A Description of the Isle of Man

G. Waldron 1731 - pages 65 to 77

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Among the many impositions put on their credulity, perhaps the following narrative may be an instance.

In a wild and barren field between Ballifletcher and Lahnclegere, there was formerly a large stone cross, but in the many changes and revolutions which have happened in this Island, has been broke down, and part of it is lost; but there still remains the cross part. This has several times been attempted to be removed by persons who pretended a claim to whatever was on that ground, and wanted this piece of stone; but all their endeavours have been unsuccessful, nor could the strongest team of horses be able to remove it, tho' irons were claps about it for that purpose. One day, says tradition, a great number of people being gathered about it, contriving new methods for the taking it away, a very venerable old man appeared among the crowd, and seeing a boy of about six or seven years of age, he had him put his hand to the stone, which the child doing, it immediately turned under his touch, and under it was found a sheet of paper, on which were written these words, Fear God, obey the Priest hood, and do by your neighbour as you would have him do to you. Every body present was in the utmost surprise, especially, when looking for the old man, in order to ask him some questions concerning the miraculous removal of the stone he was not to be found, tho' it was not a minute that they had taken their eyes off him, and there was neither house nor hut in a great distance, where he could possibly have conceal'd himself. The paper was, however, carefully preserved, and carried to the vicar, who wrote copies of it, and dispersed them over the Island. They tell you, that they are of such wonderful virtue to whoever wears them, that on whatever business they go, they are certain of success. They also defend from witchcraft, evil tongues, and all efforts of the devil or his agents; and that a woman wearing one of them in her bosom while she is pregnant, shall by no accident what ever, lose the fruit of her womb. I have frequently rode by the stone, under which they say the original paper was found, but it would now be looked on as the worst sacrilege to make any attempt to move it from the place.

Not far from this, is the Fairies' Saddle,(90) a stone termed so, as I suppose, from the similitude it has of a saddle. It seems to lie loose on the edge of a small rock, and the wise natives of Man tell you, is every night made use on by the fairies, but what kind of horses they are, on whose backs this is put, I could never find any who pretended to resolve me.

In a creek between two high rocks, which overlook the sea on this side of the Island, they tell you also, that mermen and mermaids have been frequently seen. Many surprizing stories of these amphibious creatures have I been told here, as well as at Port Iron; but the strangest of all is this.

A very beautiful mermaid,(91) say they, became so much enamour'd of a young man who used to tend his sheep on these rocks, that she would frequently come and sit down by him, bring him pieces of coral, fine pearls, and what were yet greater curiosities, and of infinitely more value, had they fallen into the hands of a person who knew their worth, shells of various forms and figures, and so glorious in their colour and shine that they even dazzled the eye that looked upon them. Her presents were accompanied with smiles, Battings on the cheek, and all the harks of a most sincere and tender passion; but one day throwing her arms more than ordinarily eager about him, he began to be frighted that she had a design to draw him into the sea, and struggled till he disengaged himself, and then ran a good many paces from her; which behaviour she resented so highly, it seems, that she took up a stone, and after throwing it at him, glided into her more proper element, and was never seen on land again. But the poor youth, tho' but slightly hit with the stone, felt from that moment so excessive a pain in his bowels, that the cry was never out of his mouth for seven days, at the end of which he died.

Nor is there any necessity for one who is less in love with solitude, to pass his time wholly in it. Rude and savage as I have described the customs and manners of this people to be, there are yet some exceptions to that general rule; insomuch that a person always brought up in high life, may find companions polite and well qualified enough for his conversation even among the natives; but then as the chief towns are seldom without some gentry, either English, Irish, or Scots, tho' the greater number are of the two latter, 'tie easy to believe agreeable conversation is not impossible to be found.

