Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Blein Noa Feer-Vie Erriu! Happy New Year!

Fastyr mie!

I'm writing today from Santee, South Carolina, where I'm stopping for the night on my way back to Alexandria, Va.

Manx Mum should be arriving home shortly, and I'll be handing control of the blog back to her, but first I wanted to share some New Year's traditions with you, and give you my best wishes for 2010.

New Year's Day - Laa Nollick Beg, or "Little Christmas Day" - is a very important day on the Manx calendar. What happened to you on New Year's Day could determine your luck for the entire year to come.

Most important to your future luck was the Qualtagh - the "First Footer" - the first person either to visit your home or the first person you met leaving your home on New Year's Day.

If a dark-haired man were the first visitor of the year, that was a sign of coming good luck. A fair-haired person, not so lucky, and a red-head ... well, enough said.

It was considered more lucky to have a man be the Qualtagh than a woman. The first footer should bring a gift - to arrive empty handed at a house on New Year's was considered highly unlucky for the hosts, let alone inconsiderate.

Meeting a cat first thing that day was also unlucky - that's tough on me, as I live with two of them. Dust was swept from the floor to the hearth, to prevent the luck of the household from leaving for the year. And nothing was lent.

In the evening on New Year's Day, groups of young men would travel from house to house, much as in Gaelic Scotland on Oidhche Challuinn, New Year's Eve, reciting rhymes and singing and probably sharing a bit of New Year's cheer with their neighbors.

Here's one version of their rhyme:

Nollick ghennal erriu, as blein feer vie;
Seihll as slaynt da’n slane lught thie;
Bea as gennallys eu bioyr ry-cheilley,
Shee as graih eddyr mraane as deiney;
Cooil as cowryn stock as stoyr.
Palchey puddase, as skeddan dy-liooar;
Arran as caashey, eeym as roauyr;
Baase myr lugh ayns ullin ny soalt,
Cadley sauchey tra vees shiu ny lhie,
Gyn feeackle y jiargan, cadley dy mie.

"A merry Christmas, and a very good year to you;
Luck and health to the whole household,
Life, pleasantness and sprightliness to you together,
Peace and love between men and women;
Goods and riches, stock and store.
Plenty of potatoes and herring enough;
Bread and cheese, butter and beef. 1
Sleeping safely when you are in bed,
Undisturbed by the flea's tooth, sleeping well."

Another version I've seen ends "As feeackle y jiargan, nagh bee dy mie!" - "And may the flea's tooth not be good!"

When you're toasting the New Year tomorrow night, you may want to say: "Slaynt vie!"

That's "Good Health!" pronounced "slench vye" and it's the Manx equivalent of the Irish "sláinte!" - let's make it as popular across North America.

Sonnys erriu, as Blein Noa Feer Vie!
Good Luck to you all, and a very Good New Year!

-- Illiam

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Hunting the Wren

"Without being really numerous, the Wren is common and well distributed in Man. Its haunts are very varied, a certain amount of shelter alone being essential, and the hardy little bird is at home among the heather and brambles overhanging the course of the mountain stream."

(P.G. Ralph, "The Birds of the Isle of Man", 1905).

The Manx share with their neighbors in Ireland and Britain a unique custom of the Christmas season - Hunting the Wren on Dec. 26, St. Stephen's Day or Laa'l Steaoin. You may think this as an Irish custom, as Irish groups such as the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem popularized "The Wren Song" in North America, but Hunting the Wren is as Manx as a Loghtan lamb.

There are many descriptions of this custom and many curious legends and theories as to its origin. Young men and boys would go out on St. Stephen's Day to hunt and kill a wren, and tying the bird to a decorated bush carry it from door to door, playing music and dancing and asking for money "to bury the wren."

"The wren, the wren, the king of all birds,
We have caught, St. Stephen's Day, in the furze;
Although he is little, his family's great,
I pray you, good dame, do give us a treat!"

Here's a picture of the Wren Boys in Ramsey in 1904, from Mr. Ralph's book:

The custom is kept up today, though mainly as a dance, without no harm to an actual bird!

Here's an article from Dec. 25, 2008 on going out to hunt the wren. Click here for a full version of the song sung to "Hunting the Wren" from

And here's a little story in Manx and English about the wren from Ralph's 1905 book.

"Keayrt dy row va ny ushaayn chaglym dy boiljaghey da y chooilley ere obbraghyn va'd son yannoo. Va'd loayrt unnane eck cheayrt, ginsh guoid dy eean va'd troggal, as ere cha mie va'd laboragh. Tra haink yn drean beg dy nish ere foddagh ee jannoo, dooyrt ee

Myr s'beg mee hene, myr keyl my chass,
Un ecan jeig ver ym lesh ass."

"The birds all met together once upon a time to tell of all the great things they could do. They were speaking one at a time, saying how many young, they were rearing, and how good they were labouring, When the little wren came to tell what he could do, he [she, ed.] said

Though I am light and my leg is small
Eleven chicks I bring out for all."

So here's to the wren - and a Happy Christmas and Good New Year to All.

Nollick Ghennal as Blein Vie Noa erriu.

-- Illiam

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Nollick Ghennal!

Nollick Ghennal - That's a very Happy and Merry Christmas to all!

I began my Christmas trek from snowbound Alexandria, Va., to Jensen Beach, Fla., where only the visitors wear shorts in December, on Wednesday, arriving Christmas Eve. It's a two-day drive, about eight hours each day, and to entertain and educate myself on the trip I listened to the CDs from "Bun-Choorse Gaelgagh", the basic Manx language course by Brian Stowell.

