Home Manx Life Disputes


by Bernadette Weyde

The disputes which took place over questions of boundaries, pathways etc., were not always conducted peacefully. The Nunnery Lake, the flat land behind and including the timber yard and railway station, was claimed by the Nunnery, though said by Moore of Pulrose and others to be occupied land.

In 1660 the servants of Hugh Moore, the Water Bailiff, came to the Lake to dig clay for mortar and to cut the long thin sods called ‘scraghyn’ for roofing under the thatch. The servants were driven off, upon which Moore came alone and Margaret Calcott, the mistress of the Nunnery, sent her nephew to deal with the intruder. A fight took place on the river bank, in which the Water Bailiff was defeated; and bruised and bleeding, made an ignominious retreat to Pulrose.

In 1740 Dan Cowin of Lanjaghan sought a church way through the Abbey lands. When, however, ‘the old woman of Lanjaghan’ as a witness described her, came riding down the valley to the church she was stopped by Thomas Lewn of Ballacreetch. In the argument that followed she fell from the horse and was hurt. Lewn was apparently considered to blame for the mishap and was called upon to beg her pardon in the presence of Bishop Wilson, ‘seeing’ (to quote the account) ‘it was Sunday when the incident occurred’, and he therefore came under Canon Law.

One of the liveliest battles occurred in Lezayre in 1738 between Arthur Cowle of the Kella Beg and the owner of Ballabrooie. Cowle, like his opponent, was a man of lively aggressive temper and ten years later was engaged in a right of way squabble with an Englishman named Drake living in the Kella Mooar. Drake and a female companion drove over the disputed road in a one-horse shay (chaise) – perhaps the earliest Manx reference to this light vehicle, and a sign of improving roads. Cowle blocked the way and seized the horse’s bridle, the shay overturned and the occupants were thrown out. Cowle denied being the cause of the accident and in felicitous language declared that, on the contrary, the shay horse ‘went quietly and calmly, with jollity, and a seeming good composure of mind’.

Cowle’s dispute with Ballabrooie sprang from his construction of a dam for his Kella mill. The owner of Ballabrooie appeared on the scene with his son and menservents and started to break down the dam bank. When Cowle advanced along it, his opponent splashed him with water and he retreated. But his wife, a worthy descendant of the women who saved the day at Santwat, cried out, “Stone the ould thief! He should be cut off from Church and Churchyard!” and entered the battle, part of which was fought waist-deep in the water.

Meanwhile, the Amazon’s obedient husband had floored his chief enemy with a stone, and was soon engaged in combat with the Ballabrooie’s son who was armed with a spade handle. The menservants appear to have watched the antics of their infuriated employers with the detachment one might expect from men enjoying a meagre wage of thirty or forty shillings a year; and they only intervened when the fighting tended to become really dangerous.

The four principals, all badly damaged, appeared for redress to The Great Enquest (court) and were fined equal amounts by the impartial court; though Cowle had, in addition, to pay for the cure of the Ballabrooie’s broken head.

(source: Manannan’s Isle by David Craine (1955); artwork by Francisco de Goya y Lucientes ‘Duelo a garrotazos‘ (fights with cudgels)

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