A Description of the Isle of Man

G. Waldron 1731 - pages 16 to 39

[Parishes – Bishops – Clergy]

These towns are divided into seventeen parishes,(32), which I shall give you the names of in the order they stand in the register.

Kirk Jarmyn.


Kirk Lennon.

Kirk Michaell.

Kirk Canton.


Kirk Braddon.

Kirk Jurby.

Kirk Maroan.

Kirk Bride.

Kirk Santon.

Kirk Candras.

Kirk Merlugh.

Kirk Christlesare.

Kirk Carbra.

Kirk Mahal, KirkChrist-Russin.


When Dr. Wilson, Bishop of Man, was about publishing his short but exact account of the Island, he ordered all his parochial clergy to send him a list of the number of souls, including strangers, in their respective parishes, which at that time amounted to no more than 14,500, tho' through a mistake of the printer, the number published was 15,000; but since that so many Irish families have come over and settled there that the account is greatly encreased.(33),

 As to their laws they are but few, but severely executed, especially, as I have before observed, those of the Ecclesiastick Court, the clergy holding a kind of tyrannical jurisdiction over the Manks people, in spite of the temporal power, which is con tinually endeavouring to abate the rigour of it, but in vain: for these spiritual masters are, in a manner, idolized by the natives; and they take care to maintain their authority by keeping the laity in the most miserable ignorance :(34) not that this is altogether policy, for he cannot well instruct who wants to be taught himself, What eminent men this Island has formerly bred I know not, but at present I hear of none famous abroad; nor can boast of any more at home than one clergyman, who is indeed a man of letters, and who, I hope, will oblige the publick with his instructive and polite writings. He(35), considering the profound ignorance of his countrymen, for their sakes undertook a translation of the New Testament into the Manks tongue; of which work he had (as I have been credibly informed) finished the four gospels, and had proceeded in it if the publication thereof had not been prohibited by a superior power. Books written in the Manks tongue (36) they have none, except a catechism and in structions for youth, with some prayers not many years since compiled.

Some, who are willing to entertain the most favourable opinion of this people, impute their general ignorance to their want of books; but I, who have lived and conversed some time among them, attribute their want of books to their innate ignorance. That this suggestion is not without grounds, appears from the little progress made in learning by those who have had the happy advantage of finishing their education in a Scotch or Irish college, which is commonly the case of such as are designed for Holy Orders; notwithstanding which, we find none of their writings made public, nor would most of their sermons pass on any but a Manks congregation. If to this they object that their language is obscure, and not well known in the world, let them write (as they frequently preach) in English, or in Latin, a language universally known to the learned world. To prevent controversies and support their imperious sway, the clergy (like those of the Church of Rome) hold the laity under a blind abject obedience; of which take this instance: When I once, in conversation with two young clergymen, lamented the above-men tioned prohibition, which debar'd the common people (who speak only their own language) from the delightful benefit and neces sary duty of searching the Scriptures, they agreed in this answer, That it was happy for the people that the Scriptures were lock'd up from them, for it prevented divisions in the interpretation of them, which was given to themselves, and to themselves only, by their Great Dictator, who had substituted them his vicars and the interpreters of his law. It may, perhaps, not be unworthy the consideration of that power which presides over the diocese of Man, whether the greater inconvenience accrues from a publication, or a suppression of the translation I spoke of? In the first case, what was objected by the clergymen is not without some grounds, viz., that such a translation would lay the Scriptures open to the different interpretations of ignorant, prejudiced, or evil-designing men, and raise disputes even in matters of faith, carried on in a language strange to their metropolitan, nay even to their diocesan; by which means the unspotted discipline of the church might be polluted, her pure doctrine corrupted, the laws of God perverted or broken, His holy name blasphemed, and yet the great offender escape unplmish'd, nay, untry'd. Yet for all this, such a translation is earnestly to be desired, when we consider the miserable condition of that unhappy people, who, surrounded by the most learned nations of Europe, remain in a state of utter ignorance, and rather imitate than conform to the purest church of God upon earth. They hear the Scriptures read, but not expounded, every Sabbath. Their prayer-books and Bibles are printed in English, and the minister mentally translates the service into the Manks tongue, as he delivers it to the people. From these two considerations I draw this question, as before mentioned, Whether the greater inconvenience or evil accrues from a publication or a suppression of a translation ? On the one hand there would be a fix'd, certain, known rule of faith which the people might in another generation be brought to comprehend, (that is, if those who ought to instruct them would do it) and by which they would be govern'd. As the case now stands, they are directed by the various interpretations of various preachers; nay, by the various interpretations of one preacher; for who can suppose that any man shall at all times (the' on the same subject) use the same expressions, words, or terms. Does not this method open a door to that endless confusion, which some think they prudently exclude by prohibiting the publication? Besides, without being accounted malicious, would not any disinterested person ask the question, why these people are so ignorant, why there is not better care taken in forming their youth ? But I shall add no more on this head, lest I be thought by some (whose earthly and spiritual welfare I heartily wish) too busily concerned in an affair which they may think foreign to me; but let them consider, Christianus sam, Christiani vigil a one alienism Ditto. Leaving then this question, I shall say some thing of their method of instructing the people, young and old.

