[from Yn Lioar Manninagh Vol 1 p110/115]


A. W. MOORE, F.R.H.S., &c.

(Read May 9, 1887.)

The literature of the Isle of Man, exclusive of translations from other languages, consists almost entirely of poetical compositions, which are of two kinds, Ballads and Carvals, or Carols. Probably the oldest composition in Manx is a fragment of a true Ossianic poem, which has been preserved in the following curious manner : In the year 1762, when the first edition of the poems of Fingal and Ossian, by Macpherson, appeared and had produced a considerable stir in the literary world, two of the Manx clergy, the Rev. Philip Moore and the Rev. Matthias Curghey (Vicar. General) were at Bishop’s Court working at the translation of the Bible into the Manx language. In their intervals of leisure Philip Moore read portions of "Fingal " aloud " in the hearing of the Bishop’s gardener, an old man who was at work near the door of their laboratory and listening. He stept in on hearing frequent mention of Fingal and Oshian and Cuchullin, &c., and told them he knew who could sing a good song about those men, and that was his brother’s wife, a very antient woman, on which they sent for the old dame, who very readily sang them eight or ten verses, which my friend immediately took down in writing, and next day on recollection she ‘brought them the rest, of which he obliged me with a copy My friend (Philip Moore) asked her where she learned the old song ; she said from her mother and grandmother and many more ; that they used to sing them at their work and wheels."1

The next in order of date is the traditionary Ballad of " Little Mannanan, son of Leirr ; or, an account of the Isle of Man : showing what rent the Manks inhabitants paid to Mannanan ; and how St. Patrick banished him and his company away; and how St. Patrick established Christianity first in the Island. Also, an account of the first king that was in the Island, and his posterity ; and how the Island came to the Stanley family" (" Manx Society," vol. xxi.) This was probably written early in the sixteenth century.

Yn foldyr gastey.—" The Active Mower" (" Manx Society," vol. xxi. Four verses, unpublished, are in possession of the writer), probably dates from about the same period ; a fragment only has been preserved. It gives a curious account of the manœuvres of the Phynnodderree, or hairy-legged Satyr.

Shenn arrane ghaelgagh er Mylecharaine (" Manx Society," vol. xvi.), "The old Manx Song on Mylecharaine," perhaps of about the end of the sixteenth century, owes its popularity chiefly to its plaintive music, as the poetry is very indifferent. We have also a quaint little " nursery tale," probably of considerable antiquity, entitled Yn ushag veg ruy, " The little red bird " (" Manx Note Book," No. 7).

At Knowsley there is a M.S. dated 1648 entitled "A choice collection of songs composed by Archdeacon Ryter (Rutter) for the amusement and diversion of the Right Hon. James the Earl of Derby, during his retreat into his Island of Man in the time of the Oliverian usurpation." These are both in English and Manx, but it is not known whether the Manx was composed by Archdeacon Rutter or not. They are : " Ubonia’s Praise" (" Manx Society," vol. xvi) ; "The Little Quiet Nation," or Shee as maynrys ny Manninee, " Peace and happiness of the Manx," being a prologue to the play acted in Castle Rushen before the Right Hon. James, Earl of Derby (" Manx Note Book," No. 3).

Creggyn Scarleode.—" Scarlet Rocks," a Threnodia, or Elegiac Song on the direful effects of the grand Rebellion, with a prophetic view of the lownfall and catastrophe thereof." (" Manx Note Book," No.1).

These, however, cannot be called national ballads properly speaking. ‘The other ballads that have been preserved are of a much later date. We mention a few of the best : Baase Iliam Dhône (" Manx Society," vol. xvi), " The death of Brown William," or Receiver William Christian, of Ronaldsway, who was " shott to death atte Hangoe Hill,"2 near Castletown, on the 2nd of January, 1662-3. The earlier portion of this ballad was probably not written till some time after Iliam Dhône’s death, while the latter stanzas express the political feelings of the end of the eighteenth century.

Eoish my row mee rieau my voir. " Before I ever was a mother." - (" Manx Society" vol. xxi), a Ballad written about the year 1750 by Widow Tear, of Ballaugh, on the death of her two sons, the Rev. William Walker, LL.D., Vicar-General, and Robert Teare, is one of the best pieces.of versification in the Manx language. .

Coonley ghiars jeh Ellan Vannin ayns Gailck (" Manx Society," vol. xx)," A short account of the Isle of Man in Manx," written by the Rev. Joseph Bridson in 1760, is a very good specimen of the language.

'Thurot as Elliot’:—An account of the naval engagement off Bishop’s Court, between Captain Elliot and the French commodore, Thurot, on the- 28th February, 1760. (" Manx Society," vol. xvi).

Mannin Veg Veen, " Dear little Isle of Man." (" Manx Society vol. xxi).

Arrane Mysh ny Baatyn-skeddan Va caillif ec Doolish ‘sy vlein, 1787 Sept. 21st.—" Poem on the destruction of the Herring Fleet, at Douglas on the 21st of Sept., 1787. (" Manx Society," vol. xvi). -

Ny Kirree fo niaghtey, " The Sheep under the Snow." (" Manx Society," vol. xvi). .

