[from Proc IoMNH&ASoc vol 4 #3 1939]
December 6th, 1938.
By Miss HILDA COWIN.
There are many interesting things in connection with the parish of Lonan. Not only varied and beautiful scenery, but countless memorials denoting occupation throughout the centuries, some of which nay be as ancient,as the Old Testament itself. Stretching as it does, four miles from North to South, and three from East to West, it embraces within its area no less than fourteen sites of ancient Churches.
The meaning of the very name Lonan is lost in the mists of antiquity. There are writers who have assigned to it various. saint names, but the old traditional name of Lovan seems to be the correct one; it is the name used in the Act of Revestment, and Haining, who wrote his Guide in 1824, thinks the name arose from Lovan, or Clovan Stones. These stones are said to mark the burial place of a Welsh Prince. Welsh Rulers occupied the Island from 517-913 A.D. It is possible that this Prince was a follower of Clovis, who bore the proud title of The Most Christian King.
Crossing the stream at Groudale, we enter the Parish of Lonan. The old name of Grow-dale fitly describes the fertility of the glen. Near by is the estate of Ballakilley, and here is to be seen the Old Parish Church. The site on which it stands is an ancient one, and according to Kermode, the Church shows work of the twelfth century. Lintel graves have been found here, and one huge stone may even be of an earlier date than that assigned to it. At least six of the old stones in the :Museum have come from this site.
According to Train, in Bishop Wilson's day the Isle of Man possessed more ancient monuments and runic stones than any other country. A word or two about the stones may help us to a better understanding of their meaning. The Norwegians knew at a glance what each stone meant. I do not mean the inscriptions, but the manner in which the stones are placed. From Train we get the following statement: "These stones raised in many places are from ten to thirty feet high, nobly situated and placed in a wonderful order with some notable character. They signify, when of right long order, the battles of champions, by a square order troops of warriors, by a round order, the burials of families; and by a wedge form, they show that near that place an army of, foot and horse had fortunately prevailed." (p. 267).
Regarding the incriptions, some student in the future may have further revelations to make; at present the Hittitte inscriptions remain unsolved, and if ever the key is found it might shed new light upon those in the Isle of Man.
The Hittites worshipped in the hills, and all along our sea coast are numerous Cairns; in nearly every instance they are situated on high. Thus were formed lines of communncation between the villages, and when necessary a place on which to kindle a warning beacon. If nature did not provide a cairn large enough, each passer-by brought a stone along to deposit on the heap. It soon grew in size. Sometimes these cairns were burial places as well. In the Old Testament we find records of this method of interment. In Samuel xviii., we read that when Joab slew Absalom he was buried in the pit and had a great heap of stones cast upon him. That custom still prevails in the East to-day, and unless each passer-by adds a stone to the heap ill-fortune will be his lot.
Out on Clay Head, or Kione Clagh, at least two such cairns were to be seen in bygone days. Not far away was the Golden Well. Many are the tales told about strange things which happened in this area. "Men going to work on the opposite side of the valley would suddenly find themselves transported out on to the Head; how they reached there they did not know themselves." In the year 1627, when Sir William Norris was Vicar, it was known as Sir William's Hill. Day watch was kept there, but night watch was kept at "The Stowell."
From Clay Head at certain periods there comes a weird call. Those who have heard it say that it is uttered by the "Dhoinney Uaie," or Sad-faced Man. He is a Merman, and when he calls three times the parishioners must take heed, for disease or death is at hand. This apparition is said to be covered in seaweed from head to foot.
People living in the vicinity told tales about the Cloven Stones. They clapped whenever it thundered, or even if the church bells rang. Tradition dies hard; it was so in this case. On one occasion, Oliver Cromwell came across similar stones. He gave his soldiers orders to remove them. To their surprise they discovered that the large upright stone was so delicately poised upon a small round one that it would sway with the slightest breeze. Little wonder that in many places these stones bear the name of Rocking Stones.
