Brief Biography of John Joseph Kneen 1873-1938

John Joseph Kneen
J.J. Kneen (from Examiner Annual 1931)

Born 12 September 1873, baptised 2 November 1873 at Saint Mathew's, Douglas, son of postman John Kneen and Hannah Crebbin. His second marraige was to Alice Bridson at Kk Braddan 6 July 1930, the ceremony being conducted in Manx, probably the first such for about a century. Died 21 November 1938, buried Douglas Borough Cemetery 24 Nov 1938. Day job was as a sugar boiler (sweet manufacturer)!

The following obituary [presumeably by William Cubbon] was published in Journal Manx Museum IV #58 pp91/94 March 1939; see also Notice in Proc IoMA&NHSoc IV #3 p322/4

In Memoriam : John Joseph Kneen

M.A., R.I.St.O.O. (NORWAY).

WITH the passing of John Joseph Kneen the Manx nation mourns one of its most distinguished and most useful sons. He was born in Hanover Street, Douglas, on 12th September, 1873, and was sixty-five years old when he died on 21st November last. He was the son of Mr. John Kneen, a Douglas postman, who came of an old Kirk Andreas family, and Hannah Crebbin, one of the Kirk Santan family of Ballakelly.

He was educated at St. George's School under Mr. Nichols, and early developed a leaning towards the study of the Manx language. His parents were interested in his studies, and he was able to secure a good deal of traditional knowledge from them. Being possessed of great natural philological talent he eventually became the greatest authority on his chosen subject.

He first attracted attention by his writings in Manx, with interlinear literal translations in English, which appeared in the Isle of Man Examiner as early as 1895, when he was only 22 years of age. In 1897 these contributions came to the notice of the Speaker of the Keys, Mr. A. W. Moore, who had several interviews with the present writer and with the young man, which resulted in the formation two years later of the Manx Society.

Thus encouraged, his enthusiasm for the preservation of the language and the study of the folk-lore and history of his country, continued to the end of his days. He wrote many booklets and compiled lessons for the use of students. Having a fine poetic sense, he translated many ballads and hymns, all of which were useful in the cause of Manx language and literature. He took a leading part in the production of a new and improved edition of Archibald Cregeen's Manx Dictionary, and not many months ago he finished the compilation of a Manx-English Pronouncing Dictionary of his own.

In the year 1910 Mr. Kneen completed what is possibly his greatest work, A Grammar of the Manx Language. Not having the means to publish it, he was in 1927 prevailed upon to deposit the MS. in the Library of the Manx Museum. It was brought to the attention of the Trustees, who realised its importance, and asked Tynwald for a vote of 250 to pay for its publication.

During the War period he began to make notes on the place-names of the Island, using as a basis the pioneer work, which had appeared in 1890, of the late A. W. Moore. By 1923 his manuscript was complete, and the matter was brought before the Manx Society, of which he had been both secretary and president, and they agreed to undertake the publication of the work in six parts, each dealing with a Sheading of the Island. In 1925 Part 1, comprising the Place-Names of the Sheading of Rushen, appeared, and the full work was in print by 1928.

The Place Names of the Isle of Man, with Their Origin and History represents an amazing amount of intensive research, the wonder of which is considerably heightened when it is remembered that for many years the author was in delicate health. The introductory matter is lucidly written, and his explanations of the meanings of the names are not without a certain romantic interest, and in all cases they bear the stamp of authority.

J. J. Kneen's services to Manx literature were recognised by the University of Liverpool in 1929, when the degree of Master of Arts was conferred upon him, together with Mr. Philip M. C. Kermode, the Curator of the Museum. Another distinguished honour followed in 1930, when, in recognition of his researches into the Norse elements in the Manx race, history and language, he was, through the influence of Professor Carl Marstrander of Oslo University, awarded a grant from the Norwegian government of 200 from the Norwegian State Research Fund and the Trustees of the Fridtjof Nansen Fund for the Promotion of Scientific Research.

This was to enable Mr. Kneen to continue his researches, especially with a view to securing an accurate record of the local pronunciations of the place-names before all genuine knowledge of the living Manx had passed away. In offering the grant through the Manx Museum and Ancient Monuments Trustees, Professor Marstrander, who had visited the Island to study the remains of the spoken Manx tongue, referred to 'the unusual step of offering to a member of a foreign community the support of Norwegian funds.' The time had passed, he said. for considering to whom the task rightly belonged. The population of the Island was to a great extent Norwegian in origin, and for centuries Man was cultivated by their Norwegian ancestors. Even at the present day the place-names of every parish bore testimony to that ancient chapter of history common to their two countries.

