Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Rain Doesn't Stop Play on St Stephen's Day!

Despite atrocious weather conditions, a number of hardy souls braved incessant rain to join gatherings across the Island for the traditional Hunt the Wren on St Stephen's Day (Boxing Day).

Although other cultural pursuits may have lapsed over the years, this annual procession of dancers and singers, accompanied by a bush of evergreens and other more colourful decoration, parade through the streets and lanes of some of the main towns and villages of the Island.

In the midst of the bush hangs a small wren, these days not killed specifically for the purpose, but typically a bird who has met a natural death, or a simile.

Those making donations to charity were rewarded with a choice of coloured ribbon, rather than a feather from the recently deceased bird, in the hope of attracting good luck for the following year. They're particularly efficacious in the event of shipwreck. Or witchcraft.

But tradition dictates that it should all be brought to a close by noon, after which a feather (or ribbon) is deemed to be worthless. Why this specific time is thought so important is open for debate amongst scholars and historians, although E. Kermode remarked in his unfinished manuscript, subsequently titled Celtic Customs, that, by this time, the unfortunate bird is almost featherless.

Although the rain persisted throughout the day, it did little to stall the enthusiasm of those heading for the front green at Tynwald Hill in their quest of the local game of Cammag.

Revived in recent years, this annual skirmish involves teams representing both the north and the south of the Island, but has few rules.

It's a game of three halves and a singular focus on a sometimes elusive ball, known as a crick.

A small gathering of spectators looked on as those from the north took a resounding victory; winning 7:1.

The game was followed by a music session at the Tynwald Hill Inn, where everyone could relive the game, discuss technique and seek shelter from the unremitting rain.

In the coming weeks look out for details of a special Cammag Match to be held on the Isle of Man during the International Celtic Congress in 2016.

Valerie Caine
© December 2015

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Work Off Your Christmas Turkey with a Game of Cammag!

If you fancy working off some of that Christmas turkey, then take a trip out to St John's on St Stephen's Day (Boxing Day) and join in the traditional game of cammag for some fresh air and fun.

The game of cammag is considered to be an earlier form of hockey, and is recognised by its Celtic neighbours, where it is closely related to Irish hurling and camogie, Scottish shinty and Welsh bandy. The word itself is derived from the same root as camanachd - a word associated with a Scottish Gaelic stick and ball game.

Perhaps the first reference to a game with a similarity to cammag was to be found in the Irish Book of Leinste in the twelfth century AD, with an account of a particularly bloodthirsty exchange in the summer of 1272BC.

In his book Isle of Man Hockey, Kit Gawne suggests that the game of cammag may have been introduced to the Isle of Man by missionaries, although the earliest Manx record is not found until 1760, when three men and a boy were brought before the church court for playing cammag on a Sunday.

Further descriptions and reminiscences of this popular sport emerge more readily from the nineteenth century, when the game of cammag was played the length and breadth of the Island, using a hooked piece of wood as a stick (maidjey) and a roughly hewn ball made from cork or wood, known as a crig.

It's generally known as a winter sport, (with special matches on St Stephen's Day) with any number of players participating and goal posts often marked with stones, or folded coats.

Often played out in fields, lanes, highways and along the shore (sometimes disregarding any rules which may apply) it's far from a gentle game, as may be identified by the reference of 'cammag leg' for a lame person.

The word cammag also receives a mention in Hall Caine's classic novel The Manxman.

One of the more interesting games, however, was probably a match played between Ramsey and Peel, with each town acting as its own goal.

Cammag lost favour with the onset of hockey and football, but a resurgence of interest in recent times has rejuvenated the game and introduced its idiosyncrasies to a new generation.

In keeping with tradition, the game of cammag goes ahead regardless of weather, at 2.00pm on the front green at Tynwald Hill - bring the family and your own cammag stick.

Valerie Caine
© December 2015

(Courtesy of Manx Tails)

Launch of Christmas Stamps at St John's

The Royal Chapel at St John's was the venue for the official launch of this year's Christmas stamps, which feature the creative artwork of Julia Ashby Smyth.

Each of the five stamps focus on a specific Manx word and a religious emblem closely associated with the spiritual aspect of Christmas and the winter festival. The words and images in turn draw upon the history of the Manx Gaelic version of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, translated by the Bishop of Sodor and Man, John Phillips, in 1610.

