[From Mannin, #2, 1913]
As everybody knows, the Isle of Mann has been from time immemorial the chosen abode of Fairies Fairies of all sizes and descriptions, from the big cruel hairy Buggane to the little harmless but mischievous looking Fynoderee. My own experience in that line being strictly limited, I select the following gleanings from my Diary for what they may be worth.
On that memorable night of my arrival at my brother's house, after an absence of several years, I had retired to bed. The window of my sleeping-room fronted the East and commanded a glorious view of Douglas Bay. The thought of my childhood's days in the land of our fathers with its old associations came to me like a vision and with them a feeling of regret that the superior light of so-called science had displaced the old beliefshad, in fact, frightened away the last of the fairies. Thus musing I soon fell asleep. In the middle of the night, however, I found myself gazing vacantly at the window as though in anticipation of the morrow's sunshine, when suddenly a dim light overspread the white surface of the blind, like the gleam of a magic Lantern, and then as suddenly disappeared; now it came again, and again it vanished, and so on for several times, then ensued total darkness and, closing my eyes tightly I tried once more to go to sleep, but all in vain. Keeping my eyes tightly closed, I began to repeat automatically with measured beat and slow one of the old charms I had learned as a boy.
"The peace of God and peace of man,
The peace of God and Columb Killey,
On each window and each door,
On every hole admitting moonlight,
On the four corners of the earth,
And on the place of my rest,
And the peace of God on myself."
And now, opening my eyes, lo, the light appeared again; again it vanished and yet it appeared as before; then I sat up in bed and rubbed my eyes; perhaps lt was a dream, or possibly a policeman's lantern ? A scientific spirit of doubt and enquiry filled my heart and racked my brain. In cold blood I deliberately counted and mapped out the durations as with a metronome. Regular and rhythmic as a slow dance-measure the light came and wenta veritable fairy tune as though gently tapped upon the blind with Elfin lighta succession of crotchets alternating with crotchet rests. What had I seen ? Thus questioning myself I fell asleep; and when I awoke in the morning the sun was rising out of the sea as in the dear old days of my childhood. On going down to breakfast I told them my night's experience, when the old Manx housemaid, who is learned in such matters, overhearing the relation, sagely remarked that "lek enough it wass the Fynoderee." From further enquiry, however, it appeared that since my last visit to the Island a new light-house had been put up with a revolving light producing intermittent flashes. This was a sell," a "crusher" to my too inventive genius. A familiar voice from the depths rebuked meStick to your crotchets and quavers, man; see that you purrtem all downbeats an' resees an' allnate an' reglar, lek Hullah's 'crotch, crotch, crotch,' that oul Shepherd*1was teaching us, that's the way it iss with the fairiesthe real ones anyway. , But may be you'll be seein' them again and most likely hearin' them singin' too."
And so it chanced that a few days afterwards we were sittingmy brother and I - in the cartshed of Philip Cainecommonly known as "Phil the Desert" in West Baldwin, and in one of the intervals of business. I chanced to ask the old man if he had ever seen a fairy. He gave me a look never to be forgottena look of mingled pity, contempt, and reproach for my ill-concealed incredulity, as much as to say Do you think I am blind or are you only chaffing me ? Seen one ? Yes an' scores of them. And don't you believe the Bible ? And didn't Jacob see themyes, an' wrestle with them." And then, as if to clench the matter, followed his story while I pretended to be busily finishing the tunes he had been singing to us, but really, with all the speed and accuracy I could command, taking down verbatim the following circumstantial account of one of his experiences in wonderland.
"It was early in May after the preachin', you see, and I was going home from the chapel; James Kaneen it was that was preachin'. He was on the Plan Begn1 and there was a great revival gain' on in the village. Everin' did you say ? Aw, yeseverin o' coarse, an' the sky middlin' clear lek, and the full moonan' as I was passing yandher house, I met Willie-the-Squint gain' home to his supper, an' he was axin' me would I come in an' res' an' take a sup, an' after that we went on together. And on the hill yandher, where them lumps of gorse is, there was somethin' black, movin' up an' up the brew, mos'ly lek a rain-cloudscoores an' scoores of people, lek it might be a funeral; an' says he, would we go an' see what was it ? An' it kep' movin' on reglar, maybe 20 or 30 yards in front of us, an' us follerin after. Was it little people that was in ?' Aw, no; not that surf at all, but big men, a host lek Jacob saw. An' then we saw it goin' down, lower an' lower; an' then littler and littler, til it got as little as yander tub, and then we couldn' see nothin' more. An' when we went back to the house we found the gran'mother cryin' an' takin' on an' she tould us the little girl was missin' an' they'd gone to look for her. "Aw! terrible bad" says Willie; but as Kaneen was sayin', We mus' trus' the Lord an' maybe it'll all turn out right. An' he whispered in my ear, "Had'nt we seen the sign of death ?" An' I whispered, "Aw man, for gracious sake, don't tell, don't tell." "And the nex' mornin' we heated that they'd found the Child, lying in the claddagh among the sheep an' its little arms roun' the neck of a lamb. Aw! the little crayther ! " And so ended the old man's story."
Let us look with kind regard, if not reverence, upon Phillie, for there is something beautiful and spiritual in his composition. He is gentle, if not refined. If he believes in fairies, he believes also in God. If Jacob saw angels descending, why shouldn't Phillie ? And what is the difference between angels and fairies ? The Manx temperament is essentially religious. Here, for instance, is our old friend crippled with rheumatism, minus one of his eyes, living almost in solitary confinement. And yet he is as cheerful as a lark. Yesterday, as he crawled on hands and knees down those hard stone steps from his hay-loft, not a murmur escaped his lips. And to-day only once did the coming cloud overshadow him, and then only for a moment. As he rose from his lowly seat on the bracken with aching limbs he said, "I'm thinking it's death, sir; I don't think I'll be in another winter." But the next moment he was singing and laughing as merrily as a child. How one envies the philosophic calm of these simple-minded nature-singers who see God in everything ! As we emerged from the old shed, the valley was filled with sunshine, the stream sang its own sweet song, and on the sunny slope of the opposite hill the old man's grandson was driving his plough, while in the silence of my inmost heart I heard fairy voices singing
There's seasons for ploughing, there' sowing and there's reaping
A time for each heart-beat, a time for every breath;
The summer brings roses, the autumn fruit, the winter rime,
The spring brings the violet; but all the seasons Death!
W. H. GILL
* A teacher of the once popular Lancashire Sol-fa in Mann.
[additional notes FPC
n1: Plan Beg - small plan - listing of mid week services often held in private houses - see Methodism pages for more details