‘Unwelcome Landlord’ – A Brief History Of Manx Nationalism And Opposition To British Rule

News Drom Mannin Branch Celtic League:
In the mid 1990s THE CELTIC HISTORY REVIEW produced a two part series on Manx Nationalism charting its development from the early 1900s until 1970.
Original copies of the Celtic History Review are held in the Manx Museum Library.
This is a consolidated version with minor textual changes.
“RIPPLES IN A CELTIC TIDE:
Evolution of Manx Nationalism Part 1
Mann’s longstanding `home-rule’ may explain the relative late development of a nationalist movement, but as Bernard Moffatt argues it has since highlighted many contradictions in so-called independence
There are many parallels in the development of the modem Manx National movement with events in the other Celtic countries. The most striking parallel is with Ireland and in relation to cultural renaissance, social agitation and political development the linkage is close. Shortly after the establishment of the Gaelic League in Ireland The Manx Language Society (Yn Cheshaght Ghailckagh) was established in 1899. At the same time the cultural renaissance developed and such stalwarts as Sophia Morrison (1859-1917) and Mona Douglas (1898-1987) were at the cutting edge of promotion of the language and the Celtic Arts. There was a strong link to Ireland in particular and some of the writings of the young Mona Douglas seem to have been influenced by the events in Dublin at Easter in 1916 particularly her poem “The Manx Call to Arms – (and the Answer)”, the intent of which is clear.
Social Agitation
In the area of social agitation the syndicalist tradition which established a militant bridge head from the Clyde to Dublin via the General Workers Union, also embraced the Isle of Man and that Union established a branch here which existed until subsumed into the present TGWU.
Ironically, only weeks after British troops had ruthlessly suppressed the Easter rebellion in Dublin, armed troops were deployed at the July 5th annual open air Tynwald ceremony in anticipation of serious social unrest. In the following years newspapers were restricted and leading figures jailed as what was essentially a colonial administration continued to strive to control Nationalist and Labour agitation.
Social agitation was finally ruthlessly suppressed by the introduction into the Isle of Man of the Trades Disputes Act 1936; without doubt one of the most proscriptive items of social legislation enacted outside of a totalitarian regime. That legislation continued in place until the early 1980s, when fifty years of overt Trade Union suppression was swept aside in a wave of disputes spanning a ten year period.
The same pressures applied to contain the industrial settlement were also used to contain Nationalism. Only scraps of information remain on the period of approximately forty years up until the establishment of Mec Vannin, the present Nationalist Party in 1963. At that time Manx Nationalism emerged from the shadows, and if proof were needed of the existence of the earlier clandestine movement, it would be found in the make up of the early Committees, of the Party which included stalwarts from the early period.
Nationalist Dark Ages
Some of the information available on the “dark ages” of modern Manx Nationalism, whilst limited, is instructive. Ny Maninee Aegey `the young Manx’ established at the turn of the century (ceased to function after 1919), by Sophia Morrison, seems to parallel the Fianna Eireann established in Ireland. Eventually a further and more long-standing youth movement, Aeglagh Vannin, emerged in the early thirties and the official emphasis was strongly cultural.
A more directly political development was the establishment of Ny Manninee Dhooie, `the true Manx’, which came into being in the early 1940s (and was resurrected before being suppressed at the end of the decade) again in an uncanny echo of the Irish adage “England’s difficulty is Irelands opportunity” Manx Nationalists saw England’s wartime preoccupations as the time to move. They were rewarded for this brashness by being labelled anti English and pro German, although their motivation was inspired less by interest in either of the belligerents, more the example of De Valera’s neutral stance. Again records on the period are vague. The movement was suppressed and some members left the Island for a period of wartime exile in Dublin.
Speaker Qualtrough
Suppression could not quiet all Nationalism however, and in a discussion on the contentious issue of self determination at a sitting of the House of Keys in January 1944, a most vitriolic and strikingly Nationalist attack on the British Government was launched by the Speaker of the Keys, J. D. Qualtrough, its significance in understanding the deep seated resentment to Colonial rule over the Island warrants its reproduction below.
