[From Manx Note Book vol 1]

The Manx Note Book October 1885
Near Onchan Village.


TO PLACE UPON RECORD THE MANKS NAMES OF NATURAL OBJECTS, AND TO RECOVER BEFORE TOO LATE THE MYTHS AND SUPERSTITIONS WHICH, IN SOME CASES ARE CONNECTED WITH them, would seem an object deserving our consideration as being of more than local or present interest. The following paper, the substance of which has been communicated to The Isle of Mann Natural History and Antiquarian Society, may serve the purpose of suggesting further investigation in this respect, while at the same time fulfilling its more immediate intention of giving some account of the few Mammals, at the present time, to be found wild in the Isle of Mann.  

    We cannot expect to find, in Manks, distinct specific names of natural objects, except as regards those, which, on account of their use as food or medicine, their domestication, or their constant appearance and distlnctive character, could not escape observation; so that while our Mammals, which are few and easily distinguished, have in most instances obtained names, our birds and fishes have not been so identified to an equal extent, and, naturally, other biological objects have received still less notice.

      In our small and isolated district we shall be prepared to find but few species, still, the absence of some is as instructive as the presence of others, and the smallest constant variation from the typical form of the species is important to notice. Of Mammals, the following, are represented in the Isle of Mann, viz.,-

            Of the Bat Tribe,-

      Vespertilio pipistrellus, Huhl., the Common Bat or Pipistrelle, CRAITNAG. Its Manks name is expressive, the adjective 'craitnagh' signifying 'skinny, wrinkled.' This is one of the 'cadlagyn' or 'sleepers,' of which there are supposed to be seven. It is a well-known fact that it does pass the winter in a torpid state, when its temperature sinks to that of the surrounding atmosphere, and it almost ceases even to breathe. From May to September it may be constantly seen at dusk, especially near woods or meadows or in the neighbourhood of water, where gnats and other nocturnal insects on which it preys are most abundant. It is not difficult to tame; one that I had would after two or three days eat flies from my fingers, or, if held to the window-pane, catch them itself. It seemed unable to rise from a flat surface, and, if placed on the floor would at once make for the curtains or something up which it could climb; if on the table it would crawl to the edge, and, holding on by the thumb, which is armed with a hooked claw, would shake out the folds of its wings and flutter till it got the support of the air to enable it to fly.

      Plecotus auritus, Geoff., Long-eared Bat, has I think been taken in the Island, but I have not yet seen one. If we were to collect specimens or to observe them very closely we might find more species represented.

            Of Insectivora, we have,-

      Erinaceus Europoeus, Linn., the Hedgehog. This is now common all over the Island, but I am not satisfied that it has long been so. In the dictionaries three words are given as the Manks equivalent for hedgehog,, but I have never heard any of them applied by a native. I have heard, in different parts of the Island, a story in slightly varied form of its introductlon. Where it may now be found in numbers it is said not to have been seen at the beginning of the century, and many recollect that about fifty years ago one was looked upon as a great curiosity recently imported. The following detailed account of its arrival has recently been given to me:-A schooner, the 'Hooton' of Garlieston, returning from Whitchaven laden with flags, was wrecked about 50 years ago off Rue Point, Andreas; some one on board the vessel had a box containing several hedgehogs; this was brought ashore, and a farmer-uncle of my informant,-who lived near Cronk-y-dhooney, got two of the animals, the first he had ever seen. The rest were distributed in the neighbourhood and looked upon as strange prodigies. Some escaped and in a few years there were many in the vicinity. Of course, this of itself is not proof that the animal was then first introduced to the Island. If indigenous, however, one would expect it to be known by a characterlstic Manks name. In the Manks Society's edition of Dr. Kelly's dictionary are given two words for it, 'GRAYNOGE' and 'MUC-CLEIGH,' the latter is simply a literal rendering of the word into Manks. The former may be a good Manks word, and, it has been said, 'implies something causing horror.' This would seem a likely appellative for an imaginative people to apply to a strange animal of which the habits were unknown, except that it moved quickly and silently and always in the dark or twilight, and that, if touched, it rolled itself into a ball armed all over with sharp and powerful spines; or, such a word might be chosen by one who desired to give a local name for such an animal perhaps newly observed in the Island and as yet unknown to the natives. 'GRAYNOGE,' therefore, may simply have been applied by Dr. Kelly as a convenient name for an animal not before recognised in Manks. If it was met with in the Island, when Dr. Kelly was engaged upon his dictionary, we must allow fully 80 years since its introduction and possibly more. But the fact of its having a Manks name given to it in the dictionary is not proof that it was to be seen in the Island; we find a word given for 'Squirrel' and several words for 'Mole,' though neither of these animals have yet been introduced. 'GRAYNOGE' at any rate has not obtained popular favour, if, indeed, it be known to anybody otherwise than through the dictionary. Even Cregeen, in his dictionary published in 1835, makes no reference to the two words given above, but heard, or, himself applied, another word which he gives thus,-'ARKÁN- SONNEYS, a hedge-hog, or a fabulous creature ominous of plenty; a fat little pig.' I have heard the same word used by a Manks peasant in speaking of a guinea-pig. However, whether indigenous or not,the hedge-hog is the subject of superstition. I have heard the story of its drawing milk from the cows very gravely asserted, and am told that it has been killed in the belief that it was the form taken by a witch who had put the 'Evil-eye'-DROGH-HOOIL-on the cattle of a neighbouring farmer. It has been mentioned also as one of the 'Cadlagyn.' NY SHIAGHT CADLAGYN, 'the seven sleepers,' are those which have been supposed to pass the winter in a torpid state. I have always heard that there were seven, though there seems a difference of opinion as to which were the seven. The following list I have received from a Manksman, now nearly ninety years of age, who knows every part of the Island, and whose memory is good :- FOILLYCAN, butterfly; SHELLAN, bee; JIALGLHEER, lizard; CRAITNAG, bat ; COOAG, cuckoo ; CLOGH-NY-CLEIGH, stonechat ; GOLLAN-GEAYEE, swallow. The hedge-hog is not included, and, I fancy, has no more claim than the dormouse, which has been included by some, but which, not being a native of the Island, is not likely to have a place in any Manks tradition. I am not sure that the hedge-hog does hibernate here. The nest may be found in spring among gorse or long grass ; the young are born blind, and have at first soft white little spines, which harden and grow darker by degrees. Its ordinary food consists of insects and their larvae, grubs and worms; it will take frogs also and small birds when it can get them, and even small rabbits. It is easily tamed and may be kept to advantage where cockroaches abound. Its toes are armed with strong nails, and it is able to burrow in very hard ground. I lost a large one by this means ; he excavated under a door and escaped through a hole so small that I should have believed it impossible for him to have squeezed through. Of all our wild animals it is the greatest friend to the farmer, and it is a pity it should be hunted to death as it too frequently is.