A number of pupils who attend Bunscoill Ghaelgagh situated in St John's, where they are taught through the Manx language, also attended the official launch, which began with a few words from Annie Kissack. She described how the children had discussed what is colloquially known as the Manx Prayer Book and focused their attention on the singular words used specifically on the stamps. This was followed by readings of Psalm 95 by youngsters from the school.

Other speakers at the event included Maxine Cannon of Isle of Man Stamps and Coins, who spoke of how the Manx language is celebrated both at home and abroad; encouraging the children to write letters and cards in the Island's native tongue and use these vibrant Christmas stamps.

Julia Ashby Smyth also described how she arrived at these pictures before the pupils of Bunscoill Ghaelgagh sang in Manx Gaelic.

In conclusion, the current Bishop of Sodor and Man, the Right Reverend Robert Paterson, pronounced a blessing, spoke about Bishop Phillips (both were born in Wales) and, centring on the Manx word for 'Peace' (Shee), some similarities between Welsh and Manx words and their meanings.

The Manx Language  Development Officer, Adrian Cain also attended the launch, together with a representative of Manx National Heritage with a copy of the Manx Prayer Book from 1765.

After singing the Manx National Anthem, in both Manx Gaelic and English, guests were invited to the nearby hall for afternoon tea.

 Valerie Caine
© December 2015

Friday, December 18, 2015

Tallis Consort Perform Sacred Music for Advent

Although their opening Advent Concert in Ramsey was cancelled because of severe weather conditions, fans of Tallis Consort were out in force for their second and final concert of the season held at St Mary of the Isle in Douglas.

Directed by Peter Litman of St German's Cathedral in Peel, members of Tallis Consort opened the evening's entertainment with an anonymous hymn to the Virgin Mary in the Quechua language, although in a largely European sacred musical style.

Their programme kept to a tight schedule, and included work from the popular Spanish composer Francisco Guerrero, the English theological writer and musician John Merbecke and one of the most important composers of sixteenth century Spain, Tomas Luis de Victoria.

The first half concluded with music from the prolific composer John Joubert, born in Capetown in 1927, and a second anonymous contribution from the thirteenth century, which is the earliest known preserved example of three-part polyphony.

After a short interval, members of Tallis Consort returned with a piece of music from Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck, a Dutch composer and organist, whose works straddle the end of the Renaissance and beginning of the Baroque eras.

This was followed by something more up to date by Stephen Barker, born in 1977, with a rendering of his lullaby, sung to the baby Jesus by Mary, before listening to a differing version of Ding Dong Merrily on High written by Jehan Tabourot in the sixteenth century.

Closing pieces highlighted the work of German composer Michael Praetorius, with a contemporary arrangement by the Swedish composer Jan Sandstrom, and a fast moving piece by another German composer, Johann Michael Bach. He was both the great uncle and father in law of the celebrated Johann Sebastian Bach.

Recent recruit to the a cappella choir and supplemental conductor was Jack Oades, who graduated from Pembroke College, Cambridge, but is currently on a twelve month appointment as Organ Scholar at St German's Cathedral in Peel.

Valerie Caine
© December 2015

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Help Needed to Raise Funds for Memorial to Famous Manxman William Kennish

Local author, Bob Stimpson, recently wrote a biography of a noteworthy Manxman, whose lifetime achievements were even more remarkable for the fact that he was initially not an English speaker, but that didn't stop him from travelling across the world, or becoming a prolific inventor.

But he lies in an unmarked grave in New York, and now Bob Stimpson hopes to raise enough money to arrange for a permanent memorial to this extraordinary man.

Born in 1799, William Kennish was a Manx inventor, American pioneer, explorer, poet and forgotten genius, and although illiterate, was later rapidly promoted in the Royal Navy.  

The son of a farmer, Kennish spoke only Manx Gaelic when he left the Island, and although considered a dunce at school, this self-educated engineer became a productive inventor which included the Marine Theodolite and an ambitious plan to provide a Harbour of Refuge at the Calf of Man.

He returned to the Island in 1844 with his family, briefly spending time in Castle Rushen Debtors’ Gaol before presenting a 3,000 signature petition in London on behalf of Manx fishermen. He later headed for America to further his career.

However, Kennish’s most outstanding achievement has to be his work to locate a route for what is now the Panama Canal. Undertaking seven complex surveys across hazardous territory, Kennish remains the only person to have successfully found a canal route without locks across the isthmus, and although un-adopted is now being re-examined.

Kennish died of pneumonia in 1862, but the complications of typhus decreed he could not be buried for seven years, although he was eventually laid to rest in New York.

