[Yn Lioar Manninagh Vol 2 pp40/44]



We shall endeavour to show, briefly, that the early land system in Man was similar to that in other Celtic and Scandinavian countries, viz., that the cultivation of the land was in long strips in open fields, annually or frequently allotted and re-allotted ; and, to enable us to do this, we will first state what is known of this system in Ireland, Scotland, Iceland, Norway, and the Hebrides, which were all connected with Man, and then see what tokens this Island has of it. The early social organization of the Celts was based on the community or tribe which, among the Goidels, was called the "Tuath," a name which afterwards signified also "the territory occupied by the tribe community. "1 This territory belonged to the tribe as a whole, as private property in land did not exist at first, though individual property must have existed at all times. From the ancient Irish laws we learn that this property consisted almost entirely of cattle, which belonged to individuals, though "the land on which they were pastured was the common property of the tribe,"2 which, on leaving the nomadic state, was, for a time, in a purely pastoral condition. We do not know when the cultivation of land began among the Celts, though it was probably at a very early date, but we do know that these cultivated lands were annually divided into lots, to one of which each member of the tribe had a right."2 The district thus occupied by the tribe would consist of pasture land held by the tribe in common, on which each member had a right to pasture the cattle which belonged to him; of arable lands, divided into lots, which were annually, or at certain periods, assigned to him, and of unoccupied and waste lands remaining as the common property of the tribe."2 This division was met by no difficulty as to removing fences, for it is stated in the "Book of the Dun Cow" that "there was not a ditch, nor fence, nor stone wall round land till came the period of the sons of Aed Slane (in the 7th century), but only smooth fields."3 The number of lots held by each individual seems to have varied in accordance with the population, which, in Ireland, in the 7th century, according to a passage in the "Liber Hymnorum," was so great that the inhabitants "only received in the partition three lots of nine ridges ("immaire") of land, namely : nine ridges of hog land, nine of forest, and nine of arable land." 4