Sourey ayns y geurey, " Courting in the winter." (" Manx Note Book," No. 4).

Mannin Veen, " Dear Isle of Man." (" Manx Note Book," No. 10).

Doinney seyr v’ayns Exeter, " A gentleman of Exeter. (" Manx Note Book," No. 11). .

The following are the best of the unpublished ballads which are in the writer’s possession :— ‘

Berrey Dhoan—" Brown Berrey."
Yn voir asy veene" Mother and Daughter."
Iree oo, Iree oo—" Arouse ye, arouse ye."
Nancy ayns Mannin—" Nancy in the Isle of Man." ..
Manninagh dabran harris/i seaghyn Mannin Veen—" Manxmen lamenting over the troubles of dear Mona." . [These, and many more, later appeared in Moore's Manx Ballads]

There are many others, but they are chiefly erotic and coarse, and are moreover, written in very corrupt Manx. The most characteristic productions, however, of the Manx people are the religious Carvals, or Carols ( Manx word being a corruption of the English). They were usually recited after the Christmas Eve Service called Oiel Voirrey (probably a corruption of Feall Voirrey, ‘Mary’s Feast ‘). Kennish, a local poet, tells how that, after service

" The pastor homeward steer’d,
Leaving the delegated clerk
To rule the rustic train,
While each in turn his carol sang,
Celebrity to gain."

These performances interrupted, it is to be feared, by a good deal of horse-play, went on till midnight, when the company sang the parting so commencing Te traa goll thie dy goll dy lhie, " It’s time to go home to go to bed." Carols were also chanted from door to door at Christmas time.

George Borrow, the author of " The Bible in Spain," writes—" Many ,of these songs have been handed down by writing to the present time. Some of them possess considerable merits, and a printed collection of them would be a curious addition to the literature of Europe ...The Carvals are preserved in uncouth looking smokestained volumes ...They constitute the genuine literature.of " Ellan Vannin." (Introduction to Manx Grammar, Manx Society, vol. ii).

My friend, Mr. Hall Caine, who has recently paid several visits to the Island, has come to the conclusion as a result of his investigations that (Liverpool Mercury. April 28th,. 1887), " The oral peasant literature of the Isle of Man is probably more extensive than any oral peasant literature that could he found in any similar area in the known world. The Carvals, or native carols, of the Manx people appear to be literally illimitable. A collection of original carols and of translations is now being made by Mr. A. W. Moore, of Cronkbourne, and when this collection is complete it will probably constitute as interesting an anthology as exists in peasant literature. . Many of these old Manx Carvals come down from a remote period. The names of their authors are in almost all cases lost. It is probable that they have undergone numerous additions and alterations in the course of time, and are products of countless minds. Nor is it at all likely that they have ever before been written. They have lived on the lips of the people, and so have passed down from generation to generation. They indicate a curious temper of mind that is profitable to study. Obviously they date in the main from some period of great religious revival. They are full of burning earnestness ; they picture with fierce realism the dangers of the sinner and the punishment of the damned. The joys of heaven play a small part in these native songs. Christ’s agonies on the cross are depicted with harrowing and ghastly, though sometimes almost ludicrous details. It is remarkable that not in any instance are the spirit of riot, the love of animalism, and the mere pleasures of life and the world dwelt upon with sympathy. All this seems to show that the Manx people of the past have been a deadly earnest race, much troubled with the problems of the life hereafter, and not too deeply tortured by unbelief. "

The Manx Society has, as yet, only published one of these Carvals, but about 100 have been recently collected. Of these, thirty have already been published in the Mona’s Herald newspaper, and it is proposed to re-publish them, when completed, in book form. Some time, however, must elapse before the book can appear, as the labour of deciphering the time-worn MSS is very great and the labourers are very few.3

In addition to these original productions, the Manx language also possesses a certain amount of translated literature. The earliest work of this kind, the Prayer Book in Manx, by Bishop Philips, was never printed. The next was by Bishop Wilson, in 1699 :—" The principles and duties of Christianity, for the use of the Diocese of Man, with short and plain directions and prayers" in English and Manx. It contains preliminary instructions to the clergy, rules for marrying, &c., "All of which," says the good Bishop, " are here translated into Manks, and, I hope, as well as can be expected, considering that this is the first book published in this language." (Introduction, p. 4.)

In 1707, a second edition of the above ; also the Church Catechism "translated into Manks, and also printed in English, by Bishop Wilson."

In 1740, he published "The knowledge and practice of Christianity made easy to the meanest capacities ; or, an Essay towards an Instruction for the Indians." This was a corrected and improved edition of the " Principles and Duties of Christianity."

In 1748, appeared Yn Sushtal Scruit liorish yn Noo Mian, Prentyt, ayns Lunnyng Lionsh Ean Oliver ayns Bartholomew’s Close : " The Gospel written by St. Matthew, printed in London, by John Oliver, in Bartholomew’s Close," which had been translated by Bishop Wilson, aided by Vicars-General Curghey and Walker during their confinement in Castle Rushen, in 1722.

