[from Ellan Vannin vol 1 #1 p17/20 Dec 1923]
By the VENERABLE JOHN KEWLEY, M.A., ARCHDEACON OF MAN.
SIXTY years ago ! What a long time it seems ! Yet often our early days feel nearer than our later ones, nearer and nearer still as we grow older. We can recall them at will, whereas it is only with difficulty that we succeed in bringing many of the more recent ones to mind.
We easily remember real summer days, when, boots and stockings having been furtively doffed, there was the delightful sensation of wading through inches of dust on the highroads; the daily sunburn that caused little faces to smart so painfully and called for a liberal application of butter milk; the long, bright and calm days of autumn lasting right on to the Horse Moon; the snowballing and the skating in winter. But now all these seem to be things only of the past.
Past, too, are the old country fairs, held in the high-road of the village, with their tables well spread with ginger-bread and " taffy "; their tents, against whose canvas side would rest for a moment the head of a customer seated on the form in position for freely taking a long deep pull at his pint of jough, providing an irresistibly tempting target for the well-directed fist of the exuberantly spirited small boy, whose playful, if some-what energetic, tap on the outside temporarily suspended the enjoyment of the thirsty one within, and occasioned merriment to his boon companions. Then the appropriate and emphatic objurgations which followed, giving, no doubt, some small measure of relief to his natural feelings, and considerable delight to the expectant and attentive juvenile listeners on the other side of the coarse fabric. Then the empty pockets, the shades of evening, the packing up and clearing away, the counting of days. till the next fair. But think of Midsummer Fair, with the crowds from all parts of the Island, on foot and in vehicles of every description; the red-coated soldiers after their long, dusty march from Castletown, the Coroner of Glen-faba nervously spelling his way through the Manx translations of the Acts, which had to be read at full length from manuscript; the prolonged, and, at times, animated, if not acrimonious, discussions in the Chapel, so violently out of harmony with the associations of a consecrated building.
And the harvest. How different from the present. How laborious and wearying the reaping, the "shearing" I suppose we ought to call it, with scythes and sickles; the juvenile limbs aching with making and laying bands; the inexhaustible supply of "Quayle and Usher", necessary to quench the reapers not altogether unwelcome drought; the Mheillea at the end; the supper; the dancing on the barn loft, carefully dusted for the occasion; the wheezy concertina, which had to do duty for the fiddle, because the fiddlers had become few; the jough; the regret when it was announced that it was time to go home; the eager looking forward to next years Mheillea.
And the Sundays. How calm and peaceful and solemn, with roads deserted as far as vehicles were concerned. The bell-ringing contests; the indignation when ringing was restricted to quarter-of-an-hour before service; the great ones in their padded and brass-studded square pews in the chancel; their devotional smelling of the insides of their top hats, in erect posture on entering their boxes; the stove, freshly varnished, brought in for . the winter; the tip-toed , movement of the clerk from his pew to stoke the fire as required during service; the dear old parson under the sounding-board with his gown and gloves of black, and his bands and hair of snowy whiteness; the passing of the Bible round the pew that each member of the family might see the text for himself or herself; the distribution of peppermint lozenges to help towards soothing drowsiness until the leaning forward for " Now to God the Father "; the indeterminate pitch of the tunes, for the singing was unaccompanied except on very rare special occasions; the comparisons of our choir with the choirs of the neighbouring parish churches, always, of course, to the disadvantage of the latter; the mortuary biers and long rows of hat-pegs decorating the whitewashed walls of the nave; the long-handled warming pans for " lifting the collection."
Then there was the Club DayHoly Thursday; the proud procession to Church and through the parish; the parson leading on with his shepherds crook; the gilt-headed clubsticks; the silk banner with its quaint device; the meeting with the neighbouring parishes clubs on Castletown Market Place; the dispersion to the several hotels for the dinner.
And the Oiell Viorrey; the kishans of evergreens; the forest of firs nailed vertically in the angles of the pews; the big guttering candles for the only evening service in the course of the year; the carvals of interminable length, doubtful rhyme and metre, and successfully disguised melody; the tramp home in the snow; the hibbin, the holly, the kissing bush; no Christmas cards, but later on the glaring displays in the shop windows would not let us forget Valentine Day.
And the Parochial School; its truly delightful freedom from the undesired attentions of attendance officers; the considerate indulgence extended to truant-players other than habituals; the nights of sweet repose, undisturbed by any dread vision of Her Majestys Inspector, who, probably, was not any more aware of our existence than we were of his; the excitement, almost reaching alarm, when at long last he discovered us and notified his intention of making our close acquaintance at an early date; our determination to give at all costs a satisfactory account of ourselves to him, for the sake of our deservedly beloved Master, the amount of whose salary, as was impressed upon us, depended on the result of the ordeal to which we were to be subjected; the delightful surprise at finding that, after all our fears, H.M.I. was both human and humane; our ineffable joy when a few weeks later, with beaming features, the Master read to us the Report, which shewed that we had not disappointed him; we would not have done so for the world.
But enough for this time. We might run on interminably with jostling memories of happy, youthful days in Ellan Vannin, of habits, customs and usages which are not known to children of the present day. With fond regret we saw them passing one by one, the old giving place to the new. As The Preacher says : " One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh." We trust that childhood days of the present generation are as bright and happy and free from care as were our own.