John Rhys.

Celtic folklore, Welsh and Manx (Volume 1) online

. (page 28 of 35)
Online LibraryJohn RhysCeltic folklore, Welsh and Manx (Volume 1) → online text (page 28 of 35)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

one of the knolls near the eastern end of the range of
low hills ending abruptly on the coast between Ramsey
and Bride parish, and quite a small knoll bears the
name, near the church of Jurby 1 . I have heard of a
fourth instance, which, as I learn from Mr. Philip
Kermode, editor of the Lioar Manninagh, is on Clay
Head, near Laxey. It has been attempted to explain it
as meaning the Hill of the Watch by Day, in reference to
the old institution of Watch and Ward on conspicuous
places in the island ; but that explanation is inadmissible
as doing violence to the phonetics of the words in ques-
tion 2 . I am rather inclined to think that the name
everywhere refers to an eminence to which the sur-
rounding inhabitants resorted for a religious purpose
on a particular day in the year. I should suggest that
it was to do homage to the rising sun on May morning,
but this conjecture is offered only to await a better

1 It is my impression that it is crowned with a small tumulus, and that it
forms the highest ground in Jurby, which was once an island by itself. The
one between Ramsey and Bride is also probably the highest point of the
range. But these are questions which I should like to see further examined,
say by Mr. Arthur Moore or Mr. Kermode.

2 Cronk yn Irree Laa, despite the gender, is the name as pronounced by
all Manxmen who have not been misled by antiquarians. To convey the
other meaning, referring to the day watch, the name would have to be
Cronk ny Harrey Laa ; in fact, a part of the Howe in the south of the island
is called Cronk ny Harrey, ' the Hill of the Watch.' Mr. Moore tells me
that the Jurby cronk was one of the eminences for ' Watch and Ward ' ;
but he is now of opinion that the high mountain of Cronk yn Irree Laa
in the south was not. As to the duty of the inhabitants to keep ' Watch
and Ward ' over the island, see the passage concerning it extracted from the
Manx Statutes (vol. i. p. 65) by Mr. Moore in his Manx Surnames, pp.
182-3 ; also my preface to the same work, pp. v-viii.


The next great day in the pagan calendar of the
Celts is called in Manx Laa Lhunys, in Irish Lugnassad,
the assembly or fair, which was associated with the
name of the god Lug. This should correspond to
Lammas, but, reckoned as it is according to the Old
Style, it falls on the twelfth of August, which used to be
a great day for business fairs in the Isle of Man as in
Wales. But for holiday making the twelfth only suited
when it happened to be a Sunday : when that was not
the case, the first Sunday after the twelfth was fixed
upon. It is known, accordingly, as the first Sunday
of Harvest, and it used to be celebrated by crowds of
people visiting the tops of the mountains. The kind
of interference to which I have alluded with regard to
an ancient holiday, is one of the regular results of the
transition from Roman Catholicism to a Protestant
system with only one fixed holiday, namely, Sunday.
The same shifting has partly happened in Wales, where
Lammas is Gwyl Aivst, or the festival of Augustus, since
the birthday of Augustus, auspiciously for him and the
celebrity of his day, fell in with the great day of the god
Lug in the Celtic world. Now the day for going up
the Fan Fach mountain in Carmarthenshire was Lam-
mas, but under a Protestant Church it became the first
Sunday in August ; and even modified in that way it
could not long survive under a vigorous Sabbatarian
regime either in Wales or Man. As to the latter in par-
ticular, I have heard it related by persons who were
present, how the crowds on the top of South Barrule
on the first Sunday of Harvest were denounced as
pagans by a preacher called William Gick, some seventy
years ago ; and how another man called Paric Beg, or
Little Patrick, preaching to the crowds on Snaefell in
milder terms, used to wind up the service with a collec-
tion, which appears to have proved a speedier method



of reducing the dimensions of these meetings on the
mountain tops. Be that as it may, they seem to have
dwindled since then to comparative insignificance.

