Ask any non-Manxie what they think Island life entails and the spectrum of answers will likely enrage or titillate. Two common projections will either be the perennial Man/Wight debacle, of which a solid middle finger should be the only response or that we’re a nation of fairy-loving tax dodgers that hack off cats’ tails for the sheer thrill of the chase.
The latter, though hyperbolic in its foundations, is probably closer to the truth than most other stereotypes. The Isle of Man is viewed as a place that has a truly unique culture, and it’s a label that we relish.
It seems only fitting, therefore, that we eulogise and celebrate the Island’s idiosyncratic culture as part of Gef’s Big Fat Review of the Year. And what a year it’s been.
With the Island’s history so richly steeped in folklore and mythology, it should come as no surprise that the Isle of Man music scene is so heavily inspired by its Celtic beginnings. Where else could you hear a poetic ditty bashed out so effortlessly on a bouzouki? Answers on a postcard.
2018 was a stellar year for Manx musicians being recognised on a national stage. Mera Royle, harp extraordinaire and fiddle whistle aficionado, scooped the BBC Young Folk Musician of the Year award at this year’s ceremony, whilst Tom Callister and Adam Rhodes won the Horizon Award for best new group as part of their pure-drop trad outfit, Ímar, for ‘innovating and pushing the boundaries of modern folk music.’
Back home there’s also a propulsive, underground folk scene gaining traction amongst the Island’s juvenile populace, with new generations of young people being introduced to what has been perceived as a dying culture.
The Manx Folk Awards saw unprecedented interest – with 1,500 talented children taking part this year alone – in categories including Manx music, song, dance and recitations. In comparison, my primary school recorder playing sounded more akin to a cat being kicked repeatedly in the uterus and wasn’t fit to be played anywhere, let alone at competition level.
The inaugural Manx Music Day took place on 27th July 2018. A labour of love between Manx Radio and Culture Vannin (amongst others), the event showcased the Island’s enormous musical talents and served as a vehicle to celebrate the tapestry of Manx music through live performance broadcasts and guest speakers.
Island-based festivals are also on the rise, with two new additions joining the musical calendar. Our Island, Our World popped up at Peel Centenary Centre in early September, offering a celebration of world music and culture, and The Great Manx Shindig threw open its (tent) flaps in June and showcased a wealth of homegrown musicians and bands.
Curiously, Manx dancing has also seen a revival the world over, with groups from America, Brazil, and Australia digging out their embroidered waistcoats.
Traditional Manx Dancing is something we should be extremely proud of. As well being the first nation to give females the vote, we also encouraged our women to slap their blokes and make them prove that they weren’t too drunk to consummate a marriage. Some might go as far as say ‘Girl Power’ actually originated in the Isle of Man, step aside Spice Girls.
How and why non-Manxies got wind of our completely Manx traditions is a complete mystery, but why do women with bob haircuts, spiked up at the back, always want to speak to the manager? Some riddles will never be solved.
Another of life’s mysteries to be filed alongside the above is the global revival of the Manx language. There’s a lot of excitement about this one, trust me.
This year, visitors from the University of Northern British Columbia, Canada and minority language speakers from SOAS University of London from as far afield as China(!) descended on the Island to learn more about Manx Gaelic.
How?! My mates in London hadn’t even heard of the Isle of Man before I moved here, so how are people from polar ends of the globe travelling across the faarkey (that’s Manx Gaelic for ‘ocean’, by the way) to our Island to learn about the successful rejuvenation of the Manx language.
These questions don’t come from a negative place. I’m a champion of the intricacies of cultural traditions the world over, and it fills me with inexplicable joy that Manx Gaelic is once again basking in the heat of the spohthoilshey (Manx Gaelic for spotlight).
A year of cultural reawakening
Traditions get lost over time and it’s a shame that people are now more fluent in Emojis and the Macarena than they are in Manx Gaelic and Manx Dancing. Some traditions of the Island are being forgotten quicker than Paris Hilton’s pop ‘career’, but the future of more archaic traditions is not as bleak as it seems.
2018 saw a surge in the revitalisation of Manx traditions. Hunt the Wren and team sport, Cammag, reached new levels of engagement, and Hop-tu-Naa featured more proudly in this year’s calendar than the E-number sponsored Hallow’een. Going to South Barrule at Midsummer was also a newly-reclaimed tradition that 2018 saw fit to dust off, and there was a general confidence displayed in all things Manx.
The Gaiety hosted Mannanan’s Winterfest and church halls reinvigorated the Braaid Eisteddfod, all unrelated to Culture Vannin’s push to reintroduce Manx traditions; these are being championed and supported by the community.
This growing confidence and enthusiasm for Manx traditions is exciting. Yes, we could eschew all forms of sentimentality and archaic Manx customs and become like the rest of the world, wrapped up in the digital age of consumerism and selfies. I miss buying a disposable camera and expecting to look like a potato in 50% of the photos.
If we don’t pay attention to what makes our Island so weird and wonderful we’ll lose our cultural identity. The fairies will pack their bags for pastures new and the questionable waxworks in the House of Manannan will be melted down to make way for digital screens and interactive bots.
2018 has provided a glimmer of hope that people are paying attention to the Island’s unique culture, without which we’re just a rock in the sea devoid of personality. Let’s keep that three-legged freak flag flying.