[From A Second Manx Scrapbook]

Chapter X

2. Some Minor Traditions.


The parish of Marown, unique in her separation from the sea, is an island within an Island. Shut in on herself by her sea-fronting sisters, she is content to guard the main pass between East and West which has always been the most frequented of the insular thoroughfares. From the North her mountains, from the South her heath-land, fall to the marshy waters of the Awin Dhoo and the rock-sheltered fields about Greeba and St. Trinian's. Of old the men of the Church and the Abbey, and the solitary followers of the religious life, made this a sacred ground. Possession by bishops and abbots is attested in history and historical documents, and in place-names. Folk-lore reaches further back, and murmurs vaguely of saints and hermits.

On page 65 of the old Manx Society's edition of his book, Waldron says (circa 1720) : " I have been shown a hole on the side of a rock, near Kirk-Maroan mountains, which, they say, was formerly the habitation of one who had retired from the converse of mankind, and devoted himself intirely to prayer and meditation. What seems to prove this conjecture is not without foundation, is, that there is still to be seen a hollow, cut out on the side of the rock with a round stone at one end in the shape of a pillow, which renders it highly probable to have been the hard lodging of one of those holy persons who have forgone all the gaieties and pleasures of life, and chose to mortify the body for the sake of the soul."

It is unlikely that what Waldron saw was far from the road, and the only rocks near the road are those of Greeba. His mention of a stone in the shape of a pillow suggests that the legend then attached to the spot belonged to the bed (so-called) of a hermit who lived in the contiguous " hole " or cell. This sort of " bed " (Manx lhiabbee — actually a tomb), is not uncommon in Ireland, where it is often explained by a story about its supposed occupant, particularly in the case of dolmens called "the Bed of Dermot and Grania."

A good deal of folk-lore is hidden among what might appear to be dry details, in Mr. P. M. C. Kermode's revised List of Manx Antiquities, published in 1930. On his first page, for example, is catalogued an object which is given the name of " St. Patrick's Chair " in a record of the Marown parish boundary written about 1780. It lies among the rocks on the Southern slope of Greeba, and is described in the List as " a large boulder of local slate five to six feet long by three to four feet high, weighing some eight tons, having a flat top, and built into position with upright stones at the back of it." No legend concerning it seems to have survived, and the name of " Chair " may be due to the nearness of the well - known " St. Patrick's Chair " on Ellerslie. Can it have any connexion with the place of retreat seen by Waldron ? Patrick has taken over a good many of the Island's antiquities, especially its wells, which probably bore somebody else's name at one time. He is further associated with this rocky spur of the hills in a proverbial saying quoted on page 12 of Morrison and Roeder's Manx Proverbs : " Gob Greeba ny clagh, raad nagh rieau dooinney feer berichagh [sic berchagh] ny boght," " The stony face of Greeba, where there was never a very rich man or a very poor man." The saying is attributed to Patrick himself, whose horse took a flying leap across the Island from Chibber Pherick, on Peel Hill, to St. Maughold's Well in that parish, and broke the saint's leg by inadvertently brushing against the side of Greeba. The mishap may have occurred at Creg y Cabbal, the Rock of the Horse" Cregacable " on the Ordnance map. What Patrick really said was, I venture to suggest, that nobody who lived there should ever grow rich, in the same way as he put his curse on the field containing Keeill Pherick across the valley, because a thorn in it lamed him as he walked through. " It shall never bear any crop," he prophesied, " but briars." For the accident to his leg he should have blamed, not the rocks of Greeba, but the horse that made such a wide tack ; a straight course would have taken them over Snaefell. Perhaps this high flight was beyond the animal's power, but it is more likely that they did, in fact, go that way, and that some other saint was originally associated with the Southern slope of Creg ny Greeba and watched over the pass between the two sea-inlets to East and West.

It is still more likely that St. Patrick never visited the Isle of Man at all.


Old people say that in the beginning there were three elements, Water, Air and Fire. Water, they say, was the first to be made and will be the last to go, in the end of all things. As a trinity, this is obviously reminiscent of the old Norse trinity, Hler or Aegir, Kari, and Loki.

They say, too, that in far-off times men were working the mines of the Island and getting gold and silver out of them, but now they are only getting lead.

It was held that all material things which are visible and tangible, including human beings and animals, have their ghostly counterparts in a sort of other-half world. There is still a belief that every land-creature is represented in the sea by something closely resembling it.

