The Great Homecoming 1927
A MANX CELTIC CONCERT
The recent North American Manx Association Homecoming Conference held in Douglas, Isle of Man, and organised to coincide with Tynwald Day on July 7th, puts me in mind of the great emotional scenes that greeted the arrival of the Manx Homecomers in June, 1927, the first Manx Homecoming, and still referred to as the ‘Great Homecoming’. Three hundred visitors from Canada and America, some Manx-born, others of Manx descent, many of whom had never seen the Island before, arrived in Douglas Bay on the new White Star liner Albertic on the morning of June 11th. They were transferred to the tender Peel Castle, and ferried ashore to be welcomed by a massed choir singing Ellan Vannin, Ramsey Town and the Manx National Anthem.
There were many receptions, both large and small, for the visitors all around the Island, notably their attendance at the Tynwald Day Fair followed by a gathering at the Nunnery, and an outdoor reception in the Villa Marina Gardens, during which hundreds of children formed a colourful display depicting the Three Legs of Man. The ‘Homecoming’ – some would say, ‘pilgrimage’ – was organised by the World Manx Association,1 in response to the growing numbers of members of individual Manx Societies that endeavoured to attend the Tynwald ceremony each year.
Music played an important role in the proceedings, with bands and choirs in attendance wherever the ‘Homecomers’ went during their stay. By far the largest, most prestigious and significant musical event held at this time, however, was the Manx Celtic Concert at the Palace Coliseum, on Sunday June 19th, organised and conducted by Harry Wood, ‘Manxland’s King of Music,’2 assisted by his younger brother, the well-known composer Haydn Wood3 and the Manx conductor and composer John Edward Quayle.4 The programme featuring ‘Manx Vocalists, Manx Music and Songs’ was an ambitious one, and included two compositions specially written for the occasion. The orchestra was made up of members of the Douglas Amateur Orchestral Society and the Palace Orchestra; the four vocal soloists were Miss May Clague, soprano, Miss Effie Fayle, contralto, Mr Joe Christian, tenor and Mr Allan Quirk5, baritone, all highly accomplished, well-known Manx artistes. The choir was un-named.
The concert began with Harry Wood’s skillful arrangement for orchestra of twenty-one traditional Manx melodies, Manx Airs, originally written in 1920, but specially adapted for the concert to include four vocal soloists and a choir. The Manx melodies that appear in the popular medley were taken mainly from the 1896 Manx National Song Book, and opened imposingly with Illiam Dhone, and concluded with a stirring version of the Manx National Anthem, ‘maestoso’, to the air Arrane ashoonagh dy Vannin.
JE Quayle then conducted what was probably the premier of his Fantasy-overture Mannin,6 a fine, atmospheric tone-poem, based on two Manx melodies: She answered me quite modestlyand O, What if the Fowler my Blackbird hath taken7, to give them their English titles. Harry Wood conducted John Fould’s Keltic Suite, whose middle movement, the lovely, haunting Lament, was a popular concert piece with the Island’s orchestras up to the Second World War. Harry Wood’s breezy Regimental March of the Manx Volunteer Corps, with the Manx songs Hunt the Wren, Ramsey Town, Ellan Vannin and The Manx Wedding skilfully woven into the music, then followed.
The grand finale was Haydn Wood’s robust and stirring song, A Health to all who cross the Main, for baritone, chorus and orchestra, conducted by the composer. The concert preview made the Romantic suggestion that ‘a triumvirate of Manxmen’ – allegorically the Three Legs of Man – the poet, the composer and the singer – ‘have brought this song into being’. The final lines of the song – to words by Professor Hanby Hay8 – seemed to sum up the ‘Homecoming’ experience for Manxmen, both here and across the seas:
‘A health to all who cross the main;
And if you love us – come again’
So successful was the Celtic Concert, that it was repeated ‘by special request’ at the Palace Coliseum on September 18th, the last night of the 1927 summer season.
Maurice Powell, Andreas, June, 2014.
1 Founded by Mr Richard Cain of Braddan in 1911, to bring closer together all the various Manx Societies throughout the world. Mr Cain and the Mayor of Douglas travelled to Toronto, Canada and Cleveland, Ohio, to help organise the Great Homecoming, and to act as escorts on the journey to the Island.
2 See Harry Wood. ‘Manxland’s King of Music’. Marjorie Cullerne, New Manx Worthies, The Manx Heritage Foundation, 2006.
3 See Haydn Wood. Marjorie Cullerne, New Manx Worthies, The Manx Heritage Foundation, 2006.
4 See JE Quayle in a Supplement to New Manx Worthies, Maurice Powell, Culture Vannin, 2014. JE Quayle’s Fantasy-overtures The Magic Isle and On Maughold Head were re-discovered in Winchester in 2013, and performed by the Isle of Man Symphony Orchestra, conductor Maurice Powell, in 2013 and 2014.
5 Allan Quirk was the first winner of the Cleveland Medal, donated to the Manx Music Festival in 1923.
6 See Maurice Powell above. Mannin is now known to be an earlier version of the Fantasy-overture The Magic Isle (c. 1935-8), first conducted in its revised version by the composer at the 49th Manx Music Festival concert in 1940.
7 Air in the Dorian mode and Ny Kirree fo niaghty
8 Professor Henry Hanby Hay, born Douglas, IoM, 1848. Teacher, lecturer and poet. A longtime resident of Philadelphia and a member of many literary societies, notably ‘The Club’ for leading literary men of Philadelphia.
ENCORE! The Story of the Isle of Man Symphony Orchestra, Maurice Powell, 2013. New edition early 2015. The Island’s orchestras from 1811 to the present day.
Manxland’s King of Music’, the life of Harry Wood, Maurice Powell, envisaged Autumn 2015. The elder brother of the composer Haydn Wood, this much-admired musician was the conductor of the Palace and Derby Castle Co orchestras for fifty years during the heady days when Douglas rivalled Blackpool in the quality and quantity of its entertainment for its summer visitors.