A very great enemy to good fellowship with one another, is the belief the natives are possess'd of, and endeavour to inspire into every body else, that there is not a creek or cranny in this Island, but what is haunted, either with fairies or ghosts. A person is thought very foolhardy, who, if any business carries him to the north side, ventures to stay out after the close of day. They say such a temerity has been fatal to many; and to prove it, tell you a long story of a man, who quarrelling with his neighbour, they went out together toward the sea-side to decide the matter with their swords. In the combat, the one happened to run the other into the belly, with which wound he fell, and the conqueror was about to return home; when his wife coming to the place and hearing what had befallen, ran to the poor man, and to prevent his living long Cough to relate with whom he had fought, tore open the wound her husband had made, and plucked out his bowels. This murder, they say, was never discovered till the author of it, the woman, confessed it in the agonies of death but the troubled spirit of the unrevenged continues to hover about the place till this day. When any passenger comes near his walk, he cries out, Who is there ? and if the person so called to, makes any answer, he is sure not to out-live three days.

Another story on the opposite side of the Island passes not less current than this. The disturbed spirit of a person ship. wreck'd on a rock adjacent to this coast, wanders about it still, and sometimes makes so terrible a yelling, that it is heard at an incredible distance. They tell you that the houses even shake with it, and that not only mankind but all the brute creation within hearing tremble at the sound. But what serves very much to encrease the shock, is, that whenever it makes this extraordinary noise, it is a sure prediction of an approaching storm; nor does it ever happen, say they, but some ship or other splits, and its crew are thrown up by the waves. At other times the spirit cries out only Boa ! boa ! boa ! with a voice little, if any thing, louder than a human one.

I have heard say that a young amorous couple, whose parents being but lately come to live on this side the Island, had not been told of this spirit, made an appointment to meet each other on the sands very near the place it haunted; and as they were in each other's arms, in the midst of their endearments, were interrupted by this voice, calling out Boa! boa ! boa! They made no doubt but it was somebody belonging to one of their families, who had watch'd and discovered them in this assignation; and at a loss what to do, the girl ran to the house of an acquaintance, not daring to go home, and the man, as much alarmed hid himself among the rocks. In the morning both being miss'd, search was made for them, and the young woman in her fright having told the whole matter to her friend, it was by her related to the parents, who, as soon as they had found the man, obliged him to marry her.

About a league and a half from Barool, there is a hole in the earth, just at the foot of a mountain, which they call the Devil's Den. They tell you that, in the days of enchantment, persons were there confined by the magicians; and that it now contains a very great prince, who never knew death, but has for the space of six hundred years been bound by magic spells; but in what manner he lies, or in what form, none had ever courage enough to explore. They add, that if you carry a horse, a dog, or any other animal to the mouth of this hole, its hair will stand an end, its eyes stare, and a damp sweat cover its whole body. Strange noises they also pretend have been heard to issue from this place: and I knew a man once, who positively averr'd that his great grandfather saw a huge dragon, with a tail and wings that darkened all the element, and eyes that seemed two globes of fire, descend swiftly into it, and after that, heard most terrible shrieks and groans from within.

What gave rise to this story, I imagine was that the cavern being pretty deep, and perhaps divided into several partitions, the winds having found entrance in the cavities, occasion that rumbling, and sometimes whistling sounds, which the superstition of the natives interpret for groans, shrieks, and whatever else their own wild ideas happen to suggest.

A little beyond this Den, is a small lake, in the midst of which is a huge stone, on which formerly stood a cross: round this lake the fairies are said to celebrate the obsequies of any good person; and I have heard many people, and those of a considerable share of understanding too, protest that in passing that way they have been saluted with the sound of such musick, as could proceed from no earthly instruments.

So strongly are.they possess'd of the belief that there are fairies, and so frequently do they imagine to have seen and heard them, that they are not in the least terrified at them, but on the contrary, rejoice whenever visited by them, as supposing then friends to mankind, and that they never come without bringing good fortune along with them.

But it is not so with those beings which bear the names of ghosts: As many of them as are imagined to haunt the wilds of this Island, their frequency does not at all abate the dread such apparitions ordinarilly occasion in persons least accustomed to such sights; of which I cannot omit relating one particular and very pleasant instance.

