[From Manx Soc vol 16]


In a community like the Isle of Man, where the staple article of food is the herring, and where so many of the inhabitants are engaged in its fishery, there being upwards of' 300 vessels belonging, to the island, and these, combined with the Cornish and Irish boats which frequent its coast, amount to about 600 sail, it must be expected that many allusions would be made to them in their proverbial sayings, and although their paternity may not exclusively be Manx, yet they appertain as much to them as to any other nation, and may, for what we know, have emanated from the Manx. A remarkable instance will be found in allusion to the herring, in the oath taken by the Deemsters and High Bailiffs of the island.

The herring is a very delicate fish, and is killed with a very small degree of violence. When taken out of the water it gives a peculiar squeak and instantly expires, hence the proverb

As dead as a herring

Herrings are caught by the gills in the meshes of the net, with all their heads hanging in the same direction, hence-

Every herring must hang by his own gill."

This is like the saying, "Every tub must stand on its own bottom."

"Red herring ne'er spake word but een,
Broil my back, but not my weamb."

"To throw a sprat, and catch a herring."

Its opposite is-

" To fish for a herring, and catch a sprat."

"Packed like herrings in a barrel, heads and tails."

" Never a barrel the better herring"

The Spaniards say " Qual mas qal menos toda la lana espelos."-" Some more, some less ; all the wool is hairs "-all much the same, nothing to choose between them. In Bishop Bale's play of Kynge John, printed by the Camden Society in 1838, p. 73, we find-

Lyke Lord, lyke chaplayne, neyther barrell, better heryinge."

If ye would be a merchant fine,
Beware of old horses, red herrings, and wine."


"Bioys da dooinne as baase da eeast."
" Life to man and death to fish."

A regular " toast " at public dinners, etc., was, and indeed is to this day given; the meaning is obvious, hoping that there might be an abundant fishing, and that without loss of life to the fishermen. This toast does not appear to be confined to the Isle of Man. In Sir Walter Scott's novel of the Pirate the following are given as toasts of the Zetland fishermen-

Death to the head that never wears hair.."
Health to man, death to fish, and owth to the produce of the ground."
God open the mouth of the gray fish, and keep his hand about the corn."* .


I have never heard the Manx "cry" their fish in the streets as in other places-they are rather a silent people in their dealings-so will record one which my late esteemed correspondent Mr. M. Aislabie Denham of Pierce Bridge, Darlington, sent me as being the Newcastle " herring cry," now nearly obsolete :-"'Ere's yer caller herrin'! 'ere's yer caller fresh herrin'! 'ere's 'resh heerin', 'resh heerin'! Fower a penny; fower a penny; fower a penny, caller heerin'! 'Ere's yer cuddy's legs and lady's thighs!' 'Ere's yer caller vare, wi' bellies as big as bishops'! Fresh heerin'! fresh heerin'!"


This saying alludes to the herring-fishery, To the prayer in the Litany of the Manx church beginning " Preserve to us the kindly fruits of the earth," is added " and restore and continue to us the blessings of the sea." This was introduced into the church by Bishop Wilson, and was first inserted in the Manx Book of Common Prayer in 1779.2 Herrings formerly were the chief, and still continue to be the great staple commodity of the island; and before leaving the harbour in the evening to go out to fish, a clergyman used to perform divine service to the assembled fishermen ., this is now discontinued. Before shooting the nets, at a sign from the master of the boat ' every man upon his knees, with uncovered head or his face in his hat, implores for a minute the blessing and protection of the Almighty in the way he thinks best. The season of this sea-harvest commences about June, and continues until the early part of October if the weather. continues favourable'. A boat has been known to bring in as many as 98,400 herrings, the produce of one night's catch. When the fishermen tell out their herrings, they add to every hundred (120) three fishes, which they distinguish by the name of warp, and then they throw in a single herring, which they call tally-making in the whole 124 fish to the hundred.

[see Manx National Songs for modern use of this blessing]


As indifferently as the herring back-bone doth lie in the midst of the fish."

This expression forms one section of the oath administered to the Deemster upon his taking office in the Isle of Man. It runs thus-" By this book, and by the holy contents thereof, and by the wonderful works that God hath miraculously wrought in heaven above and in the earth beneath, in six days and seven nights, I, A B, do swear that I will, without respect of favour or friendship, love or gain, consanguinity or affinity, envy or malice, execute the laws of this Isle justly, betwixt our sovereign Lady the Queen and her subjects within this Isle, and betwixt party and party, as indifferently as the herring backbone doth lie in the midst of the fish. - So help me God, and by the contents of this book."