Brian Stowell, the former Manx Language Officer and one of the leaders of the contemporary revival of Manx Gaelic, is the author of several Manx textbooks and courses, and "Bun-Choorse," published by Manx Radio and the Gaelic Broadcasting Committee, is one of his most recent efforts. It's well-produced, with four CDs loaded with vocabulary and conversations.

We've come a long way from the days of fusty grammar books and verb tables ... "Bun-choorse" is a well-organized introduction to conversational Manx that builds your vocabulary so you can indulge in progressively longer and more complicated conversations.

The lessons on the CDs follow the textbook closely, but of course I couldn't follow the textbook behind the wheel (I don't text or make cell-phone calls either!). However, you don't need the textbook to follow the lessons on the CD - in fact, I'd recommend listening to the lessons and learning all you can aurally before even looking at the book. That way, you'll know how a word is pronounced before tackling Manx spelling and orthography.

"Bun-Choorse" is the official coursebook for Manx language lessons Manx Mum and I will be offering in Alexandria, Va., this spring. We'll also be using the audio files and lessons available on and programs from Manx Radio such as Claare ny Gael and Moghrey Jedoonee.

Write to us if you'd like information on the course and our learning group, Kiarkyl ny Gaelgey.

In the meantime, if you want to catch up on Manx news as the New Year (Blein Noa) approaches, browse this review of the top stories of 2009 from the Isle of Man Today online.

-- Illiam

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Dashing Manx Santas

If you're not already in the Christmas spirit, it's probably because you weren't at the Isle of Man Bank Santa Dash in Douglas Tuesday.

More than 100 Santas, Elves and reindeer took part in the three-quarters-of-a-mile dash through the streets of Douglas, raising £10,000 for charities on the Isle of Man.

Ryan Fairclough was the fastest Santa - completing the dash in 4 minutes, 28 seconds. He dashed to raise funds for the Motor Neurone Disease Association.

See a video of the dash and read more about the event on

Now that I'm clear of the snow in Northern Virginia, I'm beginning a dash myself - down to the sunny state of Florida, where I'll rejoin you Christmas Day.

Nollick Ghennal erriu! Happy Christmas Everyone!


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Ellan Vannin Fo Naightey

More than the sheep are under the snow (fo naightey) on the Isle of Man these days.

Just at the Eastern U.S. digs out from under a blizzard, and the U.S. Midwest is hammered by a pre-Christmas storm, snow and wintry weather are falling and causing transportation problems across Western Europe, including the Isle of Man.

As many as 70 people were stranded in Douglas because of the snow, hail and sleet Saturday, staying overnight at the Sea Terminal and other emergency shelters.

Manx Department of Transport workers were out all weekend trying to clear the roads. Flights from Manchester to Ronaldsway were delayed or canceled on Sunday.

Manx Mum and family arrived in the U.K. this weekend prior to heading to the Isle of Man, where they will very likely have a White Christmas! At least there will be snow on Snaefell ...

For pictures of the Isle of Man in snow, visit this gallery at

— Illiam

Friday, December 18, 2009

Well I'm off! See you in a couple of weeks. I'm handing over to Illiam Cassidy with grateful thanks as where I'm staying on the IoM has no internet. Yessss!

Free Coke for "Des" (Designated Driver)
FREE Coca-Cola Zero will be offered to designated drivers when a round of three or more drinks is bought in a Heron and Brearley pub during the festive season. The designated driver initiative has been launched to support the Department of Transport and the police's Christmas anti-drink drive campaign Booze, Choose, Lose.

The 'Des' initiative has been successful in the UK in previous years and was run inthe Isle of Man for the first time last year.

Inspector Richard Power of the Roads Policing Unit said: 'It is vital that, when out celebrating this Christmas, you know how you are going to get home and appointing a designated driver is a great way of ensuring that you will be arriving home safe after your night out.'

Gordon Edwards, road safety manager for the DoT, added: 'We have been encouraging people this year to choose to take public transport when out this Christmas and New Year, appointing a designated driver is also a great way to make sure that you have transport home after having a few drinks.

'Drinking and driving really isn't worth the risk. You could end up with a fine, a prison sentence or you may have to live with the fact that you have caused an accident through your careless and selfish actions.'

The Heron and Brearley offer will run throughout the Christmas and New Year period while stocks last.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Pilot hits sea at 100 mph and survives

THIS was the dramatic moment when an heroic Isle of Man pilot was winched to safety after she was forced to ditch her light aircraft in the Irish Sea. Here.

Kate Pirie, 48, is lucky to be alive after her aircraft hit the water at 100mph. The RAF rescue crew who winched her to safety were astonished to find her smiling and worried only about breaking a nail.

Air traffic control at Ronaldsway received a mayday alert from the pilot just after midday on Wednesday, saying the aircraft was experiencing engine trouble as it headed to the Isle of Man. The Manx-registered twin-engine Piper Comanche, which had taken off from Guernsey with just Ms Pirie on board, had tried diverting to Blackpool Airport.

But the pilot was subsequently forced to ditch her plane in the sea 22 miles off the Fylde coast close to the Morecambe Bay gas field.  Ms Pirie climbed out of the cockpit and on to the wing of the aircraft where she was rescued by a fast response craft from the Vos Pathfinder, a stand-by vessel for the gas field whose crew had seen the aircraft ditch. The pilot was then winched from the Vos Pathfinder by a Sea King helicopter from RAF Valley which flew her to Blackpool Victoria Hospital for a check-up.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

MP on IoM's side.