Of Hy Brasil, the mysterious Celtic island whose impermanency (above the surface) made it so hard to find and fix, there are traces at three or four points of the coast ; Jurby, Rushen, Port Soderick, and perhaps Peel, have each their local legends, and these have already been published. In the main Celtic tradition this island was not always submersible, but developed in some of its manifestations a vagrant habit.1 When it floated up and down the Antrim coast it could be fixed and landed on if a sod of Irish soil could be thrown ashore ; but it always failed them to do it. When a Kirkcudbrightshire farmer saw it in the Solway Firth, " off his shore a little way, once in seven years," it bore corn and apples, and cattle feeding in its fields of clover, all finer than are ever seen in the islands of this world. 2

There are distinct traces of a belief that, like Hy Brasil, the Isle of Man formerly moved or floated upon and about the Irish Sea, just as Delos floated about the Aegean till Zeus moored it 3

1. " Martin Csombor, a Hungarian traveller, who visited England in 1618, states in his book Europica Varietas (Kassa, 1620), that among the many small islands round the coast of England, one, the Isle of Man (Monia) is very celebrated, because it has no foundation, and is blown hither and thither by the winds, and thus changes its position as much as 60 Hungarian (about 300 English) miles." 4

2. In Blundell's 17th-century account of the Island there is a curious remark which appears to be derived from the same notion. " I believe the old arms of the Isle of Man was a Ship ; yea and that most meet and fitting, first because floating in the Ocean, it much resembleth a movable island," etc.

3. " He said no Manxman need be ashamed of speaking the language of his country, and that the Manx would be spoken as long as Man floated." 5 By the middle of the 19th century the myth had shrivelled into this proverbial phrase. It is possible that the idea of " floating " in this case is antithetical to sinking, not to fixity in one place.

Is it scientifically feasible that Man has given birth to some of the Hy Brasils of the Irish Sea by reproducing herself in the form of a mirage ?

In the first half of the 19th century two traditions of a geographical character attracted the notice of an English visitor. One ran to the effect that the Island was " formerly intersected by the sea at several points, hence was really several islands." The other was " a Northern tradition that the Mull of Galloway was once within a stone's throw of the Point of Ayre." 6 These beliefs still exist in modified forms, one of which is that the Island was two separate countries a long time ago, a Northern and a Southern, called respectively Sodor and Man, and collectively " the " Isles of Man." It was ruled by two kings and divided by the two rivers which fall into the sea at Peel and Douglas. The " Northern tradition " just cited is now represented in the notion that the Mull of Galloway and the Point of Ayre are gradually getting nearer to each other, and that a time will come when people will be able to walk across dry-shod.

A lingering belief in a submerged island, with ruined buildings on it, lying South-West of the Calf, is kept alive by the occasional bringing-up in fishingnets of what has been described to me by a fisherman as " quarried stones and pieces of concrete." King William's Bank and the Bahama Bank off the NorthEast coast are said to have been land detached from the main island in a great storm. They are shown as an islet in one of the old maps.

1 According to Thales the entire earth was sustained by water on which it floated like a ship. This teaching has recently been revived as a scientific hypothesis to the effect that the continents are unstably supported by a liquid of a metallic nature, on which they shift their positions.['Continental Drift' is now fully accepted - quite what Gill would have made of the recent theory that the Manx Slates were laid down underwater some distance off-shore of a continent in the Southern Hemisphere is diificult to envisage !]

2 Gallovidian Encyclopedia, page 307.

3 To Scotland, Ireland and Man old Irish writers applied the terms " tri foid " and " tri foid meini ' -" three sods " and "three sods of ore." They were, it was said, united, till separated into three by magical or druidical power. The inference presumably is that Man formed an isthmus joining the other two, till it was torn out of the North Channel and floated to its present position.

However that may be, a lengthier sea-voyage is attributed to Ireland herself. A letter from an Australian which appeared in The Irish Statesman of 4th July, 1925, mentioned " a legend which was current in Mayo in the early decades of the last century. People used to say that Ireland long, long ago had broken off from America-about Labrador-and had floated across the sea to its present position. My mother told me the story . . .

4 Notes and Queries, ser. 10, vol. v., p. 126. Old Breton fishermen tell a somewhat similar tale to the apprentices bound for the Iceland fishing : that Iceland is the mother of all whales and a whale herself of enormous size, and that like all whales she moves from place to place in the Northern waters. (Sébillot, Folk-lore des Pêcheurs, page 313.)

