“Manx in sentiment”

This phrase comes from the obituary notice of Miss M.L. Wood (the so-called “Mother of Manx Music”):

“Though not Manx by birth Miss Wood was essentially Manx in sentiment, and all her compositions are influenced by that sentiment.”

Anon. “Death of M.L. Wood.” Peel City Guardian 10 January 1925: [6] col. d.

As we know, the notion of just what or who for that matter is “Manx” is a constant Island theme and was seen in the conflicted view of whether TEB was Manx or not despite having in his case been actually born in the Island.

It would be interesting to gather together other views and opinions on this topic.


18 thoughts on ““Manx in sentiment”

  1. Who, or what, is Manx? A seemingly simple question… It is however a minefield! I have known several people who were born in the UK, who later in life moved to the Island to work or retire, and then give huge amounts of their time to “Manx” causes like Yn Chruinnaght. Some of these people were hugely influential e.g. the late Colin Jerry, who taught primary school children in Peel, and who published a collection of Manx Music used for many years to teach Manx music; but was he “Manx”? Yes, he became a resident of the Island, and was he probably one of those people who might have been described as “more Manx than the Manx”, but was than enough to “become” Manx?

    The problem lies in the word “Manx”. What is Manx? Can you become Manx? Who is allowed to define the word? You almost need a point-scoring system of some sort. Many people I know who were born on the Island couldn’t find their way from Douglas to Ramsey without a Sat Nav, nor do they know what I mean when I use a word like ‘tramman’… If they also buy an English newspaper each day, and listen to BBC radio in preference to a Manx station, and shop in M&S, are they less Manx?

    Do you stop being Manx if you leave the Island? Is that the problem with TE Brown? Is Mark Cavendish (the cyclist) still Manx?

    • Until the recent change in the composition of the population of the Island, the criteria for “Manxness” was one of simple geneaology: you were born there and that was that. As you can see under by the comment of Mona Douglas another category is introduced when one is not born there: “descent and upbringing.” (However, in her case this was to change as she claimed that she was born on the Ellan Vannin sailing towards Liverpool and that was why her birth was registered there and not in the Isle of Man.) John Gell is much more proasic: “I am a Manxman right enough but I cannot say that I am a native-born Manxman because I was born and reared across the water.”

      Once you change or move away from a “roots-based” notion of Manxness then the ground shifts and becomes very slippery indeed. Identities are not and never have been fixed but are socially and historically constructed, acscribed, maintained, and circulated.

      The question still remains as to what a Manx identity is or was or will be (if at all) and how this definition comes about and how do those who consider themselves Manx come to those conclusions. Another and wider question is whether this Manxness is an inclusive or an exclusive category of belonging to the Island.

      Do people cross over and become Manx as is often suggested when names and figures such as Colin Jerry and others are mentioned. I know many who have moved to the Island have been more than willing to point out to me that incomers to the Islanders are often more enthusiastic about “Matters-Manx” than those who would call themselves or regard themselves as Manx.

      So does someone who simply was born there and has a traditional name be “more Manx” in that case than someone such as CJ to use a name already suggested? But there is a (potential) irony here in that CJ would be praised for his cultural activities in music and language (as with other incomers) when the native Manx had consigned those activities themselves to the margins and may not even regard them as markers of Manxness. In fact, the very promotion of the Manx music and language by incomers may have led to its levelling as either a distincitve (or potential) signifer of Manxness.

      At the end of the day, however, do these individuals in fact wish to be regarded as Manx? And if so, what does it mean to them? Being Manx in a way that most of the native Manx are not (repeating my point above)? Is it a singular identity or a double one? Do they remain “English” but are “Manx” as well?

      I was reading one of the Manx rags recently and there was a piece on attitudes to Tynwald Day and there was this incomer who commented she went along because she wanted to learn about “local culture.” That is what goes on in Ramsey, say, as opposed to the rest of the Island. This raises another theme, what do incomers themselves think is Manx, if they see anything substantial at all beyond the “kippers and cats” construction of Manxness.

      Funnily enough, after I had posted the Gwyn Williams piece I was on Facebook (sad I know) someone had responded to a post of mine on the Manx Friends of the Earth page. I had commented on the planned wind farm being named the “Celtic Array” and wondered which branding community had dreamed that up to make it seem, well, “Celtic,” and so more acceptable to the Island. Someone responded simply, “I am Viking and proud of it.” This person has a “Manx name” though one that derives from a Manx, Scottish, or England origin…. This relates to another thread on the blog here, the Celtic/Scandinavian or Celtic or (as here) the Scandinavian construction of Manxness.