First, of their schools: The masters of them are generally chosen out of the clergy: how improperly the motto over St. Paul's School, In~redere at proJ6cies, would suit one of these, may be easily concluded from the character of the learning of these temporal masters; but as no more is reasonably to be expected from any man than he is capable of performing, the great deficiency in the scholastic part of the education of youth here, we will, in charity, rather reckon a misfortune than a fault or neglect in the teachers. Yet one error, and that an enormous one, I cannot omit mentioning, that they admit into their schools the children of Papists, as it were, for no other purpose than to keep them in ignorance, taking so little regard of them, that like betrayers of their profession in every capacity, they suffer them to go on in blindness, and divert themselves with fables or legends; awhile other boys of the same age are instructed in an explanation of the church catechism, publish'd in English and Manks for that purpose, and are every Sunday publickly examined therein in their respective churches or chapels; in which places the former are wholly exempted from ever appearing. The methods made use of by the Popish priests to continue under their heavy and intolerable yoke, the ignorant vulgar, are call'd pious frauds; their labours in converting men of different communions, a pious zeal: this clergy have also their frauds, but want the zeal. They neither plant, nor water, nor pray to God for increase of the true faith. They are so far from suppressing Popery in its infancy that they even educate youth under those mistaken principles, by which means it takes such deep root in the adult, and is so cultivated and corroborated by the neglect of the sleepy servant and the diligence of the enemy, that it becomes ineradiceable in unbending old age. Another dan gerous inconvenience arising from hence, is, the frequent opportunities which the Popish children have of corrupting, irretrievably corrupting, the tender principles of their Protestant school fellows. Let no man censure me, that I have used words so harsh as " irretrievably corrupting," which expression may easily be allowed me, when the indolence and inabilities of these school masters are considered. Are not these men then those wicked ones, who, in effect, sow the tares among the wheat ?

After what I have said of the temporal masters, let me add to them the spiritual pastors, equally negligent, and therefore equally guilty. It- is most notorious that some Popish priest or other, is sent over thither once, twice, or oftener in a year, and there exercise their function, in private houses, in all its branches. They do not, indeed, expose themselves to the penalties of the laws (if yet there be any penal law against them in that Island) by going about to make converts; their conversation, when amongst Protestants, is free and open on general subjects. They confine themselves much among their own people, and leave this dirty dangerous work to their slaves, the bigotted laity, by fre quently inculcating into them the necessary duty imply'd in their perverted explanation of the two last verses of the general Epistle of St. James, viz., "Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; let him know that he which con verteth the sinner from the error of his way, shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins." Hence arise those bickerings; those railings, those backbitings, and animosities which infest this Isle, and disturb the tranquillity of it. This great evil, and its cause and original, was lately complained of (the Bishop being then in England) to the Vicar-General, by some Protestant English gentlemen, who offered to prove that a Popish Priest then resided and officiated at Duglas; (37), desiring, that if confinement, and a legal trial were deemed too severe, he might at least be dismiss'd, before the contagion of his doctrine should spread too far. This complaint and petition, tho' often repeated, were absolutely rejected by the Vicar-General; and the Priest went on (so long-as he thought fit) without fear or moles tation. Are these men the true Pastors? Are not these the hirelings who flee through fear, and leave the sheep committed to their care a prey to the ravening wolf ?

Over the elder people of the Island, these men reign with the joined power of spiritual pastors and masters: their injunctions for they cannot properly be called instructions, are delivered from the pulpit in harangues, which go by the denomination of sermons, in which are never heard the Divine attributes asserted, or any Article of Faith proved from Scripture; sometimes, indeed, they preach up a moral duty, but the chief and most frequent subject of their discourses is the power of the Priesthood, and the discipline of the Church. These doctrines they thunder out, as the Pope does his Bulls, with an anathema tacked to them and enforce them by a strong argument called Kirk Jarmyns,(38) on all who are disobedient or unbelieving: for proof of which I appeal to an English gentleman, who not long since was sentenced to that horrid prison I before described (under the Bishop's Chapel in Peel Castle), by a spiritual court, for barely seeming to suppose that one of the brotherhood was not over stocked with learning. A summons was served upon the gentle man before the sentence was registred, (nor indeed is it yet), and he had certainly been sent to prison, and ordered to do penance, but that he declared he appeal'd to the metropolitan, or chal leng'd his antagonist to disprove his assertion before the best judges of learning his country could produce. Upon this, the minister, by the advice of his brethren, conscious of the weakness of his cause, drops the prosecution, and has ever since sat down as contentedly under the character of an illiterate, as a bully does under a beating.

