The acquisition of Harry Kelly’s cottage in 1938 to initiate the Cregneish folk museum was an act of faith, but at that time only a small band of enlightened pioneers had the vision to see the ultimate objective. The financial limitations of the period, aggravated by the beginning of the second world war in the following year, imposed severe restrictions on the whole Cregneish project.
It was in such circumtances that Mr Arthur Karran, the honorary treasurer of the Friends of the Manx Museum, and for long a tireless supporter of the whole museum movement in the Isle of Man, generously stepped in to acquire and preserve the thatched cottage of Ned Beg Hom Ruy, the Manx poet, in Cregneish. This attractive cottage with its unhindered view down to the Calf of Man, so much a part of the Cregneish scene, has remained in his safe keeping ever since. Now Mr & Mrs Karran have offered the cottage as a gift which the Trust warmly accept, gratefully acknowledging the practical support and the vision represented by the preservation of this vital part of Cregneish.
The association with Ned Beg Hom Ruy, who was essentially a poet of the Manx country people, is especially happy.
Edward Faragher (1831–1908) was a Manx language poet, folklorist and cultural guardian. He is considered to be the last important native writer of Manx and perhaps the most important guardian of Manx culture during a time when it was most under threat. The folklorist, Charles Roeder, wrote that Faragher had “done great services to Manx folklore, and it is due to him that at this late period an immense amount of valuable Manx legends have been preserved, for which indeed the Isle of Man must ever be under gratitude to him.” Faragher is also familiarly known in Manx as Ned Beg Hom Ruy.
Born into a large family of twelve children, at this time Manx was the only language spoken in Cregneish, and so his mother stood out as “the only person who could converse with strangers” due to her grasp of English. His father was one of the few people who could write in the village and so he was called upon to write letters on behalf of others in the community. It was from his father, known as Ned Hom Ruy in Manx, that Faragher’s familiar Manx name derives – with the Manx word for “little” being added, making it Ned Beg Hom Ruy (little Ned with the red beard’).
Apart from some time in Liverpool learning the safe-making trade and seasonal absences in later years at the mackerel fishing off the south and west coasts of Ireland, he lived here in his house in Cregneish nearly all his days. He went to school first of all in Cregneish, to a dame school kept by Margaret Bridson and later to the parochial school, but a love of language and an ear for rhyme and metre, induced him to continue reading throughout his life, and according to Charles Roeder, the Manchester scholar who became a leading authority on Manx folklore who was his friend, he was well acquainted with the works of Scott, Milton and Byron as well as with the Bible. In correspondence with Roeder we find the poet acknowledging a gift of ‘tobacco and The Pilgrim’s Progress’, and at another time thanking him for sending Milton’s Poems. He pronounces both to be ‘grand books’ but finds in the Milton ‘many ancient names and places that I don’t know anything about’.
To his neighbours in Cregneish, Edward Faragher was known always as Ned Beg Hom Ruy, a familiar figure, working like everyone else as a crofter and fisherman, but his continual habit of reading and writing set him a little apart, so that he was something of a stranger among his own people: ‘going round in a dream he was, with a good enough head on him for the rhyming, but knowing as much about farming as a pig about flying, and writing, writing always.’
There are others however, who remember him engaged in the ordinary work of his croft, ploughing, twisting suggane, and creel-making, and his own description of the life and work of the people of Cregneish shows how intimate was his knowledge of the work, however far he fell short in the performance of it. His reaction to the censure of his neighbours is revealed in his ‘Lines on Poor Shimmin’ a tribute to a fellow poet dead before him:
“For sons of genius are despised,
Upon this rugged Island shore,
And poets are so slightly prized
And seldom thought of any more.”
Roeder, in his friendship with Edward Faragher drew continually upon the poet’s knowledge of Manx folklore, obtaining from him Manx plant and field names, descriptions of old customs and superstitions and many stories, and it is probable that he was indebted to him for much of the material contained in those parts of his published work dealing with folklore in the south of the Island. To his constant enquiries Ned Beg Hom Ruy replied with patience and courtesy, and it is only rarely that he gives the impression that too much was being asked of him, and a note of protest creeps in, “I assure you I know very little about talking birds and singing water and little green dogs with one ear.”
It was at the instigation of Dr Clague and encouraged by a letter from him in Manx Gaelic, ‘the first I ever received,’ that Edward Faragher first began writing verse in Manx: as in many of his poems in English the mood is elegiac – regret for lost youth, for the vanishing Gaelic and for the old way of life in Cregneish. Some of the best of these have been published. He wrote and translated a great deal of prose as well as composing hymns and poems, and some of his hymns in English were written at the request of friends in England. His hymns in Manx like those of the old Carval writers, echo the language of the Bible, but are most effective when they slip into familiar idiom, as when the ‘lost sheep’ of the Scriptures become the sheep that have wandered away from their ‘oayll’, the crofter’s word for the sheep’s accustomed place on the hill.
