[From Yn Lioar Manninagh Vol 3 pp 95/102]



Treens are referred to in Moore’s Surnames and Place-names of the Isle of Man, pp. 161-65, and the author observes that, as to the meaning of the word, Gill’s and Cregeen’s Manx Dictionaries give meagre information, and Kelly’s does not mention the word. From these dictionaries we learn nothing except that the word Treen has reference to a division of land, and its meaning three or a third.

The first point to settle is the specific portion of land to which the word Treen is applied, whether district or farm, whether unit or sub-division.

On referring to Wood’s Atlas of the Isle of Man, which gives a map and list of holdings in each parish, we find the arrangement identical for every parish as follows :— First column, Treen ; second column, quarterlands of Treen, and parts of quarterlands where there has been sub-division ; third column, names of proprietors ; fourth column, area of holding. But there is also other land belonging to no Treen, and classed in first column as Intack, Commons, Forest, Abbey Land, Barony, and Particles. Thus Lonan Parish is found to have in it fourteen Treens, containing in them all the land in the parish specifically termed quarterland. The rest of the land in the parish other than that contained in these fourteen treens is (1) a section of Abbey Lands ; (2), intack ( = intake or land taken in) ; and (3) mountain waste.

Examining each Treen by itself to instance examples to illustrate this subject : (i) Hegnes Treen is the whole triangular terrace of cultivated land, bordered by the mountain slope of Creg Agneish behind, by the upper Laxey valley on the west, and by the deep ravine of Glendrink on the east. The land on the terrace is all specifically " quarterland " or " Treen-land," separated by glens from other treens The steep sides of these glens are intack and the mountain slope is common. (2) Similarly the Treen of Amogary has conditions which are mutans mutandis the same, viz., a cultivated triangular terrace, the untilled mountain slope behind, and a glen on each side. (iii.) Brondal Treen has the like conditions. (iv.) Colby Treen differs in one point only ; for in this case the upland terrace, similarly situated, between the mountain behind, and the glens on either side, is of much larger area. Consequently, it constitutes two Treens, Colby and Alia Colby, the boundary being down the elbow, where one part of the terrace sweeps away with a south-eastern aspect, and the other part sweeps away to face the S.W. (v.) The Treen of Gretch and the Abbey Lands (Treen of Skinscor) are similarly parts of one plateau, the mountain behind, lower Laxey valley on the west, and the sea coast on the east. The boundary of these two Treens is a wall of great antiquity down the elbow between the parts of the terrace, with aspects westward and eastward respectively. (vi.) The Treens of Raby and Alia Raby are portions of a ridge extending along the coast, separated from the landward Treen by a boggy hollow with water-courses. (vii.) The Treen of Rigg is a parallel ridge, its boundaries water-courses. (viii.) The boundaries of Swarthaw, Shonest, Morest Treens, are moorland behind and glens and ravines between. (ix.) The Treens of Grauff and Rauff are a large double Treen surrounded by glens and the coast of Laxey Bay, and separated by a devious line of boggy hollows and water-courses.

In short, a map of this parish, showing the Treenland coloured red and all intack and mountain coloured blue, would be a number of red islands separated by straits and channels of blue-all the sides of glens, water-courses, bogs and moaneys, or small curraghs, winding in and out, between and around, the isolated areas of anciently cultivated land.

The glen sides are now part of the quarterlands, or Treenland farms they adjoin. Most of the bogland between the Treens has been drained, cultivated, and incorporated with the quarterlands ; and the boundaries between Treens, formerly broad and distinct bands, have been, in many cases, narrowed to the fine line of a fence and a ditch. What is Treenland and what is Intack-land is now ascertainable only by reference to plans and maps.

As to their areas, Treens vary in size, dependent wholly on the natural formation and conditions of the district in question. No two Treens in Lonan are of the same acreage ; and probably no two Treens in the Isle of Man, except by accidental coincidence. On each of these terraces between the glens there chanced to be a quantity of good land, varying from something less than 200 acres of our measurement, to something over 600 acres ; and the Treens vary in size in accordance with that fact. But in the case of the larger terraces, a division was made into two Treens — the boundary being where already nature had provided it, no attempt being made in such sub-division to make the Treens of equal area. Only one Treen in this parish exceeds 400 acres of our measurement ; and only two fall below 200 acres.

