Thursday, March 5, 2015

An Introduction to Manx Music and its Celtic Style at the House of Manannan

Dr Chloe Woolley
Dr Chloë Woolley, Culture Vannin's Manx Music Development Officer, assisted by members of Bree, (the Manx traditional music and dance youth movement), recently held an afternoon lecture at the House of Manannan in Peel which focused on an introduction to Manx music and its Celtic style.

Chloë set the scene by explaining how the term Celtic had influenced modern-day thinking in relation to music, before expanding upon how Manx traditional music fits into a wider Celtic genre. This allowed exploration of the oral tradition, early manuscript collections of the 1890s, the revival of interest in the subject during the twentieth century and some of the personalities who shaped the Manx music scene.  She also assessed the musical repertoire of contemporary musicians in the traditional genre and the important socio-cultural links sustained by the Celtic music community.

Her talk traced a number of inspirational collectors, but also opened up the background to their collecting, revealing how the use of language, movement of people from a rural to an urban setting, poverty and emigration influenced the direction of the Island's music. However, its musical heritage was also shaped by the rise in popularity of music hall songs, printed sheet music and the wide-scale influence of Methodism by the eighteenth century Anglican evangelist John Wesley.

But the assertion of British patriotism during the late nineteenth century stimulated an awareness of ethnic and national status in all of the Celtic countries. Inspired, in part, by fellow Celtic nationalism and the national consciousness emerging throughout Europe, antiquarians, scholars and collectors on the Isle of Man renewed their interest in local culture and took steps towards the reconstruction of a Manx identity; albeit finely balanced between Britishness and Celticism, so as not to compromise the Island's status of 'home rule'.

The popularity of English culture became overwhelming, ultimately diluting the Manx repertoire, which stimulated collectors to track down and record what could be salvaged of local music from the indigenous population

These far-sighted individuals collected songs, tunes and ballads from a cross-section of the community, in an attempt to reconstruct and embrace a Manx history which concentrated strongly on the Island's Celtic links. Chloë and the Bree students ably demonstrated some of the collected songs and melodies.

Chloë also explained how the vibrant Manx music revival of the 1970s coincided with a period of social unrest, growth in nationalist politics, the Manx Gaelic language revival and a growing fashion for regional folk music; with its native tongue viewed as a key component of Manx identity.

Her talk concluded with an expansive view of how the Manx music scene has grown since the 1970s and firmly established itself both within the Island itself and beyond these shores - becoming an integral part of the wider Celtic community.

Valerie Caine
 © March 2015

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Book Review: P50 - Peel Engineering's Extraordinary Legacy

With renewed interest in the Manx micro-car known as the Peel P50, it's an appropriate time to publish a book which explores the background of this remarkable vehicle and the unique story behind Peel Engineering.

Brimming with an assortment of nostalgic photographs, including rare ones of Peel Engineering's Managing Director, Cyril Cannell, this little gem has been produced as part of the car's fiftieth anniversary celebrations, and includes details of recent anniversary events.

This chronicle of the world's smallest car also highlights a lesser known aspect of the  history of the Island fishing port which gave its name to the company Peel Engineering, providing not only a number of vehicle designs, but several other innovative concepts; including the Peel motorcycle fairing, a revolutionary hovercraft and the spire on the Sea Terminal in Douglas.

Cyril Cannell's propensity for design was extraordinary, and even in his twilight years he continued to reveal new ideas, including a monorail scheme (highlighted in the book) which he believed could be installed along the old Peel to Douglas railway line.

The story of Peel Engineering, an important element of Manx history, is a singular tale which will appeal to a wide readership, whether they be car enthusiasts or historians.

Written by locally based enthusiast Barry Edwards, the book is available from Lily Publications and other Island outlets priced at £16.

Valerie Caine
© March 2015

(Courtesy of Mannin Media)

Monday, March 2, 2015

It's Time to Get Out Those Baking Bowls for the Annual World Bonnag Competitions!

Got a few hours to spare and fancy trying something new and creative? Then it's time to reach back into the hidden depths of your kitchen cupboards and seek out those favourite, family bonnag recipes, in readiness for the Annual World Bonnag Championships in Dalby later this month.

Not unlike it's Irish cousin, the soda bread, bonnag is a traditional yeast-free food item which was much-loved on the Manx farmhouse table long before the ubiquitous chips, cheese and gravy became a preferred choice for hungry islanders.

With numerous awards on offer for the best examples of this rural favourite, there are separate trophies for gents, ladies and children's classes, with the Isle of Man Creamery Buttermilk Trophy (and the honour of being named world champion) awarded to the overall winner.

