Manx Fairs

by Bernadette Weyde

In pre-Reformation times and for many years afterwards, the feast of the patron saint of a church or parish was observed by a religious service in the church, often an elaborate event, and the feast was accompanied by a fair. Patron Day in a parish was an especial day for the entertainment of relatives and friends.

The earliest records of Manx fairs are contained in a memorandum book which was in the possession of the late Rev T Talbot. These records are from 1730 – 1755 (Feltham in 1797 is the only historian who mentions them). In the memorandum book, 23 of the more important fairs are mentioned, whilst Feltham gives a list of 43 fairs.

In connection with the open-air Tynwald Courts, an assembly of the people was also held which was always begun by a religious service in a church near the place of assembly. After the religious service and promulgation ceremony was over, the people took themselves to the fair ground where they indulged in dancing and amusements and where livestock and all kinds of commodities were offered for sale.

Many of the old Celtic saints were superimposed by Biblical ones, which probably took place after the Reformation. Our earliest record of the Tynwald Convention in 1237, is of the great festival of Sauin.

January 1 – STRANG FAIR – held near the main road, just north of the village. Immediately eastward was an ancient church which has now disappeared and the name of the patron saint has been lost.

January 5 – FIDDLERS’ or EPIPHANY FAIR – held on the ancient fair ground at St Mark’s. This was called the Fiddlers’ Fair and we know it to have been very old as there are records of it in 1732 and 1733.

January 12 – GREEBA FAIR – the earliest record is for 1816 and it disappeared after 1834.

February 1 – ST BRIDE’S or ST BRIDGET’S FAIR – held at Kirk Bride on Bridget’s Feast Day (after the alteration of the calendar style, February 12). The fair continued to be held until recently (poss. end of the 19th century/early 20th century)

February 2 – KIRK MAROWN or ST MAROONEY’S FAIR – the fair ground adjoins the ancient parish church.

February 6 – PERIWINKLE or ST DOROTHY’S FAIR – held on St Dorothy’s Day at Pooilvaash but later transferred to Shrove Tuesday. It ceased after 1834. Generally know as Periwinkle Fair, it took place on the Balladoole estate, near an ancient church, Keeill Vael which is 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 should expect to find as the modern representative of Manx. To attract visitors, periwinkles and gingerbread were offered. There was also on show cattle, and most, particularly, Manx ponies of the ancient breed.

February 24 – CROSS FOUR WAYS or ST MATTHIAS’ FAIR – This fair is mentioned by Feltham in 1797 and was last held in 1834. It is almost certain that there was formerly a church dedicated to St Matthias in the neighbourhood of Cross Four Ways.

February 27 – BALDWIN FAIR – Jefferson’s Almanack for 1870 and 1872 gives this as the date of the Baldwin Fair. It was normally held on Ash Wednesday. It was abandoned in 1834.

March 12 – KIRK MICHAEL or ST GREGORY’S FAIR – There is only one record of this fair, in 1748. It is probable that a church dedicated to St Gregory once existed in the parish of Kirk Michael where the fair was held.

March 16 – BALDWIN or ST ABBAN’S FAIR – The church in Baldwin, now known as St Luke’s, was built upon the site of an ancient chapel called Keeill Abban. Earliest record of this fair is in 1429 and it was still held when Feltham toured in 1797 though discontinued after 1834. In its later years the date of the fair was changed to Ash Wednesday.

March 17 – PATERMAS, PATRICKMAS or ST PATRICK’S FAIRS – There are records of this fair for the years 1732, 1733, 1741 and 1742. The ancient parish church was on St Patrick’s Isle and the patron fair was held in Peel. Another fair was held in the parish on March 28, which was also St Patrick’s Day, per the new style calendar. Both fairs are recorded by Feltham in 1797. March 17 is the anniversary of the saint’s death. This was a ‘hiring fair’ for female servants.

March 25 – ST MARY’S FAIR – Latterly held at Cornaa Bridge, and Keeill Woirrey (St March’s Church) was further up the Cornaa Valley where the fair was undoubtedly held in early times. After 1826 it was transferred to Ramsey and discontinued after 1834.

