Talented local designer Archibald Knox became fascinated with St Patrick’s Isle, declaring Peel to be the most attractive place on the Isle of Man, and it was this subject that became an absorbing and enlightening talk given by Liam O’Neill, founder of the Archibald Knox Society.
Held appropriately enough at the current St German’s Cathedral, situated in the heart of Peel, Liam’s descriptive account brought to life Knox’s passion to renovate the ruins on St Patrick’s Isle, touchingly briefly on the redoubtable Canon John Quine who was a great friend of Knox. Both educated and influential Knox and Quine were linked by poetry, associations with Douglas Grammar School and the restoration of Lonan Old Church also known as St Adamnan’s. Knox, who designed Canon Quine’s gravestone, was commissioned by the cleric to also design a number of iconic pieces for the cathedral on more than one occasion.
With his intentions firmly in place Knox placed an advertisement in the Peel City Guardian accompanied by an article describing the setting up of a ‘league’ to renovate the old cathedral and other buildings. Infinitely knowledgeable about both religious and Manx heritage he advocated a disciplined strategy for what later became known as the League of St German, hoping that the report in the local newspaper would raise interest in his project.
However, not everyone agreed with the ideas outlined by Knox. Designer, artist, writer and socialist William Morris, was firmly against the principle, forwarding a letter to the formidable British politician William Ewart Gladstone in 1879 detailing his fervent opposition to the scheme. It was reported that Morris visited the Isle of Man a year later, presumably on the pretext of halting the restoration, and it is suspected that Gladstone too may have paid a visit to the Island.
Plans to renovate the cathedral clearly never materialised perhaps due to the unwanted interference of Morris, or a lack of enthusiasm from the Manx public, who may have had little appetite for such a scheme, placing their faith in other projects.
Valerie Caine © July 2011