From the Cloven Stones to the beach at Garwick is but a short distance, on it can be seen the ruins of several cottages. In one of them lived "Old Charlie the Carpenter." He used to relate some exciting tales. Whenever a gale blew inshore, Charlie and his wife had to take refuge in the upper room. During his lifetime several boats were wrecked off Clay Head. One very wild winter's night, he heard cries for help. His wife insisted that it was not fit for him to go out in such weather. He decided to go downstairs, found that their kitchen was flooded with water, and the tide curling and raging at the door. To get the door open was a problem. He was saved the trouble, the door burst open. In walked half a dozen sailors soaked to the skin, teeth chattering, famished for food. The old couple did their best for them. the fire was out, the sea had put it out. The. old woman had been baking before the storm commenced; she had used all their scanty stock of flour, and the soda cakes were with the oat-cakes, hid in the rafters in the true Manx fashion. She got them down, the hungry men ate them like famished wolves, then asked for more; when she told them that was all she had, with oaths they departed. Throwing twopence on the table they left the house, stating that they would walk to. Onchan. When they had left the old couple sat on the stairs and wept. They had to sit up all night waiting for the water to drain out of their little home. With nothing to eat one made a journey to the mill for some oatmeal. It had to be baked before they could have breakfast. There were tales in connection, with other nights and other rescues, but this was their most: terrifying experience.
Not far from Old Charlie's cottage can be seen the cave in. which the Duchess of Gloucester lay hidden for three nights. For the sake of the strangers among us, it may be mentioned that she was confined in Peel Castle, and friends had made arrangements to help her to escape. Tradition has it that she arrived at Garwick, where she hid for three days. She was captured before she got any further, and taken back again to Peel. The cave is not a sheltery one by any means.
Climbing up from the beach we reach Ballagawne, more correctly, Balla-Gowan, on which stands an old smithy. Here the men were wont to repair and many the stories they told They could hear the bell ringing at the Old Bell House, and by it they knew that a Bishop was on his way through the parish. If by any chance that bell was not rung, the "Clark" was punished by a fine. The Bell House stood on a piece of ground known as the "Graveyard Field." Yet, curious to relate, no one seemed to know that it was a burial ground. Quite by accident the discovery was made when the Electric Railway cut through it to lay their railroad. Over eighty lintel graves were found there. People living in the vicinity state that the graves were in perfect order, the skeletons whole, and the majority of them were giants. Several measured six feet nine inches. One authority states that they were prehistoric graves. Little wonder that tales of giants and ghosts persisted in this area throughout the centuries.
Not far from Ballabeg can be noticed old tracks leading to the beach, and also to the heights above. One in particular is known as the "Gibbon Track." It has been used for centuries, not only by the natives, but by people who came all the way from the "Baldwins" to catch gibbon. At certain seasons, on a moonlight night, the company would assemble, each one carrying a small sickle and a can. At a given signal all commenced to lift these small fish out of the sand. Natives tell me that they made a most delightful and nourishing dish. One old .person whom I asked about these customs said, "Years and years ago we were eating scallops too." Off Laxey Head is a large oyster bed, said to be two miles in extent.
The village of Laxey was a place of importance in the days when Robert Bruce visited the Isle of Man (1313). It is on record that there was a church a few yards north of the old bridge. It was called St. Nicholas. There was also a burial ground adjoining and a well known as Chibbyr Niglus This well is now filled in. On asking the reason, I was told that there was always blood floating on top of it. It may be true. Some writers assert that the Laxi (or Salmon) River is mentioned in an old martial poem. That a battle of chiefs took place on its banks. The combat was fierce, the valley ran with blood, and that Godred Crovan took part in the fight himself. No doubt this accounts for the name Garrey, or Orrey, at Minorca. In days gone by, King Orrey's grave was a sight worth seeing. Its tall slab, thirty feet high, had a surrounding terrace three yards wide, running to a cairn. Tradition has it that giants were interred there as well.
