Revellers Enjoy a Busy St Stephen’s Day


It’s a busy time for those keeping Manx traditions in the spotlight on the Isle of Man when St Stephen’s Day (Boxing Day) dawns, with a surge of interest in events this year providing a welcome boost for the future of these important occasions.

Hunt the Wren often includes many happy revellers from across the Island, ensuring that this long-held tradition remains unforgotten in an increasingly global climate. Fortunately the necessity of using a recently killed bird as traditionally required has been superseded by something less blood thirsty, with coloured ribbons replacing feathers of the bird for good luck as singers and dancers move freely amongst the villages and towns.

Additionally this year Isle of Man Stamps and Coins have also released a unique £2 coin capturing the striking image of the little wren, and available as either a single product within a protective wallet, or within a limited edition card featuring images from the recently produced Manx Folk Traditions stamp collection, a Hunt the Wren stamp and a unique first day issue postmark.

Maxine Cannon, Isle of Man Stamps and Coins General Manager, commented, “We are pleased to present this beautiful and festive £2 coin themed on a Christmas tradition that is still valued on our Island today, which perfectly illustrates this custom.”

Meanwhile, there’s still an opportunity to enjoy the Island’s Christmas stamps celebrating eighty years of the Beano, with Dennis and Gnasher visiting several well-known destinations on the Isle of Man, drawn exclusively by their official artist Nigel Parkinson.

But later in the day there was a great opportunity to work off those extra calories by taking part in the annual Cammag match on the old fair field at St John’s, where teams from the north and the south battled for supremacy in a sport which may well be familiar to those in neighbouring Celtic nations who play shinty or hurling. Although the game lost favour to football at the turn of the nineteenth century there has been a resurgence of interest in the sport in recent times.

The day concluded with an uplifting music session in the Tynwald Inn which included some of the Island’s finest musicians.

Valerie Caine

© January 2019

Manx Bonnag recipe

How to make Manx bonnag the Laxey Mills way


  • 225g Laxey Glen Mills Soda Bread Flour (Bob’s Red Mill does a version)
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 110g sultanas
  • 110g margarine
  • 140mls (1/4 pint) buttermilk
  • 1 egg


  1. Rub the margarine into the flour.
  2. Add the sugar and saltanas.
  3. Beat the egg and buttermilk together and add to the mixture and beat well.
  4. Shape into a round loaf shape and score a cross on the top.
  5. Bake in the oven for about an hour at 180°C.

Want to know more about Bonnag? 

Good Clean Fun: A Social History of Britain’s First Holiday Camp

This new book, which charts the success of the revolutionary Cunningham’s Young Men’s Holiday Camp on the Island, is not only informative and revealing, but proves beyond doubt that the concept of the holiday camp began on the Isle of Man.

Written by Jill Drower, great grand-daughter of Joseph and Elizabeth Cunningham and published in conjunction with the 120th anniversary of the camp, her book is packed with more than one hundred and fifty illustrations and lots of detail about how and why the Isle of Man is unequivocally linked with the beginning of the holiday camp phenomenon.

The story draws on the author’s family history, (they became bakers for Cunard and other shipping lines during the nineteenth century), but the driving force behind this publication is the desire to put back on record that the camp was the template from which others followed, including Billy Butlin.

Jill’s research sets the scene by exploring the life of her forebears who settled by the docks in the North End of Liverpool, which became notorious for its destitution, beer houses, brothels and Irish migrants. Joseph Cunningham became involved in their lives through the practices of the Presbyterian church, followed by his work for the Gordon Institute and latterly the Florence Institute, which in turn led him to the Isle of Man.

Cunningham turned around the lives of the most challenging of the boys who came into his care and was recognised as an ideas man, but Jill’s book acknowledges the growing realisation of Elizabeth’s true position in organisation and management, as opposed to a simple supporting role.

Additionally, it focuses on the transformation of a boys’ camping holiday to holiday camp, its role as an internment camp during World War I, as HMS St George in World War II, its subsequent sale to a syndicate and its connection to the famous Lynskey tribunal.