If you ask the reason for this custom now, for it is
not yet quite extinct, you are told, first, that it is merely
to gather ling berries ; but now and then a quasi-religious
reason is given, namely, that it is the day on which
Jephthah's daughter went forth to bewail her virginity
'upon the mountains': somehow some Manx people
make believe that they are doing likewise. That is not
all, for people who have never themselves thought of
going up the mountains on the first Sunday of harvest
or any other, will be found devoutly reading at home
about Jephthah's daughter on that day. I was told this
first in the south by a clergyman's wife, who, finding
a woman in the parish reading the chapter in question
on that day, asked the reason for her fixing on that
particular portion of the Bible. She then had the Manx
view of the matter fully explained to her, and she has
since found more information about it, and so have I.
It is needless for me to say that I do not quite under-
stand how Jephthah's daughter came to be introduced :
perhaps it is vain to look for any deeper reason than
that the mention of the mountains may have served as
a sort of catch-word, and that as the Manx people began
to cease from visiting the tops of the mountains annually,
it struck the women as the next best thing for them to
read at home of one who did ' go up and down upon
the mountains': they are great readers of the Bible
generally. In any case we have here a very curious
instance of a practice, originally pagan, modifying itself
profoundly to secure a new lease of life.

Between May-day and November eve, there was a
day of considerable importance in the island ; but the
fixing on it was probably due to influence other than


Celtic : I mean Midsummer Eve, or St. John's. How-
ever, some practices connected with it would seem to
have been of Celtic origin, such as 'the bearing of
rushes to certain places called Warrefield and Mame
on Midsummer Even.' Warrefield was made in Manx
into Barrule, but Mame, ' the jitgitm, or ridge/ has not
been identified. The Barrule here in question was
South Barrule, and it is to the top of that mountain
the green rushes were carried, according to Manx tradi-
tion, as the only rent or tax which the inhabitants paid,
namely, to Manannan mac Lir (called in Welsh Mana-
wydan ab ILyr), whom the same tradition treats as
father and founder, as king and chief wizard of the Isle
of Man, the same Manannan who is quaintly referred
to in the illiterate passage at the head of this chapter 1 .
As already stated, the payment of the annual rent of
rushes is associated with Midsummer Eve; but it did
not prevent the top of South Barrule from being visited
likewise later in the year. Perhaps it may also be worth
while mentioning, with regard to most of the mountains
climbed on the first Sunday of Harvest, that they seem
to have near the summit of each a well of some
celebrity, which appears to be the goal of the visitors'
peregrinations. This is the case with South Barrule, the
spring near the top of which cannot, it is said, be found
when sought a second time ; also with Snaefell and with
Maughold Head, which boasts one of the most famous
springs in the island. When I visited it last summer
in company with Mr. Kermode, we found it to contain
a considerable number of pins, some of which were
bent, and many buttons. Some of the pins were not of
a kind usually carried by men, and most of the buttons
decidedly belonged to the dress of the other sex.

1 Quoted from Oliver's Monnmenta de Insula Mannice, vol. i. (Manx
Society, vol. iv) p. 84 : see also Cumming's Isle of Man, p. 258.


Several people who had resorted many years ago to
St. Maughold's Well, told me that the water is good
for sore eyes, and that after using it on the spot, or
filling a bottle with it to take home, one was wont to
drop a pin or bead or button into the well. But it
had its full virtue only when visited the first Sunday
of Harvest, and that only during the hour when the
books were open at church, which, shifted back to
Roman Catholic times, means doubtless the hour when
the priest was engaged in saying Mass. Compare the
passage in the Mabinogi of Math, where it is said that
the spear required for the slaying of ILew ILawgyfifes
had to be a whole year in the making : the work was to
be pursued only so long as one was engaged at the
sacrifice on Sunday (aryr aberth du6 sul) : see the Oxford
Mabinogion, p. 76. To return to Man, the restriction, as
might be expected, is not peculiar to St. Maughold's
Well : I have heard of it in connexion with other wells,
such as Chibbyr Lansh in Lezayre parish, and with a well
on Slieau Maggyl, in which some Kirk Michael people
have a great belief. But even sea water was believed
to have considerable virtues if you washed in it while
the books were open at church, as I was told by a
woman who had many years ago repeatedly taken her
own sister to divers wells and to the sea during the
service on Sunday, in order to have her eyes cured of
a chronic weakness.