A compiler of the "Golden Legend," about 1270, gives meaning of names Nicholas and Nick. It is always connected with brightness, hence the term "nickel" used in coinage. The Codes and Culdees were said to be followers of St. Nicholas. They were roadmakers and smelters, perhaps the first smelters on the Island. Their symbol was a ring, coil, or a ball. They grew vegetables, in particular the cabbage, sometimes known as Colcannon. They also dug wells, or built their churches by a natural spring. Often enough, the wells became a source of income. If a passerby took a draught of pure water, he or she was expected to leave a coin as a thankoffering. In cases where the water had curative properties (and it always has), the people came back for more. The result was that some wells gained the name of "Healing Wells." At these there was a fixed charge, three ounces of pure gold for a single draught not being thought too much to ask. One writer asserts that as high as three hundred ounces of pure gold was asked at one well. Whether the pools bearing the name of Nickensen belonged to the same order it is hard to tell. If so, we can trace a connection between three places far apart, in Germany, in Sweden, and at Ballacowin in Lonan. The same legends are attached to the three. In each a water sprite takes toll of life at certain times of the year. One person assures me that at Ballacowin, when the river is in flood, the pool still retains its normal 'level. As very ancient rites were practised at Ballacowin (such as Fiery Ordeal), it is more than probable that the roadmakers found their way thither. To many it is a puzzle why the (Doles cnose three symbols, each of them round ones. Tne numeral 'three' has some charm about it. King Cormac wrote a poem on the virtues of the number three. The first ruler of Mann had a gold cup which would break into three pieces if three words of falsehood were uttered by the person who used it. Down to a few years ago it was an old Manx custom to walk three times around the cross in the churchyard, always carrying the coffin in the same direction, following the sun in its course. The Druids worshipped the mistletoe, which bears a cluster of three berries. In Old Testament days, harps had three strings, and another popular musical instrument was fashioned with three rows of bells. It is a well known fact that a seagull lays three eggs and that it takes three weeks to hatch out its young. In the Old Testament we find that priests were ordered to wear three white tassels on their robes. The Isle of Man was a place of refuge; from earliest days did Persian priests find their way thither. They were in the habit of chanting to the winds for three days. (Glover). By this means they were able to alter the weather ! Even to-day, Manx people are superstitious over seeing three magpies. The followers of Pythagoras believed that the figures three and seven were sacred. In the Old Testament we read that the Court of Appeal at Jerusalem consisted of three Orders, that three great Festivals were held each year, that there were three gates to the Temple, that lamps made of pure gold in the Temple were three feet high. Whenever a dispute occurred, three men were selected from each side to hold a parley.
In Lonan, one can still hear people talk about the month of three milkings, the three coldest winds are known to fishermen, only three nails were permitted when building a boat, the Dhoinney Oaie always calls out three times as a warning, while the most fortunate person in the parish was the one who met the Mucksani (Lucky Pig) three times. No one ever saw it, only felt it rush up against them. Legends connected with St. Nicholas state that he saved three youths and three maidens from drowning; he did SG by using three golden balls. To-day, these are the signs used by the pawnbroker. Whether the Old Church at Laxey was named after St. Nicholas we can only guess. There was a person bearing this name who attended the Council at Nice in the year 524 A.D. It is said that white metal nickel was so called after him. Did he adopt the three from the Druids? They had three primary strokes, which meant Love, Knowledge and Truth. The Persians had a similar idea in their three Divine attributes-Good Thought, Good Word, Good Deed. Little wonder that the Manks had three legs on their stools as well as their pots and pans. For weddings they blew horns three times to announce the arrival of the bride.
The Church of St. Nicholas was in existence in the year 1316 A.D. The site on which it stood is still called the "Cabbie." Natives say that the church was still in use in 1877 A.D.
One writer asserts that a monk fishing in the river first discovered lead in the water. As early as the year 1Gyz we rind that John Comyn, Earl of Buchan, asked permission from icing, Eaward the First to dig for leaa in the Isle of lvlan. tote safe that he required enough to cover eignt towers of his castle in Gailoway. Whether he found all he wanted we are not told, but, for hundreds of years mining for lead was carried on in Laxey before the Great Laxey Mining Company was formed. Yet it was only when this company was formed that the richness of the vein was discovered. Captain Rowe used some of the wealth. to improve the place. Besides building his own house he erected the Mill (on which can be seen the crest of the Rowes of Cornwall), the National School, the Church, the Vicarage, the large warehouse on the promenade, the Quay, and the Bridge. He also possessed a boat called the `Jubilee,' which plied between Whitehaven and Laxey. The wage bill, paid monthly, was thousands of pounds. Under his guidance the place became a flourishing and prosperous community. If he ever read the law laid down by the Derby family he could smile. Here is the extract: "If discovery is made of any mine or ore, within the Island, the same is to be immediately communicated to the Lord proprietor, and if he sends over a miner, the Lord's officers are to see him do his work faithfully, because the Lord should not be at expence in that work, unless it be to his profit, and advantage."
Before the mining company was formed, people living in Laxey earned their living fishing, weaving, farming or sewing. There are some wonderful tales told about a "Fairy Tailor." His, name was James Callow. Whether he had some secret means of flying no one ever found out. He could do the journey from Laxey to Ramsey and back in less than twenty minutes. He was also a good singer. It was his habit to sit by the riverside, listen to the murmur of the water, then take a sharp pebble and with it: scratch the music on the large rock by the riverside. But it is chiefly for his powers of getting about quickly that he is remembered. Americans hearing about him invited him to witness the opening of a new railway. Nothing daunted, he went. To their amusement he bet them that he would reach the terminus first. "Betting ran high, men were so certain that he would lose.