5 George Borrow's Notes made during his visit in 1855.

6 Six Days' Tour in the Isle of Man, by a Stranger [John Welch], 1836.


Even if " King Orry " was a historical King Godred enough myth and folk-lore have accreted to his name to justify a note upon him here. Though he is " Ree Gorree " in the Chronicle Poem or Ballad datable to the early part of the 16th century, the language of this has been partially modernized, and he is " Orry " in the "Supposed True Chronicle," which is of earlier date in its first paragraphs : " And then there came a son of the King of Denmark. He conquered the land, and was the first that was called King Orrye. And after him remained twelve of the stock that were called King Orryes." The earliest mention of the name occurs in a Statute of 1422, which describes the legal executive of the Island as it was " in King Orrye's days," the same spelling, be it noted, as that in the " Supposed True Chronicle " prefixed to the Statute Book.

If he was indeed a human monarch he is, nevertheless, enveloped in an atmosphere of mystery and legend, as befits the founder of an early loth-century dynasty. The possibility that he was in his origin not a Manx ruler but a mythical figure of extreme antiquity has been mooted. Professor Axel Kock preferred to identify him with the last of the " Orrys," Godred Crovan to wit, who conquered Man in 1079 and was far from mythical. A discussion of the question can be found in the Year Book of the Viking Club, vol. iv., pages 11-15, and vol. v., pages 6 and 7, where articles by Professors Magnus Olsen and Sugge are submitted to criticism. Summarized, the matter amounts to this : the proverbial expressions " in King Orre's time " and " since King Orre's time " are in use in Sweden, and correspond to the Norse arilds tid, " from time immemorial." 1 The name is found in Norwegian MSS. as early as 1629-1634. Kock's suggested identification with Godred of the Manx Orry, who " through his law-making came to stand, to the inhabitants, as the representative of the good old days, the fountain-head of all that is old and timehonoured," does not commend itself to Professor Olsen. Bugge likewise deems him a venerable personage of Northern Saga whose story reached Man from Sweden long before Godred's day. From a mention in 1689 of Kung Orrys Mandat in connexion with a custom belonging to the 10th day of Yule, Bugge concludes that Orre was associated with the last day of Yule, which is also consecrated to St. Knut ; this was the day on which the dead who had been celebrating Yule on the old sites (tomter, " tofts ") departed from the farms. It is equivalent to the Old Norse affaredag, the day on which the Christmas guests leave the house, and this is the 14th day of Yule, or 7th January, which is also, in the Church Calendar, a " Knutsdag." On this day, it is said in Norway, " St. Knut drives out Yule," just as Orre's mandate ended the Feast of Yule ; hence King Orre is a popular equivalent of St. Knut. He is, therefore, probably older than that feast, " in which case he would belong to the great multitude of supernatural beings who have continued in folk-lore from heathen times."

Olsen, for his part, suggests that Orre may be the same as Thorri, a being worshipped in order that he may bring good snow for skis. In both forms the name is commemorated in Norwegian children's rhymes. In " Disa's Saga " Orre stands as the mythical representative and institutor of all the festivities of Yule; and the old name for the month comprising the season of Yule was Thorri. The prefixing of the " th " may have come about, Olsen thinks, from the use of the terms Sankt-Orri, " Saint Orre," or Blót-Orri, " Feast of Orre." This feast was held in the middle of January on Hogmanay Night (the Manx Hop-tu-nay), and Orre was a personification of Yule and January. " The good-natured old bearded Torre who entices the children out into the sun seems to answer well to King Orre, concerning whose hood and other clothing one sings to children when one dresses them."2

So much for the Scandinavian side of the question. Among Anglo-Manx writers there has been a scholastic tendency to substitute the name " Gorry " for " Orry," on the supposition of his historicity and identity with Godred, but this seems uncalled-for ; in the " Fin as Oshin " fragment recorded from recitation in 1762 the " Garaidh " of Scottish Ossianic poetry had already been Mannicised into " Orree." We may therefore continue to say " King Orry " with sufficient justification, even though we believe him to have been King Godred.

