Saturday, October 31, 2015

Professor Ronald Hutton Shares His Research about Hop tu Naa and Neighbouring Celebrations

As the celebration of Hop tu Naa looms on the horizon, celebrated academic Professor Ronald Hutton returned to the Isle of Man to speak about his extensive research on the subject to a packed auditorium at the Manx Museum lecture theatre.

Delving into his own studies from the early 1990s, Professor Hutton spoke eloquently about this subject and his understanding of its development over time, but remaining sensitive to his Manx audience.

Leaving no stone unturned, Professor Hutton checked both Victorian and Edwardian research, finding occasional mistakes and some details masquerading as truth, including the misreading of an old Irish text by folklore collector Charles Hardwick.

Another Victorian scribe, Sir John Rhŷs, who visited the Isle of Man, Wales and Scotland, allied customs of these areas to Hogmanay, revealing it to be conclusive proof that the Celts celebrated this time as New Year, but did not complete any detailed research.

It was also to become linked with other customs commemorating the dead.

But Professor Hutton reasoned that his research reveals that such celebrations at this time of the year open the season of the winter, with feasts for the dead more likely about the month of April. It was, perhaps, inevitable that most deaths would take place during the winter, with an occasion such as this bringing a sense of closure.

The principle of commemorating the departed began to take a greater hold as the result of Christian theology. With souls moving on to their destination, prayers to a favourite saint might be viewed as a convenient motivation to shorten their time in purgatory.

Samhain is recognised as a Gaelic festival marking the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter, or the dark time of year, and it's here that the origins of both Halloween and Hop tu Naa develop.

Professor Hutton expanded upon how this was the first feast after the harvest, which brought together both land based workers and sea traders. It was a time for reunion, stocktaking, storytelling and generally preparing for the winter ahead. Darkness and cold brought fear to the community, which fire, light and stories could suppress.

This was an oppressive and dangerous time of year for our ancestors and a bit of merrymaking may well have brought a little light relief.

Professor Hutton also reminded us how modern scholars look towards Mediaeval manuscripts for their research, which we should view with some caution, and that we should resist examples of modern folklore.

His view is that folk culture renews itself every few generations and that we back-project modern beliefs, but the basic nature of a custom does not change.

Towards the close of his lecture, Professor Hutton also spoke of the acts of divination, which also brought protection at this time of year, and how the supernatural element arrived during the nineteenth century.

As time moved on there were subtle changes, poorer folk began travelling from door to door to beg for food when work wasn't so freely available, and eventually this morphed into a demand for money. Ultimately songs and rhymes became a part of that exchange.

Irish emigration to the USA may have helped mould our modern concept of this important change in the year, but many celebrating Hop tu Naa on the Isle of Man this weekend will resist its infiltration and continue to plough their own furrow.

Valerie Caine
© October 2015

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Rachel Hair Trio Returns to the Isle of Man

Rachel Hair
It might be three years since the Rachel Hair Trio last came to these shores, but their loyal fan base packed out the Centenary Centre in Peel to watch one of Scotland's most recognised folk bands.

Cameron Maxwell
Support for the evening was local duo Paul Rogers (Strengyn) and Isla Callister (Tree Cassyn) who got the concert underway with a short session of tunes with a Celtic flavour, which quickly set the tone for the concert.

Although from Ullapool, Rachel Hair has had a foothold in Manx music for some time, travelling to the Island once a month to teach pupils how to play the harp with the assistance of Culture Vannin, and subsequently with the publication of her book focusing on Manx harp arrangements.

Jenn Butterworth
With Rachel Hair standing alongside the Celtic harp, she was joined on stage by fellow members of the trio, Jenn Butterworth (acoustic guitar/vocal) and Cameron Maxwell (with a  moody sounding double bass).

Rachel is a confident and charismatic musician, which sits favourably with their outpouring of strong melodies, songs and musical flair.
Paul Rogers

It's a rich mix of traditional, contemporary and international composition, including a strong influence from Norway; where they tour regularly amongst schools and education facilities.