The remaining great day in the Celtic year is called
Sauin or Laa Houney: in Irish, Samhain, genitive
Samhna. The Manx call it in English Hollantidc,
a word derived from the English All hallowen tide,
'the Season of All Saints 1 .' This day is also
reckoned in Man according to the Old Style, so that
it is our twelfth of November. That is the day when

1 See the New English Dictionary, s. v. ' Allhallows,'


the tenure of land terminates, and when servant men
go to their places. In other words, it is the begin-
ning of a new year; and Kelly, in his Manx-English
Dictionary, has, under the word blein, ' year,' the follow-
ing note : ' Vallancey says the Celts began their year
with January; yet in the Isle of Man the first of
November is called New Year's day by the Mummers,
who, on the eve, begin their petition in these words :
To-night is New Years night, Hog-unnaa 1 , &c.' It is
a pity that Kelly, whilst he was on this subject, did
not give the rhyme in Manx, and all the more so, as the
mummers of the present day, if he is right, must have
changed their words into Noght oie Houney, that is to
say, To-night is Sauin Night or Halloween. So I had
despaired of finding anybody who could corroborate
Kelly in his statement, when I happened last summer
to find a man at Kirk Michael who was quite familiar
with this way of treating the year. I asked him if he
could explain Kelly's absurd statement I put my
question designedly in that form. He said he could,
but that there was nothing absurd in it. He then
told me how he had heard some old people talk of
it : he is himself now about sixty-seven. He had been
a farm servant from the age of sixteen till he was
twenty-six to the same man, near Regaby, in the parish
of Andreas, and he remembers his master and a near
neighbour of his discussing the term New Year's Day
as applied to the first of November, and explaining to
the younger men that it had always been so in old
times. In fact, it seemed to him natural enough, as all

1 This comes near the pronunciation usual in Roxburghshire and the
south of Scotland generally, which is, as Dr. Murray informs me, Hunganay
without the m occurring in the other forms to be mentioned presently.
But so far as 1 have been able to find, the Manx pronunciation is now Hob
dy nan, which I have heard in the north, while Hob JH naa is the prevalent
form in the south.


tenure of land ends at that time, and as all servant
men begin their service then. I cross-examined him,
without succeeding in any way in shaking his evidence.
I should have been glad a few years ago to have come
across this piece of information, or even Kelly's note,
when I was discussing the Celtic year and trying to
prove l that it began at the beginning of winter, with
May-day as the beginning of its second half.

One of the characteristics of the beginning of the
Celtic year with the commencement of winter was the
belief that indications can be obtained on the eve of that
day regarding the events of the year; but with the
calendar year gaining ground it would be natural to
expect that the Calends of January would have some of
the associations of the Calends of Winter transferred to
them, and vice versa. In fact, this can, as it were, be
watched now going on in the Isle of Man. First, I may
mention that the Manx mummers used to go about
singing, in Manx, a sort of Hogmanay song 2 , reminding
one of that usual in Yorkshire and other parts of Great
Britain, and now known to be of Romance origin 3 .

1 See my Hibbert Lectures, pp. 514-5 ; and as to hiring fairs in Wales see
pp. 210-2 above.

2 See Robert Bell's Early Ballads (London, 1877), pp. 406-7, where the
following is given as sung at Richmond in Yorkshire :

To-night it is the New- Year's night, to-morrow is the day,
And we are come for our right, and for our ray,
As we used to do in old King Henry's day.

Sing, fellows, sing, Hagman-heigh.
If you go to the bacon-flick, cut me a good bit ;
Cut, cut and low, beware of your maw ;
Cut, cut and round, beware of your thumb,
That me and my merry men may have some.

Sing, fellows, sing, Hagman-heigh.
If you go to the black-ark bring me X mark ;
Ten mark, ten pound, throw it down upon the ground,
That me and my merry men may have some.

Sing, fellows, sing, Hagman-heigh.

5 The subject is worked out in Nicholson's Golspie, pp. 100-8, also in the
New English Dictionary, where mention is made of a derivation involving


The time for it in this country was New Year's Eve,
according to the ordinary calendar, but in the Isle of
Man it has always been Hollantide Eve, according to
the Old Style, and this is the night when boys now go
about continuing the custom of the old mummers.
There is no hesitation in this case between Hollantide
Eve and New Year's Eve. But with the prognosti-
cations for the year it is different, and the following
practices have been usual. I may, however, premise
that as a rule I have abstained from inquiring too
closely whether they still go on, but here and there
I have had the information volunteered that they do.