A gentleman of England to avoid the prosecution of some merciless creditors, took refuge in this Island till his affairs could be made up, which not being effected so soon as he expected, and the little stack of money he brought with him expended; he became a bankrupt also in this place, and for a few pounds was liable to the same misfortune here as he ran from England to escape. Being threatned by his creditors, and not doubting but he should soon be arrested and carried to the Castle; he went privately from the house where he lodged, and hid himself in the most uninhabited part of the mountains, hoping from thence he should see some Scotch or Irish vessel come in, which he intended to go on board, and entreat a passage with them on their return; looking on nothing so bad as the loss of liberty, especially in a country where he found persons vrere little inclinable to compassion: so that, not doubting, but he should starve in jail, if ever he were put in, he chose rather to suffer the same fate on the Mountains; and, in truth, he was very near it, for he had lain there, exposed to all the severities of that inclement clime, three days, without eating any thing, but a piece of brown bread and two small herrings, which he put in his pockets at his departure. But now, when he thought himself entirely abandon'd by Providence, and at the point of death, he received an unexpected assistance in the following manner.

Some young men, whose parsimonious parents would suffer no provison beyond herrings and potatoes to be drest in their home had made a bargain to feast in spite of the old folks.

Accordingly one purloyned a fat goose, another, a loaf of bread, a third, four bottles of home-brewed ale, a fourth, brought a quart of rum, and a large slice of cheese. A little valley, between two high mountains, was the place they made choice on for their rendezvous and regale, where, having provided a good quantity of turf, they cut the goose into quarters, and began to broil it. The smell reaching our unhappy pilgrim, Who lay on the other side of the mountain, he felt longings, perhaps more poignant than are sometimes those of pregnant women; and being over come, at once, with curiosity to know whence it proceeded, and a vehement desire of being partaker of this good cheer, he clambered up the steep ascent as well as he was able, on all four, for he was too weak to stand upon his legs. Being come to the top, some loose pebbles and pieces of flint, which happened to lie there, rolled down, which, with the noise they made, it being rocky on the other side, so much alarmed the young men, that they presently thought some of the demons or ghosts, which are said to inhabit those barren places, were come to take them away, or punish them in some manner for the thefts they had been guilty of; and every one of them immediately betaking himself to his heels, made what speed he could into the nest town, which the supposed spirit, from the top of the mountain perceiving, was not a little rejoyced at, and gathering strength from his new hope, was not long getting down. He folmd the goose was ery near enough broiled, and taking what he saw most fit to eat; haying refreshed himself with it, and after a good hearty swig out of one of the bottles of ale, gathered all the remainder carefully up, and putting it between the bread which he broke in two pieces, put it in his pockets, and in the lappets of his coat, as he did also the drink and rum; and made what haste he could to return to the place of his concealment, lest those who had left this provision should come back in search of it; but he need not have been in any apprehension, the terror they were in, would not have suffer'd them to have thought on what they had left behind, tho' it had been an equal quantity of gold.

Being thus recruited, he was enabled to sustain life for several days, in which time he spied an Irish ship coming into the harbour, to whom repairing, he was kindly entertained, and went with them to Ireland; whence, after having continued some time, he embarked for England, having compounded his debts; and makes his friends frequently merry with a repetition of this adventure in the Isle of Man.

Formerly their current money was leather,(92) which every man of substance was entitled to make; not exceeding a certain quantity limited by a law then in force: this had no other im pression than the maker's name, and date of the year. But the Manks money now current are pence and halfpence, of a base mixed metal, the impression and the inscription are the same on troth, viz. on one side, three legs, commonly called the three legs of Man; the inscription on that side, is, Quocunue gesserts stabs, which the natives foolishly apply to the posture of the feet, being opposite to each word, but the true meaning to me seems to be, Carry it where you will, it won't go, or pass. On the other side the impression is a cap of maintenance with an eagle and child, the Earl of Derby's crest; the motto, Sans changer; which motto the Manks men would transfer from the original meaning, which was to express the unshaken loyalty of the House of Stanley, to imply their own stedfastness: but if it is to; be taken in the latter sense, I should rather think, it only implies the intrinsick worthlessness of their coin for which there is no change to be got.

Silver and gold are metals they had little acquaintance with till the troubles of England, in the reign of Charles the First; at which times several persons taking shelter in this Island, bringing over great quantities, made it more familiar to them. But to this day the natives trade little in either of them.

There was, however, one person who discovered so great a regard for the purer metals, that he buryed a great number of Spanish pieces of Eight and Moidores in a hole in the earth near the Castle; which, about some forty years since, were found by workmen who were digging to enlarge the Earl of Derby's wine vaults, but not knowing what to make of them, by reason they had lost their colour, carried them to the overseer of the works, who, I hear was not quite so ignorant of their worth.