In 1761, another edition of the " Principles and Duties of Christianity" 1763, The Four Gospels and Acts.—This was the first edition, and a few copies were supplied to the clergy, with a request " that they would insert freely their remarks on the blank pages, as to the best method that can be proposed for furnishing from the whole one correct edition." In the same year, " The Christian Monitor," translated into Manx, by the Rev. Paul Crebbin, Vicar of Kirk Santon. A second edition of this appeared in 1768.

In 1765, " The Book of Common Prayer . . . translated into Manx, for the use of the Diocese of Mann " (printed for the S.P.C. K., octavo). Fifty copies were printed in quarto for the use of the churches.

In 1768, a 12mo. edition was printed in Ramsey, and further editions followed in 1777, 1808, 1840, and 1842.

In 1767, " The Epistles and Revelations" were printed at Ramsey; also in 1768, also, at Ramsey, Lewis’s " Catechism and Prayer for the Fishery."

In 1772, Yn Bible Casherick ("The Holy Bible,") printed by Ware and Son, Whitehaven. Further editions appeared in 1775, 1777, and 1811 (This last edition was revised by the late James Kewley, of Ballanard, in the parish of Onchan). Yn Conaant Noa " (" The New Testament,") was published separately in 1775.

In 1777, "A Short and Plain Instruction for the Better Understanding of the Lord’s Supper," was translated into Manx from Bishop Wilson's edition of 1734, by the Rev. Philip Moore and the Rev. John Kelly.

1778, Aght Giare dy heel gys tushtey jehn chredjue Chreestee: Ny toiggal jeh Catechism ny Kiliagh, " A Short Summary of the Christian Religion, an Explanation of the Church Catechism," by Daniel Cowley, who in same year translated Wesley’s hymns into Manx. A second edition of these hymns appeared in 1799.

In 1783, Sharmaneyn liorish Thomase Wilson, D.D., Chiarn aspick Sodor as Vannin, " Sermons by Thomas Wilson, D.D., Lord Bishop of Sodor and Man," were printed by R. Cruttwell, at Bath.

In 1796,—A translation into Manx of a portion of " Paradise Lost (Pargys Cailitt), by Thomas Christian, Vicar of Marown, was published by C. Briscoe, at Douglas. (It has been reprinted in vol. xx. of Manx Society series.) 1815, Crossman’s Catechism in Manx. 1818, Yn chied lior Gailcagh " The first Manx book."—A Manx spelling and lesson book, by the Rev. Hugh Stowell, Rector of Ballaugh.

1820.—Mona Melodies, collected by Borrow.

1822.—Bangianeyn y Chredjue Creestee—" Articles of the Christian Belief"—printed for the Prayer Book and Homily Society.

1826.—Dr. Watts’s hymns translated into Manx by George Killey, Clerk of Kirk Onchan. Between 1829 and 1845 numerous religious tracts we published, chiefly at Bristol, e.g. Coyrle jeean as graiihagh da Eeasteyyrn El/an Vannin—" Serious and affectionate Advice to Manx Fisherman. Cooney dy gheddyn Aarloo Son Baase—" Help to prepare for death." Coyrlen Saggyrt da Cummahtee yn Skerry echey Mychlione Padjer foshlit—" Advice,’ Priest to a Parishioner on Public Worship." Carrey yn Peccagh—" The Sinner’s Friend," and many others.

In 1830, a collection of the hymns of Wesley, Watts, and others was printed in Douglas. A second edition followed in 1846. [Moore was incorect here - see my intro]

William Kinnish published his poems in 1844. (They are not in Manx but contain many Manx words and allusions to native customs.)

1846.—Padjer yn Lugh-thie lionsh aspick Wilson—" Family Prayers by Bishop Wilson."

In 1869, 1872, and 1873 the Manx Society published volumes xvi., xx and xxi. containing collections of Manx ballads, proverbs, and superstitions edited by William Harrison. ‘

The learned Lhuyd says "that to preserve an old language in print is, without doubt, a most pleasant and obliging thing to scholars and gentlemen, and altogether necessary in the study of antiquity." I feel sure that the members of the Isle of Man Antiquarian and Natural History Society will sympathise with four small efforts to rescue the fragments of an ancient tongue from oblivion, and I trust that I may be able to persuade them to help us by making diligent search for such Carval Books and MSS. ballads as may still be immured in secluded localities.


1 * Letter from Peter John Heywood, of the Nunnery, to Professor Thorkelin. of Copenhagen, dated October 25, 1789. This, with the Ballad and translation, is preserved in the British Museum. It was published in "The Manx Note Book, " No. 3.

2 Malew Register.

3 * i.e. , Capt. R. E. Christian, Mr. W. J. Cain, Mr. Robert Christian, of Cleveland, Ohio, U.S.A. , Mr. Ronald Heaton, and the late Mr. Robert Craine, of Ballaugh. Every effort has been made to get other Manxmen to help, but without success.

[fpc see also G.W. Wood's paper in Manx Church Magazine]


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