Speakers Thomas Callister & Harry Boyde
60th Anniversary for Manx Recordings
Exactly sixty years ago, the Irish Folklore Commission made recordings of the last, old, native Manx speakers. BBC IOM investigates the story behind these recordings.
It was summer 1947. Controversial Irish Taeshoch, Eamon de Valera was visiting the Isle of Man as part of a relaxing tour around the Irish Sea. During his sojourn on the island, de Valera (who was a fervent advocate of Irish Gaelic) met and spoke with Ned Maddrell, a native Manx speaker.
De Valera spoke Irish; Maddrell Manx but the languages were close enough for communication. What de Valera learnt alarmed him: the Manx language was dying out and the Manx museum had no technical means to record the last speakers.
J T Kaighen listens to his own recording
On returning to Ireland, de Valera demanded that the Irish Folklore Commission immediately send a mobile recording unit to the island. But there was one problem: the Commission, which was keen to make recordings of Irish speakers, didn't yet possess the necessary equipment.
The demands of the Taeshoch himself, however, led to the swift appearance of a van containing a disc-cutting unit. The unit could cut sixteen inch discs, each with the capacity to record fifteen minutes of speech per side.
In 1948, the van, driven by the Commission's Kevin Danaher, trundled into Douglas, fresh off an Irish Cattle boat and covered with cow dung.
Legend has it that on arrival outside the Manx museum director, Basil Megaw threw instructions to Danaher, telling him to stay in his vehicle and to make sure the windows were fully wound up, before having the van thoroughly hosed down.
Walter Clarke, John Kneen & Bill Radcliffe
The van made its way up to remote farms in Ballaugh and Bride, as well as to the village of Cregneash where Danaher recorded speakers whose mother tongue was 19th century Manx.
Locals Walter Clarke and Bill Radcliffe assisted Danaher, using batteries and convertors to power the unit. The turntable had to be balanced using a carpenter's spirit level whilst tock and driftwood were used to prop up the apparatus.
Manx language expert, Dr Brian Stowell describes the recordings as 'a crucial thing' because they capture 'Manx as naturally spoken'. 'It was a terrific thing,' he says. 'It really saved the spoken language as we know it.'
Eleanor Karran in Cregneash
The Manx Museum's Kirsty Neate points out that the incidental domestic and agricultural information gathered during the recordings was as crucial as the linguistic detail. The 'fascinating social history' stored on the recordings goaded the Manx Museum to embark on The Manx Folk Life Survey, appointing Leslie Quirk as the first full-time collector.
The digitally-remastered recordings are now available on CD at the Manx Museum.
All images by kind courtesy of Manx National Heritage.
last updated: 14/08/2008 at 13:14
[an error occurred while processing this directive]