At the same time, they tell you was also found, about sixteen yards deep from the surface, a pair of shoes made of brass, but of such a monstrous length and bigness, that they would infinitely have over-fitted the feet of the giants set up in Guild hall in London: and this, among other things, serves to prove the vast stature of the antediluvians, for they will have it that this Island was inhabited before the flood, as I have already remarked.

But because when I set myself down to write the History and Description of this Island,(93) I resolved to give a much fuller one than has yet been published, I must not omit any particular, tho' never so insignificant in itself, which bears any weight with them. I shall therefore present my reader with two or three instances more of their credulity, to the end he may be as perfectly acquainted with a native of the Isle of Man, as if he had lived among them as long as I have done.

In the days of enchantment, say they, a certain great magician had by his art raised for himself the most magnificent palace that ever eye beheld; but none who, either out of curiosity, or a desire of being entertain'd there, went to it but was immediately converted into stone, or at least had the appearance of it: so implacable an enemy was the wicked master of it to all of his own species, being served only by infernal spirits. He became at length so much the terror of the whole Island, that no person would venture to live, or pass within several leagues of his habi tation, so that all that side of the country was in a manner desolate, to the great loss and detriment of the place in general. This had continued for the space df three years, when an aicci dent, or rather the peculiar direction of Divine Providence was pleased in mercy to deliver them from the terrors of so cruel a neighbour.

A poor man whom one may justly term a pilgrim, having nothing to subsist on but what he procured by imploring the charity of those able to afford him succour, happening to travel on that side the Island, not knowing any thing of the fame of this enchanter, and perceiving no house inhabited, nor any cottage even where he might get a lodging, and it growing dark, he was in terrible apprehensions of being necessitated to take up lodging on those bleak mountains I have already described; yet wandering on as long as light permitted, in hope of better fortune, he at last, came within sight of this palace, which filled his heart with much joy. Coming near it, he beheld large piazzas, which surrounded that magnificent building, and believing one of these might serve him for a resting-place, without being troublesome to any of the servants, whose churlish disposition in other places did not always afford a ready welcome to strangers, he chose rather to content himself with resting his weary limbs on the marble floor, than entreat a reception into any of the barns, which perhaps he might be denied. In a word, he sat down on a bench in one of those piazzas, and finding himself hungry, took out of his pouch a piece of meat and bread, which he had begg'd at the last town he had pass'd thro'; he had also a little salt, which, by dipping his meat into in the dark, he happened to spill some on the floor, on which he pre sently heard the most terrible groans to issue from the earth beneath, vast winds seemed to be let loose from every quarter of the element, all the face of heaven was deformed with lightnings, the most dreadful thunder rattled over his head, and in less than a moment this fine palace with all its proud and lofty piazzas, porticos, and brazen doors, vanished into the air, and he found himself in the midst of a wide, desert, mountainous plain, with out the least appearance of anything he had formerly seen. Surprised as he was, he instantly betook himself to his prayers, nor removed from his knees till day began to break; when, after thanking God for bringing him safe thro' the dangers of the night past, he made what speed he could to the next village, and relating the adventure just as it was to the inhabitants, they could not at first give credit to what he said, but going in great numbers towards the place where the palace of the necromancer had stood, they were convinced, and all joined in prayers and thanksgivings for so great a deliverance.

It was presently concluded from what the pilgrim said, that the salt spilt on the ground had occasioned this dissolution of the palace, and for that reason, salt has ever since been in such estimation among them, that no person will go out on any material affair without talking some in their pockets, much less remove from one house to another, marry, put out a child, or take one to nurse, without salt being mutually interchanged; nay, the' a poor creature be almost famished in the streets, he will not accept any food you will give him, unless you join salt to the rest of your benevolence. This is so universal a thing among them, that a person cannot be three days in this Island without being a witness of the truth of it, and on asking the meaning of such a veneration for salt,(94) will be told this story as I have related it which, should any one seem to doubt the truth of it he would incur the censure of the inhabitants as a very prophane person, and a man who believed neither God nor devil.

