores his dealings with the Manx kings in the context of his relations with native rulers of the British Isles. More promising is the current trend towards a holistic British historiography, which is less concerned with old-fashioned nationalist history than with comparative, trans-national and cross-border themes.

This approach offers the most potential for lifting the sea-kingdom of the Isles from out of its crack between two national histories, and placing it into its proper setting: that of a maritime, multi-ethnic milieu. In short, the traditional perspectives need to be turned upside down: the periphery should become the core; the core should become the margin. To the MacSorleys and the Manx kings, as well as to others who plied the western seas in their war-galleys, these seaways defined their core; Scotland, Ireland, and England were their periphery.


Given the pungent denoument of all previous Manx history (and Prof Dolley died prematurely before he could add much more) this page, somewhat rashly, gives a list of reasonably accessible textbooks on Manx History and related topics.

Please note they are my selection and any comments are entirely my own opinion

General History

A.W.Moore History of the Isle of Man 2 vols 1900
reprinted by Manx Museum and available in paperback.
Until the 4 volume Millennium History emerges from The Centre for Manx Studies this remains the main reference
R.H.Kinvig The Isle of Man 1975 Liverpool University Press
The third, and greatly expanded, edition of a slim volume that first appeared in 1944 - note however that Kinvig was a Geographer rather than a Historian.
V. Robinson & D. McCarroll The Isle of Man: Celebrating a Sense of Place Liverpool University Press 1990
Covers much from geology through to post WWII changes in industry.
T.Cringle Here is the News: An illustrated Manx History Douglas:The Manx Experience (1-873120-07-9) 1992
a much more light hearted view of Manx History in the form of radio news reports. Well illustrated and with a good editorial touch.
M. Dolley Some Irish Dimensions to Manx History Belfast:University New Lecture Series No. 92, 1976 (ISBN 0-85389-109-5).
As can be seen from the excerpt he takes a Celtic-centred viewpoint pungently expressed. The short publication is his inaugral lecture and deals with the 10th and 11th centuries.
R. Andrew McDonald The Kingdom of the Isles: Scotland's Western Seaboard c.1100-c.1336 Scottish Historical Review Monograph (ISBN 1-898410-85-2) 1997
R. Andrew McDonald Manx Kingship in its Irish Sea Setting 1187-1229 pub 2007 Four Courts Press Dublin (www.fourcourtspress.ie) ISBN 976-1-84682-047-2
Two very readable books dealing with the complex relationships of the Kingdom of Mann with its larger neighbours.

 Manx Note Book  History Index


Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received The Editor
© F.Coakley , 2001