April 5 – JURBY or ST PATRICK’S FAIR – The parish of Jurby was dedicated to St Patrick and was anciently called Kirk Patrick of Jurby. It was held on this date so as not to clash with the Peel fair and also in recognition of the saint’s first baptism in Ireland.

April 6 – CHRIST’S or KIRK CHRIST’S (RUSHEN) FAIR – There is only one record of this fair for 1733.

April 19 – ST MARTIN’S FAIR – We have a record of this fair in 1802 and it was held in Douglas. There was a church in Douglas dedicated to St Martin’s and also an ancient church in Kirk Conchan dedicated to the same saint, from which the estate of Ballakilmartin takes its name.

April 23 – ST GEORGE’S FAIR – Held at Ballacleator Gate, Kirk Andreas. This does not seen to have been an ancient fair, as it was apparently not instituted until 1813 and discontinued after 1834.

April 25 – ST MARK’S FAIR (BALLASALLA) – The fair is mentioned by Feltham in 1797. An old church formerly stood about 433 yards E.S.E of St Mark’s Church, which may also have been dedicated to St Mark, and this fair may have been held near this site in early times.

April 25 – ST MARK’S FAIR (KIRK BRIDE) – Held at Ballavarkish, Kirk Bride. The old Celtic church here, Keeill Varkish (Mark’s Church) , is now entirely gone. This fair is mentioned by Feltham and was held up to 1834. After the alteration of the calendar style, it was held on May 6, eleven days after April 25.

May 1 – BOALDYN/BELTAINE – There were two Beltaine fairs, one at St John’s and the other at Chibbyr Pharick ‘Patrick’s Well’ in Lonan. The latter fair ceased to exist after 1834 but the St John’s Fair was carried on for many years after.

May 3 – SULBY CLADDAGHS, LEZAYRE – Mentioned in Jefferson’s Almanack for 1870 and 1872.

The second Tuesday in May – ST MARY’S FAIR (CASTLETOWN) – The fair is mentioned by Feltham and disappeared after 1821.

May 10 – COOPER’S FAIR, LAXEY – Mentioned in Jefferson’s Almanack for 1870 and 1872. It is not listed by Feltham but was held on the sea-beach at least as late as 1882 when a Tynwald committee ‘recommended it to be held at Laxey on the second Tuesday in May’.

May 12 – ST MARK’S FAIR (ST MARK’S) – There is a record of the fair in 1741, twelve years prior to the alteration of the style of calendar, so it could not have represented a dedication to the festival of Beltane. Probably the reason for the transference of this ancient fair from May 18 to May 12 was the fact that on the former date a very important fair was held at St John’s, known as the Great Court Fair.

May 15 – ST RONICAN’S FAIR (BALLAUGH) – There was a little chapel on the Bishop’s demesne which has now disappeared, latterly known as Cabbal Rhullickey, apparently meaning ‘chapel of the cemetery’, which must be a misinterpretation as all these ecclesiastical houses had cemeteries attached to them. We find the correct form in 1826, when it is called Cabbal Ronican.

May 18 – SPITHLIN SOUREE FAIR – Festival day of the hospitals in summer. Also known as Great Court Fair, it was held at St John’s.

May 20 (formerly May 9) – KIRK SANTAN or ST SANCTAN’S FAIR – Only the patronal fair is recorded for this parish. The fair was latterly held on Whit Monday, near Brown Cow Inn, on the treen of Knockalaughan, but like all patronal fairs, it must have been formerly held near the parish church. It is mentioned by Feltham in 1797.

May 24 – KIRK BRADDAN or ST BRADDAN’S FAIR – There are two records of this fair held at Douglas in 1733 and 1754 and it is also mentioned by Feltham in 1797. It apparently ceased to exist at an earlier date than others as it is not recorded in our earliest almanacks beginning in 1808.

May 26 – SANTON FAIR – According to Jefferson’s Almanack for 1870 and 1872, this was the date of Santon Fair. Feltham says that this fair was in June, and Kneen gives May 20, 1755 and ‘latterly held on Whit Monday’.

