The third Wonder, the stone which moved at night and always returned to its chosen spot, is no longer in Onchan, but there are people still living in the village who remember it in the last phase of its history.
The site of the parish church and its immediate surroundings was almost certainly a centre of pagan religious rites before the coming of Christianity; possibly a pagan religious temple stood there, and the stone was probably the last relic of those ancient rites. Where is ‘Glen Cindenn’ – the place around which the Wonder Stone is said to have perambulated o’nights? According to Nennius, it invariably returned there after being thrown into the sea – but why should a big stone, apparently capable of moving by its own volition, be thrown into the sea at all? It seems rather a watse of effort!
Well, I think the nature and properties of the Onchan Wonder Stone as reported traditionally may give us a clue to this puzzle. It was, we are told, actually a phallic symbol, in shape something like a human thigh, and in former times it was resorted to for the performance of certain phallic rites, especially by lovers. So notorious did it become in this connection that an early priest of the parish caused it to be carted away and thrown over the cliffs at what is now Howstrake Corner. But his efforts were in vain, for the very next day it was back in its old position at Kione Droghad. Now, an old name for this place is Kion Doon, meaning ‘head of the close’ or ‘enclosed place’ and here, I think, we may recognise the original Manx version of Cindenn, the two words being combined into one by the Latin annalist and ‘Glen’ added. Actually, Kione Droghad, while not exactly a glen, is definitely an open valley.
It is said that the Onchan stone was removed several times only to return, and then the ecclesiastical authorities had the idea of at least stopping its midnight rambles by building it into the churchyard wall. There it remained for some considerable time – but apparently it still retained its attraction for lovers; and at last a certain vicar’s wife became so scandalised at the goings-on beside it that she had it once more uprooted and buried in a bog just below Kione Droghad. This manoeuvre seems to have stopped its capers at last – presumably even the most fervent of lovers baulked at immersing themselves in a slimy bog to seek it out.
And that might have been the end of the story – rather an ignomious end for so ancient a tradition even though a disreputable one by Christian standards. But it is not the end – not quite.
The late William Cubbon of the Manx Museum, that indefatigable searcher-out of ancient relics, somehow got upon the track of the Onchan Wonder Stone and poked about in the bog until he discovered its whereabouts. He also listened to all the stories about it and felt it should be preserved, respectable or not. I am told by a respected Onchan resident that finally it was raised (with as little publicity as possible – I think at night) and conveyed to the Museum; in the cellars of which it still reposes.
I wonder if the long immersion in the bog leached away the stone’s magical properties – or whether they would revive if it were resorted to by the right kind of people in the right manner? Who knows? Anyway, it is NOT an exhibit on view in the public galleries of the Manx Museum…the authorities are playing it safe.
(source: sadly, unable to source a photo of the Onchan Wonder Stone, photo is of a phallic stone in Norway http://bit.ly/15EeZ8M; text from ‘This is Ellan Vannin Again: Folklore‘ by Mona Douglas (1966))