Launched in Liverpool, London and the Isle of Man, it’s now available from several local outlets as well as through Amazon – priced £25.

The book is dedicated to the memory of Jill’s brother, poet and satirist Roly Drower, who encouraged her research and died ten years ago.

Valerie Caine

© December 2018

(Courtesy of Manx Life)

Medieval ring found by metal detective declared Treasure

A 600 year old silver and gilt ring unearthed on the Isle of Man was today declared to be “Treasure” by the island’s Coroner of Inquests.

First discovered in May this year by metal detectorist Gordon Graham, the ring dates to between AD 1400 and 1500. It is made of silver, but gilded with gold and finely decorated with geometric patterns.

Allison Fox, Curator for Archaeology at Manx National Heritage said:

“We don’t know who this particular ring belonged to before it went into the ground, but we can see from the quality that they had the means to buy good pieces. 

The period between AD 1400 and 1500 is an interesting one for the Island.  It led to the start of a relatively settled time, with the rule of the Stanley family providing political stability.  This encouraged wealth generation and we could suppose that this ring originally belonged to either a wealthy local person or visitor who wasn’t averse to showing their wealth.  But, equally likely, perhaps it belonged to someone who just liked nice jewellery!”

Viking rule had ended in AD 1266 and was followed by a century or so of political and social upheaval, with the Island alternating between English and Scottish rule.  When King Henry IV of England eventually took control, the Island was officially granted to Sir John Stanley in 1406.  The period is not very well-documented, but the Stanley family were one of the wealthiest and most influential in England and they no doubt brought some of this to the Island.

One of the most notable events during this century was the writing down of the Manx law for the first time.  Since Viking times, the law had been only spoken, passed down by word of mouth.  In 1417, on the instruction of the second Sir John Stanley, the laws of the Island began to be written down.

Allison continued:

All archaeological artefacts discovered on the Isle of Man should be reported to Manx National Heritage.  If an artefact meets the categories in the Treasure Act 2017, which include being at least 300 years old and having a metallic content of at least 10% precious metal, the find must also be reported to the Coroner of Inquests, who decides whether or not the find is Treasure.  If declared to be Treasure, a financial reward is usually paid to the finder and landowner.  This ring is the first reported find to be declared Treasure under the Isle of Man’s updated treasure legislation”.  

Manx National Heritage extends their thanks to Gordon and the landowners for their assistance and support throughout the Treasure process.

The newly discovered ring will go on display in the Medieval Gallery at the Manx Museum from Saturday 16 December 2018 until February 2019.  The museum is open daily from 10am to 5pm and admission is free.

More information on the Treasure Act 2017 is available at:

Image captions:

600 year old silver and gilt ring declared treasure



Songs in Manx for Christmas

Songs in Manx for Christmas, Nollick Ghennal, has just been release by Culture Vannin containing 40 songs in Manx Gaelic, which also features new material composed by teachers Annie Kissack and Aalin Clague for the Bunscoill Ghaelgagh carol services.

Manx Traditions Calendar Raises Funds for Island Charity

Annual calendars come in many forms, but there’s something a little different in the offing for next year with the release of the Manx Traditions Calendar for 2019 with all proceeds awarded to the Island based charity Crossroads Care.

Designed and created by local artist and ceramist Felicity Wood, her designs are based on a number of Manx traditions throughout the year and her love of Celtic knot work, which she has developed into a modern style.

Felicity has been designing Christmas cards for Crossroads Care for the last fifteen years, but this year has added this delightful and informative calendar to her range.

Crossroads Care is an independent Manx charity which provides support to all carers and individuals with care needs regardless of disability, illness or age, and is currently the leading provider of both practical and emotional support for carers living on the Isle of Man; with a view to improving the lives of carers.

Calendars are priced at £5, with a pack of ten Christmas cards on a Manx theme, based this year on the annual event Hunt the Wren on St Stephen’s Day (Boxing Day) are available at £4 from all Crossroads outlets.

