I have read many times, in brochures, books and websites that the Isle of Man is a microcosm of Britain. Mostly, this is said in reference to the natural environment but it applies to history, architecture and many other features of life on the island.
Most people, when I told them I was travelling to the Isle of Man, said it was the wrong time to visit as I would miss the TT. Being a walker, it seemed smart to avoid the noise and madness of an event where men propel themselves on metal, rubber and plastic at speeds of 200mph around the island. What I did notice was that even without this event there were many heavily-suited bikers everywhere who looked liked they were sponsored by everyone. The other think I observed was that every second person on Mann seems to own an expensive vintage sports car. I have not investigated the nature of taxation on the island but one would guess it is quite a haven. 😉
I stayed in Onchan, which gave me a superb view over Douglas and the bay. It was a good base from which to walk, research write and rest. It was a solid but interesting 40-minute walk into Douglas proper, along the promenade, past the electric trains (I would call them trams) into town.
Snaefell is the highest point on the island. I didn’t walk it but took the scenic railway. From this summit one can see, when the weather is good, seven kingdoms; the Isle of Man, England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, heaven and the sea. I could only see two and a third if I used my imagination.
Bayr ny Skeddan
I did a very long walk from Castletown to Peel along Bayr ny Skeddan or, if your Manx is rusty, the Herring Road, a path fisherman took between the two ports. I climbed South Barrule, an Iron Age hillfort along the way that also happens to be the home of Manannan Mac Lir, the Manx God of the Sea. It was an excellent day but maybe a little too long walk and one which led to a mighty appreciation of my light-weight kit that eases the burden but still allows me to have a camera and tripod. If you ever decide to do the walk, catch the steam train to Castletown and wear your most comfortable shoes.
One of the highlights of the walk is the stretch along the Silverburn River between Rushen Abbey, established in 1134 under King Olaf I and Silverdale Glen. I just loved the wishing well and bridge. It is such a contemplative walk and generations of monks must have enjoyed the stroll along the river immensely.
Another highlight was taking in South Barrule, an Iron Age hill fort that permits those defending the isle a brilliant vista. No longships could approach without a warning beacon being lit. One of the great joys of travel is enjoying the alternative names places have and Baarool Jiass is as Tolkienesque as Manx to my ears. Tolkien was, as you know, well-versed in the Icelandic sagas and our earliest literature. So often, when one walks and learns more about history in Northern Europe one finds Tolkien’s sources in all kinds of strange places and conversely, the great author influencing others (see Silverdale pic below). Hill forts play their part in Lord of the Rings, as do beacons. I hope you don’t mind me inserting the completely gratuitous clip below. 😉
Language and Tolkien
The last native speaker of Manx died in 1974. I only heard Manx spoken once during my visit, by a guy on the ferry. The video that follows gives you a sense of the language. After listening to that, play Tolkien speaking the languages he created for Middle Earth. Tolkien loved the Finnish language and of course was expert in Old English and Germanic languages but one of his Elvish tongues, Sindarin, displays features of Manx and other ‘Celtic languages’.
This a wonderful museum. The staff are friendly and thoughtful and the exhibits, while often quaint, are a really interesting representation of many aspects of the island’s history, natural features and culture. Images of the Rolling Stones playing Mann, early tourism and all kinds of social history kept me interested, as did the accounts of Viking invasions and the geology of the island. I had never heard of Great Deer and the skeleton exhibited is much larger than the photo below suggests. It must have been a genuinely impressive beast. I love the names given to Viking swords (as did Tolkien).
My main reason for being at the museum was to use the library for genealogical research. I have been studying the triskelion and also learning more about the connections of Barfod clan to Mann which I will write about properly when I finish reading GVC Young‘s manuscripts that were uncovered in the library or sent to me by his widow. Briefly though, I am trying to understand what evidence links the Barfods of Denmark with the Isle of Man. Young, who claims to be a descendant of Olaf the Black was occasionally commissioned as genealogical researcher and wrote papers about the pre-literate connections between royal families. Young is well-versed in the sources but I am still trying to get my head around the genealogies in the Chronicle of Mann.
I recognise that much of this is very speculative as we are dealing with pre-literate sources and oral tradition which was often about establishing authority via lineage. However, since discovering that a biological ancestor had the ‘bare foot’ sigil I have been fascinated to learn more about these possible connections to the ‘Three Feet of Mann’. Young’s manuscripts, especially,The three legs go to Scandinavia a monograph on the Manx royal family and their Scandinavian descendants, Peel: Mansk-Svenska Pub. Co.17 North View, 1981 and Three Manx feet, Three Manx Legs and Three Manx Ladies (which I finally managed to copy at the library) are key.
A few other areas of interest arose while at the library including the librarian handing me the most traditional of sources, the phonebook. I will write to the only “Barfoot” listed when I get home. Also, while I was researching, the librarian alerted me to a Manx DNA Project and a local family history group that are of great interest. I am pursuing these at the moment.
Back to the flag. I uncovered that school children were taught (at least in the 1920s) that the correct way to draw the “Three Legs of Man” emblem was that it ‘knelt to England, turned its back on Ireland and spurned or kicked at Scotland’. You will note that the photos below taken from a variety of sources – including baristas and doors – have the emblem running clockwise or anti-clockwise. This is the case all over Mann. I am reliably informed that the proper way to draw it is that “the three legs should run clockwise and be standing”. No such standardisation seems to have taken place since Victor Kneale called for it in 1995. 😉
When you have a project it is amazing how much you learn and how it all starts to connect in all kinds of ways, especially with culture and history. I write this post while in York, England and having just visited Durham; it has been stimulating to visit these cities and join quite a few intellectual dots. There has, on one level, been limited progress with my genealogical research but imaginatively, being able to envisage the past, has been stimulated beyond all belief.
I cannot wait to tell you about Durham and York in my next post!
Here’s my Isle of Man album at Flickr.
Featured image: flickr photo by Darcy Moore http://flickr.com/photos/darcymoore/21594089615 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license