Dedicated to the Gaelic Language of the Isle of Man

Gaelg as mish: June 2018

What’s the story of a teenage boy adrift off the south of the Island for the night got to do with learning Manx?  And how did the rest of the crew of the small fishing boat come to be blind drunk and comatose for much of that time?

From an early age one of my favourite adventures was to climb to the top of Slieau Ruy from Glen Vine.  Aged about eight it came as a revelation that its name was a Manx name and that fragments of the Manx language could be discerned from the explanations of this and other place names at the back of Canon Stenning’s popular book about the Island.

I was fascinated, too, by the scraps of Manx my great aunt used in conversation back then.  But when I set out to learn Manx, buying a copy of the then recently republished First Lessons in Manx, I struggled to reach any real understanding of the language.

A number of people have told me how they bought a copy of First Lessons in Manx and also failed to make sense of it.  In my early teens I joined their ranks.  Now, in defence of Thompson’s 1965 rewrite of Goodwin’s 1901 book, it was never written as a Teach Your Self guide, but rather as a reference for those attending classes.

Many years later I enjoyed calling into Carine’s café in Peel; an establishment much missed in our household and doubtless by others too, but I digress.  One of the most striking things about walking in to Carine’s was that Manx was often to be heard there.  It was this that rekindled my interest.  Here were people conversing in our native tongue, clearly having succeeded where I’d failed. Time to start again.

I’m not one to whom learning a new language comes easily; I’d been kicked out of the French class at school.  However, this time, thanks to the wonderful resources and accessible classes provided by Adrian Cain of Culture Vannin, progress came more readily; the soon to be re-launched Learn Manx app was particularly addictive.  The patterns and structures of the language became clear and so followed the opportunity to join others in conversation over lunch or tea and cake.  And finally I was able to enjoy reading another little book I’d bought all those years ago: a collection of stories in Manx by Neddy Beg Hom Ruy otherwise known as Edward Faragher.  Ned was born in Cregneash around 1831.  In his later years, up to his death in 1908, he wrote a number of notes about life in old Cregneash and working at the fishing; all of them fascinating and all of them written in Manx.  One of the best known of these stories is his recollection of ‘A Night with a Drunken Crew’ about the time he was working as a galley boy and nearly wrecked on Chicken Rock.  Alas, there isn’t space here to tell how the crew became so drunk, so you’ll have to read the story for yourself to find out.

Chris Williamson, Glen Vine 

Published: Thu, 01 Jan 1970