They found that they had made a mistake. When the train reached its destination James Callow was there to welcome its arrival." So many had lost money that the poor Fairy Tailor met an untimely fate; it was said that he was shot by a foe, jealous of his power.
Another member of the same family composed the song known as "Kirrey fo Snaghty." His was a sad tale. One night he found his father had passed away. Under the Manx law he was arrested, put into Castle Rushen, although he had done no crime, and kept there. He employed his time making songs, and this one is said to have come down to us in its original form.
According to one eminent antiquarian (Charles Roeder, of Manchester) there is in Lonan one of the most ancient sites in Europe. A White Palace at one time stood there. It was said to be a place of residence from the time of Adam! Traces can still be found of the medical well at Grianane; close by is the bridge. At certain times of the year music comes from that well, which is a hallowed one. Growing near by are tramman trees. Dogs do not like the place, but make a wide circle in order to escape passing by that way. Little Manks horses would always avoid it, too.
Another place well known in the area is called Glen Drink. Here sports were wont to be held. The old Manx custom of summer and winter fighting with each other for supremacy was carried out with great regularity in many places in the Island. Close by are the sites of ancient but villages. The place has the reputation of being haunted.
In this area, the walls of one house were unusually thick.. In fact, many remarked on them. But there must have been something canny about the ground on which it stood. Some movement going on in the earth, no doubt. However, everybody knew that the flags on the kitchen floor were in the habit of rising up now and then!
The old name for the district of Aegness was formerly "The City." The Treen name is "Heg ness." A church there was known as St. John's. Close by have been found scribed stones. (Ballagolgane).
A fair was held here each year. It was a famous fair, known as the wool fair. "Blankets and all woollen stuffs were sold there, and also Flax Waistcoats which were fashionable wear for the men. Flax dubbs are still to be seen, the water was as a rule dammed back at a spring. People in the vicinity now use these dubbs for water for their cattle. Flax workers were numerous. and there is a tale told about one of them who could get the assistance of the Fairies at any time! She lived on a place adjoining Qualtrough's, Rhaby; all she did was to go down to the river and call the Fairies by name, give them the work to do and they would work all night to get it done for her. Whether she left the door open for them to come in and use the spinning wheel we are not told. But she had to get the work done in time for the Fair."
Another well known fair was held at Chibbyr Pherrick on May Day. It was known as "The Coopers' Fair." Here were to be seen barrels, churns, stools, spoons, ladles, hayrakes, bowls for butter-making, chairs, spinning wheels, and any other articles which the local craftsmen thought fit to make; also bedsteads, with rope bottoms, made by carpenters. It was discontinued in May, 1834. when it was decided to hold it in Old Laxey instead. On this account Laxey had two fairs each year. instead of one. The place where they were held bears the name of Tent Road to this day.
At the Lhargin there was a flax mill. Jenny Phil and Jemmy Phil still haunt the place. They were the two last flax weavers in the Parish of Lonan. When Jenny wanted help she simply went to the river and called the fairies by name. They came to her aid and did her work overnight. She evidently left the door open for them to enter ! Both wool and flax were sold in great quantities at the fairs, especially at the "City." This was the name by which Agneash was known in days gone by. The Woollen Fair was famous, buyers coming from all parts to make purchases. Flax also was in great demand, flax waistcoats being the fashionable wear for men. Sailcloth and fishing nets, ropes of various kinds, some made of straw, others of ling, all kept craftsmen busy, summer and winter.
The weaver plied his trade all winter; as a rule, his loom occupied all the space available in his little parlour, unless he was fortunate enough to possess an outside shed.
The peace of Manks folk was greatly disturbed when Napoleon threatened England. Press gangs visited the Isle of Man and carried off many men. Those who were accustomed to the sea soon found promotion, among them several men from Laxey. There are interesting life stories of men like Captain Skillicorne and Castine. The name `Minorca' bears tribute to one who returned and renamed the land he purchased.
CAPTAIN HENRY SKILLICORNE.
(Born 1678; died 1763).
DID ye navar hear tell of Skillicorne?
One of the clavares' Manx-men born
In all Kirk Lonan ! What's more, it's true
He was good as well, an' hed money, too!
His word an' his bond was always the same,
There was'n a bond as good as his name!
Not doin' like some-ones an' takin' yer in,
But actin' that upright, to stranger an' kin,
That even the duality wanted to know
The man, an' bless yer ! some of them would go
All the way down to Cheltenham there
To see how he was doin' ! Was'n that where
He lived at last? I've heard them tell
That Royalty themselves was comin' as well
To stay at his place! An' likin' it, too!
An' was'n it seven different tongues that he knew?
