Dedicated to the Gaelic Language of the Isle of Man

Gaelg as mish: November 2018

I should make it clear from the outset, I am by no means a natural linguist - I’m hard of hearing and I don’t practice as often as I could. I therefore owe a debt of gratitude to those who have enabled me to acquire a little Manx.

Growing up I gradually became aware of how many vestigial Manx words were still in use in our household. My mother would say a plant was ‘skillagalee’ if it was pale and thin, someone was ‘kiddhag’ if they were left handed and day-dreaming was called being in a ‘jarrood’. Two of my maternal great grandparents it transpired, had been native speakers. In the 1980s, whilst I was living across the water, my mother made a concerted and successful effort to learn the language.  Come 1990, I had returned home and made an abortive attempt to follow suit, briefly attending night school. With hindsight, I can see the time and place just wasn’t right. My interest in things Manx was partly satiated in other ways – for example I collected Manx books and paid an annual subscription to Caarjyn ny Gaelgey. For a speech at my brother’s wedding in millennium year I learned a Manx toast by rote - and felt a bit of a fraud.  I was delighted when my sons had the opportunity to learn some Manx at primary school.

A little over two years ago I finally bit the bullet and began attending a beginner’s conversational class under the auspices Culture Vannin. I had both the time and the inclination and my enthusiasm had been buoyed by my eldest sister becoming fluent. It was a revelation. The teaching was informal, friendly and a great deal of fun. Last academic year I chose to undertake the Teisht Cadjin Gaelgagh (GCSE equivalent) at UCM and was pleasantly surprised at the outcome. The diverse demographic of students of Manx also illustrates the fact that the language belongs to anyone who cares to take it up - whatever their age, gender or nationality.

This is a great time to learn some Manx. There are classes, informal groups and events occurring all over the Island. The digital revolution has facilitated a burgeoning of online resources and there are more Manx books available in print than ever before. The work of The Gaelic Broadcasting Committee together with Manx Radio means you can hear the language on air regularly. The unqualified success of the Bunscoill Gaelgagh has demonstrated both the advantages of bilingualism and the demand for an education in Manx. Alumni are already making significant cultural contributions.

Learning a little Gaelg will reinforce your emotional bond with the Island and bolster a sense of place. It can enrich your appreciation of history, place names, folklore, music, art and dance. For many learning Manx has piqued an interest in sister Celtic languages. The language is integral to our national identity and alongside tailless cats, kippers and motorcycle racing, it raises our profile in the world. The renaissance of Manx and the wider benefits to this island are a joy to behold. The harbingers of doom who rushed to sound the death knell have been shown to be mistaken.

What of the future? My elder son has now begun adult classes and I have few excuses for not applying myself better.  As they say, cha nel mee agh gynsaghey - I am but learning…

Jon Mercer, The Braaid 

Published: Thu, 01 Jan 1970