Further information available at

Valerie Caine

© November 2018

Drama Increases with Publication of New Book Crescendo

Those who treated themselves to Maria Darnoult’s debut novel, Face The Music, will be delighted to know that the sequel, Crescendo, is now available.

Maria’s latest book continues to follow the love story of William Waverley and Hannah Corlett which scandalised the inhabitants of Castletown at the turn of the twentieth century. William, an aging widower, headmaster, church organist, choir master and pillar of local society, raised more than a few eyebrows in the ancient capital when he fell under the spell of a shop girl almost thirty years his junior.

Crescendo tracks the exploits of the loved-up couple as they embark on married life, with Hannah coming to terms with her changing circumstances and step up from her previous role as a working girl. But inevitably the resistance of the townsfolk in Castletown continues to colour their lives and it isn’t long before the newly married couple find a skeleton in their own cupboard.

You’ll also be introduced to a new set of characters who weave in and out of the story, providing several sub plots and a whole range of additional thoughts on the lives of those in changing times.

Although a fictionalised account, the main characters within Crescendo are based on the lives of the author’s grandparents, with a smattering of Manx references securely linking this local love story to the Isle of Man.

The chronicle is set to continue within a number of other books in the series, with a third and fourth already in the pipeline.

Priced at £9.99, more about where to buy Crescendo and Maria Darnoult’s other publications can be found at

Valerie Caine

© November 2018

(Courtesy of Manx Life)




John Robert Stevenson, son of Thomas and Elizabeth Ann Quayle Stevenson, was born October 23rd, 1835 at the Kerrowmoar farm in Sulby, Lezayre, Isle of Man, which is about 3 ½ miles west of the town of Ramsey.  He had one brother, Thomas, who emigrated to Melbourne, Australia, in the 1880’s or early 1890’s.  For many years the two branches of the family lost contact with each other and only within very recent years was a new contact established. Strange to say that neither branch was aware that any members of the other branch still existed.

The story goes:  In 1852, at the age of 17 years, John Robert came to America in a sailing ship.  The journey took about six weeks.  He first settled in Cleveland, but later travelled westward in a covered wagon to look for gold in the Cripple Creek area of Colorado. Cripple Creek lies to the west of Pikes Peak and Colorado Springs. The property on which he worked was later developed by a large mining company which eventually took out about a million dollar’s worth of gold. (editor’s note: a million dollars then would be worth about five million dollars today). This was verified by a man who knew John Robert and related the story to my father’s oldest brother, Tom, when he visited the Cripple Creek area possibly about forty years later.  Walter visited the Cripple Creek area with his wife and daughter sometime in 1949 and went down into the by then abandoned gold mine.

When John Robert lived in Cleveland, Ohio, he was offered a small farm which he very seriously considered purchasing for only a few hundred dollars. When Walter’s brother, Tom, went to Cleveland, he sent his father, John Robert, a map so that he could mark on it the exact location of the property that he had considered purchasing.  It happens today that that same piece of property is part of downtown Cleveland.  My father’s brother Tom went to Cleveland with another Tom, Tom Quayle of Gob-e-Valley, Sulby.  An added sidenote:  Tom Quayle had a sister, Janet, who married Daniel Corlett of Ballaugh, who later became mayor of Johannesburg, South Africa.  By coincidence, Janet Quayle taught Walter, my father, in Sulby school before she married Daniel Corlett.

In 1860, after living in America for eight years, John Robert decided to visit his home in the Isle of Man.  During his visit, the Civil War broke out in the United States, and he was unable to return to America as he had fully intended. One never knows what events of history will change the course of one’s whole life..