      Sorex araneus, Linn., Shrew-mouse, for which Cregeen gives THOLLOG FAIYR as the Manks, and the Rev. J. T. Clarke, in the Manks Society's dictionary, THOLLAG AIRHEY. The latter word I have heard applied to it in the North of the Island, where also it is called the 'grass mouse.' Its food consists of insects and their larvae, for which its long flexible nose enables it to search in the closest herbage, or in the ground; it will take worms also. I have sometimes, in the autumn, found one dead on a hedge bank or at the side of the road ; they are known to be very pugnacious, and probably kill each other sometimes in battle. They have been supposed to be poisonous, but this appears to be an error. I am happy to say no such thing as a shrew-ash has ever been heard of in the Island.

            The Bear Tribe is not represented here.

      Of the Weasel Tribe we have but one,-Mustela Eriminea, Linn., Stoat, which generally passes under the name of Weasel, as it does also in Ireland. The Manks name, according to the dictionary, is 'ASSAG.' I have heard it also pronounced Atthag,' which I think is more likely to be correct ; similarly, I have heard 'drouth' pronounced 'drouss' and 'with' 'wiss,' and so on; the 'th' sound has, I think, a tendancy with us to become the hard 'dth' or the sibilant 's.' It is larger than the Common Weasel, M. Vulgaris, Linn. ; a specimen I have measures 16 inches from the snout to the tip of its tail, but this is rather large. The Common Weasel does not much exceed io inches, of which the tall occupies more than one-fifth ; again, the tail of the weasel is of a reddish-brown and not tufted, while the stoat has the tip of the tail black and slightly bushy, as may be seen by anyone who looks at ermine, which is simply the stoat in its winter-dress. I have never heard of the change to white taking place in the Isle of Mann, though I have seen such specimens in collections at Derby, Hereford, and even so far south as Dorchester, where there was one-taken in the neighbourhood-in the old Museum a few years ago. There is no enemy to the rat so deadly as the stoat, which, once on the track, invariably hunts its prey to death. I used to be told that if you killed a weasel, that is a stoat, you would arouse the active enmity of all its family, and would speedily feel their vengeance; if this were commonly believed it might account for the animal's freedom from persecution, but I think our farmers generally recognise it as a friend on account of its hostility to rats. Its boldness, in the sense of impudence, is recognised in our proverb,- 'DANEY AS ATTHAG,' Bold as a weasel.' It is very cunning as well as strong, but will sometimes meet with a mishap. I have been told of one which attacked a grey crow on the Barony, Maughold; the crow, unable to shake it off, flew out to sea but soon fell exhausted and both were drowned.