It was in this year-1930-that the Grammar which had been completed in 1910 and lodged in the Manx Museum was finally published, and in this year also J. J. Kneen commenced the heavy task of compiling the material for a projected volume dealing with the history and romance of The Personal Names o f the Isle o f Man. Again, on the recommendation of the Manx Museum Trustees, Tynwald appropriated the sum of 300 as a grant to enable the work, when finally completed, to be published, a responsibility which was undertaken by the Oxford University Press in 1937, and proved a great success. It is wel-lrecognised that the book-buying public in the Island is too small to reward the efforts of the writers of serious literature; that being so, it is a matter for congratulation that Tynwald has taken such a patriotic and commendable attitude.

In 1933, again on the recommendation of Professor Carl Marstrander, he had conferred upon him by King Haakon, the Knighthood of the Royal Norwegian Order of St. Olaf : 'Ridder av I Klasse av St. Olavs Orden, Norge.'

On the death of the late High Bailiff, Mr. H. Percy Kelly, Mr. Kneen was appointed (together with Mr. Mark Braide) official translator of the Acts of Tynwald into Manx. At the same time the Manx Society elected him as their representative on the Manx Museum and Ancient Monuments Trustees.

Whilst engaged in the work of an arduous business, J. J. Kneen was at the same time striving to carry on with vigour those Celtic studies which in due time won for him a world-wide reputation. At the beginning of his literary career Manx studies were generally deprecated, and popularly regarded ak the useless hobby of a few philologists. Before he died he saw those studies elevated to their right place in the great questions of history, philology and folk-lore, and not a little of that change in attitude may be said to be due to his own great enthusiasm, and that fine strength of mind and spirit which kept him unflaggingly at work even when his health was poor. The change owes much, too, to the labours of Arthur Moore, W. H. Gill, Dr. Clague and others, in whose steps J. J. Kneen so worthily followed.

Mr. Kneen possessed the true scientific spirit in his quest for facts, and the pains he took to verify them. There was no keener critic of his own work; none more highly appreciative of the labours of others. He was ever ready to give help either to students or casual seekers after information; either by letter or conversation his store of knowledge and the wisdom of his counsel was open to his fellow-men. He was very human, full of courtesy and nobility of heart, and possessed a strain of quiet humour which not even his many severe illnesses were able to impair. In recent years, and more especially during periods of indifferent health, he was materially helped in his literary work by his wife, formerly Miss Catherine Bridson.

Evidence of his versatility and great industry is shown by the Personal Bibliography which follows this article.


Taken from the above Obituary article, compiled by K Williamson but slightly amended in format

Bib.-' A Bibliography of the Literature of the Isle of Man,' by William Cubbon;
Proc.-' Proceedings and Transactions of the Isle of Man Natural History and Antiquarian Society';
I.M.E.-'Isle of Man Examiner';
J.M.M.='Journal of the Manx Museum';
M.L.S.-Manx Language Society;
M.Q.-'Manx Quarterly';
E.V.=' Ellan Vannin Magazine.'
* An asterisk signifies a translation from English into Manx.