“Nobody living in the Isle of Man could fail to be impressed by the exposure of the limited powers of the House of Keys and of Tynwald which has taken place even in very recent weeks, in the appointment, without any consultation with us, of the principal officer who administers and is in charge of practically the whole government of the Island – under the Governor – (…)
Without tending to use any strong or violent language, it is obvious that the House has been ignored (…). We have an object lesson of the fact that we are controlled from outside the Island. The Lt-Governor is sent here; he is not appointed by us, he is not responsible to us (there follows a full list of the posts held by the Lt. Governor). In these high posts in the government of the Isle of Man, I think it is obvious today that “no Manxman need apply”- not because they are not capable of doing the work (…), but because they are Manx, and in the opinion of those who make the appointments a Manxman is not a suitable person to be responsible for the Government of the Island. We are, in other words, treated as a conquered country (…). I personally am unable to see such a tremendous lot of difference between the theory of government as applied by Germany to the conquered countries – Norway, Denmark, Holland, Belgium, France. In these countries the men who have the supreme power are appointed by Germany. I understand that in some of them at least, Germany has not interfered with their parliamentary institutions. Their parliaments are allowed to meet; they are allowed to talk, allowed to pass resolutions; they may go on, so long as they do not clash with the opinion and policy of the conquering country. That roughly, is the the constitution of the Isle of Man (…).
(Record of the House of Keys – Hansard – 4/1/44
Qualtroughs attack was remarkable not just for the vitriolic nature of its content, assigning to the United Kingdom all the attributes of the Nazis, but also for the timing. At this stage of the War the Isle of Man was an armed camp, with training installations for all three services and vast numbers of personnel. Many Manx people were engaged, or had family involved with war service or war work. That Qualtrough felt moved to make the attack shows his courage. That it was apparently received without visible dissent shows the undercurrent of Nationalist resentment.
Limited reforms were eventually conceded to Tynwald. The War ended, and in the euphoria of victory, agitation receded. The post war boom soon turned to slump and the Island settled into a 50s depression that forced many Manxmen, including some of the key figures who would establish Mec Vannin, overseas to work.
Mec Vannin
In the early 1960s, and with a furtiveness that emphasised the intimidation of the times, a number of clandestine meetings were held culminating in the formation of Mec Vannin, on the 11th of January 1964, at Sulby in the north of the Island.
This organisation was very different from its timid predecessors, and indeed very different from the organisation that it has evolved into today. The conditions of the early sixties were not greatly removed constitutionally from the turn of the century, despite the limited reforms sought via the agitation of Speaker Qualtrough. It would be another ten years before an entirely unpredictable enaction by the UK government of legislation into Manx Law would lead to the Constitutional freedom we know today. In these circumstances, not surprisingly, the method by which some Nationalists believed independence could be achieved was via insurrection and the first steps along that road were taken. An element within the newly formed movement started to quietly prepare for militant confrontation. An Irish link was once again to develop but because of unusual circumstances, via a circuitous route.
On the first week of April 1995 a para-military funeral took place with all the trappings we have come to associate with television reports on the IRA.
National flags were in evidence, the coffin flag draped, men in paramilitary dress and black berets. The setting however was not Ireland. It was St Sulien’s church on a weather beaten hillside in Carmarthenshire. The party had gathered to pay their respects to Julian Cayo Evans. Evans, thirty years earlier had led the Free Wales Army, one of a number of militant Welsh groups which had sought to import the “armed struggle” into Wales long before that generic term had gained the notoriety of recent years. Evans (or Cayo as he was known) in addition to being a committed Welsh nationalist was committed to supporting other groups in the Celtic countries and elsewhere to achieve their freedom. He forged links with them including some Manx nationalists. The various groups also established contact with members of the “old” IRA (what is now termed the Official IRA). In the early 1960s that organisation disillusioned, after many years of fruitless military campaigning and without the popular support which the repression of the Civil Rights movement would gift the Republican movement later, had decided to “dump arms” or demilitarize in today’s parlance. Many of the struggling and emergent national movements saw an opportunity in this to acquire their own arsenals.
