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The Phynodderee

by Bernadette Weyde

Phynodderee/Fenodyree is sometimes used as a proper name and sometimes as the name of a class of beings, the latter of which is a hairy little creature, a sort of sprite or fairy in the folklore around the Isle of Man.

He is covered with copious body hair, particularly around the legs, and is glossed as being a satyr. He frolics thus without wearing any clothing. In fact, when a gift of clothing was made to him, he recited a strain in Manx stating that caps and so forth are nothing but discomfort, and would cause him to balefully depart from the area.

The Phynodderee can be a helpful creature comparable to the Scottish brownie, performing arduous tasks, such as transporting great blocks of white stone (marble? quartz?) too heavy for men to lift or clipping the grass from the meadow with stupendous speed. For his talent in the latter skill, he has earned the nickname “yn foldyr gastey” or “the nimble mower”, and is sung in a Manx ballad by that very title.

This useful little gentleman, with his hairy coat, was a fallen fairy, who was banished from his brethren in Fairy Land for having paid his addresses to a pretty Manx maid, and deserting the Fairy Court. He was doomed to remain in the Isle till the end of time and many are the stories related by the Manx peasantry of his prodigious strength. This particular tale tells us of this and therefore must be true…


“Once upon a day, an Elfin Knight fell in love with one of the daughters of Mann, as she sat in her bowery home beneath the blue tree of Glen Aldyn. Offering to abandon the Fairies for a domestic life with this sweet nymph, and absenting himself from Fairy Court during the celebration of the ‘Re-hollys vooar yn ouyr,’ or Royal High Harvest Festival (kept by the Fairies with dancing in the merry Glen Rushen), he so offended the little people that the Elfin King expelled him from Fairy Hall, and cursed him with an undying existence on the Manx mountains in the form of a satyr; thus metamorphosed he became a strange, sad, solitary wanderer, known as the Phynodderee. We compassionate his misfortune, as it fell upon him in consequence of his true love for a Manx maiden.”



“His was the wizard hand that toil’d,
At midnight’s witching hour;
That gather’d the sheep from the coming storm
Ere the shepherd saw it lower.
Yet asked no fee save a scatter’d sheaf
From the peasants’ garner’d hoard,
Or cream-howl kissed by a virgin lip
To be left on the household hoard.”


The Phynodderee also cut down and gathered in meadow grass, which would have been injured if allowed to remain exposed to the coming storm. On one occasion a farmer having expressed his displeasure with the spirit for not having cut his grass close enough to the ground, the hairy one in the following year allowed the dissatisfied farmer to cut it down himself, but went after him stubbing up the roots so fast that it was with difficulty the farmer escaped having his legs cut off by the angry sprite. For several years afterwards no person could be found to mow the meadow, until a fearless soldier, from one of the garrisons, at length undertook the task. He commenced in the centre of the field, and by cutting round as if on the edge of a circle, keeping one eye on the progress of the or scythe, while the other:


“Was turned round with prudent care,
Lest Phynnodderee catched him unaware,”


The following is one of the many stories related by the Manks peasantry as indicative of the prodigious strength of the Phynodderee.

A gentleman having resolved to build a large house and offices on his property, a little above the base of Snaefell mountain, at a place called Sholt-e-will, caused the requisite quantity of stones to be quarried on the beach, but one immense block of white stone, which he was very desirous to have for a particular part of the intended building could not be moved from the spot, resisting the united strength of all the men in the parish. To the utter astonishment of all, not only this rock, but likewise the whole of the quarried stones consisting of more than a hundred cart loads, were in one night conveyed from the shore to the intended site by the indefatigable Phynodderee.

The gentleman for whom this very acceptable piece of work was performed, wishing to remunerate the naked Phynodderee, caused a few articles of clothing to be laid down for him in his usual haunt. The hairy one on perceiving the habits lifted them up one by one, thus expressing his feelings in Manks :


“Bayrn da’n choine, dy doogh dan choine,
Cooat da’n dreeym, dy doogh da’n dreeym,
Breechyn da’n toyn, dy doogh da’n toyn,
Agh my she lhiat ooiley, shob cha nee lhiat Glen reagh Rushen.

Cap for the head, alas, poor head.
Coat for the back, alas, poor back.
Breeches for the breech, alas, poor breech.
If these be all thine, thine cannot be the merry Glen of Rushen.”


Having repeated these words, he departed with a melancholy wail, and now…


“You may hear his voice on the desert hill
When the mountain winds have power;
‘Tis a wild lament for his buried love,
And his long lost Fairy Bower.”


Many of the old people lament the disappearance of the Phynodderee, for they say:


“There has not been a merry world
Since the Phynodderee lost his ground.”


(source: artwork of satyre/phynodderee by Revolution77; text Folklore of the Isle of Man by AW Moore (1891) and http://bit.ly/1aaBkqM.  I know the Phynodderee did not like clothes but the artwork is so good and conveyed something of this wonderful being, I couldn’t resist it).

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