[from Proc IoMNH&ASoc vol2 #2 1923]



I have in my hand a copy of a printed historical ballad, of very old date, which has a romantic history.

It is generally known as the Ballad of Mannanan Beg Mac y Leirr. According to the title it gives '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,'

Although the Ballad was doubtless printed a century and a quarter ago (about 1778), the first record of its existence occurs in Train's History, vol. i, p. 50, published in Douglas in 1845.

Train introduces the Ballad as follows:-' The following curious Ballad, which is now for the first time translated into English, was composed in the Manks language, The date of printing has been obliterated from the copy in my possession, which I believe to be extremely scarce; but the writer, as appears from the last three verses, lived during the time of Thomas, second Earl of Derby, whose landing in the Island in 1507 he describes. This Earl succeeded his grandfather in 1504, and died in 1521, between which dates the Ballad has evidently been written.'

The Ballad-which contains 56 verses-was next copied into vol. xxi of the Manx Society's works, without comment. Spencer Walpole, in his 'Land of Home Rule,' published in 1893, refers to the Ballad, and Mr. Talbot, in a pamphlet criticising Walpole's facts, described the writer of the Ballad as:-'A pitiful rhymester of the last century, probably a vicar or curate of Marown, who wrote what Train inventively calls a " Traditionary Ballad ".'

Mr. Talbot doubtless had in mind as ' the pitiful rhymester ' the Rev. Thomas Christian, Vicar of Marown, who in 1796 issued a very poetical translation of a part of Milton's ' Paradise Lost' in Manx.

I do not think that Mr. Talbot, because he did not happen to see the printed Ballad, had good grounds to allege that it was not genuine.

Mr. A. W. Moore, in 1896, includes it in his book of 'Manx Ballads,' adding to it the following brief note:-' I have not been able to find any trace either of the printed copy or of a MS. of the poem,'

Mr. Moore, in his History published in 1900, appeared to think the Ballad possessed no historical value, or he doubted its existence, perhaps, for he makes no reference whatever to it.

And again, there is no reference to it in any of the editions of the Bibliotheca Monensis of the Manx Society.

The next reference to it by a historian is in 1911, when my friend, Mr. G. W. Wood, of London (who has the most complete library of Manx books in existence) read before the meeting of the Library Association, in Douglas, a paper on 'Literature in the Manx Language.'

Mr. Wood says in reference to the ancient literature in the Manx Gaelic:--' Then there is what is known as the traditionary ballad of " Mannanan Beg Mac y Leirr " (Little Mannanan Son of the Sea). Our knowledge of it comes only through the medium of J. Train, author of a History of the Isle of Man, 1845, who possessed it as a printed broadsheet-the only one known.'

Mr. Wood goes on to say: -'The late Rev. T. Talbot very pertinently says that, being credited with bearing the weight of 390 years, due respect for literary truth might safely cut off the first figure.'

' If this be so (continues Mr. Wood) I am afraid the romance of the ballad is gone, and the author must be considered a Manx Chatterton.'

It is clear that none of the Manx historians, or the critics of the historians, since Train, had ever the privilege of seeing either the MS. or the Ballad in the printed form in which I have shown it to-day. They therefore appear, some of them at any rate, either to doubt its existence or to doubt its genuineness. .

The copy that you have seen is the identical copy which belonged to Train. From Train it came into the possession of Train's printer, Mary A. Quiggin, of the North Quay, Douglas. From her it came to her nephew, Mr. John Charles Kaye, who served his apprenticeship in that printing office. Mr. Kaye, who is now sub-editor of the 'Manchester City News,' is the present owner of this copy, but I am hoping. that the treasure will in due course come to the Manx National Library.

You will see that on the first page are the words, in the Manx Gaelic: ' Printed in the year . . . ' but that the date of printing is erased, as Train in his History pointed out.

Why the date was erased no one can tell, but it would be unfair to assume, as some writers appear to have assumed, that Train was guilty of the obliteration.

From a close inspection of the style of type and the class of paper used, I have come to the conclusion that the Ballad was printed between the years 1760 and 1790, certainly 50 or 60 years before Train's time.

From its appearance I would judge that it was printed at the press of Shepard, at Ramsey, or by Briscoe, at Douglas. But as far as the text is concerned, I do not think that our historians have given the Ballad the respect or the attention that it deserves, I have little doubt that it was written in the early 16th century,. when the author describes the events that happened before his own eyes.

Mr, J. J. Kneen, who has studied the Manx text very closely, is of the opinion that it was written at a very early date, for he has found in it no less than 1 examples of obsolete grammatical forms.

{The printed Ballad is now in the Library of the Manx Museum.}

[fpc: see new translation by Jennifer Kewley Draskau 'Account of the Isle of Man in Song' Centre for Manx Studies Monograph #5 2006 ISBN 1899338-13-6]

Back index next  

Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received MNB Editor
HTML Transcription © F.Coakley , 2008