ASCENSION FAIR – held at Kirk Marown near a little church called Keeill Pharick (Patrick’s Church). The ruins of the little keeill may still be seen on the quarterland of Ballafreer. The patron ritual was kept up here after the fair had disappeared and this is very remarkable and the only instance of its kind in our Insular records.

ST CONCHAN or KIRK CONCHAN FAIR – The patronal saint was Christopher but he was better known in Ireland under his Gaelic name, ‘Conchenn’ meaning ‘dog-head’ or ‘wolf-head’. St Christopher was commemorated on April 28 but latterly this fair was held on Holy Thursday. It is mentioned by Feltham in 1797 and was not held after 1834.

WHITSUN FAIR – Held at the Lhen in Kirk Andreas. There is no record of it until 1814 and the last was held in 1834. It is possible though it was held prior to 1814, for sometimes we find these fairs suspended for several years and then revived. The fair was held on the parcel of freehold land at the mouth of the Lhen, and the adjoining quarterland is called Ballacolum, which suggests the dedication of a church to Colum Killey, or Columba. If there ever were any church here it is long disappeared and even the name of the quarterland, Ballacolum, does not occur early, so that the dedication of this fair to St Columba must, for the present, remain in doubt.

May (no date) – DOUGLAS FAIR – Feltham does not give a date and the date is difficult to link with any particular festival. It is probably that it was connected with the church of St Mary, which stood near the market place, close to the site of old St Matthew’s Church.

Tuesday after Trinity Sunday – TRINITY FAIR (LEZAYRE) – Held latterly on Sulby Claddagh. There are records of this fair dating from 1706 and it is mentioned by Feltham in 1797 who says…’has two fairs, both held at Sulby Claddagh. These fairs used to be held near the church, but (at the instance of the Rev. Mr. Curphey) for the fifty years past it has been held as above, which is about four miles from Ramsey, under Primrose Hill (Cronk Sumark).

June 9 – ST COLUMBA’S FAIR (KIRK ARBORY) – New style calendar June 20. As early as 1733 this fair had been handed over to St Barnabas, June 11, and was actually referred to as St Barnabas’ Fair, even being held on June 22, St Barnabas’ Feast Day, at Ballabeg. But in spite of this the people of the parish never forgot Columba and his day in Manx is known as Laa’l Colum Killey. Early records of this fair exist from 1733 to 1755 and it is noted by Feltham in 1797. Kneen writes ‘it took place until recently (late 19th/early 20th century) and has been revived to a certain extent of late years in the form of an agricultural show’. Note from As Manx as the Hills: it is still going today!

June 24 – ST JOHN THE BAPTIST, MID-SUMMER or LITTLE TRINITY FAIR (KIRK CHRIST, LEZAYRE) – Held at Sulby, formerly at the parish church as recorded by Feltham in 1797, on Midsummer Day, June 24. The ruins of a little church, now called Cabbal Ballameanagh, are found at Kirk Christ, Lezayre and Kermode records ‘that the people visited the keeill on St John’s Eve and watched at midnight. The fair was held within recent times and was always held on the Old Style calendar date, June 24. St John’s Fair or Tynwald Fair, on the contrary, was transferred to the New Style calendar date after 1753.

July 5 – ST JOHN’S or TYNWALD FAIR (ST. JOHN’S) – This is one of the few Manx fairs that still survives and were it not that the Acts of Tynwald are promulgated on this day, it is probable that the fair would have long since disappeared. Formerly held at Midsummer prior to the calendar style change.

July 13 – ST GERMAN or KIRK GERMAN FAIR – Held on July 24 after the calendar changes. We have early records for the years 1737 and 1755 and Feltham records in 1797 that it was held at Peel Cross. In the Manx Statutes we find that there was a Tynwald Court held at St John’s on July 13. This Court was certainly held in conjunction with St German’s Fair. The fair was held in Peel until recently.

July 25 – CROSS FOUR WAYS – This was the second fair held at Cross-Four-Ways (see February 24). It survived until recently.

