Manx folklore is a curious mixture of that of various races. The population, based on a Gaelic and Pre-Celtic stock, but crossed with Scandanavian and tinged with the Lancashire and Derbshire followers of the Stanleys – with an infusion also, no doubt, of the Galloway Scots, who came much to the Island in the old smuggling days – forms a fine sturdy nation, which would necessarily inherit customs from its component parts. Those of May Day are probably Celtic, or earlier, except the Battle of Summer and Winter, which seems to be Scandanavian, and so are the All Hallow E’en celebrations. The first-foot might be Scandanavian though the luck of a dark first-foot looks like Celtic influence.
The Celtic New Year began on Old All Hallow E’en, now 12th November, and it might be thought that a Manx Folk-Calendar should begin on that date. In practice, however, it was found better to conform to the usual calendar, beginning with 1st January, though this has the disadvantage of cutting the Christmas festivities into two widely sundered parts.
Another difficulty arises from the change of the calendar in 1753. In that year Lord Chesterfield’s Act dropped 11 days in order to bring the calendar conformity with that used over the greater part of the world. Many customs are kept, in the Isle of Man on the Old Style dates and sometimes both old and new are observed.
~ C. I. Paton, Manx Calendar Customs (1942)
JANUARY – Mee s’jerree yn-gheurey – The last month of the winter
January 1 – formerly called Laa Nolick beg in Manx, that is ‘little Christmas’.
January 6 – was referred to as Shenn Laa Nolick, that is ‘old Christmas Day’.
January 12 – Greeba Fair – Our earliest record of which is for the year 1816 and it disappeared after 1834. We don’t know whether there was an old fair or not, and it may be merely a coincidence that the fair was held on the eve of he Feast of St Mochonna of Inis-Patrick, a Manx saint who was venerated on January 13th.
January 25 – Laa’l-noo Phaul, St Paul’s Feast Day.
FEBRUARY – Yn-chied vee jeh’n arragh – The first month of the spring
February 1 – Laa’l Breeshey. The Feast of St. Bridget.
February 1 – St Bride’s or St Bridget’s Fair. Held at Kirk Bride on St Bridget’s Day, February 1st, after the alteration of the style, February 12th. This was the patronal fair, the parish being dedicated to St Bridget of Kildare. This fair is mentioned by Feltham in 1797 and it continued to be held until recently (early 20th century?). The Manx name of the parish is Skyll Vridey.
February 2 – Laa’l Moirrey ny gianle, Mary’s Feast Day of the Candles, Candlemas. Also the day of man being tied and secured i.e. a day of hiring men for work.
February 2 – Kirk Marown or St Marooney’s Fair. The fair ground adjoins the ancient parish church. This fair was latterly held on February 2nd, Candlemas or the Purification of the Virgin Mary. The parish of Kirk Marown – Skyll Marooney in Manx – was dedicated to St Ronan of Lismore Mochada (in County Wexford) who was known in Manx as Marooney, Latinised Runius, and Englished Marown. The first syllable ma- or mo- is an honorific prefix and exactly equivalent to the prefixes ma- and mon- in the French words madame (my lady) and monsieur (my lord). St Ronan’s dedication date was February 7th and it is evident that Candlemas, February 2nd, was substituted in place of Ronan’s dedication date.
February 6 – Periwinkle Fair, also St Dorothy’s Day. A fair, called Periwinkle Fair, was held on this day till 50 years ago (1830s). It took place on the shore at Pooyl Vaaish, where cattle, horses, and sheep were bought and sold as usual, and fairings sold, among them periwinkles. It was later transferred to Shrove Tuesday. It is mentioned by Feltham in 1797 and ceased to exist after 1834. St. Dorothy was a Roman saint, and she is not mentioned in the irish Martyrologies, but is found in the Scottish calendars.
Kneen writes: Periwinkle Fair, the name by which it was generally known, was held on Balladoole estate, near an ancient church set down on the maps as Keeill Vael, and translated as Michael’s Church. It is possible, however, that the correct name in Gaelic was Cill Dhiorbhail, Dorothy’s Church, and that vael is a worn down form of the Gaelic, for the approximate pronunciation of the name would be Keeill Yorvael, which we would expect to find as the modern representative in Manx. The chief articles of trade brought forward at Periwinkle Fair to attract visitors were periwinkles and gingerbread, which were probably eaten separately. There was also on show cattle, and, most particularly, ponies of the ancient breed. The rocky shore of the neighbourhood abounds with periwinkles at this season of the year, but I cannot find that St. Dorothy had any special predelection for these delicacies. The consumption of this shell fish was probably – in later times – a reminder of the great feast of Lent. Shrove Tuesday is called Oie Innyd in Manx, and the following day, Ash Wednesday, Laa Innyd, meaning respectively the Eve and Day of Shovetide. It is interesting to note the origin of the Manx Innyd, from Irish Inid, Old Irish Init; being a contraction of the Latin initium, ‘beginning.’ Thus Initium Quadragesima, ‘the beginning of the fort’ i.e. Lent, became in Irish Init Corgais, in Manx Innyd Kargys, simply meaning the ‘beginning of Lent.’ Now Innyd translates ‘Shrovetide,’ and Kargys, ‘Lent.’ Ancient Ireland borrowed most of her ecclesiastical terms from Rome.