"Taking these passages together," says Dr. Seebohm, "and noting that the word for ‘ridges’ (‘immaire’) is the same word (‘imire,’ or ‘iomair’) now used in Gaelic for a ridge of land, and that the recently remaining system of strips and balks in Ireland and Scotland is still known as the ‘run-rig’ system it becomes clear that whatever there was of arable land in any particular year lay in open fields divided into ridges or strips."5 Our information from Iceland and Norway, though comparatively scanty, shows that the land was divided, as in Scotland and Ireland, into long strips, embracing a portion of mountain land and a portion of seashore, that these portions of mountain and shore belonged only to the owners of the adjacent strips during a part of the year, and that they were thrown open to all for the remaining part. This system continued in force in Norway down to 1821, when it had to be put an end to by a threat to double the land tax on all land held in that way, and in the Hebrides, where Celtic and Scandinavian influences were combined, it exists at the present day. Let us, then, briefly examine the Hebridean land system. In some of the islands the arable land is still divided into lots, strips, or ridges, which belong to different cultivators. The tenants of one of the islands—to take a single instance—meet together after harvest, and, "having decided upon the portion of land to be put under green crop next year, they divide into shares—according to the number of shares in the soil they respectively possess. Thereupon they cast lots, and the share that fails to a tenant he retains for three years. A third of the land under cultivation is thus divided every year."7 As to their pasture arrangements, the sheep, cattle, and horses graze together, each tenant being only allowed to keep stock conformably to his share in the soil. About Whit-suntide they remove their sheep and cattle to the grazing ground behind the arable land or in the hills,"8 and, there being no fences to protect the fields, during summer and autumn the herds are placed at night in enclosures to secure them against trespassing on the crops. On this system Mr Skene comments : "It will probably surprise many to find that a state of society such as is above described should still exist in some of the townships of the Outer Hebrides. It is not many years since similar communities were to be found in other Islands and on the mainland. Their customs and regulations are obviously pervaded by the spirit of the old tribal communities, as exhibited in the Brehon Laws, and still possess, in more or less degree, some its characteristic features"9 Let us now see what there is in the Isle Man corresponding to this system. On looking at the map of the Island showing its division into "Ballas" (Irish, "Bally") or "Treens," we perceive that the most striking features are the great lengths of these divisions, an in many cases, their extension from the mountains to the sea. The object of this extension, was, doubtless, to enable their occupiers to have access to the mountains for their turf and summer pasture, and to the sea for seaweed to manure their land. Thus, Quayle, writing in 1812, says "Care seems to have been taken, in many instances, that each farm should possess a portion of the turbary, of mountain pasture, of the arable, and meadow."10 These "Ballas," or "Treens," were almost invariably divided into four "kerrooyn" (Irish, "cartron," usually in Man about 80 acres) or Quarters, each of which belonged to a household. Such quarters now, for the most part, divide the "Treen" laterally, and are, consequently, some near the mountains, some near the sea, and some between the two. But there are manifest signs that the ancient fourfold division of the "Balla" was longitudinal, so that each of the four households occupying it could have access the mountains and to the sea shore, which were the common property of all during at least a portion of the year. These signs are (1) There remains some few of these longitudinal divisions as distinct modern farms. On this the writer already quoted remarks : "Several of these original partitions still exist, forming farms, long, narrow , and inconvenient for the modern system of tillage."11 The existence of numerous remains of ancient dwellings and enclosures in the rnountains,too numerous to have been connected with the adjacent quarterlands only—to which, doubtless, like the Hebrideans, the ancient Manx resorted in the summer with their cattle and sheep. Having thus shown that the ancient divisions of Man were in long strips, let us now consider how these strips were cultivated. "Among the mountains," says Quayle, "in several spots, considerably elevated, and of very thin soil, appear at this day evident traces of the plough, the ridges and furrows being clearly discernible."12 These ridges were called "immyr," and extend for considerable distances in parallel lines. Their breadth is, as a rule, about four yards, which was about the breadth that two men could conveniently reap. This name "imniyr" is still used for the ploughlands between the "clashyn," or ditches, though their breadth now varies in accordance with the wetness or dryness of the ground. Old people still remember that the strip of land, which was called the ‘irnmyr" when ploughed, and the "immyr vane" or "white strip," when in corn, was called the "balk,"13 or the "immyr glass," "green strip," when in grass, and it was the practice to manure these "balks" by folding cattle on them, in "builtchyn," or folds, and sheep in "croyn," or pens.14 This tradition is confirmed by a clause in the Statute Book, in 1422 : —"Forasmuch as the Land Setting hath not been made in due Time, nor read to the People, whereby many have lost their profit of Fouldinge and Manuring that year wherefore be it ordained that the Setting be made betyrne before Midsomer to the People; and when it is read to them, the Lieutenant to make four men of every parish to deliver to everyone his pennyworth after his holding, and espetially to new tennants."15 This clause would also tend to show that the land, or a portion of it, was allotted at frequent intervals. The presence of another feature in Manx agriculture indicating open field culture, i.e., the absence of fences, is also shown by the Statute Book. Thus, in 1422, it was ordained to be "lawfull for every person to enclose his farme land, and keep it severall all tymes in the year,"16 but it was clearly not unlawful not to do so, and, from another clause written17 at the same time, we learn that these fences were to be kept up between the 25th of March and Michaelmas only, and that they were to be sufficient to keep out a cow or a horse.18 In 1582 their height was specified at four and a half feet,19 and, in 1656, the time for keeping land fenced was extended from Michaelrnas to All Hallows Day, because the harvest was often not secured till after Michaelmas, and thus "the greatest benefit of their eddish"20 was lost by the fences being thrown down too soon. The statute of 1665 marks a further advance with reference to fences, for it would seem to have attempted to prevent lands remaining "common and as waste all the winter season without any fence,"21 as it was ordained that cattle could be put in the pinfold "as well for the trespass done or made in the winter season as in the harvest or summer time." But this law would not seem to have been observed, for Sacheverell, writing in 1702, remarks, "I do not doubt but turnips would be an admirable irnprovement on the northside, were they able to enclose their lands that they might secure them,"22 and we learn from the Exchequer Book, in 1770, that "till lately the greater part of the parish of Jurby was an open common in the winter season," the fences being made up for the summer only. It is, however, probable that at that time the farms in the other parishes were better fenced than in Jurby, the land in that parish being of such a sandy nature that it is difficult to make fences of it. On reviewing our results, then, we find that in Man the amble lands were divided into strips, which were called by the same name as in Ireland and Scotland, that these strips were frequently allotted and re-allotted, that they were, till a very recent period, open and unfenced, and that, originally, there was a general right of pasture on them, after the crops had been removed, as well as on the mountain land.20 This right of pasture on the strips is a proof that the Manx land system goes back to the tribal methods which were natural when land was chiefly in pasture and when the amble land was taken temporarily from the pasture, being what the Welsh called "coaration of the waste." We cannot, however, adduce any proof of the "custom of scattered ownership, which belonged to the open-field system all the world over," 21 having existed in Man, though we may infer that, since it was a necessary part of that system, it must have co-existed with it.


1 Skene, Celtic Scotland, Vol. iii., p. 137.
2 Ibid, p. 131.
3 Compiled in 7th century by the Abbot of Clonmacnois, known to us in an Irish MS. of the year 1100, quoted by Dr. Seebohm, ‘ The English Village Community," p. 225.
4 Sir H. S. Maine, Early History rf Institutions, p. 113.
5 English Village Community, p. 225.
6 These divisions are of uniform size. For this purpose they use a rod several yards long, and they observe as much accuracy in measuring their land as a draper in measuring his cloth. In marking the bonndary between shares a turf (torc) is dug up and turned over along the line of demarcation. Ihe torc is then cut along the middle, and half is taken by the tenant on the one side and half by the tenant on the other side, in ploughing the subsequent furrow.
7 Skene, Vol. iii. , p. 378.
8 Ibid, pp. 328-9.
9 Skene, Vol. III., pp. 378-9. We may note that this system of run-rig is also still in vogue in the shetlands, which were much longer and more completely under Scandinavian influence than the Hebrides.
10 Quayle, " General View," p. 15.
11 Ibid, p. 12.
12 Ibid, p. 14.
13 Icelandic, balkr, " a partition," Lowland Scotch Bauk, " a strip of land left unploughed."
14 Bwoaillee (fold), plural, builtchyn, and cro (pen), are very common in Manx place-names. This practice had also the effect of preventing the cattle from straying.
15 Statute Law Book, p. 14.
16 Ibid, p. 20.
17 The laws passed in 1422 were not new laws, but merely ancient customary laws which were then committed to writing.
18 Statute Law Book, p. 20.
19 Ibid, p. 56.
20 Ibid, p. 113. Eddish, or vetch, which was the crop sown after ploughing the stubble.
21 lbid, p, 126
Manx Society vol i p.12
23 This mountain land was valuable mainly on account of the turf that was dug there for fuel
24 English Village Community, p. 228.


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