A British MP has branded the UK's decision to scrap the reciprocal health agreement as 'arrogant, spiteful and ill-conceived' — but he believes it can be reversed even at this 11th hour.
Thurrock MP Andrew MacKinlay says he is outraged by the situation — and dismayed that the Isle of Man has not done more to raise the issue in Westminster.

He has tabled a series of questions in the House of Commons about the issue — with further questions raised this week.

Justice Minister Michael Mills, in a written reply, said the UK Department of Health had given notice to end the bilateral agreement with the Isle of Man as it considered it was 'out of place considering the wide availability of travel insurance, and there is little robust data to justify the business case and value for money for the national health service'.

Mr MacKinlay told iomtoday: 'I'm outraged by this. It seems to be a kneejerk and very spiteful decision. It is arrogant and ill-conceived. The UK have behaved arrogantly and with abysmal ignorance as to what the consequences are not just for the people of the Isle of Man but people who are residents and taxpayers in the UK who want to visit loved ones or who want to enjoy recreation in the Island.

'There hasn't been a proper account of the arithmetic. It is not in the best interests of the taxpayers, the residents of the UK.' He said he believes Chief Minister Tony Brown should be seeking an urgent meeting with UK Health Secretary Andy Burnham.

'I'm dismayed that the Isle of Man Government had not approached its friends in the UK parliament earlier,' he said. 'I still think at this 11th hour, it could be reversed. The Isle of Man should be seeking the highest profile meetings in London with some urgency and if I can help facilitate that in any way I will.'

But Manx Health Minister Eddie Teare MHK said: 'We've asked for high level meetings going right back. But we've been knocked back. They just refuse to meet to discuss this as the decision has been made and it is not going to be reversed.'

Mr MacKinlay said most MPs were unaware of the proposals to end the Island's agreement.

And he added: 'I would urge everyone who has a mother, father, brother, sister, son or daughter resident and a registered voter in the UK to write to their MP. That could have enormous impact. But in my view the only chance of success is if this is coupled with an immediate salvo from the Manx government.'

Mr MacKinlay, who says he has a great affection for the Isle of Man and interest in Celtic heritage, thought Speaker Steve Rodan was joking when he first told him about the issue.

The MP has since asked a series of questions in the Commons about the ending of the agreement and, unsatisfied with the replies he's received so far, he intends to ask more. His attempts to push for an adjournment debate on the topic have so far proved unsuccessful.

He is astonished that the UK has chosen to end its deal with the Island when it continues to have bilateral agreements with a host of other countries including Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Ukraine and Serbia.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Governor presents flag to veteran following theft

A ROYAL Navy veteran whose flag was stolen from outside his Peel home has been presented with a new White Ensign by the Lieutenant Governor.
John Washington's White Ensign was cut from the flagpole outside his home on Marine Parade last month. The missing flag, which was presented to the 88-year-old more than 40 years ago when he retired from the Fleet Air Arm, was sent back to him following a police and media appeal.

Hearing about the theft, His Excellency Vice Admiral Sir Paul Haddacks arranged for a new flag to be presented to Mr Washington on behalf of the Royal Navy. Story.

Writing your Christmas cards? Do it in Manx!

Bannaghtyn y Nollick Seasonal Greetings
Nollick Ghennal Happy Christmas
Nollick Ghennal as Blein Vie Noa Happy Christmas and a Good New Year
Bannaghtyn Blessings/greetings
Lesh yeearreeyn share With best wishes
Lesh yeearreeyn share son y Nollick as y Vlein Noa With best wishes for Christmas and the New Year
Lesh yeearreeyn share ec yn imbagh casherick shoh With best wishes at this holy season
Shee as Boggey erriu Peace and joy to you
Lesh Shee as Graih With peace and love
Hee'm oo 'sy vlein noa See you in the New Year
Shee erriu car ny bleeaney shoh çheet Peace to you
throughout the coming year

Some other phrases worth knowing:

Christmas Card Kaart Nollick
Christmas Carol Carval
Christmas Day Laa Nollick
Christmas Drink Jough y Nollick
Christmas Eve Oie'll Voirrey
Christmas Tree Billey Nollick
Father Christmas Jishag y Nollick
Snowman Fer sniaghtee

Monday, December 14, 2009

Enigma in Douglas

A DOUGLAS pensioner who worked for the secret British code-breaking service during the Second World War has finally been honoured. Gladys Gowing was among thousands of unsung heroines based at outstations which fed vital information to the home of British decryption at Bletchley Park in Buckinghamshire. Bletchley Park was the centre for code-breaking and its work on breaking the Nazi's Enigma code proved to be a decisive breakthrough in the war.

She has received a specially-minted medal and certificate, signed by UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown, issued to recognise their contribution to the war effort.

Mrs Gowing, of Groves Road, Saddle Mews, kept her assignment a secret – even from family and friends – for decades after the war. Now in her 80s, she told Isle of Man Newspapers she was 'very proud' to receive the award. She added: 'It was a very exciting time and I made lots of friends. We still hold an annual reunion at Bletchley Park. 'But we were sworn to absolute secrecy about our work.

'Winston Churchill called us the geese that laid golden eggs but never cackled.'