July 31/AUGUST 11 – ST MAUGHOLD or ST MACHUT’S FAIRS (AT RAMSEY AND KIRK MAUGHOLD) – There were two days on the Manx Calendar to St Maughold or Machutus – Laa’l Maghald Toshee (Maughold’s old first feast day, old style calendar July 31, new style calendar August 11); and Laa’l Maghald Geuree, (Maghauld’s feast day of winter, old style calendar November 15, new style calendar November 26). Both fairs are mentioned by Feltham in 1797 and we have a record of the August fair from 1740. The August fair disappeared after 1830 but the November fair, held in Ramsey, survived until recently.

August 5 – ST LONAN or KIRK LONAN FAIR (AT LAXEY) – Feltham mentions the fair in 1797 and it was held until recent times. In a note Feltham says…’Maughold Fair was much resorted to before the establishment of one at Laxey, it is now but thinly attended’. He thus leaves the question in doubt as to whether Laxey Fair was an old established one. It is probable, however, that the fair was an ancient one, and represented a dedication to Lonan, the patron saint of the church and parish. The old parish church stands near the coast about a mile north of Groudle and the patron fair must have been formerly held here.

August 12 – BALLASALLA FAIR or LAMMAS FAIR – Recorded in 1733, mentioned by Feltham and continued up to 1872 or later.

August 15 (old style), August 26 (new style) – ST MARY’S or BALLAUGH FAIR – The patronal fair was held on the eve of the Virgin Mary’s birth. The day was known as Laa’l Moirrey Toshee (Mary’s chief feast day). The fair is recorded by Feltham in 1797 and was held within recent times.

August 24 – ST BARTHOLOMEW’S FAIR; SAINTS SIMON & JUDE’S FAIR, October 28 – In the Manx Exchequer Book of 1647 we find the following:

“The petition of the Inhabitants of Ramsey for removing the Maughold Fair etc to Ramsey and two market days per week.”

“My Lord James in regard this business concerns the good people in general refers it to the consideration of the 24 Keys, who desire that Kirk Maughold Fair be not removed but instead thereof Fair to be kept at Ramsey on St Bartholomew and Saints Simon and Jude’s Day. Which is Lordship confirms.”

This is the only record we have of this St Bartholomew’s Fair in Ramsey as it is not recorded by Feltham in 1797, exactly 150 years afterwards, nor is it recorded in any of our early amanacks. Saints Simon and Jude’s Fair mentioned in the foregoing petition is noted by Feltham and was held until recently. If an old fair revived, it may have been dedicated to another saint.

September 24 – ST ADAMNAN’S FAIR – Held at Sulby.

September 29 – ST MICHAEL’S FAIR – Held on St Michael’s Day at Ballasalla. Feltham records it being held at the latter place, but in a Santan vicar’s diary it is recorded as being held in Castletown in 1754. This fair was held until recently.

September 29 – ST MICHAEL or MICHAELMAS FAIR – The patronal fair is held at Kirk Michael. This fair still existed when Kneen presented his research in 1926.

October 3 to 15 – ST MICHAEL’S FAIR – Held in Castletown on varying dates. Early records show it held on the 15th in 1732-33. It is not recorded by Feltham and disappeared after 1821. It is probable that this fair was another dedication to Michael the Archangel or an extension of the St Michael Fair for we find that in some cases, the fair was carried on for two or three days.

October 11 – ST CAIRBRE’S FAIR – The parish of Kirk Arbory was dedicated to two saints, Cairbre and Columba. The fair was recorded by Feltham and held until recently.

October 28 – SAINTS SIMON & JUDE’S FAIR – (see August 24 – St Bartholomew’s Fair above)

October 29 – ST MICHAEL’S LESSER FAIR – Held at Kirk Michael one month after the patronal fair. We have a record of it for 1754 and Feltham recorded it in 1797. It was discontinued after 1834.

November 1 – HOLLANTIDE FAIR AT ST JOHN’S. Mentioned by Feltham. His description is a little obscure but he meant St John’s, not Peel. It was held up to 1872 or later.