February 24 – Laa’l-noo-Mian. St. Matthew’s day. This fair was held at Cross Four Ways on St. Matthew’s Day. The Lebar Brecc (the speckled book) has the following entry: Madian intaspol í madian aspal in ierusalem sepultus est et traian rosmarb he, ‘Mat
MARCH – Mee-veanagh yn arree, also called yn-mart – The middle month of spring
March 16 – Baldwin or St. Abban’s Fair. The church of Baldwin, Kirk Braddan, now known as St. Luke’s, was built upon the site of an ancient ecclesiastical edifice called Keeill Abban, ‘Abban’s church.’ Under date March 16th we fidn this saint recorded in the Calendar of Oengus as follows: ‘Abban i feil etsechta abain mic hui chormaic dolaignib,’ ‘Abban i.e. feast of the death of Abban son of O’Cormac of Leinster.’
The dedication carries us back to a period anterior to the coming of the Norsemen – indeed, many of our dedications are equally old – and it is probable that the usage of the site for ceremonial purposes pre-dates Christianity itself. We cannot say why this particular site was chosen, but it is probable that some well in the neighbourhood was venerated by our Pagan ancestors, near the site of which the early Christian missionaries raised a sacred edifice.
Baldwin Fair, latterly held on Ash Wednesday, would be formerly held on St. Abban’s Day, March 16th. Our earliest record of this fair is found in the Manx Statutes for the year 1429, and it is again mentioned by Feltham in 1797. It was discontinued after 1834. We thus have a record of unbroken continuity for over 400 years.
St. Abban’s Church, was near the site of a moot hill, where a Tynwald Court was held in 1429 by John Walton, Lieutenant of Mann. Algare, the name of the estate upon which the Tynwald Hill was situated, is interesting because it is one of our pre-Scandanavian names and record the fact that the Manx open-air Court was a Celtic institution, which the Norsemen perpetuated for the reason that they were acquainted with the same custom in their own homeland; indeed, it is probable that in early times the custom obtained over the greater part of Europe.
March 17 – Laa’l Parick, also Laa’l Pherick. St. Patrick’s Day.
March 25 – Laa’l Moirrey ny Sansh. The Annunciation.
APRIL – Mee s’jerree yn arree, also called Yn Avril – The last month of spring
April 5 – Shenn Laa’l Moirrey y Sannish. Mary’s Old Feast Day of the Whisper. Old Lady Day.
April 25 – Laa-noo Mark-yn Sushtallagh. St. Mark the Evangelist’s Day.
MAY – Yn Baaltin or Boaldyn or Yn-chied vee jeh’n tourey. The Beltein or The first month of the summer
May 1 – Laa Boaldyn. Beltaine. May Day.
May 12 – Laa Baljey. The general day for letting of houses, paying half-year’s rents, taking in grazing cattle, and women servants taking their places for the year, after hiring on the 28th March.
May 18 – Laa’l Spitlhin Souree, ‘summer festival day of hospitals.’ A court and fair were held at St. John’s.
JUNE – Mee-veanagh yn touree – The middle month of the summer
June 8 – Oie’l Colum Killey. Eve of Columba.
June 9 – Laa Colum Killey. St. Columba’s Day.
June 11 – Laa Noo Barnabas. St. Barnabas
June 22 – Laa Noo Barnabas. Old St. Barnabas Day.
June 24 – Trinaig Veg. Little Trinity. On this day the annual Tynwald was formerly held at St. John’s.
June 24 – Laa’l Ean Bashtey. John the Baptist’s Feast Day.
June 29 – Laa’l Pheddyr. St. Peter’s Feast Day.
JULY – Mee s’jerree yn touree – The last month of the summer. Also occasionally known as Mee-wuigh, the yellow month
July 1 – peat digging ceased.
July 4 & 5 – Shenn Laa’l Ean Bashtey. Old Midsummer Day and its Eve. Old Feast Day of St John the Baptist.