Friday, December 11, 2009

Just in case you want to register your superyacht or oil tanker...

The Isle of Man Ship Registry has launched its new website ( Its internet presence has always been a useful source of information for both existing clients and new clients looking to register their vessels in the Isle of Man. However, the information that is provided in the new website is now even better and more user friendly. It has been completely revamped and all its content re-drafted from the user’s perspective.

Kelly No.1 name for over 100 years!!!!!

I have been looking at the comparison of surnames between 1881 and 1986 (I couldn't find a more recent one) and I want to know what happened to the Wattersons and Cannells -- did they just have girls for a century??? It's all here.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Tourism Awards 2009

    Best Customer Service
    Winner:     Isle of Man Cycle Hire
Gary Fitzpatrick

Best Eating Out Experience

Winner:     Tapas – The Restaurante, 
Port Jack, Onchan
Manolo Segovia, Jill Lovrich

·      Best Accommodation of the Year,  Hotel
·      Winner:      Chesterhouse Hotel Douglas
Alex Perriam, General Manager

·      Best Accommodation of the Year,  Guest Accommodation
  Winner:     Kings Guest House Douglas
Carol Howard, Proprietor

·      Best Accommodation of the Year,  Self-Catering
·      Winner:     Laxey Harbour Chalets
Barbara and Brian Quirk, Proprietors

·      Best Attraction of the Year
·      Winner:      House of Manannan
Margaret Jones, Site Manager

·      Best Town or Village
·      Winner:     Peel
Rodger Mark Gimbert, Chairman Peel Commissioners

·      Best Event of the Year
·      Winner:      Isle of Man Walking Festival
Mick Salmon, Walking Festival Co-ordinator

Ahh, everyone loves him...

Great story from Seattle where Blix Records is based in Gig Harbor. Blix signed Davy Knowles/Back Door Slam three years ago and looks ready to benefit from Davy's rapidly growing fan club of players and listeners alike. Seattle Music

Forget "Top Gear" -- try a tram instead

The Department of Tourism and Leisure is pleased to announce that they will be running ‘The Ultimate Driving Experience’ throughout April and May 2010.
The new event, operating on the Island’s Heritage Railways, will give members of the public a chance to experience driving one of the Island’s historic Electric Trams. Each experience will be run over a full day and will include safety briefings, a history of the trams, theory information and ultimately the chance to drive one of the trams between Laxey and Ramsey.

Minister for Tourism and Leisure Hon Martyn Quayle MHK commented:
‘These ultimate driving experience trips are a perfect opportunity for any railway enthusiasts to experience and appreciate firsthand the skill that goes into operating our Electric Trams.

‘It is fantastic to see how accessible the Heritage Railways are becoming to us all. I’m sure these experiences would make fantastic Christmas presents.’

As there are limited dates available bookings will be made on a first come first served basis. The total cost is £300, (or £350 with an accompanying guest).  Please direct all bookings to Marieanne Bridges, or telephone her on 01624 697419.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

What can I tell you?

Oops - Now they've done it.

NATIONALIST feeling seems to be growing in the Isle of Man in the wake of the VAT crisis. A Facebook page has been set up to press the case for Manx independence. Mannin Aboo has attracted about 300 members since its launch earlier this month.

The creator of the site goes under the name of Manannan Mac Leirr who asks: 'Should the Isle of Man be an independent Nation again as it once was. Join if you agree. The Isle of Man forever — Mannin Aboo.'

Meanwhile, nationalist banners have been posted on roadsigns and graffiti sprayed across the roads on the main routes into Peel. All read Mannin Seyr, which means 'Manx independence'. Signs written in Manx Gaelic were also posted on flagpoles in the town.

This rise of nationalist sentiment is linked to growing anger at the UK's apparent hostility towards the Island, starting with Chancellor Alistair Darling describing us as a 'tax haven sitting in the Irish Sea', continuing with the scrapping of the reciprocal health agreement and culminating with the raid on our VAT revenues.

Founder of the Manx nationalist party Mec Vannin Bernard Moffatt said there appeared to be a growing number of young people in the Isle of Man getting involved with the Manx language and nationalism. He said: 'I don't think the UK wants us any more. They want us to stop hanging on to their coat tails and our government is acting like a wailing baby wanting its nanny back.

'With the growing importance of international agreements and international groups, not least the European Union, I think it is possible for states to exist and operate independently.'
Full story here.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Art meets Celtic flair -- down under

A parade of flags from seven Celtic nations - Brittany, Galicia, Wales, Cornwall, Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man - led by the SA Pipes and Drums will open this year's Celtica Festival, held in conjunction with the Art at the Hart event this weekend in Port Adelaide.
Artistic director Suzanne Laslett said the festival would feature some of Australia's finest Celtic musicians, including Ced Le Meledo and Bric-a-Brac - representing the French Celts from Brittany - as well as Braemar with Edinburgh fiddler, Colin Macleod.
``It's really celebrating all the Celtic cultures, not just the British Isles, but of Europe as well,'' she said.``It covers not only music but languages, the food, art and craft, the whole works - the Celts were very creative people.''
Other performers will include Saoirse, Ricketty Bridge, David Hyams and the Miles to Go Trio, Gartloney Rats, Creole Cowboyz and Celtic dance group An Ghillie Mor.
More here in AdelaideNow.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Rushen Silver Band celebrate 60 years

Conductor: Jim Crebbin
Soloists: Martin Norbury, Jennifer Cook, Rebekah Collings
Music House Productions: CD
Total Playing Time: 70.23