November 12 – OLD HOLLANTIDE – A fair at Douglas ‘is still held, although shorn of much of its former merriment and gaiety’.

November 18 – SPITHLIN GEUREE FAIR – Festival of the hospitals in winter. The chapel of St John the Baptist at St John’s, Kirk German, was connected in some remote way with the Hospitallers or the Order of St John of Jerusalem. I might say here that we have no documentary evidence to prove this, but merely the evidence of place-names, and the fact that there were two days on the Manx Calendar dedicated to hospitals, one in May and the other in November, both held at St John’s. Fairs are recorded in 1726, 1744, 1776 and Feltham recorded both fairs in 1797.

November 22 – ST CECILIA’S FAIR – Cecilia’s dedication date was November 22 but on the Isle of Man she was actually venerated on November 9(?). The day was called in Manx ‘Laa’l Kickle or Kial’ (Cecelia’s feast day). The name was pronounced Kikilia in Latin and was borrowed by Irish in that form. The ruins of St Cecilia’s Chapel (referred to in an ecclesiastical document of 1740 as ‘St Keyl’s Chappell’) can still be seen on the farm of the West Nappin Jurby where the fair was held. The ruins owe their present state of preservation to the fact that the chapel was used as a schoolhouse in the 18th century. Feltham notes the fair and it was held until 1834.

November 25 (old style), December 6 (new style) – ST CATHERINE’S FAIR – Held at Colby, Kirk Arbory. There was formerly a little church – Keeill Catreeney, and a well, Chibbyr Catreeney, near the site where this fair was held on the estate now known as Bell Abbey. The field on which the church stood is still known as Magher Catreeney, ‘Catherine’s field’. It was one of the customary Manx laws that Southside landlords had to bring a suit for possessions before St Catherine’s Day and the Northside landlords before St Andrew’s Day. St Catherine’s Fair is noted by Feltham in 1797 and was held until recently. Note by As Manx as the Hills: the well still exists.

November 30 – ST ANDREW or KIRK ANDREAS FAIR – The patronal fair was held on November 30 (old style) and December 11 (new style). The fair was noted by Feltham and was held until recently.

December 8 – ST MARY’S FAIR – Was connected with the celebration of the Feast of the Conception of the Virgin Mary. Both the old church in Castletown and Rushen Abbey were dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

December 12 – ST FINGAN’S FAIR – His dedication date is December 12 (old style) and December 23 (new style). Archibald Cregeen in his Manks Dictionary has the following: ‘Oie’l Fingan, a big sod of turf for Fingan’s Eve’. From this entry it may be gathered that the people had forgotten the saint’s name and Cregeen sought to explain it through other channels and incidentally, added to our knowledge by relating an ancient custom which had not been previously mentioned by any historian. However, the meaning of Oie’l Fingan is obvious i.e. Fingan’s feast-eve. Like many Celtic saints, Fingan had suffered displacement in Mann and Thomas the Apostle had taken his place, which accounts for the slight discrepancy in dates for St Thomas’ Day, December 21, had been substituted for St Fingan’s Day, December 23 (new style) and therefore St Fingan’s Fair was latterly held in Ramsey on St Thomas’ Day. There was also a church in Kirk Christ, Lezayre dedicated to St Fingan, namely Keeil Ingan, still perpetuated in the name of the estate Ballakillingan. We may be reasonably certain that the fair latterly held in Ramsey on St Thomas’s Day was anciently held near Ballakillingan within the octave of St Fingan’s Day. The fair is mentioned by Feltham in 1797 and was discontinued after 1834.

December 27 – ST JOHN THE EVANGELIST’S FAIR – Held at Kirk Andreas. This fair is recorded by Feltham and was discontinued after 1834. No records now exist of the dedication of a church in this parish to this saint but as the fair was an old one we may be reasonably certain that such a church did exist.

(source: Mostly from IOM Natural History & Antiquarian Society Proceedings Vol. III, No.1, May 1925-April 1926, by J J Kneen with a small contribution from Manx Calendar Customs edited by CI Paton (1942); photograph is by Bernadette Weyde and shows Manx folk dancing at Tynwald Fair 2018)

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