About 1864-1865, he married a pretty young Manx lassie scarcely 20 years old – Jane Cowley, daughter of Robert Cowley, Cramag, Sulby, and sister of the late Robert Cowley, M.H.K., and an aunt of the late Deemster Sir Percy Cowley. (editor’s note: when I visited the Isle of Man in 1992, I found a picture of Robert Cowley of Cramag on a display in the Manx Museum.  He was known mostly as Bobby Cramag).  There were 13 children born to this union of John Robert and Jane Cowley.  My father, Walter, happened to be the 13th. The only children of the original Stevenson family still living are myself and Mary and John Stevenson, daughter and son of William (known as Will).   John Stevenson, now 98, lives in Greeba, Isle of Man with his wife, Beryl, and sister, Mary, now 95.

Almost every member of the family emigrated to other parts of the world, including South Africa, New Zealand, Canada as well as the United States. Tom, the oldest, came to America in 1891, and settled in Salt Lake City, Utah.  My Dad was able to visit him in Salt Lake City in 1941 before his death. They were probably 20 years apart in age and had never met before, but there was an immediate friendship and bond between them. Most of the information relating to John Roberts’ travel and adventures was told to my father by his brother, Tom.  He virtually followed in his father’s footsteps some 35 to 40 years later. For him, it was a voyage of discovery into his father’s past.

The family may have scattered all over the world, but they have made their mark individually.  However, you can be sure that the Isle of Man has always been in their thoughts, as well as in their blood.  Once a Manxman – always a Manxman no matter where you may wander, no matter what turn you may take. What started out as one man’s adventures became family history, which has been related over and over again.





Manx Language Festival Kicks Off with Guest Speaker from Ireland

This year’s Manx language festival Cooish kicked off with the annual Ned Maddrell Lecture given by the Irish Gaelic academic Tadhg Joseph Ó Ceallaigh, a lecturer in Limerick who explored language education.

He was speaking about the different methods used to teach Irish and how this was integrated into the education system, but revealed he was impressed with the work undertaken on the Island which has revitalised the Manx language.

Held at the St John’s Mill Conference Centre, the Ned Maddrell Lecture centres upon an invited language academic, or activist, sharing their personal experience of working with a minority language; which has assisted in shaping the strategy for the Island’s own native tongue. It’s also an opportunity for those engaged within the language on the Isle of Man to share their own experiences.

With the support of the Manx Language Network, the Cooish Festival continued with gatherings at Green’s Café in St John’s, Marks and Spencer in Douglas and a film afternoon at the old school at St Jude’s.

But the main event was a family-friendly event at the Masonic Hall in Peel with music by Clash Vooar, original poems in Manx Gaelic by the current Manx Bard, Annie Kissack, an interactive quiz and a range of related merchandise.

Additionally, a new award, Londeyr (lantern) was bestowed upon Manx Radio journalist Dollin Mercer in recognition of his support for the language in his daily work.

The evening closed with a short ceili fronted by the Kipperceili Band.

Valerie Caine

© November 2018

Manx Electric Railway Celebrates 125th Anniversary

Despite poor weather conditions, crowds of onlookers and supporters headed for the Manx Electric Railway Station at Laxey, as part of an eight day extravaganza enjoyed by both local and visiting enthusiasts.

The day-long celebration included a variety of live entertainment, fairground rides, stalls, memorabilia and an opportunity to explore the Laxey Car Shed.

But the main attraction of the afternoon was a unique trio of vintage transport referred to as ‘the three 1s’. The line-up brought together the Manx Electric Railway Car 1, the Snaefell Mountain Railway Car 1 and the Douglas Bay Horse Tramway Car 1 for a great photographic opportunity. Tram horse Douglas was brought specially to the village and several bystanders got into the spirit of the occasion by donning Victorian costume.

An extra treat for onlookers was the cutting of a special anniversary birthday cake by the Director of Transport, Ian Longworth, in the marquee, with slices of cake passed amongst the crowd.

There was also an opportunity to travel on a range of trams, enjoy cavalcades and take the controls of an electric tram with Motorman Taster lessons during the week.

The Lieutenant Governor, Sir Richard Gozney, also unveiled a plaque to mark the 125th anniversary at Derby Castle.

Valerie Caine

© November 2018

(Courtesy of Manx Life)