07 Nov

The following dialogue is taken from a booklet originally published in 1870, and then reproduced for the Manx Quarterly (#23). The transcription here isn’t great and I’ve tried to correct what I can, but some of it is difficult to make sense of… 

The dialogue centres around Manannán, or Manannan-beg-mac-y-Leirr, as he’s called here (“Little Manannán, son of the Sea”) – a common title for him on the Isle of Man – who is speaking with an old woman, referred to in the original Manx as Yn Chen Ven (literally, “the Old Woman”). The overtones of her really being the Cailleach, or the Manx Berrey Dhône, are clear, and as they chat they talk about how the Isle of Man has changed over the years, lamenting that it is for the worse, for the most part, which has resulted in their being forced to move from one place to another as their homes have become unlivable.

As the introduction notes, Manannán’s “chief attributes [lie] in his knowledge of the weather, and his magical power over the air and sea. In his capacity of navigator, he [has] continual intercourse with the Isle of Man which was ‘looked upon by the Irish as’ one of the enchanted islands to which their heroes might and did resort. He is supposed to have fled thither, when the tribe he belonged to and led in Ireland was put to flight by later conquerors. On his arrival the was elected by the Manx as their King. The view has been hold that Mannanan [is] an eponymous hero, and gave his name to the Island, but later writers on folklore are inclined to reverse the order of the christening, because our hero was originally known as Orbsen. Once settled in Man, Mannanan is represented as living in a fairy palace, and he figures in many stormy encounters with this adversaries, sometimes rolling on three legs like a wheel through the mist, at others being endued with a giant’s strength and performing many prodigies.”

The tradition of Manannán is still strong in the Isle of Man, and this relatively modern tale, which interweaves much of Manannán’s lore throughout it, makes it clear that he always will be. Times may change and such horrors as “crinolines, bonnets without back or top, and rolls of hair twisted together set at the back of the heads of our women just like hay-risks…” may plague us, but Manannán will always be looking out for his people. 

A Conversation between Mannanan beg Mac y Leirr, the three-legged King of the Isle of Man, and an old Manx woman on the top of Snaefell.

THE OLD WOMAN: Good morning to thee, Mannanan beg Mac y Leirr, I wonder at meeting thee here. I have been looking for thee everywhere for many years without any sign of thee.

MANNANAN: O, my dear woman. It rejoices my heart to meet thee, because my sorrows have been so many, and my friends so few, that a little talk to thee once move revives my heart and raises such joy in my soul as I have not felt for many years.

THE OLD WOMAN: What is the nature of thy sorrow, O Mannanan beg Mac y Leirr, and whence has it come?

MANNANAN: Thou surprisest me that thou dost ask the question of me, old woman. Thou knowest very well that I have been a King in the Isle of Man, but in an unlucky hour, and through the craftiness of strangers, I was cast down from the highest pinnacle of fame and power to the most abject poverty in the Island, and what are its consequences now ? Those who cannot be compared with me in any way, either in learning or knowledge or wisdom, look at me with contempt and bear themselves towards me as to a robber. Once those who wore under my sway obeyed me and loved me. They brought me every year a small quantity of coarse meadow hay, or else rank grass from the top of Barrule to the dwelling-house of my chief officer at the foot of the mountain (a). Even the coin of our Island was spurious except the three-legged arms were stamped on it (b); but now, my dear old woman, am driven away from the dwelling-place of the living to wander on the sea-shoe or on the tops of the mountains (c). Eve the vary few pence that remain which are found with my token on them are thrown in a corner as bad money. The only thing they have now to keep up the memory of old times is the spreading a small quantity of rushes on the top of Tynwald (d).

THE OLD WOMAN: Where, then, is thy dwelling now?