July 5 – Laa Tinvaal. Tynwald Day. Prior to the calendar change from the Old Style (Julian Calendar) to the New Style (Gregorian Calendar) in 1753, this was held at Midsummer and on the Feast Day of John the Baptist. However, the legislation retained the Julian Calendar for the purpose of determining Tynwald Day: it provided that “Midsummer Tynwald Court shall be holden and kept … upon or according to the same natural Days upon or according to which the same should have been so kept or holden … in case this Act had never been made.”
July 13 – Laa’l Carmane. St. German’s Day.
July 15 – Laa’l Sushin. St. Swithin’s Day.
July 16 – By an obsolete law passed in 1610, herring fishing began on this day.
July 22 – Laa’l Moirrey Malane. Feast Day of Mary Magdalene.
July 25 – Laa Noo Yamys. St. James’ Day (St. James the Great).
July 31 – Laa’l Maghal Toshee (also Feoffi Machold Toshee). Chief (or first) Feast Day of Maughold. (see November 26)
AUGUST – Yn-chied-vee jeh’n ouyr – The first month of the harvest
August 1 – Laa Luanys (or Laa Luanistyn or Lhunys). Lammas.
August 2 – St Lonan’s Day (no special Manx name).
August 15 – Laa’l Moirrey Toshee. Mary’s Chief (or first) Feast Day.
August 24 – Laa’l Parlane. St Batholomew’s Feast Day.
SEPTEMBER – Mee-veanagh yn-ouyr – The middle month of the harvest
September 10 – St Ninian’s Day (no Manx name).
September 21 – Laa’l Mian. St Matthew’s Feast Day.
September 29 – Laa’l Vaayl. St Michael’s Feast Day. Michelmas.
OCTOBER – Mee s’jerree yn ouyr – The end of the harvest month
October 1 – all peat dug in the public turbaries had to be removed by this date.
October 10 – Shenn Laa’l Vaayl. Old Michael’s Feast Day.
October 18 – Laa Noo Luke. St Luke’s Day.
October 28 – Feoill Simon. The Feast of Simon. Also, after this date, blackberries were not supposed to be picked; children were told that the ‘club’ was on them. ‘Club’ appears to be a mildew.
October 29 – Laa’l Mael Beg. Feast Day of St Matthew the Less.
October 31 & Nov 11 – Oie Houney and Shenn Oie Houney. Hollantide Eve and Old Hollantide Eve. Also called Hop-tu-naa or Hogmanaye night – the Scottish name for New Year’s Eve.
NOVEMBER – Yn-chied vee jeh’n gheurey or Yn Tauin or Sauin, Hollantide month – The first month of the winter
November 1 & 12 – Laa Souney and Shenn Laa Souney. Hollantide Day and Old Hollantide Day. Also Laa’l mooar ny Saintsh. All Saints’ Day.
November 1 – Laa’ll Mooar ny Saintsh. All Saints Day.
November 2 – Laa’l Feoill ny Marroo. All Souls’ Day.
November 9 – Laa’l Kickle (or Kial). Cecilia’s Feast Day.
November 11 – Laa’l Noo Martin. St Martin’s Feast Day.
November 18 – Laa’l Spitlhin Geuree, ‘winter festival day of hospitals.’ A court and fair were held at St. John’s.
November 25 – Laa’l Catreeney. St Catherine’s Feast Day.
November 26 – Laa’l Maghal Geuree. Maughold’s Feast Day of Winter. (see July 31).
November 30 – Laa’l Andreays. Andrew’s Feast Day.
DECEMBER – Mee-meanagh yn-gheurey – The middle month of the winter
December 6 – Shenn Laa’l Catreeney. Old Feast Day of Catherine.
December 11 – Shenn Laa’l Andreays. Old St Andrew’s Feast Day.
December 20 – Oie’l Fingan. The Eve of Fingan’s Day.
December 21 – Laa’l Thomase. Thomas’ Feast Day.
December 24 – Fastyr Laa yn Ollick. Eve of Christmas Day. (note: not sure why ‘fastyr’ is given).
December 25 – Laa Nollick or Yn Ollick. Christmas Day or The Christmas.
December 26 – Laa’l Steaoin or Laa’l Skeaoin. Stephen’s Feast Day.
December 27 – Laa’l Ean ‘syn Ollick. The Feast Day of John in the Christmas (Evangelist John).
December 28 – Laa’l Macan. The Feast Day of the Little Sons
December 31 – Oie Nollick-beg. Little Christmas Eve.
(sources: Manx Calendar Customs by Paton (1941); The Folklore of the Isle of Man by AW Moore (1891); Manx Fairs by JJ Kneen from The Isle of Man Natural History and Antiquarian Society Proceedings Vol.III No.1 (1925-1926); and other sources)