 The discipline of the Church(39) being perpetually dinn'd into the ears of the laity, and the indispensable obligation of submit ting to it, the abject creatures are drove to prison like sheep to a fold, and from thence to publick penance, as quietly as those beasts are to the slaughter; deterred, on the one hand, from murmuring, by the threatnings of severer punishments: and persuaded on the other, that patient submission to the indictors is the supremest merit in the eyes of Heaven.

How little the methods taken by this Court to prevent fornication have succeeded, may be known by the great number of offenders which are every Sunday doing penance for it in their churches; and, in my opinion, draw on a more pernicious evil than that which they design to avoid. If the least familiarity is observed between persons of a different sex, they are immediately summon'd to the communion-table, and there obliged to swear themselves innocent, or endure the shame and punishment ordained for the crime of fornication. This they call purging but it is so far from being worthy of that name, that many, to avoid public disgrace, add the sin of perjury to the other, and take the most solemn oath that can be invented to a falsehood. Innumerable are the instances I could give of this truth; but to avoid being tedious, I shall repeat but one, that being of so dreadful a nature as may well serve to convince my reader that too much severity as well as too much lenity, is of dangerous consequence.

 A widow at Duglas,(4l), being of a light behaviour, was frequently suspected to be guilty of fornication, and accordingly was summon'd, and took the oath of purgation, (how truly, the sequel will proved As she was one evening going home, she was accosted by a stranger, I think he was of Wales, and master of a vessel; what discourse passed between them is unknown, nor is it of much consequence, any farther than that they agreed to go together to her lodging, where, having made him very drunk, she rifled his pocket of ten guineas, then made a pretence to get him down stairs; but he no sooner came into the air than it deprived him of all the little sense the liquor had left him; and, being unable to reel any further, he lay down at the door and fell into a sound sleep. When waked, he missed his money, he remembered the encounter he had with the woman, but could not be certain if she had taken it from him, or whether he might not have been robbed as he was asleep. On relating the story, however, to his landlady, she persuaded him to make his complaint, and procure leave to search the lodgings of this woman. The advice was followed, and the officers, being very diligent in their scrutiny, found in her bosom one guinea, under a heap of ashes a second, and good part of the change of another. As she was extremely poor, and had nothing to subsist on but what she got by daily labour from house to house, 'twas easy to believe this was none of her own money; they therefore doubted not lest they should find the remainder of what the captain had lost, which indeed they did, and with it a much more shocking discovery, in turning up the bed; there lay under it a parcel of small bones, which, seeming to be human, they sent immediately for two doctors, the one named Jenkinson, the other Ball,(42), who on joining them together, made the perfect anatomies of three children; the back-bone of one of them had been cleft through, as it seemed with a hatchet. Every one was struck with the utmost horror at this sight, except the inhumane mother and murdress, who impudently owned they were all her own children, which she had been delivered of in private, to avoid punishment, but pretended in her defence that they were still-born. She was then asked why she did not bury them ? To which she answered, that was not the business of any body, they were her own; and being dead, she might dispose of them as she pleas'd. Perhaps, added she, I had a mind to keep them by me for the sake of those who begot them.

She was, however, carried to prison, under the double indictment of theft and murder; and being unable to alledge anything in her justification, was condemned to death, and accordingly executed. 'Twas remarkable that this wretch, when under sentence, being asked why she had not buried the children, since she might have easily had an opportunity ? told the person who made this demand, that designing to throw them into the river, she took up the bones in her apron one night, but as she was going, was met by a tall black gentleman, who bad her go back, adding, she was safe while she kept them at home, but if she attempted to conceal them either in earth or water, she would certainly be discovered.

Whether this miserable creature saw any such apparition or not, or whether it was the will of God that she should imagine - she saw and heard what in effect was nothing, I will not pretend to determine; but it is plain that Divine justice, who seldom suffers murder to go unpunished, even on earth, was very visible in compelling her to take the only means which could detect her. But to return, tho' the design in the first institution of purging was certainly good, and may deter those who consider the danger of taking a false oath, and calling the Supreme Name of God to witness an untruth, from entering into any unwarrantable engagement; yet when there is so little care taken by the priest hood to inspire a just notion of things, as I before said, it serves rather to add sin to sin, by suffering these poor ignorants to enhance their future punishment in avoiding the present one.

