[From Journal Manx Museum vol II #34 pp100/102, 1933]

Professor Marstrander's contribution to Manx History.

One of the most original and valuable contributions to the study of Manx history has been written by Professor Carl Marstrander, the Professor of Celtic in the University of Oslo, Norway. His subject is 'The Norwegian Conquest of the Isle of Man,' and it occupies the whole of volume VI of his journal, which has the title Norsk Tidsskrift for Sprogvidenskap. This contribution, on a purely Manx subject, is remarkable for many reasons: it is written by a Norseman and printed in the Norse tongue (with a 23 pp. summary in English); its production cost must have been close upon £400, the whole of which is defrayed by the Norwegian Government in conjunction with the generous Fridtjof Nansen Fund.

The 340 pages are beautifully printed; there are eighty half-tone illustrations of Manx views, four charts, and two large maps, on the scale of 1in. to a mile. One of the charts shows the number of mills which were in existence in 1511. 1703 and 1826; another shows the sites of the Keeills (numbering about 164), a third shows, in colour, the Treens which have names of Norse origin and those of Celtic origin. The last mentioned plan shows that there are 118 Treens having Norwegian names out of a total of 176.

Readers will notice that the number of Keeills (about 164) and the number of Treens (176) are practically the same, and suggests that the 'Treen Chapel' of the Traditional Ballad is no misnomer.

The author believes that the Manx nomenclature dates no further back than the Viking Age. Evidently the Norwegian conquest utterly altered the character of the earlier nomenclature, — the Norseman taking possession of all landed property and giving thereto Norwegian names.

The first record of a Viking fleet in the Irish Sea was, according to the Irish annals, in the year 796, when the Shrine of Dochonna was broken by `the black gentiles.' This Dochonna is, the author states, mentioned in the Book of Leinster (Mochonna Znsi Patrick) and elsewhere as Bishop of Man (cp. Colgan's Acta Sanct). This incident clearly refers to St. Patrick's Isle, Peel. Man was evidently very early regarded by the Irish as isolated from Ireland, and looked upon as a Norwegian dominion.

Professor Marstrander puts an earlier date upon the conquest of Man by the Norwegians than other historians. He claims it dates back to the first half of the ninth century, when wintering Norwegian fleets are mentioned. The strategic importance of Man was to them evident, and was bound to become the natural centre for all naval operations. According to the Orkneyinga Saga and the Ynglinga Sagas, 'Man was in the hands of the Norwegians at any rate in the second half of the ninth century.

The first Norwegian stratum of civilization belonged to paganism, and was older than the ornamented Cross Slabs which in 'no circumstances are previous to the latter half of the 'tenth century.' The Professor ventures the opinion that ' several of the great tumuli which 'are strewn all over the Island, but as yet unfortunately not systematically examined, are nothing, but Norwegian barrows from the 9th and 10th centuries'; and he instances the ship burial of Knock y doonee, Kirk Andreas.

What the Professor says about the Runic Crosses is interesting : they refute, he says, the view, often put forward that the Norwegians decimated or expelled the Gaelic population. On the contrary they testify to peaceful relations; for of the 40 personal names which occur on the Runic Crosses, 29 are Norwegian and 11 Gaelic! The Gaelic population, whence the Norwegians to such an extent borrowed their personal names, must necessarily have been free. Alongside with the Norwegian upper stratum on Man there must have co-existed a Gaelic group of population which the Norwegians themselves considered as free and socially equal.

Further developing this important side of his subject, the Professor says:

In this aristocratic 'milieu' Norwegian civilization and culture was maintained through centuries in Man; here the magic art of the runes continued to live; here Gaut Bjornsson chiselled his beautiful crosses; here they were told all the legends and myths which he perpetuated on them; and here, in this focus of the Viking Age, was also a fertile soil for Norwegian saga and poetry.

Obviously, he says, the Isle must also have had its hofs, i.e. great public sanctuaries of heathen worship. Aust Treen should probably be traced to Hof-stadir and was, he suggests, probably the residence of the King. Other hofs may be surmised to have been situated in the precincts of the present parish churches, and to have exchanged their pagan names for Christian ones in the 10th century.

Professor Marstrander insists that, apart from the place and family names, the administrative terms in use to this very day also testify to the strength of the Norwegian influence. He refers to the administrative terms

(1) the Parish (Norwegian Skeerey.)

