27 January 2020
There are tales connected to every corner of the Isle of Man, and these stories, passed down through generations, provide a moving connection with the past, granting great insight into the ways that our ancestors made sense of the world around them.
Folk Tales of the Isle of Man
By Noemi Viana
Nestled in between the east coast of Ireland, the Scottish Isles and the north-west coast of England lies Ellan Vannin, the land known to most of us as the Isle of Man. The origins of this enigmatic island are shrouded in legend. According to one tradition, thousands of years ago, when these lands were inhabited by giants, there was a fight between the Irish giant Finn Mac Cool and a redhaired Scottish giant. Finn chased the Scot until the latter was approaching the sea - afraid that the Scot would escape, Finn knelt down, grabbed a handful of soil and threw it in the other giant’s direction. He missed, and the earth fell into the Irish Sea. This is what came to be known as the Isle of Man, and they say that Lough Neagh, a large freshwater lake in Northern Ireland, is the hole that Finn left when he pulled out the soil.
Satellite map of the British Isles and Irish Sea, Showing Lough Neagh and the Isle of Man
It is also said amongst the Manx that the island was originally ruled over by Manannan mac y Leir, a great wizard who treated the islanders with benevolence. Manannan is said to frequently shroud the island in thick, unsurpassable mist to prevent people entering its waters, a phenomenon known among locals as 'Mannanan’s cloak'. This mist occurs on a regular basis, and often planes cannot land and ferries cannot pull into the harbours.
The Isle of Man is teeming with folkloric tales. There are fairy-like creatures, known as the Little People, and mermaids, both of which are easy to imagine hidden under waterfalls and amongst the trees in one of the island’s many glens: beautiful, enchanted spots. There are other creatures, such as the Fynoderee, who helps farmers at night, and the Bugganes, evil shape-shifters who dwell in lonely places, ready to pounce on lost travellers.
Aside from folklore, another telling remnant of this tradition is the Manx Gaelic language, which had faded for many years under British rule, and has only recently seen a revival with the introduction of Manx lessons in schools on the island.
Manannan's Cloak Shrouds Peel Castle
One of the most celebrated defenders of the Manx folklore and language was Sophia Morrison. Born in in 1859, Sophia was the daughter of a prosperous merchant from Peel, a lovely little port town on the west coast, home to the romantic ruins of what was once a formidable castle. Sophia was the leading figure in the movement for the revival of Manx folklore and customs, which she felt were in danger of extinction. By travelling to the homes of many local people, she documented tales which had been handed down by word of mouth for millennia, and published these in 1911 under the title Manx Fairy Tales. Her fluency in Manx came from her contact with locals, and together with friends she set up the Manx Language Society. You can find out more about Sophia Morrison’s work and legacy at the Leece Museum in Peel, a visit to which is included on our Isle of Man tour this spring.
(Image by James Franklin Gresham - CC BY-SA 3.0)
There are tales connected to every corner of the Isle of Man, and these stories, passed down through generations, provide a moving connection with the past, granting great insight into the ways that our ancestors made sense of the world around them. These legends breathe life into the landscape, and are worth preserving.
Conservationist Kevin Hand, MSc, MCIEEM, will lead the Isle of Man: A Wild & Ancient Heritage tour for ACE in 2020, running March 27 - April 3. Places are still available.
More information on all of Kevin Hand's tours with ACE in 2020 is available here.
Cover Image: Peel Castle