If you have something to celebrate then it is a good idea to make sure you do it style.
And a little bit more

With this 60th anniversary celebration release, Rushen Silver Band from the Isle of Man has certainly done that – and a little bit more too.
The band was formed in 1949, and have been a vibrant community ensemble on the island ever since.
In fact, it is quite an achievement given the small population of the Island that it supports more than a single brass band, and although Rushen joined forces with Castletown Metropolitan Silver in 1999, they have continued to ensure that future generations will enjoy brass playing by building their own bandroom, as well as providing instrumental tuition to young players and a host of varied initiatives that keep them at the centre of local musical culture.
Well chosen tracks

This Diamond Celebration sees the band provide 18 well chosen tracks, picked once suspects, with a little bit of help from Musical Advisor Richard Evans: there is a lot of breezy, up tempo playing, played with real gusto.
There are the occasional problems with the basics at times – but so what. This isn’t a release meant to be in competition with Black Dyke’s latest blockbuster, and what the band perform, they perform well: from the classic of all classic marches, ‘Sons of the Brave’ to a touch of James Bond, through swing and Sally Army to Rimsky-Korsakov and Shostakovich.

And hats off to Joyce Corlett for sticking at the fund-raising for most of the 60 years!

Review at

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Man named Douglas leaves money to towns called Douglas

Wow! A great bequest story.
A man has 'named' 20 towns in his will - giving each of them £11,000 simply because they share his surname.
Eric Douglas, from Edinburgh, will leave his name on the map after choosing 20 towns from across the globe as benefactors.
One town to receive the windfall was Douglas, on the Isle of Man, although town officials have been left surprised by the gesture from beyond the grave. Council leader David Christian said today: 'There was around £220,000 left to 20 places across the globe that shared his surname. literally know nothing about the gentleman, apart from his name, and we were told by his lawyers that he was from Edinburgh.'

Mr Douglas left no indication how he wanted the money spent, and one early idea from the Isle of Man town is to provide inscribed benches in his memory.
Mr Christian added: 'It's been left to the town so we will definitely put it to good use, a nice quiet area in his memory would be a good idea.'
Little in yet known about Eric Gordon Douglas, but his solicitors have now sent out cheques totalling £10,887.73 the 20 towns.
Councillors on the Isle of Man first heard of the windfall at at a policy and resource committee meeting last month.
One councillor, David Ashford, said: 'I was surprised. We do get bequests, but it's rare for someone who has not got an association with the area to leave something.'

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Frank Kermode is 90

There's a splendid interview with Frank Kermode in The Guardian today. That's Sir John Frank Kermode to you, the author, critic and razor sharp intellectual. He's 90 and he's a long way from Douglas where he was born.  If you are bright - read the interview. If you just want to know who he is, here's the Wikipedia version:

Sir Frank Kermode is known for many works of criticism; and also as editor of the popular Fontana Modern Masters series of introductions to individual modern thinkers. He is a regular contributor to the London Review of Books and The New York Review of Books.
Kermode was born on the Isle of Man, and was educated at Douglas High School and Liverpool University. He served in the Royal Navy during World War II, for six years in total, much of it in Iceland.
He subsequently pursued an academic career, becoming Lord Northcliffe Professor of Modern English Literature at University College London (1967-74). Under Kermode, the UCL English Department chaired a series of graduate seminars which broke new ground by introducing for the first time contemporary French critical theory to Britain.
In 1974, Kermode took the position of King Edward VII Professor of English Literature at Cambridge University. He resigned the post in 1982, at least in part because of the acrimonious tenure debate surrounding Colin MacCabe. He then moved to Columbia University, where he is now Julian Clarence Levi Professor Emeritus in the Humanities.
From 1975-1976 Kermode was the Norton professor at Harvard University.
He was knighted in 1991.

Friday, December 4, 2009

More Ellan Vannin

I see the Ellan Vannin story was covered in the Gray Lady yesterday, quoting the International Herald Tribune from 1909.

1909 Steamer Hits Buoy in Gale
LONDON Though the fierce gale which, as reported in yesterday’s Herald [Dec. 4], caused so much havoc all over the United Kingdom and around the coast had abated yesterday, reports from various parts of the country told of snow and frost and wild weather. The most serious disaster of all was that which happened to the Isle of Man steamer Ellan Vannin, when she was almost near the end of a stormy voyage from Ramsey to Liverpool. The vessel, it has been ascertained, drove on to a buoy at the entrance of the Mersey and went down so quickly that there was apparently no time to launch lifeboats, and not one of her twelve passengers and twenty-one of the crew was saved. Two lifebelts bearing the name Ellan Vannin were seen floating past the Formbay lightship. (pretty sure that should be Formby, KM)

Thursday, December 3, 2009

100 years to the day: "Ellan Vannin" lost at sea

I'm making a larger post than usual today. It's one hundred years since the Isle of Man Steampacket's vessel, "Ellan Vannin" foundered on the Mersey Bar. As you can see from the photo, Chief Minister, Tony Brown, marked the occasion.

Valerie Caine has kindly sent us two articles she has written on the subject. One is destined for the Peel City Guardian and features some of the Peel people caught up in the tragedy, the other is a more general history.

A MEMORIAL to the 35 passengers and crew who lost their lives when the SS Ellan Vannin sank a century ago has taken place on the Mersey. The service took place onboard the Mersey ferry "Snowdrop".