Simple Lessons in Manx, I.M.E. 1890-91.(Dec., Jan.) [Bib., p. 821.]
Yuletide in Mann. Manx Sun, Dec. 29 and Jan. 5.1895/6
Brief Contributions in the Manx Language from time to time, I.M.E.1897.
Finn as Oshin in Manx, with a literal trans. into Eng. Also trans. of several of Ossian's poems. I.M.E. [Bib., p. 808].
Some Place-Names in and About Douglas. The Manxman (Hartley), xvi, no. 198, p. 3. 1899.
Lessoonyn ayns Gailck, including the Acts of the Apostles, Lament for the Mother Tongue, &c. 1901[Bib., p. 822.]
*Yn Lhondoo as yn Ushag Reaisht (The Blackbird and the Mountain Plover). Celtia, i 45. March 1901 [Bib., p. 403.]
Lesson in the Manx Language with literal Eng. trans. Celtia, i 95.June 1901
Manx Proverbs. Celtia, ii 109. July 1902 [Bib., p. 830.]
Manx Names of Fish and Shellfish, and Manx Month Names. Roeder's Manx Notes and Queries, pp. 15 and 38. 1904
Revision of Psalmyn Ghavid, a metrical version of the Psalms of David, by the Rev. J. Clague, Vicar of Rushen, 1782-1816. M.L.S. 1905 [Bib., p. 796.]
*Fouyr ny Marrey (Gill's 'Harvest of the Sea'). 1907
*Arrane yn Guilley Shesheree ('Song of the Ploughboy'). M.Q., i 68. Feb 1907 [Bib., pp. 811]
*Arrane Ashoonagh dy Vannin (Gill's 'Manx National Anthem'). Manx Music Festival Committee. 1907 [Bib., p1064.]
*O Halloo nyn ghooie (Gill's 'O Land of Our Birth'). 1908. [Bib., p. 796.]
*Ny Lomarcan (Gill's 'Alone'). 1908 [Bib., pp. 811 and 1065.]
*Yn Edd Coonlee (`The Straw Cradle' Lullaby). Manx Society. 1909 [Bib., p. 811.]
*Bee Feeagh (' Hush Thee my Baby'). 1910 [Bib., p. 812.]
*Keayrt va mee Venduic (`Lament of the Duchess of Gloucester'). 1910 [Bib., p. 812.]
Revision of Cregeen's Manx Dictionary. M.L.S. 1910 [Bib., p. 822.]
Yn Saase Jeeragh (The Direct Method of Teaching Manx). 1911 [Bib., p. 822.]
Gool on Cushags: a play. 1911 [Bib., p. 1024.]
*My Henn Ghooinney Mie ('My Good Old Man'). Manx Society.1913 [Bib., p. 811.]
*Ushtey Millish 'sy Garee (`Sweet Water in the Common').1913 [Bib., p. 1052].
Cushtal Keeoi: a play. Not printed. 1913 [Bib., p. 1024.]
A Li'l Smook: a play in three acts. 1913 MS. in Library.[Bib., p. 1024.]
Shelg y Dreain (Hunt the Wren) : a Fairy Play. 1913 Not printed. [Bib., p. 1024.]
The Sound and its Neighbourhood: a guidebook for Visitors. Brown and Son. 1913 [Bib., p. 646].
Old Quirk the Antiquary. M.Q., xiii 28. 1914.
*The Hills of Ellan Vannin (Cushag).Dec. 1914 [Bib., p. 812.]
The Blackbird and the Plover: a poem. M.Q. xiv 149.1914 [Bib., p. 865.]
Inis Falga: a Manx national song. [Bib., p. 865.]
Rushen Place Names. M.Q., xv 268. (April) 1914 [Bib., p. 834.]
Manx Place Names: Their Philological and Grammatical Development. Proc., ii 261-270. Feb. 1919.
Pre and Early Celtic Inhabitants of the Isle of Man. Proc., ii 189 March 1920.
Yn Blaa Sooree: a play. 1921.Bib., p. 1024.
Tynwald: its Origin and Antiquity. I.M.E., July 10th and M.Q.. xxv 91 July 1921.
Putting up the Banns: a play. 1922.Bib., p. 1024.
Ballad of Manannan Mac y Leirr: literal trans. into Eng., with grammatical and linguistic notes. MS. only.1922. [Bib., p. 799.]
A Trip Round the Island a Thousand Years Ago. M.Q., xxix 109.(Nov.) 1922.
Ancient Land Divisions.(March) 1923 [Bib., p. 836.]
Christian Names: review of a work by W. Cubbon. EX., i 34.(Dec.)1923
An Early Reference to Manx Ecclesiastical Antiquities. Proc. ii 440-446. April 1924..
Parish of Holy Trinity in Rushen in 1511. Manorial Roll, pp. 1-6, 97.1924.[Bib., p. 646.]
Manorial Roll of the Isle of Man. EV., ii 78.1924.
Bishops of Mann and the Isles. I.o.M. Times. Aug. 9th.1924.
Place Names of Kirk Christ Rushen. I.M.E., October 3rd and 10th.1924.
Ivar and Matilda: a play. 1925 Not printed, MS. in Library. [Bib., p. 1024.]
Manx Parishes and Their Patronal Saints. Manx Catholic, Year Book, p. 15 July 1925. and in subsequent issues.
Salutations in Manx. EV., iv 156. Sept. 1925.[Bib., p. 829].
*Arrane y Lhondoo (Cushags ' Song of the Blackbird'). 2nd Cruinnaght Prog., p. 10. Nov. 1925. [Bib., p. 814.]
Manx Fairs and Festivals: part one, Pagan. Proc.iii 38-56.Dec. 1925. part two, Christian. Proc, iii 56-82.March 1926
