Home History The Traditionary Ballad – Manannan Beg Mac y Lir

The Traditionary Ballad – Manannan Beg Mac y Lir

by Bernadette Weyde

“It was not with his sword he kept it,
nor his arrow, nor his bow,
but when he would see the ships coming,
he hid it right round with a mist.


He’d put a man upon a hill,
you’d think there were a thousand there;
and thus did wild Mannanan guard
that Island with all its booty.”

These words are some of the loveliest written about Mannanan and the Isle of Man and are taken from what is known as The Traditionary Ballad. The Ballad tells of the rent/tribute Manx inhabitants paid to Mannanan; how St. Patrick banished him and his troupe and how St. Patrick established Christianity in the Island. There is also an account of the first King in the Island, his lineage and how the Island came to the Stanley Family.

Unfortunately the author remains unknown as does its date of origin though JJ Kneen, Manx linguist and scholar, was of the opinion it was written at a very early date, having found obsolete grammatical forms in its original Manx rendering.

The Traditionary Ballad first appeared in 1845 in Train’s History with Train introducing it as follows:

“The following curious Ballad, which is now for the first time translated into English, was composed in the Manks language. The date of printing has been obliterated from the copy in my possession, which I believe to be extremely scarce; but the writer, as appears from the last three verses, lived during the time of Thomas, second Earl of Derby, whose landing in the Island in 1507 he describes. This Earl succeeded his grandfather in 1504, and died in 1521, between which dates the Ballad has evidently been written.”

When William Cubbon (former compositor, librarian and Director of the Manx Museum) investigated it, his expertise in the printing business gave form to his opinion:

“From a close inspection of the style of type and the class of paper used, I have come to the conclusion that the Ballad was printed between the years 1760 and 1790, certainly 50 or 60 years before Train’s time.”

“From its appearance I would judge that it was printed at the press of Shepard, at Ramsey, or by Briscoe, at Douglas. But as far as the text is concerned, I do not think that our historians have given the Ballad the respect or the attention that it deserves, I have little doubt that it was written in the early 16th century, when the author describes the events that happened before his own eyes.”

The following is one translation of the lines as they stand in the Manx song, without regard to any poetry in English.


If you would listen to my story,
I will pronounce my chant
As best I can; I will, with my mouth,
Give you notice of the enchanted Island.

Who he was that had it first,
And then what happened to him;
And how St. Patrick brought in Christianity,
And how it came to Stanley.

Little Mannanan was son of Leirr,
He was the first that ever had it;
But as I can best conceive,
He himself was a heathen.

It was not with his sword he kept it,
Neither with arrows or bow,
But when he would see ships saving,
He would cover it round with a fog.

He would set a man, standing on a hill,
Appear as if he were a hundred;
And thus did wild Manannan protect
That Island with all its booty.

The rent each landholder paid to him was,
A bung of coarse meadow grass yearly,
And that, as their yearly tax,
They paid to him each midsummer eve.

Some would carry the grass up
To the great mountain up at Barrool;
Others would leave the grass below,
With Manannan’s self, above Keamool.

Thus then did they live;
O l think their tribute very small,
Without care and without anxiety,
Or hard labour to cause weariness.

Then came Patrick into the midst of them;
He was a saint, and full of virtue;
He banished Manannan on the wave,
And his evil servants all dispersed.

And of all those that were evil,
He showed no favour nor kindness,
That were of the seed of the conjurers,
But what he destroyed or put to death.

He blessed the country from end to end,
And never left a beggar in it;
And, also, cleared off all those
That refused or denied to become Christians.

Thus it was that Christianity first came to Man,
By Saint Patrick planted in,
And to establish Christ in us,
And also in our children.

He then blessed Saint German,
And left him a bishop in it,
To strengthen the faith more and more,
And faithfully built chapels in It.

For each four quarterlands he made a chapel
For people of them to meet to prayer;
He also built German Church, in Peel Castle,
Which remaineth there until this day.

Before German had finished his work
God sent for him, and he died,
As ye yourselves know, that this messenger
Cannot be put off by using means.

He died, and his corpse was laid
Where a great bank had been, but soon was levelled;
A cross of stone is set at his feet
In his own church, in Peel Castle.

Then came Maughold, we are told,
And came on shore at the Head,
And built a church and yard around,
At the place he thought to have his dwelling

The chapels which Saint German ordered
For the people to come to prayers in them,
Maughold put a parcel of them into one,
And thus made regular parishes.

Maughold died, and he is laid
In his own church at Maughold Head;
And the next bishop that came
To the best of my knowledge, was Lonnan,

Connaghan then came next,
And then Marown the third;
There all three lieth in Marown,
And there for ever lieth unmolested.

Now we will pass by these holy men,
And commit their souls to the Son of God,
It profiteth not to praise them more
Until they appear before the King of kings.