It's hoped to raise £4,000 using the Crowdfunder initiative by the 28 December, 2015, so that a marker can be made of Manx granite and shipped out to New York next year, but Bob needs your support in his endeavour.

Bob Stimpson is a Chartered Mechanical Engineer with experience in the water industry and assistive product design for the disabled. His career includes the defence, water and CCTV industries as well as holding over thirty patents covering a wide range of products and devices. He is also Vice Chairman of the Isle of Man Victorian Society and a member of the Isle of Man Natural History and Antiquarian Society, the Manx Transport Heritage Museum and the Newcomen Society. He also has a personal interest in the history of engineering.

Bob Stimpson's  book is still available priced £26.

Valerie Caine
© December 2015

Buy Your Tickets Now for this Year's Mollag Ghennal!

One of the highlights of the festive season is the much anticipated Mollag Ghennal, an evening of entertainment featuring a selection of some of the Island's best known Manx traditional singers and musicians.

Organised by the Mollag Band, it's a great opportunity to relax between cooking the Christmas turkey and celebrating the New Year and meet up with old friends.

Ticket holders will be greeted by members of Bree, who are young, up and coming musicians who regularly perform at events across the Island, before the main programme kicks off with a rich choice of music and a bountiful supper, provided, as always, by members of the Mollag Band.

Guest artistes on the night will include Scottish musician Malcolm Stitt (Boys of the Lough), local harpist Mera Royle, master of the stringed instrument Matt Kelly (Strengyn) and Manx Gaelic vocalist Ruth Keggin.

There has, however, been a change of venue this year, so those who have managed to get their hands on a ticket should make their way to the Masonic Hall, Stanley Road, in Peel.

A limited number of tickets, priced at £12, are now available from Shaktiman (Ramsey), Celtic Gold (Peel), Peter Norris Music (Douglas) and Thompson Travel (Port Erin).

It all starts at 7.30pm on Tuesday 29 December - tickets sell fast, so buy yours now!

Valerie Caine
© December 2015

Post Office Carol Service Held at St German's Cathedral in Peel

Employees and friends of the Isle of Man Post office held their annual carol service at St German's Cathedral in Peel, where they were met by the magnificent sound of Manx Concert Brass conducted by Ian Clague MBE.

The congregation was welcomed by Maxine Cannon of the Stamps and Coins section and followed by others from different departments of the Post Office, who spoke in-between a selection of well-known carols.

The theme for the service was taken from the recently issued Christmas stamps, which reflected on what is known colloquially as the Manx Prayer Book, along with other readings dwelling on the Christmas story.

Younger members of the congregation were invited to the front of the cathedral to sing Away in a Manger, as gifts were handed out.

In a novel departure from the usual verses of The Twelve Days of Christmas, everyone had great fun partaking in a special version which centred on aspects of postal services.

After The Lord's Prayer was delivered in both Manx Gaelic and English and the Blessing given by the Dean of St German's Cathedral, everyone was invited to join in a medley of Christmas music performed by Manx Concert Brass, before retiring for refreshments.

Valerie Caine
© December 2015

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Manx National Heritage lets you zoom-in on the Island’s image collections with a new iMuseum