 Here, I think, it may be convenient to clear myself from any resections which may be cast on me as a censurer of Church discipline; I acknowledge (as every member of the Church of England ought), that in the primitive Church there was a godly discipline; that at the beginning of Intent, such persons as were convicted of notorious sins were put to open penance: and fur ther, I join with the Church, in wishing that the said discipline may be restored again; nay, I would not be thought to confine such penance to any particular season of the year, but think the punishment should be indicted at a convenient distance of time after the conviction of the offender. To the doctrines of our Holy Church, the express law of God, I pay entire obedience: to her discipline, the institution of men, not repugnant to the former, nor corrupted by innovations, I submit; so, on the other hand, all illegally assumed power, all tyrannical and unjust cen sures, and sentences ecclesiastical, I shall with my utmost endea vours oppose; not doubting but such arbitrary judicature will in time prove as fatal to the Church as, in the last age, a pretended High Court of Justice was to the monarchy. But as I possibly may have occasion to speak more of this head elsewhere, I shall leave it here for the present and observe what advances they make towards establishing their hierarchy from their other great doctrine, viz. the power of the priesthood. And this is, indeed, their corner-stone, the foundation on which the stupendous structure is erected to such a gigantic and formidable highth, most certainly framed after the model set before them by their grand masters, the Romish clergy. How easy is it to misguide the stranger, or delude the ignorant? Would the Moors fear their Emperors, or the Egyptians pay such adoration to their Sultans, as at this day we see they do, were they not made to believe implicitly that there is a Divinity in the persons of those absolute tyrants ? Nor do the men I speak of exercise less do mination over their people, forgetting the words of our Saviour, that, ''Blessed are the meek in spirit ;" they looks and move, and speak as if they knew themselves to be of a different species from their hearers, and frown them into that awe and reverence which they ought to acquire only by a superiority of goodness. I heard an old man say, that a certain chaplain, (who shall be nameless, lest any one should think I mingle prejudice with truth), ought to be honoured as a god upon earth, and that as such he would always honour him. But this poor man has lived to see his error; for this god whom he would have worshipped, was soon after detected of a crime for which he was obliged to quit the Island to avoid the punishment the law ordains for it. If any man think me to blame, or that I pay not a due deference to the sacerdotal function, I answer that the Church of England commands me to proceed; see Article of Religion 26.—(`It appertaineth to the discipline of the Church, that enquiry be made of evil ministers, and that they be accused by those who have knowledge of their offences: and finally, being found guilty, by just judgment be deposed." The Church enjoins all those, without limitation, who have knowledge of offences, to accuse the offenders; but since this brow-beaten laity rather conceal than expose the enormities of their ministry, evil minis tere I might well call them, since, as 'tis proved, they admit the wolf among the sheep, I think it more particularly a duty incumbent on me, (who am not only a subject but a servant also in this place, to his present, as I was to his late Sacred Majesty) to bring these things to the knowledge of those, whose intent and inclination, I doubt not, is, to give just judgment. And, since all private accusations, tending to obtain this justice, have been (as before related) rejected or suppress'd, it is now high time to exhibit this publick one. Thus, not many years since, when the arbitrary proceedings of a powerful man, and the oppressions which one of our Universities groan'd under, were become insupportable; redress was loudly, tho' humbly, sued for, in a representation of the state of that University made publick by a late eminent lawyer: and in a most pathetic letter from a learned and truly reverend divine, to his patron, possess'd of a high station in the administration of justice. And tho' they did not succeed in their intended Reformation, by bringing a Royal visitation on that University, (the distraction of those times then probably preventing, and the after behaviour of that body perhaps averting it), yet were the commendable labours of those gentlemen amply rewarded, by the signal honours which each in his respective profession received; beside that innate happiness which diffuses itself thro' the soul when conscious of having done, or attempted to do, a good action. This last, whatever may be my expectations of the former, will certainly be my portion, and abundantly make up for whatever malice may be conceived against me by those whose deeds being evil, spurs the light.