Thus then did they live or pass their time,
No man that would molest or anger them;
But going to get a pardon from Rome,
Until there came to them King Gorree.

With his strong ships and king’s command,
And came on shore at the Laane
He was the first that ever had It,
To be a King of the Island.

I never heard that he did any injury at a harbour
Neither did he kill any in the Island;
But I know that there came of his race,
Thirteen Kings of King Gorree.

Then there came Quinney, and then came Quayle
There came a measure of law and rule,
With greater taxes and greater rents,
Which will for ever be demanded of the men that be.

If anything doeth you harm,
Give your curse upon the Manksmen;
They were the worst for the enchanted Island,
By making each bad law in her.

Then came great Ollister, son of the King of Scotland,
With strong shipping he bravely came;
But I think myself it was more by falsehood,
And not by courage he made most havoc.

He left not living, of the King’s seed,
A son or daughter to carry his head,
Excepting one, who, as best she could,
Went to seek for help to the King of France.

O Scotchman, if thou were worthy,
And as a messenger when thou didst come,
Why didst thou not stop and be our king,
As thou, O king I were son of King Laughlin


But I care but little, that thou thought’s it little
The ravens to croak, croak above thy head;
But let me speak of the mentioned girl,
Since thou didst not leave alive but she,
Of all the seed of King Laughlin,
And she was daughter to King Gorroe.

As soon as the enemy spoiled the commtry,
Did he not go away and leave it ?
As the she greyhound would do with her whelp,
And leave him lying with little strength.

As soon as the enemy spoiled the country,
Did he not go over to Scotland?
And she took shipping, and to the best that I know,
Went over to the King of England.

As soon as she arrived at court,
He entertained her with great kindness,
And to the men that came with her,
He gave plenty of silver and gold.

He then asked her who she was,
Or what her business to the court
She answered, I am a King’s daughter,
I have been robb’d, and without a protector.

It is to thy mercy and thy grace,
That I do humbly sue to thee, O King;
I do not ask for good or wealth,
But crave of thee for thy pity, O King.

Welcome to us, says the King of England,
And he married her very soon
She was of the seed of Laughlin, the daughter of King Gorree,
By Sir William of Montague.

Then Sir William was King of the Isle of Man,
But he thought but little of it,
For he sold it, and bought cattle,
Which was a pity that ever he did.

To Lord Scroop he sold it;
O King, how simple to covet cattle;
Altho’ he was in great favour with the King,
It was but a short time until he suffered death.

But their matters I do not know;
Let those who please prophesy;
But this I know right well,
That the King had a vast number of cattle.

Then the Island came to the King,
Scroop’s covenant appointed so,
That he should have no more of it
Than during his life on earth.

The Island then came to the King;
But he had no great authority in it,
Because he gave it to the Earl of Northumberland
But he did not give it to his children.

Those that would be courageous in wars
Would get great presents if they would;
But in the great war at Salisbury,
The Earl of Northumberland was killed.

Who happened then to come to the field,
But Sir John Stanley, well fitted;
As that day proved a blessing to him,
As he went by with his sharp sword.

My King, he little thought of life,
He would cut a man down without speaking;
He would with one blow of spear,
Take to the ground both man and horse.

Whatever growth his head might be,
Without heads he would not go away;
Or however harnessed his back might be,
His sharp sword would reach his girdle.

When the field was quiet and had taken rest,
There the King rejoiced greatly himself;
And he oathed to him Sir John Stanley,
To take his pledge of cattle and goods.

Because thou host served me well,
And gained booty for me and thyself,
Take for thy portion the Isle of Man
To be for thee and thine for ever.

Thus the Island came to their hands,
And thus the Stanley’s name came in:
And King after King keeping us from danger,
And many years Lords in it.

Then, when Sir John Stanley died
Then came again Sir John, his son,
Who had been many years in Ireland,
A very noble Lieutenant there.

Then came Thomas Derby, born King
‘Twas he that wore the golden crupper;
There was not one Lord in England itself
With so many knee-guineamen coming in his country.

On Scotchmen he revenged himself
And he went over to Kirkcudbright,
And there made such havoc of houses,
That some of them are yet unroofed.

Was not that pretty in a young man;
To revenge himself while he was but young,
Before his beard had grown round his mouth,
And to carry his men home with him whole.

In one thousand five hundred and seven,
And it was in the month of May,
He came on shore at Derbyhaven
And put a full end to the commotion of the public.

Such a house as he kept himself,
For a King, or down to a low degree,
People never saw for countless years,
Neither will again in our days.

But any more praise I will not give
So long as I live among men,
For fear they may tell me
That it is for gain I make so much flattery.

But I leave the man that cometh after me
To praise him as he will find him worth;
When his crest will be laid in the grave,
He will get the glory he deserveth to have.

(source: A Manx Notebook; photograph by Ber Weyde)

You may also like