The Place Names of the Isle of Man, with their Origin and History. In six parts, one for each Sheading. Douglas: Yn Cheshaght Ghailckagh (The Manx Society)1926. (Republished 1970) [Bib., p. 834.]
The Church of Saint Trinian. Manx Catholic Year Book, p. 4, July 1926 and subsequent issues.
Illiam Dhone: a Manx historical drama. S. K. Broadbent. [Bib., p. 801]; also MS. 1926-1927.
Lessoonyn Gailckagh Aashagh (Easy Manx Lessons). EV., v 195, vi 243, vii 292, viii 337. 1927.
Ann: a Comedy. Not printed: MS. in Library. [Bib., p. 1025.]
Manx Place Names. I.o.M. Visitors' Enquire Within, p. 37, May 1927 and subsequent issues.
The Story of Kirk Christ Rushen. I.o.M. Times, September 24th. 1927 [Bib., p. 646.]
The Story of Kirk Arbory.I.o.M. Times, October 1st.1927 [Bib., p. 644.]
The Story of Kirk Malew.I.o.M. Times, October 8th. 1927 [Bib., p. 643.]
Report on the Castle Rushen Papers in the Manx Museum Library. MS. only. Dec. 1927
Notes on Knock y Dooney. Proc., iii 246-249. Dec. 1927
The Story of Kirk Santan.I.o.M. Times, December 31st.1927
Cooking his Goose: a Comedy. 1928.Not printed; MS. in Library. [Bib., p. 1025.]
Cruittag Veg: a play. 1928.Not printed. [Bib., p. 1025.]
*Yn Dorrys Foshlit (Cushag's 'Open Door'). 1928. [Bib., p. 797.]
Manx House Names. IME., ix 398-402. Dec. 1928. [Bib., pp. 823 and 824.]
'Uncle Jack' Articles, containing much interesting Manx folk-lore, &c., for the Children's Club. I.M.E.1928-1930.
The Magpies: a Comedy. Not printed; MS. in Library. 1929.[Bib., p. 1025.]
Tom Brown's Knowledge of the Manx Language. Idioms, Folklore and Geography. Paper read before Tom Brown Brotherhood. (April)1929.Not printed.
Manx Language and Proverbs. I.o.M. Visitors' Enquire Within, p. 19, (May) 1929.and in subsequent issues.
Manx Personal Names. I.M.E., May 24th, 31st; June 7th, 14th, 21st, 28th; and July 8th. 1929.
The Romance of Manx Place Names.Sept. 1929. [Bib., p. 836.]
Douglas in Viking Days. I.M.E., April 18th.1930.
The Romance of Place Names. Archaeologia Cambrensis, lxxxv 103-114. (June)1930.Was also published in Mona's Herald on January 8th and 15th.
Place Names Alkest and Cronk yn How. Proc., iii 296.(Dec.)1930. [Bib., p. 835.]
Some Features of Manx Place Names.. North-Western Naturalist, v 210. (Dec.) 1930.[Bib., p. 835.]
A Grammar of the Manx Language. Douglas: Manx Museum and Ancient Monuments Trustees 1931 (Reprint 1973) xi pp209 [Bib., p. 823.]
Our Norse Heritage (N.H.A.S, Presidential Address). Proc., iii 482-495. April 1931
Abbeylands of Kirk Malew. Proc., iii 519/524. Dec 1931
*Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. J.M.M., ii 166, 176, 189, 191, 208. 1932-1933.
Irish Dialects, with Chapters on Scottish and Manx (Review). J.M.M., ii 89. Dec 1932
Manx Names of Mammals. J.M.M., ii 200. June 1933
Ec ny Fidleryn ('With the Fiddlers'). J.M.M., ii 118. June 1933 [Bib., p. 810.]
Johnny Jem Beg Puts Up for the Keys: a Comedy. 1934 Not printed. [Bib., p. 1025.]
Manx Family Names: Variations of McEmere. J.M.M., ii 174. June 1934
Peel Castle: Inis Patrick - the Cradle of Christianity in Man.' Manx Catholic Year Book, pp. 13-19. July 1934
Manx Personal Names and Their Romance. Proc., iv 77-89. 1935
Lessons in Manx (Based on Goodwin's 'First Lessons'). Manx Society 1936. Also appeared in Mona's Herald.
The Manannan Ballad: Trans. into Eng. of the Quayle Bridge House version. J.M.M., iii 154-156. Dec 1936
Before the Norsemen Came. Proc., iv 209/218. Dec 1936 Also MS.
The Personal Names of the Isle of Man. London: Oxford University Press for Manx Museum Trustees. Pp. lx, 295.1937
' Mona's Herald' English-Manx Pronouncing Dictionary. Clucas and Fargher. Pp. viii, 86. 1938 (Had appeared weekly in small parts in Mona's Herald newspaper).
Manx Idioms and Phrases: Idioymym as Raaghyn Gaelgagh. Mona's Herald 1939
The Horsemen of the Sea: a play. Not printed. First performed 1939 by London Manx Society.

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Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received The Editor
© F.Coakley , 2001