The Deemsters, of whom there are two, are the supreme judges, both in cases of common law and of life and death. The office is of very high antiquity, and it is mentioned in the statute-book so early as the year 1422. They are styled in the ancient court-rolls "Justiciarii Domini Regis," and derive their name from the original nature of their office, which was "to deem the law truly to the parties" in any question of doubt. There is no doubt this is a remnant of the Druids, and the saying would remind the Manxman of his duty, as well as the judge by this allusion to his almost daily dish.

The same oath is also taken by the High Bailiffs.


The arms of the island are, gules, three armed legs, argent, conjoined in fess at the upper part of the thighs, fleshed in triangle, garnished and spurred, topaz. The motto, "Quocumque jeceris stabit " - " Whatever way you throw me, I will stand." This device is said to have been adopted by Alexander III. of Scotland about 1210. Each knee is bent as if performing a genuflection, which is supposed to refer to the position of the island, with respect to England, Scotland, and Ireland, when each was a separate kingdom; so that, in whatever posture the insignia are placed, one of the legs only can assume the attitude of kneeling, and no transposition of the motto can change their true meaning. It is said, with one leg she spurns at Ireland, with the second she kicks at Scotland, and with the third kneels to England. The kings of Man of the Norwegian race had for their arms a ship with its sails fuirled - Motto, " Rex Manniae et Insularum." The three legs are found on Sicilian coins and on Etruscan vases, " an unquestionable proof of their remote antiquity." For a full and interesting account of the armorial bearings of the Isle of Man, see the Manx Society's 5th volume, Owald's Vestiga, 1860. Various sayings allude to these arms, as-

" Will stand like the legs of Man."

" Quocumque jeceris stabit."

" With one leg I spurn Ireland,
With the second I kick Scotland,
And with the third I kneel to England

" The arms of Man are its legs "-

A punning proverb. I find in a scarce little tract the following:-" A valued correspondent, resident in the isle, informs me that the only Manxman mentioned in history was one that ran away. If so, he kept the arms, or rather the legs, of his nation well in his remembrance; probably he was acquainted with the following old rhyming truism:--

He that fights and runs away May live to fight another day; But he that is in battle slain Can never hope to fight again."

A Manxman's arms are three legs."

Spoken by way of pun on the armorial bearings of the island. This will call to mind the clever cartoon of Punch upon the Manxman presenting his third foot to one of the fraternity of shoe-blacks, who, on looking up in astonishment, the Manxman exclaims, " What! did you never see a Manxman before?"


On the 6th April 1403, in the fourth year of the reign of King Henry IV., letters patent passed under the Great Seal of England, granting to Sir John Stanley, and his heirs for ever., the Isle of Man, with all the royalities, etc., under the title of King of Man, to be held in fee of the King of England, " on rendering to our heirs, the Kings of England, two falcons on the days of coronation of our said heirs," and during that ceremony bearing the Lancaster sword at the left side of his Majesty. The last honorary service of presenting two falcons to the king was rendered on the 19th July 1820, by the Duke of Atholl in person, at the coronation of George IV.



"Raad mooar -Ree Gorree."
"The great road of King Orry."

It is stated that, when Orry landed at the L'hane river, in the north of the island, in the early part of the tenth century, he was asked whence lie came, upon which, pointing to the milky way, he said, " That is the road to my country." Hence the Manx name for the milky way, as in the above saying. The Norwegians call the milky way " The road to winter."


"Duke of Atholl, king of Man,
Is the greatest man in all this lan'."

Nisbit, in his Heraldry vol. II. p. 201, says, I shall conclude with the opinion of all the great lawyers in England, who have had occasion to mention the Isle of Man namely, that it is a royal fief of the crown of England, and the only one. So that I may say without censure, that if his Grace the Duke of Atholl is not the richest subject of the King of England, he is the greatest man in his Majesty's dominions."

Besides the title of Duke of Atholl, the following honours belonged to the ancient family of Murray:-Captain-General, Governor and Lord, proprietor of the Isle of Man; Marquis of Tullibardine and Atholl; Earl of Tullibardine, Atholl, Strathtay, and Strathardle; Viscount Glenalmond and Glenlyon; Baron Murray of Tullibardine, Balvenie, and Gask; Lord of the Isle of Man; Constable of the Castle of Kincleven; and Hereditary Keeper of Falkland Palace. His English titles are, Earl Strange, Baron Strange of Knockyn, Co. Salop; and Murray of Stanley, Co. Gloucester. The family of Murray made a complete surrender of all their kingly privileges in the Isle of Man, after long negotiations, which commenced as early as 1726, into the hands of the English Government in 1828, receiving in the whole £445,444 sterling.


