With the Chronicles in the news I thought I would recall the Celtic League campaign over the ownership of the Calf of Man and the great debt we owe to three men in particular all now deceased Ivor Kenna, Padraig O’Conchuir and Seamus O Coileain of the (now defunct) London branch of the Celtic league
Wikipedia (see related link 1) records the Calf of Man (the small Island and bird sanctuary off the South of Mann) being gifted to the ‘National Trust’ in 1939. But this was not the Manx National Trust, it was the English body.
When a Manx National Trust was eventually established in 1951 it did nothing to rectify the anomaly taking the view as it does now over the Chronicles of the Kings of Man and the Isles that a donation of this type to English institutions is inviolable.
So for another thirty-five years ago the Calf continued to be owned by the English National Trust.
The Celtic League in the early 1980s being aware of this vowed to recover the territory for the Manx people and a resolution to that effect was adopted by the Mannin branch.
However the greatest impetus to our campaign came from an unlikely quarter when the London branch (later called the England branch) of the Celtic League decided to take action itself.
Unannounced and uncoordinated by Mannin branch they turned up outside the London HQ of the English National Trust with the paraphernalia of demonstrators such as a loud hailer, leaflets and the memorable sign ‘Wanted for Calf Rustling the English National Trust’.
Faced with this unexpected manifestation of a demonstration ‘about a faraway country of which the knew little’ the Trust did that archetypal British thing and invited the protest leaders Seamas O Coileain and Padraig O Conhuir in ‘for a cup of tea’!
In his book the Celtic Dawn the author and historian Peter Beresford Ellis records the events (see related links below):
“The League has had some successes with several of its political campaigns. The achievement of persuading UNESCO to establish a project which would promote the Celtic languages and their cultures has already been mentioned. However, the League was instrumental in persuading the English National Trust to hand over the island bird sanctuary known as the Calf of Man to the Manx National Trust in 1986. The English National Trust had owned the small island off the south coast of Man for fifty years, in spite of the constitutional position of the Isle of Man and the fact that a Manx National Trust had come into being in 1951. The League began demonstrating outside the London National Trust Offices and took part in talks with the Trust, which immediately persuaded them to hand over the ownership of the island to their Manx counterparts.
Rather than show gratitude to the Celtic League, the Manx National Trust was highly embarrassed by the fact that since 1951 they themselves had done nothing to urge the return of the Calf of Man from the English National Trust. They blamed the League for ‘interference’ and refused to invite representatives of the League to the ‘handing over’ ceremony. This only provoked more publicity for the League and showed the Manx National Trust in a bad light.”
That very day the two London branch officials received a commitment from the still bemused ENT officers that they had no objection to transferring ownership for a peppercorn amount. This eventually took place.
As Beresford Ellis records the Manx National Trust then tried to rewrite history and say it was negotiating the return at the time. However they and the public knew well that MNT had sat on its hands over the issue for over thirty years when the Calf passed to the ENT in 1951 it was only after the event that they moved as correspondence which they never published would show.
They also quite petulantly refused to invite any League representative to the handover provoking a quite stinging front page and commentary from one of the IOM Newspapers of the day.
The two architects of the demo Seamus O Coileain (Celtic League Director of Information and the Secretary of the London Branch) and Padraig O Conchuir (the London branch Press Officer) for the League did get to visit the small Island a year later (see related link) having run the ‘Calf Rustlers of the Rock’!
Sadly, both Seamus and Padraig and Ivor Kenna who was at the demo are now deceased but we owe them and the other members of the London branch at the time, a great debt.
2) The Celtic Dawn by Peter Beresford Ellis (Page 131) published by Constable ISBN 0 09 4727708 (hardback). The book now in its second addition is available in hard or soft back and is an excellent account of the history of various Inter Celtic movements.
Page 23 Picture of Seamus O Coileain and Padraig O Conchuir – obviously enjoying their day out on the Calf on the 1st anniversary of its return.
Main image: Calf of Man from the mainland the small Island in the foreground is Kitterland – Inset: London branch Celtic League poster.
Celtic League (5th October 2023)