      We have no representatives wild of the Cat Tribe or of the Dog Tribe.

      Of the Seal Tribe we have one,-Phoca vitulina, Linn., Common Seal, RAUN or ROAN, which is not unfrequently to be seen around our coast. In 1883, from the end of April to the beginning of June, two or more were in Ramsey bay, and came daily up the harbour, resting and sunning themselves on a buoy till impelled by the retreating tide to move. Formerly, no doubt, they were more plentiful, and a headland south of Ramsey may have obtained its name from their constant presence, namely Gob-ny-ratina, which in the map of the Ordnance Survey bears the very tame and inappropriate name of Table-land Point. The animal is full of curiosity and when not harassed is bold enough ; about six years ago we used to see one daily off Glione Wyllin, Michael, and it would swim about our boat almost within reach of the oar, as long as we remained near the place.

      We have none of the Squirrel Tribe. The name given in the dictionary for 'Dormouse ' is misapplied. This also has been mentioned as one of NY SHIAGHT CADLAGYN, but, as there can be little doubt it never has been in the Island it cannot have been one of the original seven.

            Of the Mouse Tribe we have,-

      Mus sylvaticus, Linn., the long-tailed Field-mouse. The Manks name is LUGH VARGHEY,the meadow mouse'; the Manks Society's dictionary gives 'LUGH FAIYR' which literally is grass mouse,' but this, I think, would be the shrew. I have heard the naine LUGH SLIEAU, 'mountain mouse,' applied, I believe, to this species.

      Mus minisculits, Lynn., 'lye little vulgar mouse," LUGH is, of course, plentiful. Perhaps, few people have heard of singing mice, or are aware that this little animal has the power of emitting a cheerful song.' At the Old Rectory, Ballaugh, we had some common mice, and every night when the lights were out and the house was quiet, they used to chirp in the kitchen walls as merrily as crickets, but louder. It was long before we discovered what caused the sound, but they were seen at last. This would be in 1878.

      I have never seen here the Black Rat, Mus Rattus, Linn. Occasionally its presence is reported, possibly having been brought over in some vessel.

      Mus decuinaiius, Pall., the Brown Rat, RODDAN, is rather too common. Though sometimes spoken of as the 'Norway Rat' this fellow is supposed to have come from the East, and that within the last century and a half. Buffon, whose 'Natural History' was published in 1749, Speaks of it as having then 'only been known for a short time,' and says 'This animal is mentioned by no naturalist, excepting M. Brisson, who calls it the wood-rat.' It would be interesting to know when it first reached our shores ; it seems to have been sufficiently long known to have gained a name, which possibly, however, may have belonged, in the first instance, to the Black Rat. The word, moreover, ' Roddan,' looks like a corruption merely of the English name. As the common rat is a good swimmer and may often be seen about drains and ditches, it is sometimes spoken of here as the Water-rat, Arvicola amphibiiis, Desmar., which, however, is a very different animal, and one which, I feel sure, we have not. Whether we have the short-tailed Field-mouse, Arvicola agrestis, Flein., I cannot say positively.

      The Hare Tribe is represented by a species which is probably -Lepus tiinidits, Liiin.,-the Common Hare. It appears to resemble in some respects the Irish Hare, L. hibernicus, Yar., and Bell. This differs from the Common Hare in size, and proportions. Some of our specimens seem to differ from the ordinary type in some of these particulars. There are slight differences between individuals owing, to age, liabitat, and other circumstances, but we have only one species ; the average weight is about eight pounds, the flesh is firmer than that of the English hare, and better flavoured. Its Manks name IS 'MWAAGH,' which I have heard pronounced 'Mwaare,' 'Mwalg,' and, in the plural, 'Mwole.' It is the subject of a proverb which well illustrates the cautious nature of a Manksman and his dislike to anything like rush,' or, perhaps, his carefulness not to commit himselfThe way I have heard it is,-FODDEE DY VAL YN MODDEY S'JERREE THAYRTYN YN WAAIGH, 'Maybe it will be the last dog that is catching the hare.' Cregeen's dictionary gives also a proverb which looks not tinlike a local form of Birds of a feather,' namely, - 'FURREE, YN MWAAGH RISH E HESHEY,' 'Stay will the hare with his mate.' Here, as elsewhere, it is the objecct of superstition, and seems to be a favourite form to be assumed by a witch. Thus, while labourers have been at work in a field they would see the dogs pursuing a hare which would presently be lost to sight, in a few moments the dogs would be observed to bark and whine around a man well-known to all and suspected of being a witch. Of course, it was he who was pursued and being hard-pressed was forced to assume his normal form to the mystification of the dogs. Again, a man whose cattle were suffering from some unknown cause would learn that a hare might be seen at a certain hour every day in a particular spot ; suspecting the meaning of this he would load his gun having as the only sufficient bullet a broken silver coin, and go in pursuit. Having shot the hare, he would follow his dogs and find them howling by the side of a stream, while an ugly old crone would be seated on a boulder in the midst of it nursing her broken leg and muttering curses. Again, dogs will give chase to a hare and upon approaching it stop suddenly and refuse to follow further, even though encouraged to do so. This, of course, is because they recognize a witch. These, and similar stories, I have heard from Manx people in different parts of the Island.