But professional bakers and caterers are also encouraged to contribute their own tasty bonnag under a new category implemented last year, with the winner walking away with the Shoprite Trophy.

Those willing to take up the challenge are asked to turn up on the night with their bonnag on a paper plate, inscribed with name and category under the base for easy reference.

Each bonnag will be judged during the evening, as the audience enjoys some Manx entertainment by The Wandering Players, presenting Them Oul' Times through poetry, prose and song. In addition there'll be a fine Dalby supper followed by auction of all the bonnag entries.

Starting at 7.30pm on the 27 March at St James Church in Dalby, prior booking is essential by phoning Gilly on 844031 during working hours; tickets £7.50.

Proceeds from the evening will be divided between the St James Church Restoration Fund and this year's selected charities, Women's Aid (IOM) and Mannin Sponsors Africa, helping to provide wells in Gambia.

Further enquiries to Margy on 834768.

Valerie Caine
 © March 2015

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Highlighting Celtic Influences in Literature at Manx LitFest

Sara Crowe
One of the highlights of the most recent Manx LitFest took place at the House of Manannan in Peel, where a panel of experts gathered to discuss the Celtic influence in literature before a packed audience at the Manx National Heritage venue.

Manx LitFest is an annual literary festival which has quickly become an established fixture on the Island's calendar, attracting a wide selection of well-known authors and readers of all ages, as well as encouraging local writers to develop their skills.

Sponsored by Knox House Trust, the panel discussion tied in with the Celtic Style exhibition, which commemorated the 150th anniversary of the birth of Archibald Knox, the internationally renowned Manx artist and designer for Liberty & Co. The exhibition explored the historical influences and shared Celtic heritage that inspired both Knox and his Scottish and Irish contemporaries in the early years of the 20th century.

Donald S. Murray
The panel was made up of a number of Island based individuals with experience of this area; Dr Brian Stowell, Dr Breesha Maddrell, Dr Catriona Mackie, fiction writer Sara Crowe, whose debut novel draws on Celtic mythology, and visiting author Donald S. Murray, a Scottish Gaelic speaker from Shetland.

Each of the panellists made valuable contributions to the discussion, with an initial foray into the importance of how some of the mythological figures, who transcend both time and place, form a continuous link but are subsequently reinvented and reworked.

But the suggestion that a bonding of two traditions sparks creativity led the discussion into a new area, with a lively exchange of views about the literary ability of the Celts and the importance of bilingualism in its structure and the validity of stories as they pass through each generation.

However, the discussion didn't solely focus upon one genre, but looked at a variety of topics such as satire, politics, lullabies and nursery rhymes when it became clear that further research is needed into Manx literature.

As themes progressed members of the panel spoke of how many of the stories contained underlying messages, although storytellers may make subtle changes and problems could be created during translation.

Valerie Caine
© March 2015

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Manx Groups Head for Popular Welsh Festival

The annual Welsh festival Cwlwm Celtaidd has long been a firm favourite with a number of Manx singers, dancers and musicians, who will be heading across the Irish Sea later this month to represent the Isle of Man amongst a host of entertainers from the Celtic Diaspora.

With a growing reputation as a family friendly festival, Cwlwm Celtaidd has attracted an extensive selection of groups and individuals, ranging from the gentle sound of the Welsh triple harp to the unmistakable resonance of the Breton Bagad.

In amongst a dozen performers will be two groups from the Isle of Man who will be putting a firm Manx stamp on the festival.

Local trad power trio Barrule focuses on bold but sensitive arrangements, which have captured the imagination not only of those in the wider Celtic circle, but introduced the concept of Manx music to others who were unaware of what the Island has to offer from  a cultural perspective. The tight knit group, which has a tangible Welsh link within its ranks, will be hot footing it to Wales after a short European tour.

Meanwhile Manx dance group Perree Bane has become a firm favourite at the seaside based festival, with an emphasis on keeping alive an extensive repertoire of both traditional and contemporary dances. A popular southern based team with more than 30 years experience,  and a strong generational membership, their name is a reflection of the male dancers white jackets. 

The Manxies will also be rubbing shoulders with the dynamic Shooglenifty, one of Scotland's most unique musical exports. Although their sound sprang from Scottish traditional dance music, their interpretation ultimately challenged music writers, whose best attempts have led to the description 'hypno-folkadelic-ambient-trad', or simply 'Acid-Croft' which fuses acid-house music style of the late 1980s with the description of a traditional Scottish rural dwelling.

Based as usual in the versatile Grand Pavilion, which was originally opened in 1932 as a Palm Court, it's a perfect central location on the town's seafront at Porthcawl for many of the festival's activities; including a busy programme of concerts, dances, workshops, street displays and a beach ceili!