An' the places he'd been, yer navar heard tell!
Turkey, an' Hollan', and Venice as well,
An' Boston, an' Philadelphia, an' Portugal, too,
As well as Kirk Lonan, was some that he knew!
An' was'n he good lookin' ? upright, an' tall.
Lived till he was eight-four years for all!
An' him a captain! The Parzon, I'm toul'
Got many an' many a poun' from the sowl.
When buildin' Kirk Lonan ! Yet there's navar a line
To tell of the money he gave in his time.
Was he aver comin' over? Of coorse he was!
Comin' up this way, bringin' his wife across,
(She belonged to the Quakers, it seems).
Though she did'n hinder him at all in his schemes,
Mus' nev thought what he done was good an' great.
Tha's the way he was able to make good their estate
In Cheltenham yonder! He planted the trees
Tha's soughin', an' sighin' to-day in the breeze
On both the Parades, an' for all I can tell
He may hev planted far more there as well.?
Jus like Gib-h;-Pherick, a spring he foun' there
An' covered it over wis particular care,
Is'n that the well they're usm' to-day'?
An' tha's why they're callin' it Cheltenham Spa!
An' if any of yer wants to go down there an' see,
It's all on his stone as plain as can be !
But you'll hev to be lookin' inside th, 'Church door
To fin' all about it, and I'll tell you what's more,
Yer musn' forget; it's the door on the Wes'
Yer'll hev to go in on, it's the handies''.
But many were less fortunate; they lay languishing in prisons in France and elsewhere. Their children grew up without knowing the fate which befell them. When the women of Lonan wanted their children to behave they simply said, "I'll give you to Bony! "
This account would not be complete without reference to the church which stands in the centre of the parish, now known as Lonan Church. The site on which it stands is unique. So far as I know, it is the only place where a church has been pulled down and another erected in its place. On the twenty-first of October, 1823, at a vestry meeting, it was agreed: "As the Church was dilapidated and small . . . . it is expedient that the said church be taken down, and a new church erected in place thereof, at a cost of 150 pounds sterling." Further, it was "to be built and constructed so that a gallery may at any future period be erected herein, without taking of or removing the roof."
The church became so well attended that a gallery was erected, but it has since been removed. The older church was the one attended by Captain Henry Skillicorne.
One or two of the customs connected with Lonan Church make interesting reading. A curate complained that very few of his parishioners "accompanied him on his perambulations."
He did admit that they met him and attended service in both. harbours on Ascension Day. It seems that this was not sufficient. Complaint was sent to the Spiritual Court, and it was, decreed that those people who neglected to attend the curate on. his "perambulations" were to be punished by being "Presented." To be "`presented" was a nasty ordeal. The person accused had to stand "Bare-footed, bare-legged and bare-headed, with a small. white wand in his or her hand." A schedule was also fastened on the culprit, stating the nature of the offence, for the churchgoers to read as they entered in for service. Whether they stood there all day or just for one service I cannot find out.
Another custom which incurred great displeasure among church officials was that of going to the top of Snaefell on the first Sunday in August. It was a custom which had been in vogue for generations. People climbed the hills all night in order to reach the summit in time to watch the sunrise. So for two Sundays in July warnings were uttered from the pulpit of the Parish Church that any member of the congregation who did so would be "Presented." It also meant a fine of 2s 6d would be imposed. If a second appearance before the Spiritual Court took place, the offender was fined 5s-a large amount, when we bear in mind that fowls and ducks were only a few coppers each and that eggs were twelve for one penny !
There was a memorable Sunday in August in the year 1821, As it happened, it was the first Sunday in August, when people assembled in Lonan Parish Church to give thanks that they were saved from fire. By some means the peat on Pennypot and Mullagh-ourr had caught fire. People were alarmed; for days and for miles, the fires raged; it was feared that the whole Island would be burnt out. The parishioners of Lonan worked hard. They had to remove the peat for miles before they got control. It was not a surface fire only, but red-hot to the depth of several feet.
The Parish Clerk was a notable person. As a rule, he was bellringer, as well as schoolmaster. If he neglected to ring the bells whenever a Bishop "approached or passed near the church," he, too, was liable to be "presented." This custom dated back as far as 1654. No doubt it accounts for the fact that a building known as "The Old Bell House" stood by the roadside at Ballabeg, Lonan. In it the Parish Clerk kept his little school. In the days when the Rev. Hugh Stowell resided in Lonan people travelled to town by the stage coach. It held eight people, and the fare charged was sixpence. The journey often took two hours
| Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received MNB
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