MANNANAN: For many years I was dwelling in the great cave of Ballagyr and sometimes I lodged do the ruins of Peel Castle, but I was driven away by those who were saying I was the “modde dhoo” (e). Seeing, therefore, that my life was in danger, I went to the waterfall of Glen Maye. There they treated as the Phynnodderee; therefore I shook the dust of my feet against the people of Gordon and Glen Maye, and passing right through the merry vale of Rushen I took shelter at last in the Chasms at Cregneish. But what is the use? The strangers have come among us so sneakingly and so full of inquisitiveness that they came with great leaden weights tied to long ropes, lowering the rope in clefts of the rocks and swinging it from side to side, sounding and banging (f). that they frightened me, and I ran to Langness at Ronaldsway; but even then I could not remain, because there was a light-house (1).to save the life of poor sailors my heart was almost broken within me seeing so many wrecks of ships broken in small pieces on the rocks and at hearing the awful cries of poor sailors drowning without help to save them. The feeling of my heart could not stand it any longer and I went to the mountains south and north, the two Barrules, Cronk yn Irr Laa, Snaefell, Slieu Whallian, and other mountains of the Island, which were no far from the shore where I was constantly bathing. But my peace was again broke in the mountains. They sold the poor mountains from me and from the public (g). Whilst they left me the rule, the people had as much to say in the matter of the mountains as in that of the air above them and the waters round about them. But now all the way from Douglas Head to Maughold Head, and over all the mountains of Man, they have staked them with great staves like sheep-poles (h), and they have given a big English name to the stakes, which thou and I my old comrade, do not understand very well, because Manks is our mother tongue, and we have not much liking for their English. The name of the stakes on the mountain used to be with us something like Abernethies (i), let me be right or wrong. But what a wonderful thing it is, woman (with everything else they have done) at Port Erin on the coast of our Island, they have buried in the water hundreds and thousands of tons of the rocks of the Howe in the bay (k), and spoilt the little port that formerly was the accustomed place of safety from the Calf to the Point of Ayre.

THE OLD WOMAN: But poor Mannanan where is thy dwelling now?

MANNANAN: I am dwelling now in one of the prettiest glens in our Island, that is to say, Ballure Glen it Ramsey, but I am afraid even there my peace and happiness will not last long, for quite lately I have heard a very unnatural shout and cry saying, “Where art thou Adam?” I imagined first of all that these doleful cries came from a ventriloquist, for his voice came at different times from each district round about. Then one day I asked a fairy I knew, and she told me that the voices I had heard came from a believer who revealed his mind sometimes to the people, and, fearing that someone might think his kindred at some time or other had descended from the Great Buggane of Gob-ny-Scuit (l), he spends the greater part of his time in arguing with the people and feeling very anxious that the first man who was created should again appear and help him to dispel all misgivings that there was a relationship between himself and the Buggane (the Great Buggane of Gob-ny-Scuit) he is continually calling in his mournful strain: “Where art thou’ Adam?” Whether this account given me by the Fairy, of the mournful cries which I heard was true or not, I know very well that I cannot stand it much longer.

THE OLD WOMAN: These wretched mischances that have befallen thee, O po Mannanan-my-Chree, have been because of the slackness of thy rule in thy Kingdom; If thou had’st in thy rule tightened thy halter a little more, and “put a tie on the sportive cow” (m), this certainly would not have overtaken us so soon, for trouble and anguish have come on me as well as on thyself.

MANNANAN: With all submission to thy judgment, my good companion, I am ready to assert that there has been no rule in Man to be compared with my own Government. In the days of my rule, the people lived in peace and happiness. They were not under the taxes as they are now. They had no highway labour, except a very little for the main roads. Drunkards were not amongst them, and, therefore, theme was no need in our Island for a fine big palace for insane people.(2) The cupboard was empty of bottles, for the use either of the for insane people.

The cupboard was empty of bottles
For the use either of the wastrels or the doctors;
The ardent liquor of the publican was forsaken;
My people were without distress or any adversity.

But now crime and poverty have filled our streets; but what trouble has come to thee my old woman?

THE OLD WOMAN: My sorrow is greater than tongue can tell. Like thyself I have been. banished and driven out of the country. For many years I got lodging in the Niarbyl and the great glen of Dalby. My enemies drove me out of that to Ronnag, Where I found the manner of living of its inhabitants spoiled by evildoers. I then went to Fistard (n), which was not much better, and from there to the Chickens; again they. found me these, and drove me away, and now for the last time I have come to the mountains of our sweet old Island, to take a last ;sight of her with her seacoasts, before going out of the country for ever, to Cleveland in America (o)where they love me and take compassion on me, far they speak my own language,. and keep it up every day.

