Home Manx LifeLandscape Ellan Sheeant – Sacred Isle

Ellan Sheeant – Sacred Isle

by Bernadette Weyde

The Isle of Man was known to the authors of the Old Irish sagas by several names: Inis Falga, the Noble Isle; Eamhain Abhlach, the Happy Place of Apple trees (later Latinised as Eubonia); Tir Tairngire, the Land of Promise; and Inis Seanta, the Sacred Isle. It is the last name which has survived in common usage and been adapted into modern Manx Gaelic as ‘Ellan Sheeant‘.

The earliest mention of it is in the tale called ‘The Voyage of Bran’ which dates from the 10th century and was later merged into the Christian legend of the Voyages of St. Brendan. As Ellan Sheeant, our Island was generally known throughout the Middle Ages – and not only in the Gaelic lands. In 1459, Pope Pius II wrote in a letter to Bishop Thomas Stanley that this name was current in common speech: “Vulgare eloquis usque in praesentem diem Insula Sancta nuncupata esistal.” Not only was the Island itself sacred; it had its own Christian Saints, who carried on into the new era that tradition of learning and wisdom attached to it in pagan times; and certain relics of those Saints became known throughout Christendom for their miraculous properties, and were the chief religious treasures of the Manx nation.

When Sir John Stanley took office as Lord of Mann in 1414, he was given by the Deemsters (judges) precise written instructions as to the procedure, and how to conduct himself at the Tynwald Ceremony; and part of this document reads:

“The Comones to stand without in a circle in the fold, and the Three Reliques of Man there to be before you in your presence, and three Clarkes bearing them in their Surplisses.”


(source: Christian Tradition in Mannin by Mona Douglas (1965); photo of Sulby Glen from Ballamish by Andy Radcliffe http://bit.ly/1fa5Okw)

You may also like