In a cheerful piece ‘Composed for the Tea in the Mission Ship’, he gives his own assessment of his powers, asking the company…to excuse
“The simple products of my rustic muse,
Uneducated and of low estate,
Unknown of fate and also to the great,
Yet write much metre with a lot of pain.”
He was attracted by stories of all kinds and translated several into Manx of such diverse theme and origin as ‘The Meeting of Solomon and The Queen of Sheba’, and ‘An Incident on the Field of Waterloo’.
Despite the central place of alcohol and heavy drinking in the traditional way of life at that time, upon his return to the Island from fishing off Kinsale around 1876, Faragher took up abstinence. This started the greatest period of creative output in his life, as he would go on to write some four thousand hymns or poems in Manx and English. Also at this time his poetry expanded from the romantic and lyrical to also take on more contemplative and sacred topics.
Despite his phenomenal output, Faragher received little attention in his own community for his poetry and song. Instead they tended to bring him only the “jeers and derision of his uncultured companions and the buxom village belles.”
He loved walking on the hills around Cregneish and more than once in letters written during a spell of stormy weather, he wishes that the wind would moderate so that he might ‘goll ronail’ go wandering. Sometimes his writing was done during the course of these walks – a story concludes – “Written on the side of Mull Hill, the sixth day of the first month of harvest 1899.” An account of his experiences whilst away at the fishing takes on a great immediacy when it is realised that it was ‘written aboard the Osprey of Port St Mary at Crookhaven, Co. Cork – a person is not able to write for there is not much room in the cabin, and it is too windy to sit on deck. I do not know when better weather will come with mackerel about.’
If his ‘muse’ was in his poems in English at times imitative and derivative, in his capacity as story teller he was truly himself, for he was, as Roeder realised and declared him to be, an authentic teller of folktales, which the story of the ‘Fishing of the Great Pearl’ and his other fishermen’s stories clearly prove.
‘The net came to the surface of the water and it shone on the mountains round about as though there had been a full moon; and what was in the net but a great pearl, and the old men were so frightened with the brightness of it that they let the net go to the bottom again and the great pearl was gone, and with all the fishing and trawling ever since, no man has happened on the great pearl.’
Through Roeder, Faragher became well known in circles concerned with Manx Gaelic culture. He became connected with the major figures of the Manx cultural revival, including Sophia Morrison, John Kneen, Edmund Goodwin and John Clague. As this was at the time of Pan-Celticism, there was also an interest in Faragher from outside of the Island. Faragher’s letters to Roeder tell of visits from gentlemen who had “heard [Faragher’s] name mentioned in London,” academics such as the Professor of Gaelic from Scotland who communicated with him through Scottish Gaelic, and Edward Spencer Dodgson (cousin of Lewis Carroll) who visited Faragher in Cregneash when visiting the island. In 1896 the foreign interest in Faragher reached such an extent that he would write that he was being “kept busy answering young ladies letters ones that I never saw.”
However, the local community grew to resent and even shun Faragher for these visitors and correspondences, as they felt that “he was drawing undue attention both unto himself and the village.” This reached such a pitch that Roeder was forced to publish disclaimers in the newspapers to try and cool some of the “aggravation” caused by Faragher’s status as folklore informer, mentioning that Faragher was suffering “greatly by the general animus against him.”
These social problems that Faragher was suffering at this time were perhaps eclipsed by the serious economic problems that he encountered due to the dire state of the traditional crofting way of life on the island. In the 1890s Faragher began to find it increasingly difficult to make a living as a fisherman and a small-scale farmer. In 1898 Faragher wrote (in his imperfect English) of that year’s fishing that, “It has been hard times we could not catch mackerells enough to eat sometimes.” By this time Faragher was in his 60s and was beginning to be afflicted by rheumatism, from which he was to suffer increasingly and which threatened to keep him from work entirely. These problems were then compounded by what he saw to be the unfair treatment he received by farmers keeping wages unfairly low. A poem he wrote on this subject features the following stanza:
Arrane Mychione Eirinee Sayntoilagh / A Song About Covetous Farmers [extract]:
“Feer-veg t’ad cur da labree bogbt
Son e hooilliel as laboraght:
Son kiangley arroo ayns yn ouyr
Ny-yeih t’ad geam dy vel eh rouyr.”
“Very little do they give the poor labourer
For his toil and labour:
For binding corn in the harvest.
Yet they exclaim that it is too much.”
In response to Faragher’s struggling to earn enough to live on, Roeder tried to gain interest in him as a literary and cultural figure so that a public fund might be raised to support him. In 1898 he wrote to the Manx novelist Hall Caine, at that time perhaps the UK’s most popular and successful writer, to ask him to write about Faragher so as to raise his profile and the public’s awareness of him. However, Caine responded with a letter that reflected the lack of understanding or interest in Faragher at that time:
“I have read the poems with pleasure; but while I think they show a good deal of sensibility & poetic feeling, to certain homely states of emotion, I do not think they are sufficiently remarkable as literature to warrant any special attention. […] That the author is a man of very amiable character, & that his love of his native island is very tender & beautiful is sufficiently obvious, but I doubt if these are enough to warrant us in claiming for him any attention beyond that which is due to a really admirable man who has preserved a simplicity of natural feeling that is rather too rare.”