But as it is no less, if not a greater error, to omit the praises of-the "rood, than to lay open, and warn men of unworthy pastors; I must not quit this subject without mentioning some of those many amiable qualities which adorn the character of the present Bishop.(43), Long and uninterrupted custom has made the Spiritual Court of such an arbitrary authority, that should he derogate from it he would be in great danger of publick opposition, as well as private hatred, from the whole body of inferior clergy: he therefore may be said rather to comply with. than approve of it, being in his own nature what our blessed Saviour recommends, mild, humble, tender, compassionate, and forgiving. But the abundant charities he bestows, and which are too well known not to have reached wherever this treatise will arrive, are better testimonials of him than the words of any author. Some few, but alas ! they are but few, of the vicars and chaplains, may also be exempted from the general character above given.

AS the Earl of Derby, tho' stiled Lord of Man, might justly enough be called King, all causes, except in the Spiritual Court, being tryed in his name, and all warrants for life and death signed by his hand; his utmost endeavours have not been wanting to curb the assuming power of the ecclesiasticks. As for example, when the Sumner comes to apprehend any person for an offence committed, or said to be committed in that Court, had the person so seized courage enough to refuse going to prison under his conduct, he cannot be compelled, because the soldiers of the garrison have orders from their commanders never to be aiding or assisting to any such commitments, Hence it follows that the spiritual and temporal powers are at the extremes" odds with each other; and were it not for the blind obedience the laity pay to their ghostly fathers, the former would soon be subjected.

 'Tis this ignorance which is the occasion of the excessive superstition which reigns among them. I have already given some hints of it, but not enough to show the world what a Manks man truly is, and what power the prejudice of education has over weak minds. If books were of any use among them, one would swear the Count of GLabalis,(45) had been not only translated into the Manks tongue, but that it was a sort of rule of faith to them, since there is no fictitious being mentioned by him in his book of absurdities, which they would not readily give credit to. I know not, idolisers as they are of the clergy, whether they would not be even refractory to them, were they to preach against the existence of fairies, or even against their being commonly seen: for, tho' the priesthood are a kind of gods among them, yet still tradition is a greater god than they; and as they confidently assert that the first inhabitants of their Island were fairies, so do they maintain that these little people have still their residence among them. They call them the good people,(46) and say they live in wilds and forests, and on mountains, and shun great cities because of the wickedness acted therein; all the houses are blessed where they visit, for they fly vice. A person would be thought impudently profane who should suffer his family to go to bed without having first set a tub, or pail full of clean water, for these guests to bathe them selves in, which the natives aver they constantly do, as soon as ever the eyes of the family are closed, wherever they vouchsafe to come. If any thing happens to be mislaid, and found again, in some place where it was not expected, they presently tell you a fairy took it and returned it; if you chance to get a fall and hurt yourself, a fairy laid something in your way to throw you down, as a punishment for some sin you have committed.

I have heard many of them protest they have been carried insensibly great distances from home, and, without knowing how they came there, found themselves on the top of a mountain. One story in particular was told me of a man who had been led by invisible musicians for several miles together; and not being able to resist the harmony, followed till it conducted him to a large common, where were a great number of little people sitting round a table, and eating and drinking in a very Jovial manner. Among them were some faces whom he thought he had formerly seen, but forbore taking any notices or they of him, till the little people offering him drink, one of them, whose features seemed not unknown to him, plucked him by the coat and forbad him, whatever he did, to taste anything he saw before him; for if you do, added he, you will be as I am, and return no more to your family. The poor man was much af frighted but resolved to obey the injunction: accordingly a large silver cup, filled with some sort of liquor, being put into his hand, he found an opportunity to throw what it contained on the ground. Soon after the musick ceasing, all the company disappeared, leaving the cup in his hand, and he returned home, tho' much wearied and fatigued. He went the next day and communicated to the minister of the parish all that had happened and asked his advice how he should dispose of the cup: to which the parson reply'd, he could not do better than devote it to the service of the Church; and this very cup, they tell me, is that which is now used for the consecrated wine in Kirk-Merlugh.(47)

Another instance they gave me to prove the reality of fairies, was of a fiddler,(48), who, having agreed with a person, who was a stranger for so much money, to play to some company he should bring him to, all the twelve days of Christmas, and received earnest for it, saw his new master vanish into the earth the moment he had made the bargain. Nothing could be more terrified than was the poor fiddler; he found he had entered himself into the Devil's service, and looked on himself as already damned; but having recourse also to a clergyman, he received some hope: he ordered him, however, as he had taken earnest, to go when he should be called, but that whatever tunes should be called for, to play none but Psalms. On the day appointed the same person appeared, with whom he went, tho' with what inward reluctance 'tis easy to guess; but punctually obeying the Minister's directions, the company to whom he play'd were so angry that they all vanished at once, leaving him at the top of a high hill, and so bruised and hurt, tho' he was not sensible when, or from what hand he received the blows, that he got not home without the utmost difficulty.


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