The normal condition is that each Treen is sub-divided in four farms, or quarterlands (anciently quartrons). If there are more than four farms in any Treen, it will generally turn out to be by sub-division of. one or more of the original four. But it is truly remarkable how the four original holdings and farmsteads on a Treen are still to be found, each called by the name of a family, with the prefix Balla — meaning farm or farmstead. On examination, the four quarterlands of a Treen turn out to be by no means of equal area ; nor are they artificial divisions, viz.— they are not a " quarter " of a Treen. In some instances, the largest quarter-land is one-half as large again as the smallest in the same Treen. In the sub division of the Treens, advantage was manifestly taken of any natural lines of boundary, so as to get four farms with easily recognisable distinctions of boundary, but no strict equality of area.

In Moore's "Surnames and Place-names, &c.," p. 164, apropos of Treens, he observes that, in Manx, each of the four farms in a Treen is called " Kerroo-valley (viz., quarter of a Balla), which is a further proof of the identity of the Treen and Balla."

The word Balla (probably = Latin, villa, viz., a country manor house with farm), hr. also observes, is used prefixed to a family name, to designate all the four farms of the " balla or "treen" because " balla " means homestead, enclosure, or fenced place. Its application to the quarterland is secondary, its primary application was to the " treen."

Here, then, are two results : (i.) The Treen is an isolated area of anciently cultivated land, with boundaries of glenside and bog and mountain around it — a unit in its identity ; and (ii.) If was to the Treen that the term Balla (villa) = the homestead or farm, was applied. The drift of the inference is that the Treens were originally single estates, held by one man.

It is significant that, in the case of Lonan, the names of the Treens are all Norse, viz., they have had their present names continuously back as far as Scandinavian times in this Island, and in those times it was that these names must have originated.

In other parishes, the names of Treens are partly Norse and partly Celtic ; but in the non-Norse names, the prefix Baly ( — balla) is almost invariably applied. From the etymology of these Norse treen-names, there is further reason to believe the Treens unit holdings in the days of the Scandinavians.

In the Rent Roll of the island (A.D. 1511-15) under the Stanleys, the catalogue is made Treen by Treen. The Treen-names are practically the same as we have received them. Under each Treen is a list of quarterland holdings (the land being at that time held in quarterlands) with the name of the holder and his rent ; but there are no names attached to the quarterlands. Quarterland names, taking their origin from the family names of their proprietors or hereditary tenants of the quarterlands holding directly from the Lord of the Island at a money rent, gradually came into general use in the Stanley times. Similarly, Treen names point to an origin in Scandinavian times, from the family names of proprietors of the Treens. Of Lonan Treen-names, Amogary — Asmund’s garth, stead, villa, or manor ; Gretch, or Grettest = Grettir’s stadr stead, or manor are examples. The Treen-name, Horalett or Horaldre, in Onchan, points almost unquestionably to the name Haraldr. Of other Treen-names, the personal name origin is, in many cases, almost certain ; while, in almost all, such evidence as is supplied by the name itself is entirely to show that the Treens were single buildings or manors, the Treen the unit, and the quarterland a sub-division.


Under the Stanleys in the 15th century the feudal system had passed completely áway. In the tenure of land there were no free-holders, but a uniform system of tenantry-atw~, all paying a money-rent to the Lord of the Island direct. The rent roll of 1511 was probably compiled on the basis of some older rolls, and following their arrangement ; so that rent roll became the fixed standard and the basis of all subsequent Lord’s Books. The beginning of the Stanley administration is interesting. Sir John Stanley, the first of that name who set foot on the Island, was manifestly a constitutional lawyer, as the great nobles of England, in the maintenance of their rights, had, in those days, great need to be. He seems to have given his first attention to the constitutional basis of things in the Island. His inquiry, A.D. 1422, is the first document in our Statute Book. The answer of the Deemster and xxiv. Keys, as to the constitution of the Keys itself, was :—" There were never xxiv Keys in certainty since they were first that were called Taxiaxi. Those were xxiv Freeholders, viz., viii in the out isles, and xvi in your land of Man ; and that was in King Orry’s days. But, since, they have not been in certainty." (i) " King Orry’s days" are manifestly the days of the Godreds— the family, or dynasty, of Godred Crovan, the great and last line of Manx kings (1075-1265). From beyond that period of 120 years‚ there would be no tradition, no custom, either military, civil, or ecclesiastical ; in short, no memory surviving. During that period of 190 years everything had been reconstructed ; everything that survived had had its origin. " King Orry’s days " ceased at the death of Magnus, the last of the line, in 1265 ; and when Sir John Stanley made his inquiry in 1422, a period of 157 years had intervened, in which the old order had become confused, and, broken, and uncertain. There had been a change from independence to dependence on several masters, foreign and unpermanent— for three generations on Scottish Lords, and on English Lords for three generations more ; and during this period there " were never XXIV Keys in certainty." At the time of the arrival of Stanley, the Manxmen would look back with traditionary recollections of the older conditions under the Manx Kings, the older conditions " when they were called Taxiaxi " ; when Man and the Isles were united ; when Tynwald had been held where Manxmen and Islesmen (Mannenses et Insulari) had met together, " VIII for the out Isles and XVI for your land of Man." In short, the answer given to Stanley had reference to the condition of things in Manx Scandinavian times.

