" 'Tis Mona the lone where the silver mist gathers,
Pale shroud whence our wizard chief watches unseen,
O'er the breezy, the bright, the lov'd home of my fathers,
Och Mannin my grain, my chree, Mannin veg veen."


CASTLETOWN, or Balla-Chastal, the capital of the Isle of Man, obtains its name from its clustering round an ancient fortress, standing at the mouth of the Silverburn, on the western side of a deep bay, in the south of the island. St. Russin, from whom the fortress, the neighbouring abbey, and the surrounding sheading, or district, derive their name, was one of the twelve missionary fathers who, along with St. Columba, settled in Iona, A.D. 563. The commanding position of the castle gives to the town a very interesting appearance and antique character, from whatever direction it is approached, but particularly so to the voyager who arrives at it by steamer from Liverpool on a calm summer's eve, when the sunlight streams down upon it through the gorges of the mountains which form the background, at a distance from it westward of from four to six miles, and which rise to a height of from one thousand to nearly sixteen hundred feet above the level of the sea.

It possesses two harbours, one in Castletown Bay, the other in Derby-Haven, distant only a mile. Derby-Haven, the best natural harbour in the Isle of Man, is almost land-locked, open only to the north-east winds, to which Castletown Bay is completely closed; thus a landing at, or near to, Castletown, in still water, can be always effected. Presuming that the visitor lands at Castletown itself, on approaching the bay, this is the view.

The peninsula of Langness (Norse, Lang neese) forms the eastern side of the bay. At the northern extremity of this peninsula, and forming the eastern shore of Derby-Haven, is the Islet of St. Michael, with a small ruined church on it, and a small fort. Near the southern extremity of Langness is a round tower, highly picturesque, and useful as a landmark. On passing Dreswick Point, (another Norse name,) and rounding the Skerranes, the bay of Castletown bursts full upon our view. At its northeastern extremity we just catch sight of the hamlet of Derby-Haven, contiguous to which is the ancient battle-field of Ronaldsway (Norse, Rognvaldsvagr).

Conspicuous at the head of the bay is King William's College, in front of which we descry a mass of ruins on Hango Hill, (another Scandinavian term,) a place very notable in insular history. Far off to the north we mark the mountains stretching out and terminating with North Barrule, the next point to the south-westward of which is Snaefell, (Snee-fjeld, " snow mountain,'') the monarch of Mona, upwards of two thousand feet high; standing out in front of this is Bein-y-Phot, and much nearer is Mount Murray. The Greebah range is seen directly beyond King William's College, and then, after a considerable depression, we have the summits of South Barrule, Cronch na Irey Lhaa, the Carnanes, and Brada Head. Another deep gap and the Mull Hills terminate the southern mountain range. The Calf Island here appears to join on to the mainland, and upon it may just be discerned the upper of the two light-houses, to the south of which, at the furthest extremity of the scene, we have the Eye, (Norse, Oe,) a rock singularly drilled through by the action of the sea, a phenomenon which, when the sun is sinking in the west, is very conspicuous at a distance of nearly five miles. Spanish Head rears its dark precipitous front between the Calf and Port St. Mary, a thriving fishing village, on the western margin of Poolvash Bay (the Bay of Death). The eye then catches the black basaltic pile called the Stack of Scarlet, forming the western horn of Castletown Bay, and casting its deep shadow in front upon the waters, whence, tracing the shore northward for a mile, we come upon Castletown itself, with the steeple of St. Mary's Church in front, backed by the sombre walls of the Castle on the hill, to the north of which we have Lorn House, the residence of the Lieutenant-Governor of the Isle of Man.

Everything around us intimates the close connection anciently subsisting between this particular locality and those daring sea-rovers who, swarming down from the north, seized on so many islands in the British seas, and established themselves in them for so many centuries. With Castle Rushen, their handiwork, frowning down upon us, we can hardly help noticing the impress which they have left of themselves in the names of places, mountains, rivers, bays, and creeks,-names abiding to the present day.

Names of places ending in ick, or wick, from the Norse vig, " a cove," abound. On the eastern coast we have Perwick, Sandwick, Dreswick, Greenwick, Saltrick, Soderick, Garwick; and on the west, Aldrick, Portwick, and Fleshwick, small coves. So also ending in ey, or ay, from the Norse vagr, "a bay," we have Ronaldsway, (anciently Rognvaldsvagr,) Laxey, (anciently Laxaa, Laxa, or Laxsy, i.e., Salmon Bay,) Coma, or Kennay, and Ramsey (Ramsoe).


The outer harbour of Castletown, into which we now enter, is formed between two piers, at the extremity of one of which is a light-house; the inner harbour lies just under the walls of the castle, a draw-bridge spanning its entrance, near which are the steam packet company's premises. A gas company and a water company have also recently added to the advantages of Castletown. The centre of Castletown is occupied by a spacious parade and market-place, in the midst of which is a Doric column of freestone, erected in 1836, to the memory of Lieutenant Governor Smelt; at its eastern extremity is the modern church of St. Mary; on the northern side is Castle Rushen, and the Custom House (seen on the left hand in the frontispiece); on the southern are the George Hotel, the Barracks, and the Union Hotel, and its extremity branches off into Arbory Street and Malew Street, at the junction of which stands the Post Office. The Town Hall is situated in Arbory Street. In proceeding from the Parade to the castle gates, (first noticing the remarkable sun-dial, date 1720, in front of the castle, and standing on a portion of the ancient glacis,) we pass, in the open space on the right hand, a square building, which is the place of meeting of the Lower House of the Insular Legislature, (the House of Keys,) whose original institution dates back to the reign of Gorree, or Orry, in the tenth century. The Lower House consists of twenty-four members, hence the name Keys, a corruption, I believe, of the Manx word Keare-as-feed, signifying four and.twenty.

Till the year 1706 the Keys met in the castle; they then purchased, from the trustees of the Academic Fund, the ground-floor of a house which stood on the site of the present House of Keys, the upper portion being occupied by the Academical Library. In 1818 they purchased the remainder of the house, and the Library was removed to the Grammar School, and subsequently to King William's College, where it was destroyed by fire, January 14, 1844.

The Grammar School (which was anciently the church of St. Mary, and which, though considerably altered, bears still about it several characteristics of its age, the close of the twelfth century) stands in a narrow street at the back of the House of Keys. It has an endowment of rather more than £60 per annum, derived chiefly from the tithes of Kirk Christ's, Rushen.

The first erection of a church on the site of the present St. Mary's was by Bishop Thomas Wilson, in 1698,

In the year 1826 the church was enlarged from the foundations to its present size, and it will accommodate 1300 persons.

In clearing the ground for the erection of the church, there are said to have been found coins of Germanicus and Agrippina. The Roman altar now in the grounds of Lorn House, and which was also said to have been found here, was in reality brought to the island more than one hundred years ago from the Roman station of Ellenborough, near Maryport, in Cumberland. In the same street with the Grammar School is Mrs. Catharine Halsall's Endowed Free School for girls, and on the Douglas Road is the Taubman Endowed School for boys.

The National School for boys and girls is near the Stone Bridge; close by which are the marble works of Messrs. Quilliam and Creer, for the conversion of the Poolvash black marble, and Port St. Mary limestone, into tombstones, chimney-pieces, and works of art. A little further, at the extremity of Hope Street, are the Gas Works, an extremely neat erection.

 [Castletown Index]


Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received The Editor
© F.Coakley , 2000