Saturday, April 30, 2016

Celebrating Visual Art at the Isle of Man Art Festival

Formerly known as the Western Open Studio Art Trail (WOSAT), the recently re-branded art festival will be reaching out to its supporters from across the Island this year under the title of the Isle of Man Art Festival.

Organised by members of The Creative Network, this year's event will be inviting members of the public to join with them in celebration of visual art during the early bank holiday weekend in May; with exhibitions, workshops, demonstrations and an opportunity to look inside selected artists' studios.

An official launch and exhibition preview will take place at Noa Bakehouse, although artwork provided by members of The Creative Network will remain on display for the duration of the festival.

Exhibitions and demonstrations will be held at a number of well-known venues in the west of the Island, as well as a selection of new locations elsewhere, in response to public demand.

More than forty local artists will be taking part in this annual event, which last year attracted 1,200 visitors, and will include a range of work encompassing painters, illustrators, sculptors, potters, jewellers, embroiderers, print-makers and photographers. There will also be an opportunity to see inside some of the artists private work areas, who will throw open their doors in Port Erin, Grenaby, Peel, St John's and Kirk Michael.

Meanwhile, a series of beach art and floating lantern-making workshops have been organised by Kirsti Penzes and Carola Rush in conjunction with the Manx Society for Marine Conservation at the Market Hall in Douglas. This will be a hands-on activity aimed at children and their parents, who will use flotsam and jetsam gathered along the shore for their own artwork, as well as investigating local marine life. This will be followed by instruction on designing and constructing floating lanterns using marine environment friendly materials.

Entrance to all venues (open 11.00am - 5.00pm) during this special weekend, will be by purchase of a £3 wristband, and includes a free festival guide. A concessionary rate of £2 for students and free admission for those under the age of eighteen will apply.

Wrist bands and festival guides will be available in advance from Noa Bakehouse, Douglas, the House of Manannan, Peel, all major art galleries and the Welcome Centre at the Sea Terminal. Additionally, they can be purchased from participating artists' studios and the Corrin Hall in Peel during the festival.

The Isle of Man Art Festival is an artists' co-operative of fifty members, whose aim is to promote art and artists both on and off the Island; supported by the Isle of Man Arts Council, Manx National Heritage, Peel Town Commissioners and partner galleries.

Updates available at and on their Facebook page - Creative Network IoM.

 Valerie Caine
© April 2016
(Courtesy of Manx Tails)

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Celebrate Laa Boaldyn (Manx May Day)

A celebration of Manx May Day (Laa Boaldyn) will take place at Cregneash on Monday, 2 May 2016.
The event will include a variety of activities for visitors throughout the afternoon, including the opportunity to learn about the folklore and traditions of the Manx May Day through music, dance and storytelling. 

Helen Ashcroft, Site Manager for Cregneash said:
“Manx May Day celebrations represent a time between the death of winter and the rebirth of summer, which was thought to be a particularly dangerous time in Manx folklore. Midnight on May Day Eve was a time when witches and fairies were considered to be at their most threatening and a series of traditions arose to allay fears and protect the Manx people and their livestock from danger.
The principal form of protection against mischievous fairies was the crosh cuirn, made from a rowan or mountain ash and placed above the door of the house, the cow shed and even tied to the cows’ tails. That certainly must have been an unusual sight.” 

Crash cuirn from Rowan tied with wool
Visitors will have the opportunity to make crosh cuirns and learn about traditional Manx rural living including the practical reasons which made life difficult and threatening at this time of year when the salt fish from the winter was running out and crops were not yet growing.  The difference between living in a rural idyll or abstract poverty was never more prevalent than at Laa Boaldyn.

And from an earlier NAMA blog post:

The month of May has special significance on the Manx calendar giving the promise of better things to come as we turn expectantly towards the summer months.

According to A. W. Moore in his book ‘Folklore of the Isle of Man’, published in 1891, May Day Eve was an occasion for many superstitious observances. It was a time to ward off evil spirits, steer clear of active witches and the perfect opportunity for celebratory feasts and fair days. Looking after cattle at this time of year was also very important.

Crosses made from twigs of mountain ash (the rowan tree) would be displayed prominently above house doors and cow sheds, and tied to cows’ tails so that nothing evil could harm either the animals or their masters. Known locally as a ‘Crosh Cuirn’ the cross would be bound with sheep’s wool and most importantly be completed without the aid of a knife. The rowan tree has been revered for its magical powers since pre-Christian times, with people walking considerable distances to collect it. Fishermen would also hide the ‘Crosh Cuirn’ in their boats to protect them from bad luck.