I will go into no further detail. The period is excellently covered for those interested in the book by Roy Clews – “TO DREAM OF FREEDOM – The Struggle of MAC and the Free Wales Army.”
It ended, towards the end of the decade, with a sensational series of arrests and crackdowns across the United Kingdom and in Brittany
In Mann too the somewhat dangerous aspirations of the militants were derailed by a combination of those two essentials in `Celtic fate’, good luck and division
Constitutional Furore
The good luck was the incredibly clumsy and naive attempt by the British government to impose on the Island an item of legislation it believed the Isle of Man government might try to block: An obscure amendment to Wireless Telegraphy legislation aimed at cutting-off the sustenance of “Pirate” radio stations, then broadcasting off-shore at various locations around the British Isles had to be extended to severe the lifeline to Radio Caroline (North) anchored in Ramsey bay off the east of the Isle of Man. This action shook into life what had been until then a compliant Tynwald. It prompted a constitutional furore which led to the first of many significant changes which have progressively loosened the links with the UK, so that today the only impediment to total independence is the Manx governments’ lack of confidence in itself.
The Colonial enemy was going and there was no need to fight it. In any event the new Nationalist party, born with great optimism, was enduring the first of a number of internal crises. It would emerge from this first and subsequent set backs, but the problems it now confronted were of our own Administrations making. Militant nationalism would occur and re-occur, Fo Halloo in the seventies, FSFO in the eighties and a myriad of other short lived dabbles at direct action. The targets of this action however were perceived “enemies within” rather than the Crown.
Policies Adopted
Mec Vannin, however, now firmly embraced the Constitutional road. Despite enduring sustained attacks and criticism over thirty years, in the early 1990s it was able to turn the tables on the Main government which over those thirty years in adopting almost all Mec Vannins early policies had “stolen the Nationalist Party’s clothes”. The list of initial Mec Vannin proposals adopted is staggering, our own postal service, Manx Currency, extension of the Territorial sea and our own enforcement agency, status for the Manx language and its reintroduction into the Islands schools, the stripping of all but ceremonial power from the Lieutenant-Governor etc.
No greater compliment can be paid to any political Party than to see its policies and ideas adopted.
Bernard Moffatt
THE DEVELOPMENT OF MANX NATIONALISM (Part 2)
Diarmuid O Breasláin looks at Manx nationalism from 1970 onward in a follow up article to that by Bernard Moffatt in CHR Volume2 Issue 1
By 1970 Mec Vannin had raised the level of Manx consciousness so that a debate on Manx identity was beginning to take place in a way which called into question the whole position of Manx sovereignty and identity.
Another factor at this time which raised the debate was the issue of Newcomers, immigrants attracted in by the tax incentives available on the island. The early `70’s saw a campaign by Fo Halloo (Underground) to highlight all these issues through slogan painting, posters etc. By the mid 70’s this campaign had faded out. Ironically as the issue of Manx identity started to finally be addressed, the basis of Manx national identity, the language, was at its lowest ebb. The death of Ned Maddrell in 1974, the last native speaker, came at a period when the language movement, `Yn Cheshaght Ghailckagh’, was less than active and the 1971 census had returned a mere 281 people as capable of speaking Manx.
1976 Election
In this atmosphere Mec Vannin entered the electoral fray and had missed taking a seat in the Keys by 25 votes. In November 1976 they fielded 10 candidates for the 24 seat House of Keys. The party took 13% of the vote and Peter Craine took South Douglas to become the first nationalist to enter the Keys.
Ironically this could be said to mark the height of Mec Vannin’ s triumph, for in 1977 an internal row on the issue of an anti-militarist grouping in the party, led to a split, and resignations by those opposed to it, including that of MHK Peter Craine. Those who left founded the Manx National Party but in the 1981 General Election Peter Craine lost his seat and Mec Vannin, standing only one candidate saw the vote fall.
