Manx Culture

The culture of the Isle of Man is influenced by its Celtic heritage, overlain with Norse strands, but with much Anglicisation.  Recent revival campaigns have helped to preserve Manx culture after a long period of Anglicisation, with the current significant interest in the Manx language, history and music as a result.

The name of Isle of Man is related to Manannán mac Lir, a Celtic sea god, who used to impose a token tax, a bundle of coarse marsh-grass like rushes, from the Islanders, until St. Patrick came and banished the heathen. For centuries, the Island’s symbol has been a triskelion: three bent legs, each with a spur, joined at the thigh. The three legs are reflected in the Island’s motto (adopted late in the symbol’s history): Quocunque Jeceris Stabit, translating from Latin as Wheresoever you may throw, it will stand.  The origin of the Three Legs of Man is explained in the legend that Manannan would change himself into three legs and roll along the hills.

In Manx folklore, there are many stories of mythical creatures and characters. These include the Buggane, a malevolent spirit; the often helpful but unpredictable Fenodyree; the Glashtyn who may be a hairy goblin or water-horse; and the Moddey Dhoo, a ghostly black dog.  Mann is also said to be home to the mooinjer veggey /muɲdʒer veɣə/) or the little folk in the Manx language, sometimes referred to as themselves.

An Irish folktale attributes the formation of the Isle of Man to Ireland’s legendary hero  Finn McCool. Finn was in pursuit of a Scottish giant.  Hoping to stop him escaping by swimming over the sea, Finn scooped a huge mass of clay and rock and hurled it; but he overshot, and the chunk of earth landed in the Irish Sea, so creating the Island. The hole he gouged out became Lough Neagh.

The Manx language is closely related to the Irish language and Scottish Gaelic. By the time of the death of the last native speaker Ned Maddrell in 1974, a revival had begun. The first native speakers of Manx (bilingual with English) in many years have now appeared: children brought up by Manx-speaking parents. Primary education in Manx is provided in St John’s at the Bunscoill Ghaelgagh (Manx language-medium school). Manx-language playgroups also exist and Manx language classes are available in Island schools.

In recent years, the Anglo-Manx dialect has almost disappeared in the face of increasing immigration and cultural influence from the United Kingdom. A few words remain in general use, but apart from the Manx accent, little remains of this dialect and it is seldom heard in its original form today.

The earliest datable text in Manx dates to the 16th century at the latest. Christianity has been an overwhelming influence on Manx literature. Religious literature was common, but surviving secular writing much rarer. With the revival of Manx, new literature has appeared.

Prior to the 15th century, little can be determined about the character of music on the Isle of Man. Church music is the most documented Manx music. In the 20th century, Manx church musical traditions slowly declined, though there remains a tradition of hymn writing.  It was not until the 1890s that Manx music began to be published in any great quantity, as drawing-room ballads, religious songs, and choral arrangements all became popular.

Political discontent in the Island in the late 1960s and early 1970s also promoted interest in all things Manx, including renewed interest in music, dance and language, and this helped to give rise to Yn Chruinnaght in 1978.

Culture Vannin has a dedicated Manx Music Development Team comprising a Manx Music Specialist who works with the IOM Department of Education to encourage the development of Manx music in the school curriculum and a Manx Music Development Officer, who works to promote Manx Music and Dance in the wider community. CDs by bands, soloists and Gaelic choirs are being produced all of the time.