[From Yn Lioar Manninagh Vol 3 pp56/9]


A. W. MOORE, M.A., F.R.H.S.

Bishop Hildesley appears to have been the first to moot the question of a Manx Dictionary, writing on the 3rd of February, 1764, to the Rev. Philip Moore, as follows :—" We have some curious thoughts here, you must know, of attempting an English and Manx Dictionary, and thereby of recovering some of the many words that seem to have been lost in the latter tongue. The word chumhach, for power, is one : Pooar is manifestly English. I have been teasing all our connoisseurs for a derivation of sushtal, which, at first, to a man, they were at a loss for ; but we now agree that it must come from seose-skeeall, ‘News from above.’ 1 The Manks is a very ancient language, beyond doubt ; and could we get such a thing as an Erse Dictionary, we should be capable of improving or, rather, restoring it. " And it was the good bishop’s desire to be assisted in learning the Manx language that gave Dr. Kelly his " primary inducement for drawing up a Manks Grammar, and for composing a dictionary also of that tongue. " 2 Both of these works were " in a great degree of forwardness" at the time of Hildesley’s death, though their publication was destined to be long delayed. The grammar was completed in 1780, when Dr. Kelly sent it to the Duke of Atholl, with a request that he would permit it to be dedicated to him. His Grace, however, did not take the trouble either to answer Kelly’s letter, or even to return the MS. ! It was ultimately rescued from him in 1803, and was published in the following year. It was between 1780 and when Kelly was tutor to the Marquis of Huntley, that he completed his magum opus, the Triglot, or, to give its full title, "A Triglot Dictionary of the Celtic Language, as spoken in Man, Scotland, and Ireland: together with the English." This MS. had also been consigned to the Duke of Atholl, and, like the grammar, was rescued with considerable difficulty. On the 26th May, 1803, Kelly wrote with reference to its detention:—"My Lord Duke, it is not my intention to be importunate ; neither do I wish to depart from the respects which I owe to your Grace ; but I must, in addition to my letter of last week and many former letters, once more request of your Grace that the manuscript of my Manks Dictionary may be sent to me. " (MS. letter. ) This appeal seems to have been successful, but he was not able to arrange for its printing till 1807. By February, 1808, the printing had proceeded as far as the letter L, when a fire broke out in the printing office and destroyed the whole impression, except one or two copies, and even these are not complete, the hiatuses being supplied by the MS.3 Gordon Kelly, John Kelly’s son, in writing to his mother, described this disaster as follows :—" I have been to Nicholl’s this morning (February 11), and have seen the most pitiable scene I ever beheld. I am, however, happy to say that I have, with the assistance of a young man, collected and put in order proof sheets of the Triglot to end of lie, or thereabouts it is extremely fortunate that any part of it has escaped, as nearly everything else has perished. " Excepting the letter A and part of B, the author’s fair copy of the MS. had also been burned. In the following year Dr. Kelly died, and, in 1810, his son went to the Isle of Man with the printed portions which had been saved and the rough copy of the MS., to obtain help in revising the MS., for publication. This was done between 1811 and 1814 by the Revs. Hugh Stowell and Fitzsimmons, the latter re-writing the whole MS. portion as it now appears in the four volumes belonging to the Manx Society. For some unknown reason, however — probably the expense — this publication was never carried out, though several letters written by and to Gordon Kelly show that it was his intention to do so. One of them, written by the Rev. Hugh Stowell in 1819, is sufficient to show this :—" I am much gratified to hear from Mr. Kewley that you have still an intention of publishing the Manks Dictionary. I should regret the loss of such a monument of industry and ability. (MS. letter.) Between this date and 1835, when it was taken up by the Rev. Dr. Nolan, who interested the Duke of Wellington in the subject, writing to him as follows :—" My Lord Duke, I have the honour to lay before your Grace, the grounds on which your Grace’s influence with the delegates of the Oxford Press is solicited. The work to which I then sought to recommend to your Grace’s protection consists in a Triglot Lexicon of the Gaelic, in which these dialects of the Celtic are explained in English ; the archeological terms being illustrated with brief antiquarian descriptions. In compiling this work, in which a dictionary of the Manks is for the first time offered to the public ; Dr. Kelly, a learned native of the Isle of Man, consumed a long and laborious life, and his labours must be lost to the world unless the publication be undertaken by some learned body. It is presumed that no strong argument need be urged to induce the University of Oxford to apply a portion of her very ample means to rescue, from the obscurity in which it has long lain, a work which is not merely recommended by its philological, but by its religious uses ; which is not merely curious, as preserving the aboriginal languages of the British Islands, but must be important to such of the clergy as are limited in their ministerial labours to districts in which these languages are alone current." (M.S. letter.) The Duke thereupon wrote to the Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University, who replied : My Lord Duke, I have conversed with one or two of the more influential delegates of the Press about the triglot lexicon, and it is thought there will be an insurmountable obstacle to its publication here in regard to the correction of the sheets . . . and it is not probable that any one could be found, in the University, sufficiently versed in the Erse and Manks languages to qualify him for such an undertaking." (M.S. letter.) This letter the Duke sent to Dr. Nolan, with the comment —" You will see the difficulties in the way of promoting your object. Can you suggest any means of removing them ?" (M.S. letter.) Nothing seems to have been suggested, or, at least, nothing was done, though in 1836 there is an estimate from a Chiswick printer for 1,000 Dr. Kelly’s Triglot Gaelic Dictionary, extra Royal 8vo., at about £6 per sheet." (M.S.) not including the price of the paper. Having thus traced the history of the dictionary, let us briefly describe the appearance of the only copy of it, partly print and partly M.S., which is known to be in existence. It is. arranged in four columns, the first containing the English word; the second, the Manx ; the third, the Irish ; and the fourth, the Gaelic. 4 It consists or 1,100 pages, quarto, each page measuring 11½ inches long, by 5¾ inches broad, and containing 45 lines, large pica. As regards its literary merits, like the grammar, it is only fair to say that it can hardly be criticised by the standard of the present day, being rather an unwieldy vocabulary than a dictionary. The Manx portion of it was reprinted in 1866, under the auspices of the Manx Society, with amendations by the Revs. William Gill and J. T. Clarke ; an English-Manx part being added, chiefly by the Rev. J. T. Clarke.. Its orthography, as well as that of the grammar was founded on that of the Bible, which became the recognised standard of the language, and which, unfortunately, had been largely influenced by a desire to partially follow the spelling of the written irish, and, at the same time, to reproduce phonetically the pronunciation of the people — an attempt which naturally resulted in failure.

1 Memoirs of Bishop Hildesley, p. 97.
2 Memoirs of Bishop Hildesley, p. 97
3 Printed to " Boaster." M.S. "Boaster" to " Branchy."
4 Printed " Branchy" to "Grand M.S. "Grand" to "Guess."
5 Printed "Guess" to " Harbour. " MS. "Harbour" to " Hinge."
6 Printed "Hinge" to " Inlet. " MS. " Inlet" to "Lane."
7 Printed "Lane" to "Lightning" M, S. " Lightning" to end.
8 i.e. , The Clarendon University Press.
9 for specimen see paper on " Manx Literature, in Lioar Maninnagh, p. 134.


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