[From Mona Miscellany second series Manx Soc vol 21]


In a country where coal has not been found, the inhabitants have to resort to other means for their supply of materials for firing. The great extent of the Manx mountains have ever afforded abundance of good turf for the cutting of it; and for the due regulation of this "custome of long time," various enactments of the Insular Legislature have from time to time been made.

In 1577 it was given for law, "that all manner of persone or persons that goeth to my Lord his Forrest for Turf and Ling ought to pay the Forrester an ob." The ob. is frequently mentioned in the old Manx statutes, and was no doubt the ancient coin called the obulus, made of iron or brass. It was generally paid by a halfpenny, which small amount was levied merely to uphold the Lord’s right. In 1661, it was enacted at a Tynwald Court, held at St. John’s, "That no manner of person or persons shall presume to go to the mountains or commons of this Isle after the hour of five of the clock in the afternoon, or before day in the morning, for the carrying of any Turf or Ling; for complaint hath been made, that some persons do frequent that course, and especially upon dayes of haddy or dark mist, and do purloyne and carry away neighbour’s Turf and Ling at such unreasonable times ; wherein if any do offend for the future, they shall be severely fined and punished, as by the Court shall be thought fltt." By the Statute of 15 Victoria, 1852, it was ordained that, "any person cutting or removing surface sod from the commons where there is no turf, or not replacing the sod in the public Turbaries within 14 days, to pay a fine not exceeding £2 for the first, and £3 for every subsequent, offence. Turf to be removed from the commons before 1st October under penalty of not exceeding 40s. No person to cut Turf in the public Turbaries for sale, or for any other use except for fuel. Turf not to be cut before 1st May, nor after 1st July, in each year, under penalty not exceeding £3." The Disafforesting Act of 1860 defines the public Turbaries.

The Manx people look forward to the season of cutting their stock of Turf for the winter’s supply as one of their merry junketings, and many a laughing face replies to the sly jokes that are bandied from one to the other, as they wend their way up the sides of the mountains for that purpose. It is a sort of general public day, and great are the preparations which have been previously made, so that all should enjoy it. The cutting of "Fingan’s Turf" has been alluded to in the first part of these "Miscellanies." The following description of the "Turf Harvest" is from Kennish’s Mona’s Isle, London, 1844, where he no doubt had often formed one of the happy party :—

"Now spring is past, and idle lies the plough,
I’ll turn my thoughts towards the mountain’s brow,
Where many a group of peasants at the dawn
Are seen to move along the upland lawn,
Towards the north of Corna-Chesgia’s side,
Their winter’s stock of fuel to provide,
With lab’ring hand from Nature’s ample store
Of turfy mould beneath the grassy moor.
This yearly pic-nic, mix’d with useful toil,
Calls forth the dame the three-legg’d pot to boil,
Of good hung beef that graced the chimney-cheek,
The winter through amongst the turfy reek
And cowry, juice of oatmeal’s husky seed,
That in this mountain banquet takes the lead:
The oaten bannock, staff of Mona’s food,
She next prepares in segments thick and good
Of new laid eggs are pack’d full many a score,
And good fresh butter churn’d the day before—
With joyful glee each lusty neighb’ring swain
Comes flocking round to join the mountain train;
The females too are summoned to attend
This festive day, their pleasing aid to lend
For whilst the men the best of turf select,
The women do their duty not neglect,
But cheerfully each Manx young buxom lass
Displays the crocks and platters on the grass.
When now prepared the homely welcome fare,
They sit them down the well-spread feast to share,
And while each rustic plays an eager part,
The sire repeats, "There’s plenty in the cart
To satisfy us all I’m sure this day,
So lads eat on, and spare it not I pray."
Each bashful maid, so modest and reserved,
Takes care her own intended best is served
While many looks of artless love pass round,
Pure joyful mirth and innocence abound;
The staid in years no longer can refrain
From joining chorus with the youthful train,
Calling to mind those happy days gone by,
Ere cares of life drew forth the heartfelt sigh.

When dinner o’er, and th’ accustom’d grace,
Each at his labour now retakes his place,
Whilst I, the youngest of the hardy band,
Was task’d the turf to spread with aching hand,
Marking each moment, as they slowly pass’d,
Wishing each barrow load to be the last,
Until the sun sunk far into the west
Behind the summit of vast Snaafleld’s crest,
Throwing its shadow o’er the lowland plain,
The well-known gnomon of the lab’ring swain.
When past this day of useful toil and mirth,
Where many assignations had their birth,
They homeward wind their course along the moor,
Their wives and children wait them at the door,
And many a neighb’ring cottage lass was there,
To meet the swain the courting kiss to share
As careless they to hide their artless love
As the wood pigeons billing in the grove;
For there no etiquette or worldly pride
Had taught the heart to stray from virtue’s side—
Their harmless love the matron would survey,
And the pure dictates of her mind display
In giving counsel to each youthful pair,
Ending the subject in her evening pray’r,
Imploring of the Lord that they might stand
As pohish’d pillars from the maker’s hand
Round Zion’s gates, where he delights to dwell,
And of his mercies to their offspring tell.


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