MANNANAN: My poor old woman, for myself my life is almost run, but if talon wilt go, many will grieve on thy account.

THE OLD WOMAN: I believe there are some in the Island yet who will feel for me, such as the parson of Kirk Arbory, the parsons of Kirk Braddan, Kirk Onchan, Kirk Lonan, end Kirk Bride, (p) with many people south and north who have been striving to restore me to the state I was once in. But what is the use! I will go, notwithstanding, and will take with me the names of Bishops Wilson and Mark Hildesley (q), and all the old parsons who translated the word of God into Manx, my own old language, and all those who have been striving since to keep it up, and they will be the Manx. friends of my heart.

MANNANAN: The old times past were splendid times:

THE OLD WOMAN: They were indeed splendid, times, but although our statutes and laws were a cause of terror to evil works (Rom. xlii, 3), yet there was no virtue in them unless spoken in my name. I argued the cause of the fatherless children and widows with the most powerful fluency,, and in the judgment seat where I constantly sat to decide the causes of the people, I cleaved always to the side of love and spirit of charity, neither did I suffer any witness to be perverted by crafty advocacy and crooked tricks. The guilt of the criminal I announced in very solemn words. The Church I constantly attended, and went with pious people to prayer and praise to the Lord, and my sermons sank deep in the hearts of the people. I went also with the young men to seek their wives, and when they had chosen them, I went with them to the wedding. By my advice they dwelt together in peace and comfort, but, alas! those happy days are gone for ever.

MANNANAN-BEG-MAC-Y-LEIRR: From thy talk my old Manx woman, I behold our sorrow and trouble have been much alike, how wonderful the changes which are made in our Island, both in customs, our laws, and manner of living. Our mountains have been sold, we are all under taxation, thousands (of pounds) coming into our Island are buried in the sea, fashions which have come amongst us have destroyed good manners, such things as crinolines, bonnets without back or top, and rolls of hair twisted together set at the back of the heads of our women just like hay-risks (r). But the conversation has quickly come to an end, and on my three-legs I must go my way, and take up my abode in the beautiful Glen of Ballure. Therefore, good-night to thee, and my blessing on thee for ever, O my old woman.

From Manx Quarterly #23.



(a) Old traditionary Manx custom on Mid summer Eve of paying rent to Mannanan. See ballad in Train, Vol. 1, p. 50.
(b) All Manx coinage. except tokens bore the 3 legs from 1709 until 1839.
(c) Old raying “The thief has the mountain and shore to live on.”
(d) Still part of the ceremony on Tynwald day
(e) Old Peel Castle legend.
(f) Obscure, but possibly a reference to the operations of the Ordnance Survey.
(g) In 1860 some Common Lands were sold to defray the cost of forming mountain roads.
(h) Meaning of original uncertain, but see Manx Society, v. xvi, p. 127.
(i) Probably derived from name of Engineer (Abernethy) who constructed Douglas Breakwater in 1862.
(k) Port Erin Breakwater. Begun in. 1864.
(1) A, place in Maughold (referred to by Kennish in “Mona’s Isle,” p. 14) where there is a cavern formerly supposed to be the haunt of a buggane from the wailing noises which came from it; found after to be due to the wind blowing through a hole in the rock.
(m) An old Manx saying.
(n) At Fistard a buggane was reported in the form of a black cat which grew like a big black bull in a. few minutes. “Manx Notes and Queries,” p. 11.
(o) There is still a large Manx colony in Cleveland and Manx may yet be heard spoken there.
(p) (l )J Qualtrough. (2) W. Drury (3) J. Howard (4) T. Caine, (5) D Nelson.
(q) The Bible and Prayer Book were translated mainly through the influence of these two bishops. ,
(r) Chignons of 60 years ago.

addtional notes fpc

(1) Lighthouse at Langness – not built until 1880 so reference a little obscure
(2) Ballamona Hospital

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Posted by on November 7, 2015 in Man, Uncategorized


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