Primroses would also be strewn across the threshold of many houses to ward off evil spirits.

On May Day itself a ‘Queen of the May’ was chosen from amongst the daughters of wealthy farmers from the various parishes, and with her extensive entourage met with the ‘Queen of Winter’. The latter was actually a man dressed in women’s clothes and is accompanied by ‘her’ own army who then engage in a mock battle with the ‘Queen of the May’. However, this particular custom was only noted in Waldron’s ‘Description of the Isle of Man’ published in 1726, and is believed to be imported by the Island’s Viking conquerors.

But E. Kermode writing in ‘Celtic Customs’ in 1885 suggests that Manx May Day customs resemble those found in Ireland and Scotland, and do not include maypoles or Morris dancing found in English folk culture.

By the end of the nineteenth century, however, the original May Day on the old calendar (12 May) was seen as a day for letting houses, paying rent, taking grazing cattle and the hiring of farm girls.

Recent research by Cathy Clucas has revealed some interesting variations on the Island, including a tendency of the men folk to make the essential ‘Crosh Cuirn’. Meanwhile the gathering of primroses was a popular pastime in Ballasalla and Castletown, but the gathering of ‘King Cups’ was a job for the women in the west of the Island.

Valerie Caine © April 2010

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Upstairs, Downstairs – The Grove Gossip Tours

Manx National Heritage, the organization responsible for the promotion of the Isle of Man’s heritage and culture will host a new theatrical tour at the Grove Museum on Sunday 1 and Monday 2 May 2016, looking at Island life during the Edwardian period.
The guided tour provides a new dimension to a visit to The Grove in Ramsey and will take an entertaining look through the keyhole at Manx high society, and will contrast this with tales from life ‘below the stairs’ for those employed in service.
Island gossip and stories have been drawn from the Ramsey Courier newspaper and the Gibb family archives and will be brought to life by Labyrinth: History in Action Players in a walking theatrical production. 
Katie King, event coordinator said,
“The historic Grove house is a great stage to bring to life local stories from the Edwardian era (1901-1910) and we have decided to focus purely on Ramsey tales. There is some fascinating source material in the newspapers, from the death of Queen Vitoria and the proclamation of King Edward VII, and the associated confusion about whether Ramsey was in mourning or should be celebrating - and just how much bunting was considered appropriate! We have uncovered scandalous tales of light fingered servants, social reformers, suffragettes being attacked in Ramsey swimming baths, a row with the Governor and much more!
We have decided to set the theatrical tour with the theme of ‘Upstairs, Downstairs’ to contrast  how the exciting and changing Edwardian period might have been viewed very differently depending on your social status. As is generally the case it has been much easier to uncover ‘high society’ views as broadcast in the local newspapers, but a much trickier challenge to understand what a life in service might have been like on the Island. This time period has also given us a wonderful opportunity to reveal more about the lives of Janet and Alice Gibb from the Grove.
The tours will be an interesting mix of guided tour and theatrical interpretation, which we think everyone will enjoy and we are delighted that our talented Labyrinth players will be bringing the stories to life.”
Tours will take place at 12noon, 1pm, 2pm and 3pm each day, and numbers are limited. Tickets cost £8 per person and are available in advance from the Manx Museum Gallery Shop and online at There is a 10% discount for members. 
Tours last 45 minutes and are followed by refreshments in the Grove Conservatory.

Friday, April 15, 2016

News Release - Manx National Heritage Launch 2016 Events Programme

Manx National Heritage, the organisation responsible for promoting the Isle of Man’s heritage and culture, has announced a varied programme of events and exhibitions for summer 2016.

The summer programme launches on 23 April with a national touring exhibition produced by the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, ‘Hope in the Great War’.  The exhibition which is being staged at the House of Manannan, celebrates timeless courage during the First World War, telling the stories of six heroic RNLI rescues and runs until 18 August.  Admission to the exhibition is free of charge, with donations welcome to RNLI Isle of Man.

Other highlights from the programme include a guided theatrical tour providing an entertaining look through the keyhole at Manx high society and ‘life below stairs’ at the Grove. ‘The Grove Gossip Tour: Upstairs Downstairs includes stories from the Gibb family archives and Ramsey Courier, brought to life by Labyrinth: History in Action Players.  Tours take place on 1 and 2 May, at 12pm, 1pm, 2pm and 3pm.  Tickets cost £8 and include refreshments served by the Friends of Manx National Heritage.

On the afternoon of 2 May, we celebrate Laa Boaldyn, Manx May Day with music and dancing by Perree Bane and croish cuirn making at Cregneash. Standard admission charges apply, with free entry to ACE card, Members, Season and Holiday Pass.

