I fell in love with the Isle of Man years ago, while I was still a student. A Manx friend insisted we went over to the Island with him on a day trip – it was to be the first of many visits over the last thirty-five years. As well as visiting friends on the Island, and exploring it on holidays, I began taking shows over to the primary schools there. I was part of a touring theatre company then, delivering education plays into primary schools across the North West and the Midlands. It was a natural extension to offer them on the Island too.
This led to countless crossings on the ferry (which can be a bit of an up and down adventure!) and mooching in the duty-free shop, which always has a few local interest books. These were my introduction to Manx folklore. I discovered that it had its own world of fantastical creatures, many of them unique to the Island. Of course I knew about the fairy folk – Themselves, or the Little People, as they are called on the Island. Indeed, on our second visit, our friend took us over Fairy Bridge and warned us to call out a greeting...but there was so much more to discover.
With each trip to the Island I tried to explore a little more of the countryside, and find the connections to the stories. There is one spot I have to visit every time I’m over – The Sound, down at the south of the Island, where most of the time there are seals lying on the rocks of the smaller island, the Calf of Man, just across the water. When we first started going there, I seem to remember there was just a shack selling crab sandwiches, and very tasty they were too. Now there is a wonderful glass-fronted cafe and viewing station which produces delicious lunches. Either way, it’s the view, and the seals, which draw me there.
I love the way that on the Isle of Man so much of the folklore remains, including some of the physical aspects of it, like the saddle-shaped stone set into a wall and the White Lady, a great boulder set in the middle of the road (both in Douglas). It’s rare to be able to find such solid connections to legends and folk tales, but on the Island they are there, if you go and look for them. From the roofless church in the north of the Island, to the stone circles scattered across the landscape, history is at your fingertips and the incredible inhabitants of the traditional stories are just a hair’s breath away.
When I became a storyteller and started going to the storytelling festivals, I noticed that no-one was telling the Manx Tales over here, so I decided to. What I discovered over time was a wealth of stories, only two or three of which were regularly told on the Island, and I have had the pleasure of researching many others and finding ways to tell them for a modern audience, both on the Island and Across (as the Manx call the mainland).
From the hideous goblin-like Buggane that ripped the roof off the church at St Trinian’s, to the strange hairy troll, the Phynodderee, and the dangerous Glashins (of which there are apparently two species), I have come to know them all – they people both my imagination and the landscape of the Isle of Man equally. While I always tell the stories in my own style, I try to remember their heritage and treat them with respect. Telling the stories has given me real pleasure, and I hope my audiences have enjoyed the tales too. With a bit of luck, some of them may even decide to visit the Island to see it for themselves...and perhaps try to catch a glimpse of its magic!
By Fiona Angwin