Chief Minister Tony Brown and Steam Packet chairman Robert Quayle cast wreaths into the waters of the Mersey where the 21 crew members and 14 passengers perished.

Mr Brown told the gathering which included descendants of victims of the disaster, said the sinking of the Ellan Vannin on December 3, 1909 was 'to this day remembered as a most tragic event in Island's history'

From Valerie: On the 3rd December, 2009, it will be a century since the tragic loss of the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company’s vessel ‘Ellan Vannin’. Sailing from Ramsey loaded with cargo and a small number of passengers she headed towards Liverpool, but worsening weather conditions made the journey difficult.

The small vessel, which was originally an iron paddle steamer named ‘Mona’s Isle II’ was known to Manx sailors as ‘Li’l Daisy’ and reached the Bar Lightship in the teeth of a raging storm, but sank approximately fourteen miles from the Liverpool landing stage. Thirty five people lost their lives with many of the bodies never recovered. The wreck itself was later blown up by the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board to avoid any danger to other shipping.

It was considered by many, including the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company, and highlighted on the initial divers’ report that the ‘Ellan Vannin’ had been in collision with another vessel. This was also supported by the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board, but as the inquests progressed this theory began to lose credibility, and the Board of Trade Enquiry which followed arrived at the conclusion that the ‘Ellan Vannin’ had been sunk by heavy seas. However, rumours persisted that there were vested interests for pursuing this theory.

The ‘Ellan Vannin Disaster Fund’ set up to aid the dependants of those who had lost their lives organised many fund raising events, including concerts in Peel by the Douglas Male Choristers and the Peel Choral Society, and in total raised the huge sum of £12,997 6s 3d by the spring of 1910.

There are a number of connections with this story to the west of the Island including Captain James Teare who originally came from Peel, but was at the time of his death domiciled at Palatine Road in Douglas. Taking charge of the ‘Ellan Vannin’ in 1904 Captain Teare had previously sailed in foreign waters for many years, initially as an ordinary seaman before his promotion, but ‘The Ellan Vannin Story’ tells us that nothing is recorded against Captain Teare’s name on the Lloyd’s Register. This suggested that he only sailed as a captain in waters off the UK, and that his certificate of competency applied to home trade only.

During the summer of 1909 Captain Teare took command of ‘King Orry II’ an iron paddle steamer that was much bigger and faster than the ‘Ellan Vannin’. He is remembered as being one of the most cautious, capable and safest of the company’s captains and never away from his post. Seen to be one of nature’s gentlemen Captain Teare was also a lifelong teetotaller and said to be ‘married to the company’.

As the busy summer months receded Captain Teare began a month’s winter work, as did every captain involved in the company, on the 2nd December, 1909 on board the ‘Ellan Vannin’. His cautiousness signalled to others that he would be the last man to leave port if he considered the conditions too dangerous. But others did criticise Captain Teare later, questioning whether he should have carried on with his journey to Liverpool, suggesting that he should have returned to the Island, or sought shelter until the worst of the storm was over. Others in authority noting Captain Teare as a man of experience in these matters felt the criticism was unwarranted. The Isle of Man Steam Packet Company backed their man convinced he was on a navigable course at the time of the sinking and in a statement remarked that no living sailor could have made a better passage. However, Lieutenant Mace, the Marine Surveyor and Water Bailiff of the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board, and a highly respected figure in Liverpool also criticised Captain Teare at the Board of Trade Enquiry; suggesting that he should not have tried to cross the Bar Lightship under such conditions, but waited for daylight so as to steer the vessel into deeper water.

Captain Teare’s body was washed ashore at Birkdale, near Southport on the 16th January, 1910, and was brought back to the Island aboard the Steam Packet vessel ‘Douglas’ with Captain Cowley, his widow’s uncle, Master for that day. He left a widow aged 33 and four children aged between 10 and 2, but in the Liverpool Express and Echo of 22nd April, 1959 a correspondent incorrectly reported that Captain Teare’s wife and his twin babies drowned in their bunks on board the ‘Ellan Vannin’ that fateful night. None of his children were twins.

His widow was the daughter of William Cowley who had been Chief Officer of the ‘King Orry’ and niece of Captain Cowley of the ‘Queen Victoria’.

It was noted at the time that Captain Teare’s wages were £4 per week and that he had a house to the value of £200 and was in possession of an insurance policy also valued at £200.

First Mate John Craine was interred alongside Captain Teare in Douglas Borough Cemetery, his widow being the daughter of Mr. Teare the Douglas to Peel carrier. It was reported that approximately 5,000 people stood to watch the funeral procession which included seven captains, the General Manager, crew members, Chairman and two of the directors of the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company. Members of the Masonic Lodge who were also present dropped a sprig of acacia on Captain Teare’s grave.

Able Seaman, John Cook, was a Peel man by birth and lived in Patrick Street; aged 53 he left a widow and three children. Said never to be a deep sea sailor, Cook would follow the fishing trade during the off season.

His body was recovered from the shoreline at Blackpool on the 16th February, 1910, approximately 25 miles from the scene of the disaster and the furthest away

As a crew member of Peel lifeboat Cook took part in the historic rescue of 23 people from the ‘St. George’ which went ashore at Peel Castle, and was awarded a medal by the Norwegian Government.