Manx National Heritage, the organisation responsible for protecting and promoting the Isle of Man’s heritage and culture, has come up with a brand new iMuseum (www.imuseum.im) giving its online audiences an even better view of the nation’s history and collections.
Working together with one of the leading heritage software suppliers Knowledge Integration and the IT expertise of Government Technical Services, Manx National Heritage’s iMuseum now offers more exciting ways of curating, searching, sorting and displaying the nation’s collections, including easy ‘share this’ links for visitors to post what they find on Facebook and Twitter  Also coming soon will be new and easier ways for users to post comments and have conversations in real-time on anything they find in iMuseum.
The look of iMuseum has also changed with a new homepage created by web designers Gooii and a new Collections Blog  but perhaps most exciting in this new phase of iMuseum is the release for the first time of zoomable images.  Using high-quality digital images, these give users the chance to zoom-in on images of the collections, most notably at this stage thousands of images from the Photographic Archive and Art Collection.  Now, online visitors to iMuseum can zoom-in on a detail captured in a Victorian photograph or the brushwork on a painting.  
iMuseum sees Manx National Heritage join a recognised online heritage community with Knowledge Integration delivering similar solutions to the Museum of London, Royal Museums Greenwich, National Museum Wales, Imperial War Museum, Fitzwilliam Museum and Norfolk Museums Service. 
Manx National Heritage’s iMuseum contains a wide selection of the content that is on display at the organisation’s eleven sites around the Isle of Man as well as thousands of items currently not on gallery display and available to view on request or in the Manx Museum Reading Room, including objects, documents, letters, paintings and images.  Content is now added and updated automatically every night, overnight.
The content now available to search for free on iMuseum consists of over 58,000 objects and items, with over 25,000 photographs of the island’s people, places and events digitised from the Isle of Man’s National Photographic Archive. In addition, there are over 2,000 artworks from the National Art Collection including the Manx Museum and National Trust’s entire oil painting collection and all the Archibald Knox works while over 32,000 items from the National Library are also now available to search. 
Manx National Heritage has also started its year-long project to publish onto iMuseum and Archives Hub (http://archiveshub.ac.uk/contributors/manxnationalheritage.html) descriptions of all its major Manuscript Archives, making the Island’s unique written history even more widely known to a worldwide research audience.
As well as the collections, the iMuseum is the Isle of Man’s definitive online family history resource with free access to fully-searchable names indexes transcribed from original archives. There are almost 370,000 named individuals from census’ between 1841 and 1911, almost 200,000 baptisms, over 110,000 marriage entries and almost 180,000 burials recorded in the Parish Registers as well as files detailing over 73,000 named parties on Registered Deeds.  
For individuals and organisations looking to research the Island’s war history, the records include details of over 12,000 First World War internees and 11,615 named individuals recorded on the Isle of Man’s war memorials. 
Edmund Southworth, Director, Manx National Heritage, commented:
“iMuseum version 2 is an excellent opportunity for us to manage and make our extensive collections more accessible to the Manx public as well as an off island audience.  It extends the reach and potential audience for our collections and offers us a greater ability to effectively promote ourselves worldwide and create a platform for a greater understanding of the Island’s heritage and culture.” 
As part of the upgrade programme, the iMuseum building on Kingswood Grove is no longer open daily to the public although visitors can still use the service in the Manx Museum Reading Room and existing regular bookings will still use the facility. The venue is available to hire through Event Management Solution, who manage external hires on behalf of Manx National Heritage.
Edmund Southworth commented:
“With the growth and development of technology to access content, it makes sense to focus our resources and budgets on developing our online service rather than operating a physical building for people to carry out online research.”

Image information: Goose Fair
Date made: c.1890
Artist: Hoepfner, Franz

Description: On first viewing, Hoepfner has produced an almost Dickensian view of the Douglas market, with its stalls groaning under the weight of geese destined for the Christmas table and the warm red glow of oil lamps in the windows. The painting is a study of light and darkness played out in a series of smaller scenes. The warm glow of the red light from the houses and the braziers (probably roasting chestnuts) in the market contrasts with the chill of the cold moonlight breaking through the dark ominous clouds and reflecting off the snow-covered roofs. Whilst the bottom half of the painting glows with a picturesque luminescence, the top half could be an illustration for a Gothic ghost story. Hoepfner has chosen an angle which makes the surrounding houses and church loom over the market place. He appears to have exaggerated the height of the buildings so that they tower somewhat forebodingly over the scene. The crowds in the marketplace appear as dark, anonymous figures, their faces only half-illuminated by the fires with only a handful of them having recognisable features.
Background: Franz Hoepfner was well-known in the early 1890s for his large scale paintings of the Isle of Man, many of which provided the decoration for the tourist venues of Douglas, such as the Derby Castle. This view of Old St Matthew’s Church and market is therefore typical of the large dramatic canvases he produced. Old St Matthew’s Church was built from 1708-1711 by Bishop Wilson. A century later, Johnson's Guide (1850) disparagingly described it as ‘an old and ungainly edifice’. It was demolished in 1895 to allow for the redevelopment of the open-air Douglas market. Today the site is occupied by the market hall and the British Legion Club.
Comparisons: It is useful to compare this canvas to Quayle’s colourful day-time interpretation of the market in full-swing in early summer. Both works record a scene that was about to disappear forever.
Materials: Oil on canvas  
Manx National Heritage Collection: Art Collection ID number: 2003-0024
Buy a print via searching Goose Fair at www.imuseum.im

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Calling all Manx Songwriters!

If you're a local songwriter and fancy a new challenge, then why not have a go at writing an original song in Manx Gaelic for the annual Arrane son Mannin Competition?