New for this year will be the awarding of Young Musician of the Festival, with participants encouraged to play an unaccompanied Celtic tune, or medley, on an instrument of their own choice. Aimed at musicians aged 10 - 18, the lucky winner will be awarded a cash prize, have their name engraved on the festival trophy, secure a prime slot in the special St David's Day Concert and a be invited to a master class with a professional folk musician.

Perree Bane
And for those still burning with energy there'll be an opportunity to join in some after show sessions at The Ancient Briton, promising a warm Welsh welcome and a great time for real ale enthusiasts.

Valerie Caine
© February 2015

(Courtesy of Manx Tails)

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Introducing History in Heels – the women who made Mann

Manx National Heritage is looking to highlight the untold stories of women in the Isle of Man’s history in a series of pop-up displays and events in seven of its venues around the Island.

From March to December 2015, History in Heels lets you follow in the footsteps of the women who made Mann. From a Civil War Countess to the fastest woman round the TT course, History in Heels takes a fresh and surprising approach to some of the remarkable Island women and their personal histories.

Co-curator of History in Heels, Jude Dicken said;
“We couldn’t possibly tell the whole story of women’s history on the Isle of Man.  We also wanted to do something other than an exhibition, and that’s when we came up with the idea of ‘pop-ups’. We asked ourselves, what we are the stories about women we either don’t tell or only partially reveal at our sites. How can we begin to introduce these women to our visitors, get them to hear their voices and think about their stories, perhaps in relation to issues facing women today.  Not surprisingly we soon found countless stories to share.

The flexibility of the locations and the differences in the stories has allowed us to be quite theatrical with some displays, in others you’ll simply hear from the words of the women themselves, and some will be told in the very location they happened.  We’re also very excited about using social media to share women’s stories and encouraging fun and debate at our History in Heels events.”

History in Heels spans women through the centuries, beginning with the Pagan Lady to prisoners at Castle Rushen to the era of Miss Isle of Man and the bathing beauties. Other themes include working women, women in politics and women interned.
Nicola Tooms who is also curating History in Heels said;
“Through research, we have been able to uncover stories about women from all walks of life. For instance, we already know about the Gibb ladies of the Grove, but we knew very little about their ‘below the stairs’ maid Dolly. In a public appeal we were able to find more about her story – and it’s fascinating. We hope that History in Heels will open our visitor’s eyes to the remarkable lives, experiences and achievements of these women.”

History in Heels marks the centenary of the National Federation of Women’s institutes and also proudly celebrates the 65th anniversary of the formation of the Isle of Man Women’s Institute from its beginnings in Lezayre in 1949. 

Manx National Heritage invites visitors to look for the History in Heels logo and follow the stories through pop-up displays at Castle Rushen opening on International Women’s Day – Sunday 8 March, and the Manx Museum, and House of Manannan from 9 March. Pop-ups at The Old House of Keys, Old Grammar School, Cregneash and The Grove open from 28 March.  Standard admission charges to venues apply.

Visitors who want to find out more about the project can join Jude Dicken for a whistle-stop introduction at the Manx Museum on Friday 10 April.

Check opening times and History in Heels events at Share your stories about Island women by contacting Manx National Heritage, follow us on Facebook or tweet #historyinheels.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Growing Interest in Snowdrop Walk in Dalby

With the long, winter nights behind us, many of us seek solace in the marvellous displays of early snowdrops, which act as an early beacon for oncoming spring; their nodding, delicate heads a positive indicator of better days.
And so it was that a fundraising event, organised by St James Church in Dalby, attracted many people to Dalby House, to experience a wonderful display of snowdrops, during a glorious, early spring day.

Access to the private gardens of Dalby House was by kind permission of Mrs Clarke, who generously allowed  members of the public to wander freely amongst the burgeoning displays of virginal blossoms.

Set in an idyllic, rural setting, local gardener, Michael Killey, was on hand to explain more about his development of the garden and to answer questions about its care and progression.

There was also an opportunity to purchase ready-made potted snowdrops (two varieties), which proved very popular and contributed further funds to this year's church nominated charities.

But as the afternoon sunshine began to sink a little, those lucky enough to secure tickets for this sell-out event moved on to St James Church in the village, where they were treated to a lavish afternoon tea, including generous amounts of home-made sandwiches and cake.

Funds raised during the afternoon will be divided between the St James Church Restoration Fund, and this year's chosen charities, Women's Aid (IOM) and Mannin Sponsors Africa, as they work towards providing wells amongst the villages of Gambia.

Further fundraising events will be organised by St James Church throughout the year.

Keep checking their website for details, or ask to be included on their popular mailing list.

Valerie Caine
© February 2015