[From Mannin, #2, 1913]

Short Stories from Manx History.

Juan was born on Clenaige, a small property on the northern boundary of the old tribal division which by this time was known as the sheading of Garff. The Celtic tribal system which, owing to the peculiar conditions of settlement in the Isle of Mann from the earliest times and its always small population, could never have been very complete or strongly emphasised, had long passed away leaving however many traces of its former existence. By the twelfth century all the arable land had been partitioned out into estates which were in the possession of private owners, and at their death, divided equally among their children, though cultivation was primitive and only a little around the homestead was enclosed, while the dwellers round about had rights of pasturage on the waste and un-enclosed lands.

Such an estate was Ballure at the northern end of what is now the parish of Maughold. It extended from the mountain to the sea and from the watershed on the east of the glen which still bears its name to that on the east of the Altdale, or, Glen Aldyn. The rocky coastline of the Island terminates about the boundary line of Ballure with the adjoining stead of Lewaigue, and, from the Glen the foot-hills trend away to the west, with a sudden widening spread below them, which is the beginning of the low plain stretching northwards to the Point of Ayre; the sloping gravel sea-beach footing the rocks at Ballure sweeps round in a fine curve to Ayre Point, and, is distant a mile and a half away opposite the entrance to Glen Aldyn.

From a height of about seven hundred feet on the northern face of Barrule, the land falls with easy gradient for over a mile, then descends abruptly for about three hundred feet at its eastern end, trailing off to about a hundred at the western, the scarred and rocky face of this declivity representing the coastline of the Island in pre-glacial times; the rich boulder formation below passes gently to what at the time of our story was the low, wet, land and marshy border of the ever-shifting windings, near its mouth, of the Sulby river and of the extensive backwater caused by its meeting with the tide. Beyond this stretch of bog lay Hrafnsey, or, Raven's isle. Half way between Ballure glen and Glen Aldyn the foot-hills are broken by the narrow glen of Ballacowle, formed by a little stream from high up on the mountain and winding through the meadowland below; further west another break, a mere scratch on the slope of the foot-hills, is caused by a still smaller stream, cutting a minute glen,-a baby glen, which gives its name to the farm, Clenaige; but, on reaching the lowlands the rivulet bears a more ominous name, Struan ny Crawyn, where it finds its devious way through the wet meadowland and bog to the Sulby River at the head of what is now the harbour; for, after the battle of Scacafell, when Godred Crovan at his third attempt effected a landing and succeeded in overcoming all resistance, the bleached bones of those who fell were seen or turned up along its course full many a day after Godred was settled on his throne.

The eastern half of Ballure, which retained the original name of the stead or Balla, was occupied by the head of the family, an old man, Aloe mac Aloe; while Juan's father had inherited the other portion. The dwelling was placed under the shelter of the hills and built, not of timber, nor of wattles and clay, for wood had long been scarce in the Island, but with walls of considerable thickness constructed as in the early Keeills of rough stones picked from off the surface of the ground, which fanned an inner and an outer face to a core of stiff clay. The sloping ground was excavated so that while the entrance on the north was on a level with the paved court outside, the southern face was buried for about three feet; the walls having a wide base were surrounded by a narrow bink, and carried to a height of about eight feet, from which arose the high-pitched roof of thatch. In the hall the household gathered for meals and assembled for song and story and gossip in the evening, after which fresh straw or rushes were placed around the walls, the men sleeping with their feet to the fire which was kept burning all night. The master had a smaller room adjoining, at the other end of which was the woman's 'bower, both of these being entered by strong wooden doors from the outside only. There were separate small buildings for the shepherd, neat-herd and ploughman, with kitchen, brewery and dairy, with stable, cowhouse and calf-house, and barn and sheds required for a dairy-farm. To the south was a fair-sized garden of herbs and a large orchard stretching up to the slope at the foot of the crag which jutted out from the Lhergy, or, face of the hill; this was dotted with blue-bells and primroses in the spring and gay in the summer with gorse and heather, scattered over with birch and mountain-ash and fir, with some fine oak trees at its foot. On the north, the barns and stables had their backs to Some thirty acres of good arable land, enclosed and carefully cultivated, while, east and west, fair meadows were fenced around until after the hay had been cut, when the sod fences were broken and the cattle allowed to enter, as they were into the corn-land after the harvest. The Mullin-laare, or, small Mill worked with a horizontal wheel in the stream of Ballure served both farms as well as the inhabitants of Hrafnsey.

