Raising Awareness of the Manx Bonnag

Retired Foxdale baker Bert Winckle unwittingly set himself a challenge during last year’s Bonnag Championships when he commented on the lack of submissions, and this year was overwhelmed by more than sixty entries for the three categories.
Held annually in the village of Dalby on a remote stretch of scenic western coastline, this year’s competitions reflected a growing interest in a food item that was once a daily event in many Manx households.
Plain, but versatile, the Manx Bonnag lost favour in recent times with the importation of yeast and the desire for a delicate sandwich bread to fortify our daily needs. Along with its feisty Celtic cousin, the soda bread, tasty variations began to appear, and here on the Island we began to add currants (thought to be exotic and referred to colloquially as ‘French berries’) and eventually this evolved into a bun loaf with the addition of other vine-ripened fruits and a few Manx laid eggs. Unlike today there was little variation in the Manx housewife’s cupboard, but it was far from an unhealthy larder, with readily available buttermilk a valuable component of our ancestors’ diet.
Having now captured the attention of a curious public, finding seats for them was another challenge as an eager crowd squeezed into every available nook and cranny in the old schoolroom attached to St James’ Church. A convivial audience settled down for an evening of home-grown entertainment, which included a gently tweaked poem written by former Poet Laureate John Betjeman, a satirical mickey-take of the Island’s MHKs and a distinctly new crop of young entertainers.
The evening is also a vehicle for representatives of the church to present money raised during the previous twelve months to two locally based charities, which were ‘Wish Upon a Dream’ (granting wishes for Island based terminally ill children) and ASK (Action Saves Kids) a Manx charity helping those in poverty stricken India. In addition further funds will be used for the on-going restoration process of St James’ Church, which is now a focal point of village life in Dalby. This year’s chosen recipients will be Hospice Isle of Man and the Pahar Trust which focuses on building schools in Nepal.
Following a sumptuous supper dominated by a variety of home-made cakes the winners of the Bonnag Competition were announced, namely John Teare, Dot Watterson and Amy Keig (children’s competition) who also walked away with the Isle of Man Creamery Trophy as overall winner.
Valerie Caine
© March 2012