John Cook also holds a little mystery. Each week he was said to go ashore when the ‘Ellan Vannin’ reached Ramsey to collect a letter at the agent’s office, which would always be waiting for him and was addressed to ‘Mr John Cook c/o SS Ellan Vannin’. One of these letters was waiting for him on the 3rd December, 1909, but it was never collected. Who left the letters has always remained a mystery.

It was also reported in the ‘Isle of Man Examiner’ on the 4th December, 1981, by his niece Edith Chandler of Peel that her uncle, John Cook, was very proud of the ‘Ellan Vannin’ and that it would upset him to hear others joke that the ‘Ellan Vannin’ could be put down the funnel of the ‘SS Lusitania’. Her uncle, Harry Hough, had also been a captain of the ‘Ellan Vannin’ and only took a back seat when failing eyesight forced him to retire.

A poignant postscript to this tragic episode concerns John Cook’s unopened pay packet which was still in his pocket and his name still visible. His niece was given a sixpence out of the man’s wages which was taken to a Douglas jeweller and engraved in the centre with the Three Legs of Man and the date of the sinking around the rim. She wore the pendant for fifty years before handing it into the care of the Manx Museum.

Two other crew members who also perished were Mrs. Eliza Collister (Stewardess) and Joseph Crellin (Fireman) who both lived at Glen Vine.

Mrs. Collister was formerly Miss Thomson who lived in Glen Vine before her marriage where she was well known and highly respected. She was responsible for the female passengers and it was said that her kindly manner made her very popular, particularly on rough crossings. Aged about 40 and the widow of Louis or Lewis Collister of East Foxdale she left behind an orphaned daughter aged nine. Other references refer to Mr. & Mrs. Callister and state that he died in 1907, suggesting that they had a son rather than a daughter. Mr and Mrs Collister had lived in the USA and South Africa, but his failing health had forced them to return to the Island. Both Mr. & Mrs. Collister are buried in St. Runius churchyard in the parish of Marown.

Joseph Crellin had been a Fireman on the ‘Ellan Vannin’ for many years. Living in a cottage at Glen Vine with his family for a number of years he was actively involved with the Wesleyan Methodist Church in Crosby where he was a teacher in the Sunday school. A staunch teetotaller he was married to the former Miss Collister of Ballamodda and was a member of the Good Samaritan Rechabite Tent. He left a widow and three sons all under the age of ten.

Valerie Caine
© October 2009

Centenary of the Sinking of the Ellan Vannin

The sinking of the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company’s vessel ‘Ellan Vannin’ was a bleak chapter in Manx history, and although a century since this tragic event it is recalled readily by many people on the Island. A Board of Enquiry was instigated to investigate why she sank on that fateful journey, but many believed that its findings did not reach a satisfactory conclusion. The name ‘Ellan Vannin’ was never used again on any of the company’s vessels.

The ‘Ellan Vannin’ was originally an iron paddle steamer built in Glasgow named ‘Mona’s Isle II’ and began service with the company in June 1860, but in 1882 she was converted to a twin screw steamer in Barrow in Furness. Renamed ‘Ellan Vannin’ in 1883 the vessel was mocked by some, but Manx sailors regarded her as the safest vessel afloat, referring to her as ‘Li’l Daisy’.

She coped well with stormy weather, maintaining a vigorous schedule as she plied the seas between Liverpool, Whitehaven, Glasgow, Douglas and Ramsey. Towards the end of her lengthy career across the Irish Sea the ‘Ellan Vannin’ was principally a cargo vessel. Latterly associated with Ramsey she was generally recognised as the oldest mail steamer in the world.

A little after 1.00am on the 3rd December, 1909, the ‘Ellan Vannin’ set sail from Ramsey on her regular journey to Liverpool with an assorted cargo, including oats, turnips, potatoes, a large consignment of sheep, a sideboard and a piano! She also carried fourteen passengers and twenty one members of crew, their estimated journey time seven to eight hours, which was not unusual in those days. Although the weather was stormy it appeared to be no worse than many other winter crossings, and Captain Teare was noted as being one of the most cautious of the company’s masters.

However, the weather deteriorated rapidly with hurricane force winds buffeting the tiny vessel as she ploughed through stormy seas to England. Shipping disasters during that night were numerous as the furious storm took a greater hold, causing damage on land and widespread flooding. By 6.00am waves in the River Mersey were twenty four feet high.

Despite the confidence that people held in Captain Teare some questioned his decision to carry on to Liverpool, although the prevailing wind was behind the vessel, whilst others believed he should have sought shelter.

The severity of the weather increased as the ‘Ellan Vannin’ reached the Bar Lightship, manned by Seaman Williams and Master Kewley, but no one reported seeing the ship as she sailed closer to her fate. At approximately 6.45am Seaman Williams described seeing a green coloured flash, but with no further visible signs of distress Master Kewley decided not to summon the lifeboat. Later a clock belonging to the ‘Ellan Vannin’ was discovered in the vicinity of the flash stopped at 6.50am.

Although she was late arriving in port the first signs that anything was seriously wrong only came to light later that day, when a mail hamper and two lifebuoys were picked up in the Crosby Channel. Bags of turnips, sofa cushions and the piano were also recovered. Nobody survived as she sank in the waters of Liverpool Bay.

By early evening on the 3rd December a telegram was dispatched to the Island stating that the ‘Ellan Vannin’ was lost, and as word spread across the Island people began to gather around the East Quay in Ramsey. Rumours circulating that crew and passengers had been saved were soon quashed.