Dugal mac Aloe had taken to wife Callybrid, daughter of Kraun of Cranstal, and of Thorid. Thorid lived to a great age and was accounted very wise; it was thought she knew a deal too much. Dugal's children were Angus and Heremon and Etain,and Harold who only lived for a few weeks, and Juan and Ethne.

They were stirring times when Juan entered into the world. Godred, Olaf's son, had been king for eighteen years. When he had come to his inheritance from the Norwegian court where he was being brought up, the people of the Scandinavian kingdom of Dublin invited him to reign over them also. He was well received there and defeated the Irish King, Murchadh, who opposed him, but, shortly afterwards he relinquished the throne,having pressing cells on his attention scarer home. But the election of Godred had been resented by Ottar who thought he had stronger claims to Dublin. On the death of Ottar, his son Thorfinn, one of the chief landowners in Mann, had taken up the quarrel and hastened to Argyle. A new power had now arisen in the Sudreys, and, Somerled Mac Gillebride, who aimed at the conquest of the whole of Scotland, gladly received Thorfinn and gave into his charge his son Dugald, whose mother was a daughter of Olaf Kleining and sister of Godred, with a view to having him received as Lord of the Isles. He fitted out a fleet of 80 ships with which he met the Manx King, and, after a drawn battle, came to an agreement by which Godred was deprived of the isles which lay nearest to Argyle. Two yearslater Somerled descendedon Mann witha powerfulfleet and Godred went for assistanceto KingInge,of Norway. But it wasnottill after the death of Inge that he obtained that assistance from King Magnus; he then returned with a body of Norsemen to reconquer many of the isles, but he found that Somerled had just in time been overthrown and slain at Renfrew. Now he had sailed with his fleet to Dublin which after a period of turmoil had fallen into the hands of the English. For the English under Strongbow, had established theinselves in Ireland and Henry Plantagenet was preparing to go over and take possession. Henry thought this would be a good time to put in force the Bull received sixteen years previously from Pope Adrian, giving sanction to his invasion and conquest of Ireland, for extending the borders of the church and the increase of religion, and that this would be agreeable to the See of Rome, with which he was anxious to make his peace; for, towards the end of the previous winter, England had been thrilled with the news of the cruel murder of Thomas, the Archbishop, in his own Cathedral of Canterbury.

It was the eve of S. John. The day's work was over, the evening meal was finished, and men and maids were out gathering the Bollan-Feaill-Eoin and making crosses of the cuirn for the cows in their stalls. Before sunset, doorsills and windows were strewn with flowers, and sweet-smelling herbs were scattered in the rooms. Then they went forth again, the women to seek for fern-seed or to practise charms, the young men to the hill-tops to prepare the Fires, the old to sit and look on and be merry, while some wandered off to watch, half in earnest half in play, in the ancient Keeill of Ninian. The wind had died away, the sun had set in a blaze of crimson and of gold, and all the heavens were a-glow. The children had been put to bed and the house was very quiet but with an air of subdued excitement. Old Thorkil stumped around to see that the beasts were stalled, the horses stabled and the cuirncrosses on the doors. Dugal paced up and down the cobbled pavement in the front. A passing friend coming by the Baare-vane, the track along the foot of the hills from Glen Aldyn to Ballure, stopped to hear and tell the latest news. Then came a messenger from Aloe to wish him luck, bringing a wreath of the Bollan-bane, attached to which was a large cuirn-cross, to lay on the cradle when it should be wanted. While they were inside and setting out the milk and the mead and the cider and the lough, with oaten cakes and cheese, his friend called out, "Here comes the mad Priest," and, he came forth to greet Father Daniel of Ballure.

