Where To Discover The Folklore Of The Isle Of Man

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An island kingdom with Viking and Celtic roots is bound to have a rich folklore. And in the Isle of Man folk tales, legends and mythical creatures are to be found around every corner. Here we look at some of the customs and the best places to discover the folklore of the Isle of Man.

The Rich Folklore Of The Isle Of Man

My first introduction to the Manx folklore was on arrival at the airport. While waiting for my hire car I was told that the cloud surrounding the island was known locally as the Cloak of Manannan, a mist sent by the sea god to protect the island from its enemies. For many Manx people legend and superstition are a part of everyday life, stories passed down through the generations.

This is an island with a long history. Christianity arrived early (around the 5th century): one account states that the land was created during a fight between St Patrick and the Devil. This means that, alongside the Celtic and Viking traditions, there are many early Christian sites – holy wells, chapels and gravestones, all with their own tales to tell. The resulting mix of religion, ancient superstitions, and fairy tales has left its mark upon the landscape, and no part of the island is without its own myths and legends.

Mythical Creatures And Traditional Customs

Manx mythology features many legendary creatures, including giants, ghosts and evil spirits. There are goblins, water horses and the malevolent Buggane. And, of course, there are the little people, or mooinjer veggey, often just referred to as “themselves”.

For the most part these creatures are up to no good, and many of the old customs were designed either to placate them or to avoid their mischief. One example is on 30 April (May Day Eve, or Beltane), when gorse was traditionally burned, or crosses placed outside front doors, to scare away witches and familiar spirits. The custom persisted until recently and forms the basis of contemporary events such as the Oie Voaldyn Festival in Peel.

Another long standing tradition is Hop tu Naa, the Manx equivalent of Halloween, with a variety of customs including folk songs and dances.

Woman and two boys sitting on piles of straw and holding hollowed out turnips.
Hollowed out turnips at Hop tu Naa (photo copyright Visit Isle of Man)

Some Legends Of The Isle Of Man

Not surprisingly, some of the legends relate to the very earliest history of the Isle of Man. Here are just two of them.

Finn MacCuill And The Creation Of The Isle Of Man

Finn MacCuill (or Finn McCool) is a legend of Celtic folklore, responsible for the formation of both the Isle of Man and the Giant’s Causeway in Ireland. The story is that Finn, a giant of prodigious strength, was in pursuit of a Scottish rival and hurled a huge clod of earth at him. However it missed its target and fell into the Irish Sea, thus creating the Isle of Man.

The Manx tradition is that Finn MacCuill became very fond of the island, and later made his home on a clifftop near Cragneash. A later exploit saw him fighting the Buggane (a Manx giant), a battle which caused the Calf of Man to break off from the main island.

Looking out from a cliff top to the island of the Calf of Man
A battle between Finn MacCool and a giant led to the creation of the Calf of Man

The Story Of Manannan

The sea god Manannan was the original deity of the Isle of Man. He was also a wizard and a powerful king, and the subject of numerous Celtic legends. One story is that it was he who fought St Patrick and that, during the course of the battle, he and his men transformed themselves into three-legged creatures before sinking to the bottom of the sea. In this way he gave the Isle of Man both its name and its distinctive coat of arms with three legs.

Even today the islanders pay tribute to Manannan for living on his island. Each year at Midsummer rushes are taken to the top of the hill at South Barrule, and the path to the ancient Tynwald Hill is also strewn with rushes.

Folklore Sites On The Isle Of Man

There are literally hundreds of sites in the Isle of Man with stories attached. Here are just a few of them.

The Moddy Dhoo Of Peel Castle

In the 17th century, when Peel Castle was defended by soldiers, a ghostly black dog (Moddy Dhoo) roamed the halls and one passage in particular. No man would walk down that passage on his own until one night when a soldier, rather the worse for drink, set off down the corridor as an act of bravado. He returned some time later, his face twisted with fear and agony, and unable to say what he had seen or heard.

The poor man died three days later, not having regained the power of speech. Some say that the Moddy Dhoo was never seen again; others claim that it still frequents Peel Castle.

Castle ruins looking out over the sea and a town on the other side of the bay.
Does the Moddy Dhoo still roam the ruins of Peel Castle?

The Buggane Of St Trinian’s

St Trinian’s Church is the remains of a small chapel near Greeba on the road between Douglas and Peel (although you can’t go inside, you can see the church from the main road). It has no roof, and the story is that it was never completed due to the actions of the Buggane, an ogre who owned the land.

According to the legend the Buggane objected to the building of the church, and determined that it should never have a roof. Each time a roof was added the ogre would come down from his mountain and tear it off. Eventually a brave tailor tried to stand up to the monster, and only escaped by fleeing into consecrated ground. And the church was never finished… (You can read the full tale of the Buggane of St Trinian’s here.)

The Fynoderee

The Fynoderee is a horned beast renowned for his hairy appearance and his ability to move massive blocks of stone and to chop grass rapidly. Unlike some other mythical beings, he is generally helpful, especially to farmers. However he can take offence if he is offered clothes to cover his nakedness!

But the Fynoderee is also a fallen fairy, transformed to his current appearance as a punishment for loving a mortal woman. This story inspired the name of the Fynoderee Distillery in Ramsey, and you can read the sad tale of his love for Kitty Kerruish on their website.

The Fairy Bridge

If you drive from Douglas to Ballasalla you will pass over the famous Fairy Bridge. This is well known as a haunt of the little people, and it is considered bad luck not to say good day to them as you go. Failure to do so will displease the inhabitants, and may cause you to run into trouble later in the day. This custom is universally acknowledged, so don’t be surprised to hear taxi drivers and tour guides greeting the fairies (and don’t forget to do so yourself).

At one time it was even the custom for Manx motorbike racers to make a special trip to the Fairy Bridge to request a bit of extra luck at the TT races. It is claimed that the strategy worked, with those who did so gaining success in the event!

Meayll Stone Circle

And, finally, I had my own ghostly encounter at the Meayll Stone Circle near Port Erin. Proof, if I needed it, that this is indeed an enchanted isle. You can read more about my experience in this post (scroll to the end) – Ancient Burial Sites On The Isle Of Man.

Books About Manx Folklore

Some suggestions for further reading:

  • Manx Fairy Tales, by Sophia Morrison (revised edition 2013). First published in 1911, this is the classic collection of Manx folklore.
  • A Guide to the Folklore Sites of the Isle of Man, by James Franklin, Sam Hudson and Katie Newton (2023). This is a comprehensive guide to hundreds of sites in the Isle of Man, with details of location, accessibility and – of course – the associated legends.
  • Folk, by Zoe Gilbert (2018). This is a magical novel based on the imaginary island of Neverness, but it is heavily influenced by Manx folklore and by the author’s frequent visits to the Isle of Man.

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WorldWideWriter is owned and managed by Karen Warren.

I have been writing and travelling for many years (almost 70 countries at the last count), and I’ve visited every continent except Antarctica. This website is my attempt to inform and inspire other travellers, and to share some of the things I’ve discovered along the way. Read more…

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