This tragic event became headline news in both the Isle of Man and England the following day; further wreckage was washed ashore as the Directors of the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company gathered in the company’s boardroom.

The wreck of the ‘Ellan Vannin’ was located at low tide in approximately thirty feet of water on the 4th December between the Bar Lightship and the outer buoy, just fourteen miles from the Liverpool landing stage.

Special editions of all the Manx newspapers carried dramatic headlines, thousands of people congregated at the Courier’s offices and church and other social activities in Ramsey were cancelled.

Divers worked tirelessly to recover the bodies, but were impeded by muddy waters and shifting sands. Although upright the ‘Ellan Vannin’ was split in two and it was thought that an attempt was made to launch one of the lifeboats later recovered at New Brighton.

The original report submitted by the divers, which does not appear to have survived, indicates that the ‘Ellan Vannin’ was in collision with another vessel and was left with a fourteen foot hole between the forecastle head and the bridge. The Isle of Man Steam Packet Company issued a statement on the 7th December concurring with these findings, and was backed up by ‘The Times’ newspaper and the Marine Intelligence Section of Lloyd’s List.

Initially reluctant to enter the vessel the divers recovered the first of the bodies on the 9th December, with others washed ashore along the River Mersey and adjoining coasts five weeks later. Only seventeen bodies were ever found.

The Lieutenant Governor, Lord Raglan, suggested that what became known as the ‘Ellan Vannin Disaster Fund’ be set up to help any dependants, to which the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company contributed £1,000. Widows of the crew continued to receive their husbands’ weekly wages, with additional help from the Shipwrecked Fishermen and Mariners Royal Benevolent Society.

Although the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board also concluded that the ‘Ellan Vannin’ was sunk following a collision, the idea began to lose credibility as the number of inquests progressed.

A Board of Enquiry was held 8th – 12th March, 1910, at Dale Street Magistrates’ Court, Liverpool, where extensive evidence was heard from those involved. Information noted at the time of the tragedy was allegedly altered at the Enquiry and again the possibility of a collision was questioned. Lieutenant Mace, the Marine Surveyor and Water Bailiff of the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board, criticised Captain Teare for attempting to cross the Bar in such rough conditions, but complimented the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company on having the best maintained ships in the world.

The Mersey Docks and Harbour Board became concerned that the wreck was a danger to shipping and subsequently blew up the vessel on 6th April, 1910.

An official report from the Board of Enquiry was issued on the 8th April, 1910, in London highlighting their main conclusion that the ‘Ellan Vannin’ had been sunk by heavy seas, but the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company still believed it was due to the result of a collision.

Numerous fund raising events were held Island wide, in the UK and across the world to raise money for the ‘Ellan Vannin Disaster Fund’, including major concerts at St. George’s Hall in Liverpool and at the Gaiety Theatre in Douglas. Lady Raglan, the Lieutenant Governor’s wife, organised an event which ensured that each child affected by the disaster had ten shillings placed in a Post Office Savings account. She also arranged a Christmas party at Government House.

By the spring of 1910 the fund held £12,997 6s 3d. The ‘Ellan Vannin Disaster Fund’ was finally wound up in 1959 with the last beneficiary reported to be Miss Annie Benson who died in 1974 at the age of 85.

Inevitably people spoke of premonitions of death and destruction, others thanked God that they had turned away from the inclement weather and not made that fateful journey. It was even suggested that a message found in a bottle along the coast at Southport was written by one of the crew as she sank, but this was dismissed by the Board of Enquiry as a cruel hoax.

Numerous poems were written about the disaster, including those from the pen of local writers Fred Buxton and Cushag (Josephine Kermode), but many years later songs describing the events were written by Hughie Jones of the Liverpool folk group ‘The Spinners’ and the late Tom Glassey from Castletown.

A comprehensive book about the sinking of the ‘Ellan Vannin’, by Richard Stafford, was first published in 1999 to coincide with the ninetieth anniversary, but has now been republished by the Manx Heritage Foundation, including updated material to coincide with the centenary of the event.

A memorial plaque has now been placed by the Manx Heritage Foundation at the berth in Ramsey Harbour from where the ‘Ellan Vannin’ sailed, and a plaque is also to be found at the ‘Church of Our Lady Star of the Sea and St. Maughold’ in Ramsey, to commemorate two stonemasons who were working on the church before they lost their lives in the disaster.

A set of commemorative stamps has been issued by Isle of Man Post in remembrance of the tragedy. 

Valerie Caine
© August 2009


Wednesday, December 2, 2009


Treasury Minister Allan Bell MHK welcomed the confirmation yesterday (1st December 2009) of the Isle of Man’s “AAA” credit rating by Standard and Poor’s.
The Minister said “Standard and Poor’s have reviewed the financial position of the Isle of Man following the recent announcement of reduced revenues from the Customs and Excise Agreement, and have concluded that we have a robust financial position that will enable us to deal with the ongoing budgetary pressures.”
The Minister continued “This external validation comes at an important time for us, as we are finalising the short and medium term plans for rebalancing our budgets. Our approach of building reserves during the years of higher growth allows us to implement a considered period of transition that will maintain the economic success and competitiveness the Island has enjoyed over the last few decades.”
The Minister concluded “It is clear that changes will have to be made in order to balance the budget. What Standard and Poor’s have concluded is that the Isle of Man has the ability and financial strength to bring these changes about, whilst maintaining its enviable record of economic success. Both external investors and local residents should take comfort from this announcement.”