Earlier this year, the Rachel Hair Trio also launched their second album, Tri, which includes a selection of Manx jigs.

The busy threesome also found time to perform at local schools during their brief stay on the Island.                                                                          

Valerie Caine
© October 2015

Monday, October 26, 2015

Launch of New Dalby Cookery Book

If you've ever had the good fortune to dine at one of the many successful events at St James' Church in Dalby, there's now an opportunity to take some of those recipes home with you and test them in your own kitchen.

Bakers, cooks and food lovers are all invited to the launch of A Slice of Dalby, a cookery book which promises to bring you some of the best and most popular recipes, tried and tested in the cosy schoolroom of this historic building on the scenic west coast of the Island.  

Events Co-ordinator, Margy Killey, said, "At many of our events we're asked for a recipe of a cake, a bake, or a soup we're serving. Now, instead of scribbling on the back of a serviette, we can proudly say 'it's in the book'!"

As with many events in Dalby the book is very much a community effort, which will be launched to raise funds for what is probably one of their biggest projects to date; the restoration and development of the disused basement.

It is envisaged that this long-term scheme will make better use of the rooms, providing a multi-purpose meeting area for all generations in the area, with an opportunity to include workshop/classroom facilities, a games area and a space for exhibitions, in comfortable and informal surroundings.

The other room will be converted into a much needed village shop run on a not-for-profit basis, primarily serving the local community, but also providing visitors with the opportunity to buy local produce.   

This latest, exciting phase in the development of St James' Church will be a huge challenge, but it's one that those involved in the project readily take on board, knowing the benefits it will provide to the area.

Margy continued, "A Slice of Dalby has been produced not only to tickle the culinary taste buds, but through the beautiful drawings and wonderful photography which is included in the book, it will also give people a feel of our unique church in this beautiful village of Dalby, so that they remember us as they start to bake and share our recipes with their own community."

Everyone is invited to the official launch of the cookery book, in the schoolroom at St James' Church in Dalby, on Friday 30 October at 6.00pm., when there will be a chance to sample some of the recipes on offer in the book and rebuff the autumn chill with some delicious hot punch!

In addition, a silent auction will give food connoisseurs an opportunity to bid for a selection of original, charcoal drawings by Cheryl Cousins, which appear in the book, and a number of other items.

A Slice of Dalby can be purchased on the night priced £9.99, or from various outlets across the Island - see their website for further details.

Valerie Caine
© October 2015

(Courtesy of Manx Tails)

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

UK Folk Duo Return to the Centenary Centre in Peel

Long standing folk duo, Chris While and Julie Matthews, enjoyed another sell-out performance at the Centenary Centre recently, giving ticket holders a full evening's entertainment a night to remember.

Here as part of their Autumn Tour, While and Matthews came together as a duo in 1993 when key members of the legendary folk super-group the Albion Band.

Although they have followed successful independent, solo careers, their unabated productivity has given birth to no less than ten albums as a duo.

They've also toured the world and have been nominated nine times in three categories of the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards, as well as winning Best Duo category in 2009; for which they have been nominated again this year.

Unafraid to voice their beliefs in self-written songs, a sympathetic audience encouraged the duet in a synergistic partnership, which brought unabated pleasure to all those involved.

There's a tangible rapport between the two vocalists, which fosters a seemingly effortless knack for song writing and musicianship; as well as a connection with the audience.

Both performers were members of the collective Daphne's Flight twenty years ago, which included local singer/songwriter Christine Collister who made a special guest appearance at the Centenary Centre concert.

Valerie Caine
© October 2015

Monday, October 19, 2015

World Manx Association Learns More about the Local Mining Industry

Members of the World Manx Association met in Peel recently for one of their social get-togethers in the historical Sailors' Shelter on East Quay, with an opportunity to chat with friends and learn more about the Isle of Man.