Who were the Taxiaxi ? " Those were XXIV free-houlders."

A better description can be given than that of the Tacksman of Hialtland or Shetland, in Scott’s Pirate, viz., holding directly from the Lord of the Soil, with power to sub-let, his own obligations and dues to the Lord being feudal, a relation of loyalty and of service in certain contingencies, but the tenure " free " and hereditary.

The Deemsters and Keys of 1422 informed Sir John Stanley that there had been these " Taxiaxi " or " Free-houlders." Referring, then, to " King Orry’s days," is there any evidence from other sources as to the existence of the " Free-houlders," to whom the XXIV Keys of the Law (Claves Legis.) in 1422 made reference?

The Rushen Chronicle, part of it written in " King Orry’s days," states that from Godred Crovan’s reign down to the time of writing, all the land of the Island was held direct from the King. " Hence it happens that to this day the whole Island is vested in the King alone."

(a) In 1154, at Ramsey, the nephews of Olaf I. demand a share of the Isles. Reginald, one of these nephews, is described as " loquens cum quodam viro de principibus terræ," viz., in conversation with a certain man of the chiefs of the land. " Here, then, we find in the Island a class of men referred to as " principes " or " chiefs " of the land.

(b) In 1155 (circa), Godred II. is said to have begun " tyrannidem exercere contra principes suos," to " exercise tyranny against his own chiefs."

(c) Further of Godred II., " nam quosdam eorum exhereditavit" " for he disinherited some of them. " Thus the chiefs had an hereditary proprietorship out of which they were violently expelled.

(d) When Earl Fuco, sent by King John of England, came to Man in the reign of King Reginald, " rex et optimates ejus non erant in Mannia," " the King and his gentry were not in Man." Here a superior class of native men is referred to.

(e) Olaf in 1228, " cum omnibus optimatibus Manniæ et fortiore parte populi transfretavit ad insulas. " "Olaf with all the chiefs of Man and the braver part of the people crossed over to the Isles."

(f) In the same year Reginald landed at Peel by night and burnt the ships of Olaf, " et omnium optimatum Manniæ," viz., of all the chiefs of Man.

(g) Again, 1237, Harald, son of Olaf II., " Cum omnibus optimatibus suis transfretavit," viz., crossed from Man to the Isles "with all his gentry."

(h) Again, 1249, Harald, son of Godred Don, " Nomen Regis et dignitatem sibi usurpans in Manniâ, omnes fere principes Haraldi regis Olavi filii exules fecit, et profugos ejus principes et optimates fecit," viz., " usurping to himself in Man the name and dignity of King, he exiled almost all the chiefs of King Harald Olafson, and made his (Harald Olafson’s) exiles, chiefs, and gentry."

(i) At that time Dofnald of the miracle, a very old man and a gentleman, a former favourite of Harald Olafson, is persecuted by Harold Gorryson. -

These extracts, and others, point to an order or class of men in the Island, called primates, principes, optimates, and nobiles vin, viz. , men of the first rank, chiefs, men of the best class, and with him, armed and provisioned for their term of service, in the contingency of war. How many ? The suggestion is here made that it was three, that the Treenholder came in person accompanied by three yeomen. The levy on this basis of computation for the whole Island would be about 1,000 men, which corresponds with the calculations of Vigfusson.

On that assumption the " Free-houlder " of a Treen would sublet to three yeomen three portions of his Treen, in return for their engaging themselves as his men, to accompany him in the contingency of war. This will explain the four farms on a Treen and there is nothing in their conditions contradictory to this idea.

There is rather a confirmation of it, in the fact that there is generally a principal quarterland farm on each Treen, often bearing the name of the Treen itself ; the area larger than the others, the situation most choice, and in some cases with the Treen chapel upon it. It is in connection with some of these Treen chapels that most of the Manx Runic crosses have been found ; and there is no extraordinary improbability that these crosses so found are family monuments of the holders of the Treens.



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