A person at his first coming to this Island, would be strangely amazed at the little complaisance they pay to the: weaker sex: the men riding always to market on horseback with their creels on each side their horses full of fowls' butter, eggs, or whatever they bring thither to dispose of, and the women following them on foot over rocks, mountains, bogs, sloughs, and thro' very deep rivers, and all this without either shoes or stockings' carrying, these superfluous coverings, as they tenn them, under their arms till they come near the market-town; then they sit down all together on the side of a hill, and put them on for fashion sake, and let down their petticoats also, which before were tucked up higher than their knees' for the convenience of wading thro' the rivers, and to preserve them from the mire of the bogs and sloughs.

But the reason for obliging the females to this hardship, is a very whimsical one, and such a one, as I believe, cannot but afford some diversion to my curious reader, I shall therefore insert it in the manner it was told me by an old native, to whom it had been handed down from many generations as an undoubted verity.

He told me that a famous enchantress sojourning in this Island, but in what year he was ignorant, had, by her diabolical arts, made herself appear so lovely in the eyes of men, that she ensnared the hearts of as many as beheld her. The passion they had for her so took up all their hearts that they entirely neglected their usual occupations; they neither Flowed nor sowed; neither built houses nor repaired them; their gardens were all overgrown with weeds, and their once fertile fields were covered with stones; their cattle died for want of pasture, their turf lay in the trowels of the earth mldug for; and every thing had the appearance of an utter desolation: even propagation ceased, for no man could have the least inclination for any woman but this universal charmer, who smiled on them, permitted them to follow and admire her, and gave every one leave to hope himself would be at last the happy he.

When she had thus allured the male part of the Island, she pretended one day to go a progress through the provinces, and being attended by all her adorers on foot, while she rode on a milk-white palfrey, in a kind of triumph at the head of them: she led them into a deep river, which by her art she made seem passable; and when they were all come a good way in it, she caused a sudden wind to rise, which driving the waters in such abundance to one place, swallowed up the poor lovers to the number of six hundred in their tumultuous waves. After which, the sorceress was seen by some persons who stood on the shore to convert herself into a bat, and fly through the air till she was out of sight; as did her palfrey into a sea-hog or porpoise, and instantly plunged itself to the bottom of the stream.

To prevent any such like accident for the future, these wise people have ordained their women to go on foot, and follow wheresoever their lords the men shall lead; and this custom is so religiously observed, as indeed all their traditions are, that if by chance a woman is before, whoever sees her, cries out immediately, Tehi-Tegi! Tehi-Tegyi ! which, it seems, was the name of that enchantress which occasioned this law among them.

But in my opinion, there is little occasion at this day for putting it in practice; for how much soever the natives of Man might formerly devote themselves to the will and pleasure of their mistresses, they now use them with so little ceremony, that I wonder how those poor creatures can ever taste any felicity in love; or, indeed, can be brought to endure the marriage-yoke, where there is so little to compensate for the servilities it reduces them to, in a climate so uncourteous to their sex.

They tell you also, that their Island was once much larger than it is at present: but that a magician, who had great power over it, and committed many wonderful and horrible things, being opposed by one who was a friend to the place, and, at length, overcome by him, he, in revenge, raised a furious wind, not only in the air but also in the bosom of the earth, which rending it tore off several pieces, which floating in the sea, in process of time were converted into stone, and became those rocks which are now so dangerous to shipping. The smaller fragments, they say, are sands, which, waving up and down, are at some times to be seen, and at others shift themselves far off the coast. They maintain that it was on one of these that the late King William was like to have perished, and strengthen this suggestion by the trial of the pilot, who must infallibly have been hang'd if on strict examination of all the charts there had been in any of them the least mention made of any such sands: but however that be, these floating reins have ever since remained, and from thence are called King William's Sands.(95)

And now, I believe, my reader will be almost as much tired with reading this description. as I am with writing it; and having nothing more to say that I can flatter myself will be either instructive or entertaining to him, shall take my leave, wishing no gentleman, who has ever known the polite pleasures of life, may deserve so ill of Heaven, as to be driven into this banishment through necessity; the' I think it will not be loss of time to those who travel in search of the wonders of nature, to take a trip to it, since I believe there is no place whatever in the known world abounds with more than the Isle of Man.



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