1981 and this election, however, mark a turning point, for although Mec Vannin were not to stand for election for another 15 years Yn Cheshaght Ghailckagh used this election to canvas all candidates on their attitude to the language, marking a re-activation in the movement which would see remarkable progress throughout the 1980’s with conferences, films, publications and a increasing use of Manx signs by both private and government organisations.
Politically the 1980’s can be divided into three main areas of interest for there was no electoral activity to warrant. Mec Vannin were to focus their attention through actions in the format of pressure group, and they were joined in this from 1982 on by a group entitled Publish Soshialliagh Vannin (PSV – Manx Republican Socialist) who led a leaflet and pressure campaign, in particular focusing on industrial discontent in this period. In 1984 Mec Vannin declared its aims to be the establishment of an independent Manx republic and subsequently PSV activity declined.
The 1980’s saw a highlighting of issues related to Manx identity and Manx life in general. Iii 1984 the Manx branch of the Celtic League launched a campaign to have the English National Trust return the Calf of Mann, an island off the Manx coast paid for by the Manx National Trust but not owned by it! The campaign was remarkably successful with the return of the Calf of Mann to the Manx National Trust one year later. This raised the issue of national identity and gave a success to build on
FSFO Campaign
The issue of Manx national identity was also fuelled by the upsurge in newcomers to the extent that by 1989 only 33% of Manx people were born on the Island. The tax haven policy of Tynwald and the lack of any policy on immigration were blamed and in late 1987 the FSFO campaign began.
This underground campaign targeted the financial sector in particular, with slogan painting and other minor sabotage. It culminated in November 1988 with the arrest of three men following the burning of luxury homes at Tromode. The three stated their reasons as defending the Manx nation. Many looked on them sympathetically and the media looked into the issues of immigration and the ideas of Manx nationalism and identity. In the end the three men received sentences ranging from 2 years to 16 months, again showing a compassion necessitated by the support given the men by the public.
The Manx government had previously addressed this and other issues when they set up the Social Issues Committee of Tynwald to look at immigration and the Manx ceiling population of 75,000. This was a squandered opportunity. In 1990 they undertook a Gallup survey on Manx quality of life and found considerable support for the teaching of the Manx language in the schools. This led in 1992 to the opening up of the schools to Manx and 1,949 children opted for it. This figure, following on the 1991 census return of 643 Manx speakers, was encouraging. Since then the language has enjoyed considerable development and a Manx language playgroup has opened to compliment a Manx Stream in one of the Island’s schools.
These positive moves encouraged Mec Vannin and in 1995 they stood in their first election for 10 years taking a seat on Braddan Commission and topping the poll. Buoyed by this Mec Vannin looked to fight the General Election but in the event, much like similar happenings in Cornwall, few people were prepared to fight on a party ticket and eventually two MV members came forward as independent nationalists. In the 1996 General Election one of them received 16% of the vote while the other failed to take the seat by just 41 votes.
At this stage the Manx national movement can be said to have made some remarkable progress, in particular considering the constant shifting of campaign policy. A breakthrough, squandered in 1976, now appears a distinct possibility yet again.”
Note: Additional information on the Manx National movement over the years is available in the Manx section of Carn copies of which are held by all significant Libraries in the UK, Ireland and Mann (Please note copies are withheld from the British Library because of the Chronicles of Man dispute with that body).
In addition there are also useful references in Peter Beresford Ellis’s book “The Celtic Dawn”:
ISBN-10: 0862436435
ISBN-13: 978-0862436438
Image: Nationalist agitation is still alive – this graffiti was written in 2013 at the entrance to Government House home of the Lt Governor whose salary and upkeep are a major bone of contention.
BERNARD MOFFATT
Public Relations Officer Mannin Branch
Issued by: The Mannin branch of the Celtic League.
13/09/16

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