1. I may mention first a salt prognostication, which
was described to me by a farmer in the north, whose
wife practises it once a year regularly. She carefully
fills a thimble with salt in the evening and upsets it in
a neat little heap on a plate : she does that for every
member of the family, and every guest, too, if there
happen to be any. The plate is then left undisturbed
till the morning, when she examines the heaps of salt to
see if any of them have fallen ; for whoever is found
represented by a fallen heap will die during the year.
She does not herself, I am assured, believe in it, but
she likes to continue a custom which she has learned
from her mother.

2. Next may be mentioned the ashes being carefully
swept to the open hearth, and nicely flattened down by
the women just before going to bed. In the morning
they look for footmarks on the hearth, and if they find
such footmarks directed towards the door, it means, in
the course of the year, a death in the family, and if the
reverse, they expect an addition to it by marriage l .

calendce, which reminds me of the Welsh call for a New-Year's Gift Calennig!
or C'lennig! in Arfon ' Y Ngtilennig i! ' My Calends gift if you please! '

1 On being asked, after reading this paper to the Folk-Lore Society, who
was supposed to make the footmarks in the ashes, I had to confess that


3. Then there is an elaborate process of eaves-
dropping recommended to young women curious to
know their future husbands' names : a girl would go
with her mouth full of water and her hands full of salt
to the door of the nearest neighbour's house, or rather
to that of the nearest neighbour but one I have been
carefully corrected more than once on that point.
There she would listen, and the first name she caught
would prove to be that of her future husband. Once
a girl did so, as I was told by a blind fisherman in the
south, and heard two brothers quarrelling inside the
house at whose door she was listening. Presently
the young men's mother exclaimed that the devil would
not let Tom leave John alone. At the mention of that
triad the girl burst into the house, laughing and spilling
the mouthful of water most incontinently. The end of it
was that before the year was out she married Tom, the
second person mentioned : the first either did not count
or proved an unassailable bachelor.

4. There is also a ritual for enabling a girl to obtain
other information respecting her future husband: vessels
placed about the room have various things put into
them, such as clean water, earth, meal, a piece of a net,
or any other article thought appropriate. The candidate
for matrimony, with her eyes bandaged, feels her way
about the house until she puts her hand in one of the
aforesaid vessels. If what she lays her hand on is
the clean water, her husband will be a handsome man T ;
if it is the earth, he will be a farmer; if the meal, a
miller ; if the net, a fisherman ; and so on into as many

I had been careless enough never to have asked the question. I have
referred it to Mr. Moore, who informs me that nobody, as I expected, will
venture on any explanation by whom the footmarks are made.

1 This seems to imply the application of the same adjective, some time
or other, to clean water and a handsome man, just as we speak in North
Cardiganshire of dwr gldn, 'clean water,' and bachgcn gldn, 'a handsome


of the walks of life as may be thought worthy of con-

5. Lastly, recourse may be had to a ritual of the same
nature as that observed by the druid of ancient Erin,
when, burdened with a heavy meal of the flesh of a red
pig, he laid him down for the night in order to await
a prophetic dream as to the manner of man the nobles
of Erin assembled at Tara were to elect to be their
king. The incident is given in the story of Cuchulainn's
Sick-bed ; and the reader, doubtless, knows the passage
about Brian and the taghairm in the fourth Canto of
Scott's Lady of the Lake. But the Manx girl has only
to eat a salt herring, bones and all, without drinking or
uttering a word, and to retire backwards to bed. When
she sleeps and dreams, she will behold her future
husband approaching to give her drink.

Probably none of the practices which I have enume-
rated, or similar ones mentioned to me, are in any sense
peculiar to the Isle of Man ; but what interests me in
them is the divided opinion as to the proper night for
them in the year. I am sorry to say that I have very
little information as to the blindman's-bufif ritual (No. 4) ;
what information I have, to wit, the evidence of two
persons in the south, fixes it on Hollantide Eve. But
as to the others (Nos. i, 2, 3, 5), they are observed by
some on that night, and by others on New Year's Eve,
sometimes according to the Old Style l and sometimes
the New. Further, those who are wont to practise
the salt heap ritual, for instance, on Hollantide Eve,
would be very indignant to hear that anybody should
think New Year's Eve the proper night, and vice versa.
So by bringing women bred and born in different

1 In Phillips' Book of Common Prayer this is called Ldnolicky biggy, ' Little
Nativity Day,' and La ghian btie/iy, ' The Da}' of the Year's End,' meaning,
of course, the former end of the year, not the latter : see pp. 55, 62, 66.


