Mythology, Folklore and Ancient Tradition in the Isle of Man

My first visit to the Isle of Man was a real eye-opener. This small island in the Irish Sea between England and Ireland was not only breathtakingly beautiful and largely unspoilt, it was also steeped in mysterious remnants of past civilizations including the Celts and the vikings.

I was particularly fascinated by the legends and folklore I kept hearing about, and the ancient traditions that are still kept alive today.

The Sea God Manannan

Legend has it that the Isle of Man’s first ruler was a celtic sea god called Manannan who would wrap his cloak around the island if it was in need of protection. Some say this is what inspired the name Isle of man.

The catamaran that brought us over from Liverpool to the island was called the Manannan. But I did not discover the meaning behind this name until we visited the House of Manannan in Peel – a museum exploring the island’s celtic and viking heritage.

Do you believe in fairies?

One of the popular local legends concerns the Fairy Bridge on the road between Douglas and Castletown. Those crossing the bridge are advised to say ‘hello fairies’ in order to receive good fortune. Not greeting the fairies is said to bring bad luck.

If you really want to impress the fairies, you can say the greeting in the Manx language – Laa Mie.

When we drove over the bridge, I made sure I said hello… just in case. But some people go to extra lengths to pay their respects to the ‘little people’. They do not just simply say hello, they also leave messages and gifts at the side of the road.

When thinking of fairies, images of elegant, winged elfins come to mind. But Manx fairies do not quite fit the stereotypical picture of these mythological creatures. In Manx folklore, the fairies are actually referred to as the mooinjer veggey – described as small and human-like, around two feet in height. They wear red caps and green jackets and are said to be mischievous and spiteful.

Tynwald Day

An ancient tradition that is very much still alive in the Isle of Man today is Tynwald Day. The island’s government, the Tynwald, gathers on Tynwald Hill in the village of St John’s for an annual ceremony in early July.

Thousands of spectators turn up for the event. The Tynwald is believed to be the world’s oldest continuous government and has been going for more than a thousand years. The first Tynwald Day took place in 1417.

So what happens on Tynwald Day? The official business involves the declaration of new laws, which are read out from Tynwald Hill in both English and Manx.

There is entertainment before and after the ceremony and it is a real community event. I really enjoyed going along to this a few years ago. It was unlike anything I had ever experienced.

That mysterious wooded hill in the background is called Slieau Whallian. It is also known as ‘Witches Hill’ because, apparently, suspected witches in the medieval times were rolled down the hill in barrels. If they survived, they were labelled as witches and killed.

Peel Castle and the legends of King Arthur

Attractively located on an islet is Peel Castle, which was built in the 11th century by the vikings.

When I saw this castle for the first time, it marked the end point of a coastal hike from Glen Maye.

After miles of unspoilt coastline, with the odd stone wall being the only sign of human habitation and the modern world, it was easy to imagine that the scene had probably not changed much since the days of the viking settlers.

Besides being easy on the eye and having a fascinating history, this castle is also linked to the legends of King Arthur.

Peel Castle is said to be the location of Avalon – a legendary island where King Arthur’s sword, the Excalibur, was forged and where King Arthur was taken after being wounded in the Battle of Camlann. 

Have you ever visited the Isle of Man? Do you like learning about local folklore?

 

5 Comments

  1. April 22, 2012 / 03:55

    I love learning about local folklore and try to learn as much about it as I can when visiting places. I have not been to The Isle of Man yet but would love to some day. Thanks for the great pictures and history!

    • April 25, 2012 / 19:49

      Thanks Darlene, it is a very interesting and beautiful island :-)

  2. janet newland
    May 30, 2016 / 15:43

    I have been to the Isle of Man , or Ellan Vannin , several times on holiday from Liverpool.. I love the island , especially the myths and folk – lore . I was even a member of the Manx National Trust at some points in time . National Trust properties include :Peel Castle , CastleandAbbey Rushen , pPeggys Story , the Old Grammar School, and , of course , the Great Laxey Wheel. I , have walked all over the Manx countryside , and miles around the various coastal paths .The Isle of Man is rich in folk – lore and mythology , for examplee , the Phenodyree, the Buggane of St Trinians , and the Mhoddy Dhue , or spectral black dog of Peel Castle . But , perhaps the most famous supernatural entities of the island are the faeries or moonjer vegge. People say hello to the faeries for good luck , when passing over the so – called , Fairy Bridge , on the route to Castletow

  3. August 10, 2016 / 06:27

    Hello Ali,

    I am trying to find some Manx stories about love. Do you know if there are any written down?
    Thanks
    Genn