President of the association, Leslie Hanson, had organised a presentation of a DVD written, directed and presented by Charles Guard entitled Manx Mines and Minerals - The story of mining in the Isle of Man.

Concentrating almost exclusively on the well-known Laxey Mines, the film presentation gave an insight into the harsh realities of the local mining industry, but also captured the audience's imagination with revelations about the almost inaccessible Bradda Mine in the south of the Island.

At the close of the film presentation, members of the organisation tucked into an extensive buffet provided by Tia's Teaspoon, situated on Douglas Street in Peel.

New members of the World Manx Association are always welcome, with an invitation to pop along to one of their meetings for an informal chat.

Details of events can be found on their Facebook page.

Valerie Caine
© October 2015

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Manx Performers Head for New Festival Venue in Cornwall

With stunning, panoramic views of the coastline and a rich cultural heritage, the seaside resort of Newquay will be the new venue for Cornwall's annual Celtic festival, Lowender Peran, which attracts a number of visitors and performers from the Isle of Man.

The festival is a registered charity, set up to encourage recognition of both Cornwall's heritage and its Celtic links, but also for people in the locality to recognise and value their own roots and identity.

There's been a steadily growing recognition of Cornwall's Celtic dimension since the end of the nineteenth century, initially from a linguistic point of view, but later strengthened by the peninsula's acceptance into the Celtic Congress and the establishment of the Cornish Gorsedh. An annual Celtic festival had been held in St Ives during the 1950s, but it was not until the late 1970s that Lowender Peran became established.

Those visiting from the Isle of Man include local girl, Cinzia Yates, who has recently secured the role of full-time research associate for an innovative project entitled Digital Folk. It's a two-year AHRC-funded research project which examines the ways in which participants in folk art use digital resources. The project is led by Dr Simon Keegan-Phipps at the University of Sheffield, in collaboration with the University of Westminster and the English Folk Dance and Song Society.

Cinzia graduated last year with a PHD in Ethnomusicology from Cardiff University, with a dissertation entitled Excavating Notes: The Archaeology of Cannon Formation in Manx Music. She was formerly Manx Music Resource Co-ordinator for the Manx Heritage Foundation (now renamed Culture Vannin) and was instrumental in developing the Manx Music Database.

Meanwhile, southern based dance group Perree Bane will be heading for Cornwall to perform an eclectic mix of both traditional and contemporary Manx dances, which are always well received at the festival. With more than thirty years experience under their belt, these colourfully costumed dancers are keen to keep alive an extensive repertoire, which compliments those performed by their Celtic cousins.

In addition, local musician Adam Rhodes (Mec Lir) will also be performing with Welsh super group Jamie Smith's Mabon, playing bouzouki and guitar.

Lowender Peran is a family friendly festival, with a variety of entertainment and thought provoking get-togethers in their annual programme, including a silent ceili and disco, street dancing and a wrestling demonstration!

The packed schedule also has a number of events linked to the Isle of Man, including a popular Manx Night, a dance workshop involving examples of Manx dances and Cornish dances from the Poldark era, and a combined talk about Allantide and Hop tu Naa, which are closely linked by both date and historical celebration.

Valerie Caine

© October 2015
(Courtesy of Manx Tails)

Monday, October 12, 2015

New Manx Christmas Stamps

Isle of Man Post Office is pleased to present a set of five stamps centring on the 250 year-old translation of the Book of Common Prayer into Manx Gaelic.

Manx artist Julia Ashby Smyth’s illustrative interpretation of phrases found in the book have a common meaning across denominations and are particularly resonant to all during the Christmas and winter festival. 

The use of Manx language on the stamps aids the Island’s intended revival of our native language.
The original book can be viewed at the Manx Museum in Douglas, Isle of Man on application -

I have attached the press release and product images for your perusal and hope you deem the collection worthy of sharing with your members as unique gift ideas or Christmas stamps for collectors or Christmas cards and letter mail.

The full collection can be viewed on our website:

Many thanks and best wishes for the forthcoming festive season.