[From ManxNoteBook vol iii,1887]


IN the Isle of Mann, as in any ancient Norse Moot-place, three things are to be noticed: a plain [voll], whereon there were to be found the hillock, brink or mound, and the court. The court is due west of the hill. The procession on the 24th of June [5th July N.S] proceeds from the court to the mound. The king, seated on the hill, had to turn his ‘visage unto the east.’ The Manx TINWALD and the Icelandic ALL-MOOT correspond in each particular point— The Tin-waild answers to the Icelandic þing-voll-r; the Tinwald-hill to the Icel. Log-berg, 1 or Log-brekka 2; the House of Keys to the Icel. Log-rétta3 (court); the chapel to the temple of heathen days.

The 24th June procession answers to the Icel. Lõgbergis-ganga, 4 or doma~s~t~fiersla5 on the first Saturday of every session, the distance between hill and court being about 140 yards in each case.

The path, being fenced in like the court and hill, and used for this solemn procession when the judges and officers go to and fro between them, would answer to the Icel. þingvallar- tra~er.6

The Manx Deemsters (dóm-stiórar, deem-steerers) answer to the Icelandic Law-man or Speaker. There were two Deemsters in the Isle of Mann, because its central TINWALD is a union of two older separate TINWALDS, each of which kept its Law-speaker, when the two were united in one central Moot. The Keys answer to the bench of godes, being two benches of twelve godes, just as in Iceland there were four benches of each twelve godas. 7

The Hill and the Temple were the two holy spots, not the Court, The king sat on the hill, not in the court. Even at the present day the Manx look on the TINWALD hill as their hill of liberty, and rightly so. Antiquarians wanting to dig into the mound are warned off as right-minded Englishmen would forbid digging into Shakespear’s grave. In days of old, Hill and Court were, as it were, twins. Discussions, enactments of laws and decisions of law points took place in the Court, but anything partaking of proclamation, declaration, publication, was done from the Hill. It was the people’s place.

The arrangement of the Mann TINWALD, and the Icelandic ALL-MOOT is one that no doubt obtained in other Teutonic nations, the hill for proclamations standing due west of the high court. This Court in early days was no doubt held within the temenos of a temple as the Keys still sit in the southern transept of the Chapel of S. John.

1 Lõg-berg, ‘the law hill, law rock,’ where the Icelandic legislature was held.

2 Lõg-brekka, ‘law slope or brink,’ the hill where public meetings were held and laws promulgated.

3 Lõg-rêtta, ‘law-mending,’ the name of the legislature of the Icelandic Commonwealth.þ

4 Lõgbergis-ganga, ‘the procession to the law rock.’

5 Doma-it-faersla ‘the opening of the courts.’ The Judges went out in a body in procession, and took their seats.

6 þingvallar-traðer ‘Tinwald enclosure or lane.’

7 The godes composed the Lõg-retta and were the law-givers of the country.

[These notes have been extracted from Dr. Vigfusson’s Icelandic Dictionary.]


WHAT does the division of the Isle of Mann into six SHEDDINGS or SHEADINGS mean, and what is the origin of the word?

It cannot be related to the Anglo-Saxon sceadan, whence modern English to shed (to part or divide), for skeading would mean rather the act of dividing than the thing divided; further, this word of this family is unknown to the Scandinavian tongues, and how could such a word have got there among a population purely Norse and Celtic?

It is a political word, denoting the secular division of the Island. Hence it is to the Norse language, and to Norse institutions, we have to look for the explanation thereof. I take it to be a compound word, the second component part whereof is þing, thing (a moot, or even shire, district), the first component part would be a monosyllable, ending in d or th, beginning in sk. The dd is due to the association of ð and th.

So much for the grammar. Let us next have a look at the state of things in Scandinavia in olden days.

Ancient Scandinavia, with her vast coast-line, measuring thousands of miles, indented with countless fjords and bays, and the Baltic estuary stocked with islands, was from time of yore a land of mariners, the sea was their high road, and from the sea rather than from the land they drew their sustenance; their first vessels were war ships—galleys. Hence it comes that, from Lofoden down and along the coast of the Baltic, the land, as far inland ‘as the salmon runs’ was divided into ‘ship-shires’—districts, each of which, for defence or war at home or abroad, had to supply, man, and fit out a certain number of galleys. Every freeman born, between twenty and sixty years of age, was bound to serve. The names differ; in Norway this division is called skip-reiða (skip and reiða to fit out, pay, discharge); in Sweden skips-lag (ship-districts) or snelciaja-lag (galley-districts). Observe that sneikja and skein are synomymous words for the ordinary swift war galley, and that the average number of oars in these galleys was sixteen or twenty. We have here, I think, got the right word, skeita-thing or siceitar-thing, a division into ship hundreds, each of which had to furnish so many skeiðs to the King. This would hold good for the Isle of Mann. The Norse Kings of Mann and Sodor were essentially the lords of the sea, and would have established the same division that, since time out of mind, had obtained in their old home. In old Norse, in the Xth century, sk was undoubtedly sounded as in English skin, but in the course of time it changed into the present Norwegian sound, resembling English sh. The Manx, we take it, followed the Norse pronounciation, at least up to the date of separation in the XIIIth century, at which date the present Norse sound had obtained; hence the word is sheading not skeading, as it would be if no change had taken place.

Practically the sheadings answer to the hundreds or herdds of Scandinavia. We know that in Upland (Sweden) every hundred had to fit out four ships. The Manx levy would, on the same scale, have been twenty-four galleys, and, taking the average crew to be forty, the full levy of the Island (i.e., the male population between twenty and sixty) would make about one thousand. This would make the whole population some four or five thousand.


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