Whether he was or not, his personality is tinctured with the fabulous in a number of instances. His name is given to the Milky Way, Raad Mooar Ree Ghorry or Orry, "the Great Road of King Orry," to a stone circle, Cashtyl Ree Orry or Cashtyl Chorry, " King Orry's Castle," to a tumulus, " King Orry's Grave," to the rainbow, Bhow Ghorree, " King Orry's Bow," or better, his Arch. He is credited with having tossed boulders about the landscape, e.g. across Bulgham Bay in Lonan ; and when I was a boy I was told that King Orry was responsible for the presence of the great stones among the trees to the West of Kirk Braddan. His name has also been associated in a vague way with a small promontory-mound at Perwick, now obliterated by a building, which is said traditionally to have been the original Castle Rushen and erected by Orry for his fortress, but to have been abandoned for lack of water. He has, in fact, taken his place among the giants of the Island in company with Finn MacCoole and other heroes. All these more or less supernatural attributes, however, are but the slight and usual accretions of nearly a thousand years upon the memory of a conqueror and law-maker, and I cannot see sufficient ground for supposing our King Orry to have been a supernatural being in prehistoric Scandinavia. Had he been the Orre described for us above he would surely have had some associations with the Christmas season in Man. The only hint we have of that, and it is a very indirect one, is the fabulous account of his landing in the Island, which makes him claim to have travelled thither by the Milky Way, which in Norway was called " the Road of Winter."

1 The phrase " in King Orrye's days " is used in the Manx Statute of 1422, and elsewhere, in much the same sense.

2 The resemblance of the character outlined by Olsen to our Father Christmas and Santa Claus need hardly be pointed out. Only his sledge and reindeer are missing from the picture.


Concerning this cross with its five bosses which stood by the roadside* at Port y Vullin before it was removed to Kirk Maughold, a fable is told to the children which takes two or three forms. One is that the old woman who lived at this spot was wicked enough to spin on Sunday. Another version says that she was getting over the hedge of her little field with the balls of wool or thread she had been spinning slung on her back. A third says she was climbing the Shen Lewaigue road to take them to the weaver who lived at Dreem ny Lhergy. In the two latter alternatives the wind took hold of the balls and hindered her progress, and she cursed the wind. In all three the result was that she was punished by being turned into the cross, with her five bluggans, equally petrified, sticking to her wicked old face.

* Wood's Account of the Isle of Man (1811) says it had previously stood in the middle of the field. There was an old chapel there which has long disappeared.


As a striking example of how a prosaic sequence of events can be overgrown and unrecognizably altered by superstitious beliefs in the course of a century, let me return to the legend of the " Dhoon Church," which I gave, so far as it was intelligible, on page 379 of A Manx Scrapbook. To recapitulate : the ruin now so-called stands near the Dhoon Glen. The sound of its bell at sea saved a ship from driving ashore, and the existing Dhoon Church two miles away was built at the expense of two grateful ladies who were passengers.* It would be fatal to plough the ground adjacent to the old church, where there are believed to be interments. Its vicarage stood at Ross Vedn to the south, where there is now no vestige of a building.

Since writing the earlier note on the subject I have received a circumstantial account of the actual facts. A man named Noakes, physician to the last Duke of Atholl, possessed the Dhoon Abbeylands. As there was then no church at Laxey — none nearer indeed than Kirk Maughold and the parish church of Lonan, both equally inconvenient for the Dhoon people — Noakes began to build a small place of worship where now stand the walls of what is known as the old Dhoon Church. It was afterwards completed by his successor to the estate and the physicianship, Dr. Oswald, whose works on Manx archaeology are still read. It was a curious edifice in an architectural sense : small and square, with its roof running to a point. The bell was suspended from a crosspiece at the top of a tree-trunk brought from somewhere and set up behind the chapel, which it considerably overtopped. The road beside which the chapel was built was then the high road to Ramsey, and from this Oswald made a new road to his house, the Rhenny, above the present inn. He also provided the caretaker and his wife with a dwelling just opposite the chapel, where the fruit-trees of their garden still flourish in a semi-wild state. For the incumbent he built a house at the corner of the headland above Bulgham Bay known as Ross Vedn or Bane.

The Chapel-of-Ease now more generally known as the Dhoon Church (Holy Trinity), further North, is said to have come into existence in this way: two gentlemen from the South of England who were visiting the Isle of Man were tumbled out of their trap on the steep hill leading down to the old " church." The elder was seriously hurt, and was carried into the caretakers' cottage. They spoke Manx only, but attended him with such kindness that he afterwards provided money to build the present church. This was badly needed, for the old one was filled everv Sunday to overflowing. As it was never consecrated, no official interments are likely to have been made there.