"God bless you, Daniel, I am glad to see you here, but hope we may not want you till the morrow morn."

"Nay, kinsman, what is morn or noon or night to God?:'

"And yet" said Donal, "I would not wish to be going out or coming in on this of all the nights in the year. Look, man, at the fire-drakes twisting there in the sky."

"Light,man,"quoth Father Daniel, "just light, from the greater light which has now gone down, caught up in the mist and the clouds." Then, to the young woman who brought him a noggin of home-brewed as they walked up and down the court,-"How go things in the house Innee ? " "All well, Father Daniel, and nice and quiet, but we are hoping it will not be till morn." "Away with your notions," said the Priest,' and see to it that the women do not spend their time in gossip and forget their charge."

Two hours after sunset the woman came again, a chaplet of the Bollan on her head, "God bless you master, and, God bless the mother and her boy"; and she scattered the blithe-meat round and about.

"Now God be thanked," said Donal, "and how is she, woman?"

"Oh, doing well, but I am glad now Father Daniel is here."

"What for are you glad, what is it you are afeared of ?"

"Its very weak he is, and indeed, we think the sooner he is made a Christian the better."

"Nonsense," said the Priest.

"I don't know for that," said Donal; "see that they do not take eyes off him for a single moment, and, let us hear again how he is going on."

There was a quiet bustle in the house while Father Daniel talked and Donal tramped. Then the Priest was called to the door and entered saying God have you in his grace." When he came back, We will see," he said, "I have seen weaker babes than that grow up to be manly men. I will stay here and if he does not mend will christen him in the morn, and that will be the Feaill Coin; and, the mother would call him Juan." "I think that Juan would be a lucky name," said Donal.

They walked across the grass to gaze on Scacafell its outline standing clear against the star-lit sky. Then quoth the Priest "Now shall we see the people in their pagan folly on the hills. They are but grown-up children playing with mysteries beyond their ken. Lo, the prophets of Baal!" Presently a spark and then a flame, with a cry from the distant multitude, as the wheel of light began to move and then to rush bounding down the steep face of the slope till lost in the alders bordering the stream at its foot. Another fiery wheel came rolling down Slieau Dhoo to the sea at the boundary of Ballure, looking as if the sun were falling from the sky, while a peak of flame shot up at its top, and, from every hill around the fires blazed, with waving torches showing the dancing and the leaping of the merry crowds. But the brighest flame was that on Hrafnsey. A great pile of ship-timber, well tarred, had been raised at the north end of the isle; there was feasting and merriment, and, strong ale was flowing amid no little noise, with wrestling and rough sports.

Within an hour a gillie came hot-foot from Ballure bringing a burning brand from the fire, with word from Aloe to let him know that all was well, as he hoped, at the house when he would be passing on the hills above in the early morning on his way to the Midsummer Thing. The lad was given a hearty supper and bid to say that the babe was in his cradle and the garland with cuirn-cross was over him, but, he was to be christened at Prime.

And then the folk came down from the hills with torches burning to pass around the homestead and the fields and the sheep and the cattle in their folds. But, with the brand from Ballure, they kindled anew the fire on the hearth. All night they kept their watch around the house and many were coming and going with much whispering and gossip. Some thought it good and other some thought it ill for a man-child to come on such a night, while one whispered that belike Thorid would have ruled in the matter, and, another that the mad Priest had said he had known men born on Midsummer Eve that were gifted with second sight.

And now the birds had awakened and the world was full of song; the sky was brightening in the East, a cool breeze passed along the land, and, out of the sea in his splendour arose the Midsummer Sun.


#It has been suggested by some readers of MANNIN that it would be more interesting to trace out the career of Juan Priest of Cornadale than to deal with a series of disconnected episodes from Manx History. In attempting this the author would prefer. at all events for the present, not to say how much or how little of what follows is to be regarded as History. That Juan Priest was a real person who flourished at the beginning of the thirteenth century is known from two Inscriptions carved by him, one of which is figured below as a tailpiece and now preserved in the Cross-House at Kirk Maughold. For the rest each reader is asked to judge for himself.


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