(2) the Sheading (Norwegian Skeidarthing). The first element is skeid, the name of the typical Norwegian war galley. The second element is Old Norwegian thing, a ` district of assize'; Skeidarthing — a district which had to provide a war galley. This derivation was hinted at in 1886 by the Norse scholar Vigfusson, but it was not understood how the Old Norse word Skeidarthing could possibly develope into Manx Sheading. Although critics may have some doubts, we believe Professor Marstrander is convincing as to this point; and he presses it home by quoting a charter of King Robert of Scotland, dated 1313, to Thomas Ranulf, Earl of Moray, by which he hands over to him the Isle of Man on condition that he annually places at his disposal six ships, each of twenty-six oars, which is nothing but the old Manx King's levy transferred to the King of Scotland — a war galley from each Sheading.

(3) THE TREEN, a word traced to Old Norse Thrihifing(r), consisting of an estate large enough to support one family, and supplying one fully equipped man for the sheading langskib or long-ship. Granted, says the author, that the Treen originated from three estates or farms being united in one hand, the question arises why it was sub-divided not into thirds (as the word Treen implies) but into fourths.

The Professor advances an ingenious but nevertheless a perfectly logical theory. When the land was divided between the new Norwegian lords, they created the Treen divisions. ` The `Gaelic farms were joined by threes into one `large demesne under the formal control of a ` Norwegian landlord, who again was responsible to the King. But this arrangement necessitated a new division of the land. The lord built a mansion of his own with a sanctuary (horgr), seized the land for his own use, allowing the old (Celtic) tenants or owners to keep the rest on condition that they tilled his own parcel. From the tenants' point of view the Treen henceforward consisted of four parts, four kerroos (the modern Manx farms or quarterlands), while in the eyes of the Norwegian ` landlord it remained a Thrihifing, three tenements merged into one large estate. The term Treen may be said to characterise the estate as an administrative unit dependent on the lord, while kerroo characterises the internal relation `between the landlord and the tenants.' Professor Marstrander dates the creation of the Treen to a very early period. He suggests that the system belongs to the 9th century, and remarks that ` the neighbouring Celtic communities in Ireland and Scotland know of nothing comparable.' We agree with the author's views regarding the origin of the Treen system. He quotes the date 1408 as the earliest reference to a Treen division; but there is a MS. in the Library of the Manx Museum giving evidence that the system was in existence for six generations earlier than 1511, going back, perhaps, as far as the middle of the 14th century. These six generations were of the Stevenson's of Balladoole, Kirk Arbory.

(4) THE HOUSE of KEYS. Every philologist, amateur and otherwise, has played with the derivation of the title of 'The Twenty Four.' 'In my opinion,' says our author, 'there can be ` no doubt that this term, like the others, originated not in the English, but in the Norwegian 'Kuid (r)' the r only belongs to the nominative. It was a typically Icelandic institution, and was probably brought to Man in the 9th century by the settlers from Norway. The Kuid originally was a highly-placed jury. To be admitted a member it was necessary to be a man of landed property. It is important to learn that the Old Norwegian Kuid could not fail to develop into Manx Key.

Since the above was written, Professor Marstrander has arrived upon our shores for the third time. He has spent three weeks taking phonographic records of spoken Manx from the few native speakers. Their names are Messrs. Harry Kelly of Cregneash, John Caine of Jurby, William Quane and Cæsar Cashen of Peel, and Mr. and Mrs. Robert Fayle of Sulby. He has taken sixty rolls of phonographic record which, when he returns to Norway, will be transferred to metal. All the speakers are in their eighties, and the Professor declares that within five years it will be impossible to study spoken Manx.

Professor Marstrander holds a very high opinion of the Manx Museum, and particularly of the casts and the drawings of the cross slabs.

'The Museum is small,' he declared to Mr. P. W. Caine of the Isle of Man Times, 'but I don't think that you Manxmen realise what you possess in it.'

You have something that is unique, which even the Louvre with all its resources could not buy — that collection of crosses which are without parallel in the whole world. They are one of the main sources of the study of Norse mythology. A hundred-and-fifty years before Latin letters were brought into Norway and our early literature was written down, these myths were an record in the Isle of Man — not simply written, but figured on stone slabs. The wood carvings in Norway which figure the same subjects are centuries later, and are not at all so expressive or so primitive as these in the Isle of Man.

'In the University Library at Oslo,' continued the Professor, 'there are three copies of Mr. Kermode's great work on The Manx Crosses, but it is almost impossible to find it there, as the copies are so frequently taken out by students.'

The Professor has in view a wider examination of the Gaelic language. When the opportunity comes he purposes examining the dialects to be heard along the west coast of Scotland as well as in the Hebrides, as far south as Galloway.

W. C. [William Cubbon].

 


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