  2. I came across this view (about Wales it must be said) this afternoon (it is from the final two pages of the book):

    “Walking Naked,” pp.304–05
    [304] “Wales has always been now. then Welsh as a people have lived by
    making and remaking themselves in generation after generation, usually
    against the odds, usually within a British context. Wales is an
    artefact which the Welsh produce. If they want to. It requires an act
    of choice. Today, it looks as though this choice will be more
    difficult than before. There are roads out towards survival as a
    people, but they aer long and hard and demand sacrifice and are at
    present unthinkable to most of the Welsh.”

    [305] “One thing I am sure of. Some kind of human society, though God
    knows what kind, will no doubt go on occupying these two western
    peninsulas of Britain, but that people, who are my people and no mean
    people, who have for a millenium and a half lived in them as a Welsh
    people, are now nothing but a naked people under an acid rain.”

    And from the previous page:
    [303] “Small wonder that some, looking ahead, see nothing but a
    nightmare vision of a depersonalised Wales which has shrivelled up
    into a Costa Bureaucratica in the south and a Costa Geriatrica in the
    north; in between, sheep, holiday homes burning merrily away and fifty
    folk museums where there used to be communities.

    This is without doubt a nightmare. Some human society will obviously
    survive, though what kind it will be, no one can tell. What seems to
    be clear is that a majority of the inhabitants of Wales are choosing a
    British identity which seems to require the elimination of a Welsh
    one. There is irony here since the reconstruction of the British
    economy and society is no less clearly getting rid of Brtiain as we
    have known it. Brtiain as we have known it appears to have started its
    own long march out of history. The history of the Welsh then may then
    close with the intriguing thought that the Welsh, First of the
    British, look like being the Last.”

    Williams, Gwyn. When Was Wales? London: Penguin Books, 1985.

    I do like the terms “Costa Bureaucratica” and “Costa Geriatrica.” For the Island one needs to add the “Costa Financia.”

  3. [1[b]] “It is I, John Gell who is speaking to you, and I am a Manxman right enough but I cannot say that I am a native-born Manxman because I was born and reared across the water.
    There are people who would say that if a man is born in England, he is an Englishman; fair enough, but what of the Chinese born on the Island lately, are they Manx? I won’t believe it, it’s not right, and therefore I can say that I am Manx because my mother and father were both born and bred here on the Island, and more than that, my grandfather and ancestors for hundreds of years held and worked the land at Ballakilpheric in the parish of Rushen in the south and it was all Manx Gaelic that was spoken in the days of my grandparents. For my own part, I can speak, read and write the Manx as it was taught to me by those who spoke the mother-tongue from the cradle, alas! they are all gone now.”

    Gell, John [as “Juan y Geill”]. Cooinaghtyn my Aegid / Reminiscences of my Youth. n.p.: Yn Cheshaght Ghailckagh, 1977.

  4. [11] “I was born,” she says, “on September 18th, 1899, at Liverpool, but both by descent and upbringing I am Manx, and when only a few months old was taken to the island to live. Then, being rather delicate, I was allowed to run wild on the hills. I have never been to school, but have practised a mixture of occupations, from voluntary ‘odd jobbing’ about a Manx farm to driving a bread-cart. At present I am helping in our own bakehouse in Birkenhead, in order to free a man for the front, doing housework as well, going to the School of Art and having other lessons at home, and writing in between times. I play no games (there are no hockey-grounds or tennis courts at my old home at Ballaragh), but am very fond of walking, driving and, particularly, sailing— indeed I am never happier than when on the water, and spend most of my leisure there. I write about the Island just because it is the Island, and because I am Manx and proud of it.”

    Ford, Gertrude. “A General & Particular Introduction.” Mona Douglas, Manx-Song and Maiden-Song. London: Erskine Macdonald, 1915. 9–11.

  5. Some references to note:
    Prentice, Richard. “The ‘Manxness of Mann’: Renewed Immigration to the Isle of Man and the Nationalist Response.” Scottish Geographical Magazine 106.2 (1990): 75–88.
    ——. “The Manx National Glens as Treasured Landscape.” Scottish Geographical Magazine 108.2 (1992): 119–27.

    And this dissertation which is essential reading:
    Nixon, David Glyn. “Dissent in a Celtic Community: Class and Ethnicity in the Isle of Man.” MA dissertation. University of Massachusetts, 1983. [There is a copy in the MNHL.]

  6. “You will see by above address that we are still under the Union Jack […].”

    Letter from [ ? ] to Sophia Morrison, 12 September 1908, MNHL, MS 09495, Sophia Morrison Papers, Box 5.

  7. Re submission to the MLS competition for new plays by Dr Fergusson, “The Witch’s Curse” and “Quilliams [sic] Pride.”

    “Both plays strike me as very artificial—they contain no real Manx sentiment. It is certainly not the Class of work that we wish to encourage.”