parishes to compare notes on this point, I have witnessed
arguing hardly less earnest than that which characterized
the ancient controversy between British and Italian
ecclesiastics as to the proper time for keeping Easter.
I have not been able to map the island according to the
practices prevalent at Hollantide and the beginning of
January, but local folklorists could probably do it
without much difficulty. My impression, however, is
that January is gradually acquiring the upper hand.
In Wales this must have been decidedly helped by the
influence of Roman rule and Roman ideas; but even
there the adjuncts of the Winter Calends have never
been wholly transferred to the Calends of January.
Witness, for instance, the women who used to congre-
gate in the parish church to discover who of the
parishioners would die during the year 1 . That custom,
in the neighbourhoods reported to have practised it,
continued to attach itself to the last, so far as I know,
to the beginning of November. In the Isle of Man the
fact of the ancient Celtic year having so firmly held its
own, seems to point to the probability that the year of
the Pagan Norsemen pretty nearly coincided with that
of the Celts 2 . For there are reasons to think, as I have
endeavoured elsewhere to show, that the Norse Yule
was originally at the end of summer or the commence-
ment of winter, in other words, the days afterwards
known as the Feast of the Winter Nights. This was
the favourite date in Iceland for listening to sooth-
sayers prophesying with regard to the winter then
beginning. The late Dr. Vigfusson had much to say

1 See my Hibbert Lectures, pp. 514-5, and the Brython, ii. 20, 120 : an
instance in point occurs in the next chapter.

2 This has been touched upon in my Hibbert Lectures, p. 676 ; but to the
reasons there briefly mentioned should be added a reference to the position
allotted to intercalary months in the Norse calendar, namely, at the end of
the summer half, that is, as I think, at the end of the ancient Norse year.



on this subject, and how the local sibyl, resuming her
elevated seat at the opening of each successive winter,
gave the author of the Volospd his plan of that remark-
able poem, which has been described by the same
authority as the highest spiritual effort of the heathen
muse of the North.



E/xoi $t al ffal fj.(fa\at (vrvxiai ovx aptaxovai, TO Qtlov firtara/jifvy wj I an
(f>6ovfp6v. HERODOTUS.

THE last chapter is hardly such as to call for a recapitu-
lation of its principal contents, and I venture to submit
instead of any such repetition an abstract of some very
pertinent notes on it by Miss M. G. W. Peacock, who
compares with the folklore of the Isle of Man the old
beliefs which survive in Lincolnshire among the descen-
dants of Norse ancestors 1 . She was attracted by the
striking affinity which she noticed between them, and
she is doubtless right in regarding that affinity as due
in no small degree to the Scandinavian element present
in the population alike of Man and the East of England.
She is, however, not lavish of theory, but gives us inter-
esting items of information from an intimate acquain-
tance with the folklore of the district of which she
undertakes to speak, somewhat in the following order :

i. Whether the water-bull still inhabits the streams
of Lincolnshire she regards as doubtful, but the deep
pools formed, she says, by the action of the down-
flowing water at the bends of the country becks are
still known as bull-holes.

1 My paper was read before the Folk-Lore Society in April or May, 1891,
and Miss Peacock's notes appeared in the journal of the Society in the
following December : see pp. 509-13.

Y 2


2. As to the glashtyn, or water-horse, she remarks
that the tatter-foal, tatter-colt, or shag-foal, as he is
variously called, is still to be heard of, although his
visits take place less often than before the fens and
carrs were drained and the open fields and commons
enclosed. She describes the tatter-foal as a goblin of
the shape and appearance of a small horse or yearling
foal in his rough, unkempt coat. He beguiles lonely
travellers with his numberless tricks, one of which is to
lure them to a stream, swamp, or water-hole. When
he has succeeded he vanishes with a long outburst of
mockery, half neigh, half human laughter.

3. The fenodyree, one is told, has in Lincolnshire
a cousin, but he is diminutive ; and, like the Yorkshire
Hob or Robin Round-Cap, and the Danish Niss, he
is used to befriend the house in which he dwells.
The story of his driving the farmer's sheep home is
the same practically as in the Isle of Man, even to the
point of bringing in with them the little grey sheep, as he
called the fine hare that had given him more trouble

Online LibraryJohn RhysCeltic folklore, Welsh and Manx (Volume 1) → online text (page 28 of 35)