Celtica 1901 – a visit to Mannin

Posted on November 19, 2010


Thanks to Breesha and Annie for passing this on to me. I don’t think the people in Cregenash have ever recovered from his trip!



Shortly after the conclusion of the Pan- Celtic Congress I paid a visit to Douglas, Peel, Castletown, Port St. Mary, Laxey, and certain Manx-speaking districts in the neighbourhood of some of those towns with the object of investigating the actual state of the Manx language at the present day. The results were interesting and, on the whole, encouraging.  As regards the movement for the revival of the Manx language, that appears to be centred entirely in Douglas and Peel. In Douglas, the movement so well begun by the Isle of Man Examiner has been vigorously continued, and it is now being ably seconded by the Editor of the Manx Sun. A column of Manx lessons and short pieces of composition appears every week in the Examiner, and it is not too much to say that these lessons are on a level with the best work of the same kind done in the other countries.  A number of Manx books have been issued from the office of the Examiner, and they have been selling very well. Both the Examiner and the Sun support and advocate the preservation of the language at every opportunity, and a strong public opinion is gradually being developed in favour of the home language of the Island.  But the place round which the actual use and teaching of the language centres is undoubtedly the city of Peel. There the first class for teaching the language was established and was continued amid considerable difficulties and discouragements during last winter. The chief difficulty was the lack of a cheap and suitable primer. There was no lack of speakers. All the Peel fishermen speak the language fluently, and, as a matter of fact, speak nothing else once they are outside the harbour. Lest this statement may appear exaggerated I may as well give the names of five of these men who, according to their own testimony and according to the testimony of the Peel people, speak Manx better than English. They are : William Clinton, William Radcliff, William Gorry, Joseph Gorry, and Thomas Crellin (” Tommy the Mate “). To these must be added the name of John Cashen, Guardian of Peel Castle, undoubtedly one of the best, if not the best, of Manx speakers at the present day, a man who has done splendid services in the revival movement and has shown much patriotism and unselfish devotion to the cause.  The classes are being resumed this winter, and will, no doubt, show steady progress under the able management of Miss Morrison, Hon. Sec., and Miss Joughin, Hon. Treasurer of the Peel Manx Language Society.  After visiting Peel I paid a short visit to a place called Cronk-y-Voddee, reputed to be one of the best Manx-speaking districts in the Island. I there had an interview with Mr. Kissack, who read me portions of the Manx Bible, and gave me some interesting information with regard to the exact meaning of certain Manx words. I found that all the older people in the district spoke Manx, but the younger people did not, and that being the case, the extinction of the Manx language in the district is only a question of time, unless measures are taken to prevent it.  The most interesting trip I made was that to Port St. Mary, in the extreme south of the Island. Port St. Mary is a prosperous little town of, I suppose, some 4,000 inhabitants. It was most encouraging to find the Manx widely distributed among the townspeople, and not by any means confined to the older generation. There was, for instance, Mr. Percy Kelly, one of the Delegates to the Pan-Celtic Congress and a student at Cambridge University, who has both a colloquial and a literary knowledge of the language, and is very enthusiastic concern- ing its preservation. Among other speakers I may mention Joseph Qualtrough, the Parish Clerk : John Carron, Miss Collister, Mr. James Moore, Mr. William Quayle, and Mr. John Kinley. I was also given the name of Miss Annie Watterson, a young girl at present living in Douglas, as a fluent speaker of Manx.

Before leaving Port St. Mary I paid a visit to the Female National School, and the teacher in charge very kindly assembled the pupils, and asked how many of them could speak Manx. There was no answer. She then asked how many could say the Lord’s Prayer in Manx, and after some hesitation two little girls came forward and recited it for me. One of them, Blanche Watterson, aged 10 years, is the daughter of the late Thomas Watterson, of Port St. Mary. She recited the Lord’s Prayer with great fluency and correctness, and said it was her grandfather who taught her. The other girl, Kate Cregeen (same age), had more hesitation in reciting the prayer, but had, on the other hand, a greater power of conversing in Manx, and had also learnt what she knew of the language from her grandfather. She lives in Port Erin.  These were the two youngest speakers of Manx that I came across, and I must say that it was the pleasantest incident of my visit to hear the accents of that “dead language” from the lips of two of the youngest and prettiest girls in the school. It made it very hard to believe that the language is bound to die out, and, to tell the truth, I don’t believe it.  On leaving Port St. Mary I walked some three miles to a place called Cregneish to see Mr. Edward Faraghar, the author of” Skeealyn Aesop.” It so happened that I had no Sunday garment with me except my Irish Festival Costume, which I was taking with me for the Highland Mod. I therefore put it on, and I believe it created somewhat of a sensation among the good people of the district. In any case it considerably facilitated my quest for Manx. Whenever I met a person of Manx appearance and middle age, I inquired the way in Manx ; the reply was usually some attempt to read an English meaning into what I said, but my further and somewhat indignant question : ” Nagh vel Gailck ayd ?” (” Don’t you know Manx ?”) never failed to elicit a torrent of beautiful vernacular. I subsequently heard that my appearance was in one case put down to hallucination, and that I was believed to be the ghost of some long dead and forgotten Manx Chief, who, of course, was quite innocent of English. I found as usual in such districts that all the older people spoke Manx, and that the younger people understood it perfectly but were unable or unwilling to speak it.  In conclusion, I may say that I believe that the Manx language can be preserved in the Isle of Man as a national accomplishment well calculated to impart a vigorous tone of national self-reliance to the Manx people. It is still in official use by the Manx Legislature, it is spoken by 4,500 people, and the place-names and local traditions and turns of speech are full of Manx words. The language is a dialect of Gaelic closely akin to Donegal Irish or Highland Gaelic, and the difference in the spoken languages is so trifling as to be surmounted in a few days. The spelling is, of course, based upon an entirely different system, which is not in agreement with the spirit of the language, but that circumstance should not prevent the Brother Gaels from studying a language which sheds a flood of light upon Gaelic Philology.



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