      Lepiis cunicitlits, Linn., the Rabbit, is common enough; it is known to be introduced into the British Isles, and has been brought over here, but I do not know how long since. The dictionary name 'CONNING' is, no doubt, a corruption of the word 'cony.' I have always heard it pronounced 'Curryn,' however, which is perhaps interesting as illustrating the tendency possessed by sounds represented by certain letters to undergo change, and the nature of the change. Though the rabbit generally burrows, I have known it to have its nest in the gorse ; these we used to call 'Bush rabbits,' the shape of the head and the size seemed slightly to differ from that of the others.

      The Deer Tribe is not now represented in the Island.

      It may be not inappropriate to refer here to the Cetacea ; of these we have-Phoexna communis, Lesson, Bell, the Common Porpoise, PERKIN. The Manks Society's dictionary gives 'GARMANAGH,' a word I have never heard, and adds 'we also use muc-varrey.' The porpoise is common enough, especially about Peel. The PHERKIN-MOOAR, or 'big porpoise,' I used to think was the grampus. Perhaps the term may be applied indiscriminately to any Cetacean other than the porpoise. That other forms have approached our shores is certain. I quote the following from a letter on this subject which I have received from Mr. R. Corrin, of Peel:-" The large fish captured off Peel twenty-five years ago was not a true sperm whale, but a species of Finner called the Roryal whale, and known to our fishermen as the Great Herring Hog. It measured from snout to tail 30 feet 1 inch. Span of tail 14 feet 6 inches, dark coloured on the back, somewhat like the colour of a Rock Conger, and white all over the belly; it was beautifully fluted on the belly from the gills to within 14 feet of the extremity of the tail, and from there to the end of the tail quite smooth; its weight was over six tons, and on being dissected it was found to have a young one in its womb; its stomach was found to contain more than a cartload of Thysanopoda, or fringe-foot, a little crustacean very similar to, but rather smaller, than a shrimp, as well as a quantity of herrings. It was harpooned by William Lumsden, Esq., and after we had been in tow of the fish for eleven hours, sometimes going at enormous speed through the water, during which we must have travelled backwards and forwards more than one hundred miles, it died and we succeeded in bringing it into Peel. The jaw-bones, which were very large, have been preserved, and are, I believe, still in the possession of William Lumsden, Esq., Glenaspet, Patrick." The Northern Rorqual (Balonoptera boops, Linn.,) has been taken in the northern seas; if this be the same species, it is interesting to know that we can include it in our list. It is a pity the 'young one' could not have been preserved; the specimen would have been of more than local interest, as at this stage is manifested, to quote from 'Zoology for Students,' by C. Carter Blake, D. Sc. :-, a true dental system which accords with that of the earliest stage of tooth development in the other Mammalia. In the foetus of a Balaenoptera there were twenty-eight minute teeth in the upper and forty-two in the lower jaw. These disappear before birth, and are subservient to no practical use, but merely illustrate the morphological law which governs organs in an arrested state of development.'

      In a field by the side of the road from Douglas to Castletown, at Oatland, in Santon, I have seen the jawbones of some species of whale, but have not been able to learn their history. I am told there was another pair between the Friary and Ballanorris, in Arbory. About fifty years ago two were stranded at Derbyhaven. If ever another comes I hope we shall be prepared with a museum for its reception.

      I feel that I have not done my subject the full justice it deserves, and wish I had been able to make these remarks more attractive and more useful. I hope, however, they may be a means of arousing an interest in this branch of our local Zoology, as well as in the study of our folk-lore. As we are not all agreed on the degree of the importance of local investigations in Natural History, I may perhaps be permitted to conclude with a quotation from Professor Bell, the well-known and distinguished naturalist :-' It may indeed be doubted whether the study of the animals of particular tracts of country has not contributed more than any other means to the advancement of zoological knowledge, especially as regards those important branches, the geographical distribution of animals, the influence of climate, of soil, and of other local circumstances, in determining the range of species, the change of varieties, and the extent and period of migration.'

      I sincerely hope that before long we may be able, by means of a well-managed and well-arranged museum, to make such studies more easy and to illustrate effectually the Natural History of the Isle of Mann.




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