When the new building was mooted fierce rivalry arose. The Laxey people wanted to have it at Laxey ; the Dhoon people wanted it near the then-existing chapel ; and the residents in the North of the parish wanted it somewhere in the neighbourhood of the Corrany. Finally, it was decided to settle the dispute by a general vote. By calling in a number of South Ramsey people who had no proper concern in the affair (Ballure Chapel was their place of worship), the Corrany party was able to carry the decision in their own favour ; and the new chapel was built at Rhenab. Yet, though it is so far from the Dhoon, it is always called the Dhoon Church. [see story re Abbey Lands (Lonan)/Ballaragh Methodist Chapel]

After the old building was thus superseded it was used for some years as a school. Its last master was living in America in 1928, in which year he wrote to the gentleman who was kind enough to give me the foregoing particulars, and who formerly attended the school — Mr. James Mylchreest, of Onchan. The old Rhenny house is burnt down, the parson's house and the caretakers' cottage have vanished ; all that visibly remains of Noakes' and Oswald's enterprise is a grass-grown track leading to the Rhenny and a portion of the chapel walls in a private garden.

* A legend as variable as it is widely spread. At Ashby Folville in Leicestershire it takes the form that two ladies who were benighted and lost chanced to hear the bells of the village church. The products of the ground on which they were standing were appropriated thenceforward for the benefit of the church in commemoration of their escape from danger. (Folk-lore of Gloucestershire, County Folk-lore series, page iii.) At Stamford Bridge in Yorkshire it was a man that heard the bells, and left a guinea a year to the church for ever.


The ruined chapel at Kerrookiel, Malew, was occasionally used, a little more than sixty years ago [c.1870], for religious worship. A Roman Catholic priest used to say Mass there for the benefit of an Irish family named Roney [Rooney ? - well known grocers etc in Douglas] who lived in the neighbourhood. (From T.T., [Tom Taggart ?] Kerrookiel.) [no Roney/Rooney in directories of the time in this neighbourhood, the stones of the Keeil were also supposedly used in the building of Kerrowkiel Methodist Chapel - the usual Keeil associated with Catholics is the chapel of St Michael which would be a more convenient site]


This is still an officially-recognized office, or was up to a very few years ago; in the present decay of the fishing there can be little need for him, it is to be feared. The holder of the office gets a salary of 5 per annum. The last Admiral, James Cowell, of Peel, died in September, 1930 ; his predecessor, F. Corris, was also a Peel man. Peel, however, has not always enjoyed a monopoly of the honour ; even the hamlet of Dalby has provided a fishing-admiral. As his title suggests, he had some degree of control over the rest of the men both afloat and ashore. For example, nets were not to be shot till he gave the signal by striking his flag. He was watchful, when the fleet was sailing for distant waters, that no boat left the harbour singly after the first two, but that two were lashed together to avoid either of them being the fatal third. By virtue of his office he was spokesman on behalf of the industry to the Fisheries Board. His title occurs so far back as a 1610 Act of Tynwald. He was assisted in his duties by a Vice-Admiral.

The title is not confined to the Isle of Man. The Admiral of the Galway Claddagh fleet was further called " the mayor " of that picturesque suburb, and had authority to settle petty disputes among its inhabitants, who were nearly all fishermen. As I remember him thirty-five years ago his mainsail was (approximately) white, and to further distinguish his boat he flew a coloured streamer from his masthead. His duties at sea have passed from my recollection, but no doubt they resembled those of the Manx Admiral and of their brother-officer of the North Sea. The latter gives permission for the nets to be hauled in by lowering his foresail soon after the sun has risen.


In Ireland the "last words" of domestic animals-the cow, the sheep and othershave a proverbial currency, humorous, but sometimes preserving a scrap of folk-lore. " Roast me if you will, boil me if you will, but do not throw my bones on the fire," were the last words of the sheep. In the Isle of Man there are sayings which keep in memory certain " last places " where some bygone institution came to an end. They appear to be valid only for the parish in which they circulate ; in some cases conflicting claims could be put in from other parishes.

In Lonan the upper Ballachrink house is said to have been " the last place where they could speak no English."

The last place where a handloom was used was a certain old-fashioned roadside cottage in Ronnag, above the Curragh Vreeshey. It was worked by an old woman named Christian Quayle.

The last inhabited sod-house was on the " tops" just West of Skyhill in Lezayre.

The last place where they buried the dead in the garden is now a ruin beside the river in the upper Laxey Valley.

The last place where the old yellowish-brown, double-horned breed of native sheep survived was, by one account, Corvalley in Patrick, by another account, Cronk y Voddey in German. The latter assertion was made to me by one who remembers them there. Pure-blooded descendants of the old Seafield kiree-loaghlyn are likewise said to have survived into quite recent times at Great Meadow in Malew, and may still be flourishing there. The legacy of the loaghtyn to the modern mixed breeds into which they have merged is, I believe, a brownish patch of wool on the shoulder.


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