Chris Killip, one of the most influential documentary photographers of the post-war generation will provide a fascinating insight into his career in a public lecture taking place at the Manx Museum on 7 May.  The lecture starts at 2pm, followed by a book signing at 3pm in the Manx Museum Shop.  Tickets cost £10 for adults and £5 for students. 

This special lecture coincides with the launch of Chris Killip’s The Isle of Man Revisited, an exhibition offering a rare opportunity to view stunning black and white prints of his work, featuring the Isle of Man’s people and landscapes.  Many of the images were taken in the early 1970s and some have never been exhibited before.  The lecture and exhibition offer the opportunity to both hear about and see the work of this world-renowned Manx photographer.

On 21 May, hear about the work we’ve been doing to conserve the Giant Deer in a talk in the Manx Museum Lecture Theatre.  This gentle giant once roamed the grassy plains of Northern Europe at the end of the last Ice Age.  The Giant Deer was excavated at St Johns around 120 years ago and has become familiar to generations of school children visiting the Manx Museum.  Tickets cost £6 for adults and £3 for children/students.  The lecture starts at 2.30pm at the Manx Museum.

During TT fortnight, there’s the opportunity to see the 350cc Velocette ridden by Stanley Woods in the 1939 Junior TT.  Woods was once of the biggest stars of the TT in the interwar years and was the first rider to reach 10 TT wins.   His iconic motorcycle will be displayed at the Manx Museum, where there will also be a showing of ‘Forgotten Hero’, an amazing documentary about his life recorded by his wife and friends, shown daily at 11am.

TT themed objects from the Manx National Heritage Collections will also be displayed in show and tell sessions taking place at 10.30am and 2.30pm daily throughout TT fortnight (excluding Mad Sunday), whilst at 3pm ITV4’s previous days coverage will be shown on the Big Screen in the Manx Museum Film Theatre. 

On 19 June, Dr Andrew Foxon leads a ‘Summer Solstice Eve’ Walk to Meayll Circle.  For thousands of years, people have recognised the significance of the summer and winter solstices when the sun gives us the longest and shortest days respectively.  This year, the rising of the full moon is closely followed by the setting of the sun on Solstice Eve.  In this guided walk, Dr Foxon will explore Meayll Hill, the Meayll Circle and evidence for ancient connections to the rhythms of nature and the sun.  Tickets cost £12 and refreshments are included after the walk. Meet outside Cregneash Village Tearooms at 8pm. 

The programme continues into the summer with one of July’s highlights including an exclusive evening with British Watchmaker Roger W Smith and a screening of the Watchmakers Apprentice hosted by Manx National Heritage and Isle of Man Film Festival. The documentary traces the extraordinary work of Dr George Daniels CBE and his protégé Roger W Smith, and explores the fascinating relationship between the two greatest watchmakers of our time.   The  evening takes place on 15 July at the Manx Museum and will include a guest reception and the opportunity to see George W Daniel’s highly acclaimed ‘Spacetravellers Watch’, which sold at Sotheby’s to a private Manx Collector for in excess of £1.3 million.  Tickets cost £20 including refreshments.

Full details are available in Manx National Heritage’s Whats On leaflets, now available at all Manx National Heritage sites  Advance tickets are available now at the Manx Museum Shop and online.  

Thursday, April 14, 2016

It's Time to Enter the World Bonnag Championships!

If you're looking for a new challenge this year, then it's time to set your sights on the World Bonnag Championships at Dalby, where some of the Island's talented bakers will gather for this annual celebration.

With Shoprite once again sponsoring the many classes on offer, it's a great opportunity to perfect a Manx product which graces many farmhouse tables and rural events.

There'll be some new faces at this year's event, including compére Peter Quayle together with Mona Kerruish and Jill Cain, who will be judging all those tasty bonnags to select this year's Island champions.

As well as the usual classes for men, women and children, organisers are pleased to introduce a further category for those who specialise in gluten free baking.

But there's also an emerging class aimed specifically at catering establishments, to encourage sales of a true Manx bonnag in the public arena, with awards and trophies for all winners.

Entertainment will be provided by Terry Qualtrough and the Southern Belles, with a chance to bid for one of the competition bonnags in a lively auction, and sample a traditional Manx supper.

Cheques will also be presented to last year's designated charities and introductions made by this year's chosen charities - Craig's Heartstrong Foundation and Excellent Development, a not-for-profit organisation supporting rural, dry land communities.

The event takes place at 7.30pm on Friday 15 April at St James' Church in Dalby.

Valerie Caine
© April 2016

(Courtesy of Manx Tails)