[from Proc IoMNH&ASoc vol 4 #3 1939]
The Society suffered grievous loss in the death of our expresident, J. J. Kneen, on Monday, November 21st, 1938, at the age of 65.
A self-taught man, by patient industry he acquired high standing as a scholar, and was for many years a devoted member of the Society, to whose proceedings he was a frequent and esteemed contributor.
In 1897, as a young man of 24, Mr. Kneen commenced to write lessons in Manx, published week by week in one of the Insular newspapers. These contributions attracted the attention of Mr. A. W. Moore, S.H.K., the Island's great historian and a devoted student of all things Manx, and they and other enthusiasts set about the formation of a Manx Language Society, which held its first meeting in 1899. Mr. Kneen became secretary and president of that society, and president of the Isle of Man Natural History and Antiquarian Society. Some years later he took a leading part in producing a new edition of Cregeen's Dictionary of the Manx language, and later he was responsible for a little primer in Manx called "Yn Saase Jeeragh" or "The Direct Method," based on a well-accepted model. Only a few months ago, there was published a English-Manx pronouncing dictionary written by him, and at the time of his death he was contributing weekly instalments of a series of "Manx Idioms and Phrases."
Mr. Kneen's great work was his Manx Grammar, published a few years ago out of moneys provided by Tynwald, together with "The Place-Names of the Isle of Man" and "The Personal Names of the Isle of Man," the latter of which was also financed by public grant. They represent an amazing amount of research, the wonder of which is increased when it is remembered that for many years Mr Kneen was in delicate health, and his sight began to fail. The prefaces are lucidly and attractively written, and the contents, particularly his explanations of the meanings of the names given to the Manx hills and headlands and farms, are of widespread interest. He made himself master of Irish and Norse in their ancient and modern forms.
Mr. Kneen's work, like that of the late Mr. P. M. C. Kermode. was well known to students in other Celtic countries, and in Norway. In recognition of his researches into the Norse element in the Manx race, history, and language, he was awarded a grant of £200 by the Norwegian State Research Fund and the trustees of the Fridtjhof Nansen Fund for the Promotion of Scientific Research. In 1934, the King of Norway conferred on him the Knighthood of the Order of St. Olav.
In 1929, Mr Kermode and he were given the honorary degree of M.A. by the Liverpool University.
Mr. Kneen wrote numerous articles in each of the Manx .newspapers, and read many papers before the Antiquarian Society. They covered a great variety of subjects, and were all the result of deep and responsible study. One of the most valuable of his papers is that on 'Manx Fairs," in which all the Manx saints' days, and the great pagan nature-worshipping celebrations which preceded them, are traced most convincingly to their origins.
Though Mr. Kneen's disposition was serious, and his life was devoted to scholarship, he had his lighter side. He wrote several Manx dialect plays, most of them uproarious farces, such as it seemed hardly possible to associate with this quiet thoughtful student. In this respect Mr. .Kneen greatly resembled the late Christopher Shimmin, though his plays are hardly such choice and appealing pictures of Manx life and manners. Still, they have contributed to the pleasure of Manx gatherings all over the world. Principal among them are "A Lil' Smook," "Yn Blaa Sooree" ("The Courting Flower"), "Ann," "Putting up the Banns" and "The 'Magpies," the latter of which shows considerable artistry.
On the death of the late Mr. H. Percy Kelly, the High-Bailiff, this year, Mr. Kneen was appointed (together with Mr. Mark Braide) official translator of the Acts of Tynwald into Manx. At the same time the Manx Society chose him as their representative on the Manx Museum Trust. He was on the executive of the World Manx Association and of the committee which organises the Cruinnaght, which he served for many years as a judge of Manx essays, stories, poems, and plays, besides compositions in the Manx language.
He was a member of the committee of the Isle of Man Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, and for a short time carried on the children's column which bore the signature of "Uncle Jack."
Mr. Kneen was musical. He had belonged to the choirs of St. Thomas' and St. Matthew's Churches, and was for some years choirmaster of Port Erin ex-Primitive Methodist Church. He was one of the most modest of men. Every honour which came his way was thrust upon him, and in committee his opinions had always to be solicited before they were given. He was kindliness itself, and had a great circle of friends.
Mr. Kneen was twice married. His first wife was Miss Tasker, of Douglas, and his second, who survives him, Miss C. A. Bridson, whose sister was formerly matron of Noble's Hospital. Their wedding was performed in Manx. He leaves two sons Messrs James and Harold Kneen, of Douglas-and a daughterMiss Winifred Kneen, who has recently set up in private nursing.
The funeral took place on Thursday, November 24th, at the Borough Cemetery, and was preceded by a service in All Saints' Church, Douglas. The service for the Burial of the Dead was conducted in Manx by the Rev. C. A. Cannan, B.A., Vicar of Michael, and the hymn, "O Yee Cur Skianyn Credjue -"DoŘ" ("Give me the wings of faith to rise") was sung by the 'church choir. The hymn, "For all the saints who from their labours rest," and the 23rd Psalm were sung in English, as was also the Nunc Dimittis as the coffin was borne from the church. ' A brief but eloquent tribute (spoken in English) to Mr Kneen's memory was paid by the Rev. C. A. Cannan, who also conducted the committal service, entirely in Manx, at the graveside in Braddan Cemetery, concluding with the Lord's Prayer, recited by all. present.
Deemster Farrant adjourned a sitting: of the Chancery Court. for an hour, to enable His Honour and others to attend the funeral. Deemster Farrant expressed in Court his great respect for a man who, despite considerable physical disability, made many valuable contributions to the literature and history of this Island.
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