With a chance to win £300 in prize money (sponsored by Culture Vannin), this is a great opportunity for a group to fly the Manx flag at the Pan Celtic Song Contest in Carlow, Ireland, next year as representatives of the Isle of Man.

Local performers have been consistently in the top three (including first place) of the competition in recent years, which is held as part of the Pan Celtic Festival.

Don't worry if you're not familiar with the Manx language, as help is available to translate your song, which can be any genre, although it must be an original, unperformed composition.

Entry forms should be returned to competition organiser, Fiona McArdle, by 11 December, 2015, with song lyrics and music by 30 December, 2015.

The Arrane son Mannin Competition and Concert will be held at the Masonic Hall in Peel on the 9 January, 2016, starting at 7.30pm, to which everyone is welcome.

Further information and entry forms available from http://manxmusic.com/news story 400694.html, but if you have any questions please contact Fiona McArdle by emailing fmcardle@manx.net

Valerie Caine
© December 2015

Friday, December 4, 2015


A major new book on the medieval history, society and culture of the Isle of Man, the third in a series of five as part of the New History of the Isle of Man, has just been published by Liverpool University Press.  

The book, entitled ‘The Medieval Period’ covers the Island’s history from the years 1000 to 1406. The book complements the previously released ‘Evolution of the Natural Landscape (vol 1) and ‘The Modern Period’ (vol 5) which looks at the period from 1830 to 1999. The other books planned for future release are Prehistory (vol 2) and Derby and Atholl periods (1405-1830)

The editors of the book are Professor Seán Duffy of the Department of History, Trinity College Dublin, and Professor Harold Mytum, Director of the Centre for Manx Studies, University of Liverpool. By bringing together the fruits of the labours of several scholars of international repute, some of whom are resident on the Island, the comprehensive analysis provided in this volume marks a significant advance in the current level of understanding Manx history in the Middle Ages, forming a body of knowledge that will be of benefit both to Manx people and to the wider readership beyond its shores.

The reassessment of the medieval legacy of Man highlights the island’s position as a cockpit of English, Scottish, Irish and Norwegian power politics, and explores the multi-cultural traditions of Man.  Using a wide range of sources, contributors explore the role the Island was to play throughout the medieval period as a focal point in a complex nexus of inter-relationships (linguistic, economic, ecclesiastical, political, military) which linked the various peoples of the British Isles and Scandinavia. 

Some of the authors will be available to sign copies of the book in the Manx Museum from 1pm to 2pm on Saturday 5th December. 

The book is available in Manx National Heritage retail outlets at the Manx Museum and House of Manannan and on-line at www.manxnationalheritage.im priced £25.

Professor Andrew McDonald, visiting from Canada, will be holding a lecture at the Manx Museum on Friday 4th December on ‘Heroes and Villains in the Kingdom of Mann and the Isles between 1000 and 1300’, which will not only provide further context to the book itself, but will also give background to the Manx Museum’s new Heroes exhibition, which opens this Sunday 6th December at the Manx Museum. To buy tickets to the lecture, which are priced at £10, visit www.manxnationalheritage.im.


For further information, please contact;
Simon Crellin, Heritage Communications Manager
t: (01624) 648032

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

A Taste of Christmas at Dalby

A Taste of Christmas, held at St James' Church in Dalby, attracted a capacity audience in the run up to the festive season, with a tried and tested formula providing a sparkling programme of entertainment.

Gathered around the schoolroom fire on a windswept, winter evening, amongst an atmosphere of oil lamps, candlelight and rural decoration, it was the perfect setting for the combined talents of the Manx Gaelic choir Caarjyn Cooidjagh, under the direction of Annie Kissack.

Members of the choir sang a selection of unaccompanied carols and Manx carvals, which included a special guest appearance of Charles Guard, who charmed members of the audience with a number of evocative pieces played on the harp.

Other highlights included a poem by Roger McGough set to music by choir member Aalin Clague, which has subsequently been entered for a UK competition, and another poem written and recited by Annie Kissack.

Interspersed amongst the vibrant tunes and thought-provoking poetry, were extracts from the book The Green Hills by the Sea, written by Hugh Coleman Davidson and published in 1887.

Supper was provided by their usual onsite team of bakers and cooks, which included Christmas pudding with Brandy Butter and Mince Pies at the close of the evening.

Funds raised on the night will be divided between Dalby Church Restoration Fund, Women’s Aid IoM and the Manx overseas charity Mannin Sponsors Africa, who are working to provide wells for villages in Gambia.

Look up their website for details of future events.


Valerie Caine
 © December 2015