A public fund was never raised for Faragher, much to the frustration of Roeder and others.
Through the instigation and endorsement of Roeder, a small amount of Faragher’s writing began to appear in print at the start of the 20th Century. Besides the occasional poem printed in sympathetic newspapers or publications, Faragher’s single publication under his own name during his lifetime was his translation into Manx of Aesop’s Fables. Faragher had translated other folk tales previously, including Hans Christian Andersen’s The Ugly Duckling, but at the instigation of Roeder he completed his translation of all 313 of the Aesop fables in four months in 1901, “while not in the best health, and harassed by domestic afflictions.” The publishers, S.K. Broadbent of Douglas, published 25 of these tales under the Manx title, Skeealyn Aesop, in 1901. The intention was to publish further stories in future issues, but there was insufficient interest in the 1901 publication to justify it. Realising the value of the work, despite the lack of interest at that time, Roeder deposited Faragher’s full manuscript in the library of the Manx Museum for safekeeping, where it still remains today.
Faragher also published a number of recollections in prose of folk beliefs, stories and traditions. These were printed as “the greater part of” ‘Manx Notes and Queries’, Charles Roeder’s serialised column in The Isle of Man Examiner, which was at that time “sympathetic to the Manx language revival.” The column ran between 21 September 1901 and 24 October 1903, incorporating 87 separate columns, with 261 separately numbered notes. The column ceased due to a lack of collaboration in its production, again despite Roeder’s hopes.
In 1904, S. K. Broadbent released the column in book form, under the title Manx Notes and Queries. Much to Roeder’s chagrin, the book suffered the same fate as Skeealyn Aesop, with poor sales resulting from the lack of interest from the Manx public.
This lack of interest in Faragher and his work at this time extended also to his poetry. Although Mona’s Herald and The Cork Eagle published his poetry during his lifetime, they did not publish much, and many publications refused his poetry. One such publication was The Isle of Man Examiner, who refused his poems when sent in by Sophia Morrison. His poetry has been described as “of the homely, descriptive kind, and appeals to the simple emotions of the heart.”
Although Roeder and the others of the Manx cultural revival never doubted Faragher’s importance, they came to despair of ever rousing sufficient interest in his work during his lifetime. Roeder was to write in a personal letter after Faragher’s death that, “he was a very disappointed man & was very shabbily served by the Manx people who ignored him.”
It is sad that at the end of his life circumstances compelled Edward Faragher to leave Cregneish for Derbyshire. In former times, whenever he was away from the Island, his thoughts turned homeward to Cregneish, and he wrote poems about the rocks and caves around the coast, the gorse and heather on the hills and about his own home:-
“My little native village cot,
Where mother plied the spinning wheel
And Betsy turned the creaking reel.”
By the start of 1907, conditions in Cregneish had become sufficiently bad that Faragher’s widowed daughter and her two sons were left no option but to emigrate to Canada. Because she had been acting as his housekeeper since his wife had died, Faragher, now aged 76, was forced to leave the Island, to live with his son W. A. Faragher, at his house at 56 Blackwell Colliery, near Alfreton in Derbyshire.
Faragher was very sad to leave the Island but he attempted to keep up to date with it as best as he was able through letters and by reading The Isle of Man Examiner, sent to him each week courtesy of Roeder. He wrote in thanks to Roeder commenting sadly that “I am not longing for much but a sight of the sea.” He composed a lot of poetry whilst first at his son’s, until illness overtook him. His son wrote that: “He has been writing verse since he came here until his head got bad, and now he says he shall write no more.” One of the most striking poems of this period comments on his sorrow at the decline of Manx culture:
Vannin Veg Veen / Dear Little Mannin [extract]:
“Ny yeih ta mish seaghnit son chengey ny maynrey
To doillee meeiteil nish rish Manninagh dooie
Yn Vaarle ta er choodagh myr tonnyn ny marrey
Yn Ellan veg ain veih’n jiass gys y twoaie.”
“Nevertheless I am saddened for the mother tongue
It’s difficult meeting now with a true Manxman
The English has covered like the waves of the sea
Our little Island from the south to the north.”
In his final exile in Derbyshire, old and ill and suffering the discomforts of a colder climate, within 18 months of leaving the island he had succumbed to a painful illness from which he died between 8 and 10 o’clock on Friday, 5th June 1908.
He was buried on the 9th June in Derbyshire in an unmarked grave.
(source – extracts from two sources, 1) The Journal of the Manx Museum Vol. VII, 1967, No.83 by Margaret Killip and 2) wiki; photo of bwaane Ned Beg Hom Ruy (cottage) by Shimmin beg; book cover of Skeealyn ‘sy Ghailck; book cover of Manx Notes & Queries by As Manx as the Hills)