    Letter from Sophia Morrison to Mrs Dawkins, 25 October 1913, MNHL, MS 09495, Sophia Morrison Papers, Box 4.

  8. Eldest son serving in England, “was asked by a chaplain friend to get some of his men and help out of some difficulties a lady who, with her own servants, is running a canteen under YMCA auspices at one of the camps on Salisbury Plain. She is Mrs Mylrea, widow of a Colonel Mylrea, and at once claimed racial Kinship with the New Zealander with the Manx name.”

    Letter from [T.E. Corkhill] to Sophia Morrison, 20 August 1916, MNHL, MS 09495, Sophia Morrison Papers, Box 5.

  9. “I have to thank you for your letter received yesterday, which I find more illuminating than convincing. […] I am afraid that your attitude supports the oft made statement that Manx Fariy Tales carry more weight in the minds of the people than does Manx History. I can only apologise for attempting to put you in possession of the truth, & leave the matter where it is.”

    Letter from J.H. Laughton to Sophia Morrison, 22 November 1916, MNHL, MS 09495, Sophia Morrison Papers, Box 4.

  10. “[…] it is just that fishy-seaweedy-tarry-herring-y smell I want.”

    Letter from [ ? ] to Sophia Morrison, 12 September 1908, MNHL, MS 09495, Sophia Morrison Papers, Box 5.

    This comes from a letter to Sophia Morrison in 1908; unfortunately, the letter is incomplete and so we do not have the writer’s name. From the letter itself, she was a suffragette, and evidently a Manx militant in other spheres: writing from an address in London, she opened her letter, “You will see by above address that we are still under the Union Jack […].”

  11. “I only wish I could just purra sight on you and have a propah ould cooish.”

    Letter from [ ? ] to Sophia Morrison, 12 September 1908, MNHL, MS 09495, Sophia Morrison Papers, Box 5.

    This is a feature I have noticed in letters connected with Sophia Morrison and her circle, the occasional dropping into their letters of Anglo-Manx words and phrases. “Cooish” seems to be the most favoured word.

  12. “As Islanders we regard [interlined rejoice]] with feelings of pride that this time honoured office has been conferred upon a Manxman for (discarding the fact of your not having been born here) we consider you by your parentage, family connections, education, and other associations, to be essentially Manx[.]”

    “To his Honor | John FrederickGill Esquire | Her Majesty’s Second Deemster | Of the Isle of Man. | &c &c &c.” Address to the Second or Northern Deemster by members of the Manx Bar in the Northern District, 4 February 1884.

    MNHL, MS 09702, Deemster J.F. Gill Papers, Box 3.

  13. “It will be observed that I have been liberal in my use of the term “Manxman,” including under it, […] also such men as Deemster J.F. Gill, who, though of Manx parentage, was not born in the Island.”

    Moore, A.W. “Introduction.” Manx Worthies. Douglas: S.K. Broadbent, 1901. 7–10, see fn. * on 8.

  14. Flyer for 16 January 1913 productions
    “What the ‘Isle of Man Times’ thinks of the PEEL PLAYERS:”

    “The Isle of Man is within the maws of an all-assimilating empire. We are going out in the world, and the world is coming to us: and it is becoming increasingly difficult for us to remember that not only are we miners in Michigan or shopkeepers in Douglas, but Manx children of Manx fathers and mothers.”

    Flyer for Peel Players production at the Gaiety Theatre, 16 January 1913, found amongst MNHL, MS 12932, Receipts and accounts etc. for the Peel Players productions at the Gaiety Theatre, 1913–14.

    Notice here the mention of Michigan and not the familiar mention or reference to Ohio.

  15. “Manx Primitiveness”
    “Among the wild recess of this and other mountainous districts are to be found a few cottages, tenanted by peasantry retainging all the peculiar characteristics of the native Manks. Primitive simplicity invariably spreads its wings on the approach of civilization, and finds a shelter among the rocks and mountains. He, therefore, who would study the character of an ancient people must make his closet in the loneliness of their highland scenery; for not only will he there find that character preserved in its pristine features, but the boldness and bleakness of the region will purge his mind from the impression of an artificial state, and enable him to pursue his investigations in the moral world with vigour and success. The heights of the Manks mountains are not only naturally pictureesque, but teem with moral beauties; and the relics of song and superstition, carefully preserved in the traditions of those who know not the use of the pen, will amply reward the labour of him who explores the rich mine, as yet only partially opened.”

    Laughton, James Brotherston. Johnson’s Historical, Topographical, & Parochial Illustrated Guide, and Visitor’s Companion through the Isle of Man. Douglas: Samuel Johnson, 1847, see p. 137.

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