"As stiff as the staff of government."

The lieutenant-governor, in his civil capacity, is " the staff of government," and as such presides in all the legislative courts. He receives a white staff on his instalment, and swears that he will " truly and uprightly deal between the Queen and her subjects, and as indifferently betwixt party and party as this staff now standeth," holding at the same time the ensign of his auhority in the most erect position. It is spoken proverbially of a person who carries himself in stiff and erect manner.


"As round as the Tynwald."

This celebrated eminence, called in the Manx language Cronk Keeillown, which signifies " The Hill of St. John's Church," now called the Tynwald Hill, stands on the right of the main road from Douglas to Peel, near to which is the chapel of St. John's. This ancient mound is of a circular form ; the approach to the top is by a flight of steps, cut in the turf, directly facing the chapel. There are three circular grass seats or benches below the summit, which are regularly advanced three feet above each other. The circumference of the lowest is about eighty yards, there is a proportionate diniinution of the circumference and width of the two higher ; the diameter of the top of the hill is about six yards. Prior to any act of the legislature becoming the law of the land, it must be promulgated in English and Manx from this Hill, the lieutenant-governor, his council, and the members of the House of Keys attending, and attesting the promulgation.

The most singtilar circumstance in connection with this hill is, that it is traditionally reported to be formed of soil collected from every parish in the island. The old chapel has been taken down, and a new one erected on the same site, A.D. 1847. There was an ancient Tynwald, or Tinn-vaal, that is, the altar or fire of Baal, where the laws were promulgated for the north, at Cronk Urley, and also another near the present St. Luke's Chapel, in the parish of Braddan, for the south side of the island, as if that time the island was under two governments.

"Galloping the white mare."

Said of servants who run away from their places before the expiration of their servitude. Female servants hire at Pattermas, at the fair held in Peel on the 28th March, and male servants at Michaelmas, at the fair held at Kirk Michael on the 10th October, for twelve months.

The old privilege of "yarding," given by ancient customary, law to the lords, deemsters, and chief-officers in the island, according to their deotee, of compelling certain persons of either sex into their service at a trifling fee fixed by law, have now, and very properly, fallen into disuse. The person who carried the "yard" or wand of office was the Gilley Gliash or lockman, who placed his wand across the shoulders of the servant " yarded."


"To have the bridge and staff."

This implied that their servants could not be taken from them by "yarding." All instituted parsons, and vicars of the thirds, and members of the House of Keys, were allowed " the bridge and staff." In every other instance the " yarding" of the sumner, by placing his wand on the shoulder of the servant, annulled all previous engagements of service ; and after due notice of the servants yarded, the farmers had to provide themselves with other servants as well as they could.

There was a customary ordinance that the porridge or sollaghyn of a yarded servant should be so thick, that the potstick would stand upright in the centre of the pot, imniediately before dishing the porridge ; and the cakes given to a yarded servant were required to be as thick as the length of a barley-corn. Many such reoulations are mentioned in the statutes, but are, as before stated, fallen into oblivion.


"Faaid mooar moayney son oiel, Fingan."
" A large turf for Fingan Eve."

At the time of cutting peats, every one laid aside a large one for St. Thomas' Day, on the eve of which people went to the cliffs to catch a fat mutton for Christmas fare.



" Ee shibber, oie innid vees olty volg Iane,
My jig laa caisht yon traaste son shen. "
" On Shrove Tuesday night, though thy supper be fat,
Before Easter day, thou may'st fast for that."

On Shrove Tuesday it is customary to have sollaghyn or crowdy for dinner, instead of breakfast as at other times; and for supper, fresh-meat, with a large pudding and pancakes. Into the latter are thrown a ring and a piece of silver money, with which the candidates for matrimony try their fortune. It is quite a Manx merry-making-hence the proverb.



*1 see Hibbert's.Description of the Shetland islands, p. 470.

*2. The expression "restore and continue." refers to a late considerable failure in the herring-fishery on the coast of the island, and which had caused great uneasiness to the people. Reference to this failure is made by Sacheverell in his survey of the Island (1702, Manx Society, vol. i. p. 14). It will be observed from the following order, recorded in the Episcopal Registry, that the insertion in the Litany received the sanction of the insular government.

11 June 18, 1705.

It is hereby order'd (by the approbation of the civil government) that in the publick service of the church this petition be inserted in ye Litany in the place and manner following, and constantly used in all the churches within this Isle-viz.

" That it may please thee to give and preserve to our use the kindly fruits of the earth, and to restore and continue to us the blessings of the seas, so as in due time we may enjoy them.


Let this be forthwith transmitted to the clergy by our Regr."



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