All About the Isle of Man

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Podcast Transcript

Located between the islands of Great Britain and Ireland, in the middle of the Irish Sea, lies one of the oddest political jurisdictions in the world. 

It isn’t a country, nor is it a territory of another country. For the most part, it has autonomy over its affairs, yet it depends entirely on another country for its survival.

It has an ancient history, once had its own language, and is probably the world center of motorcycle racing.

Learn more about the Isle of Man, its history, and how it functions on this episode of Everything Everywhere Daily.

The story of the Isle of Man goes back about 8,500 years when sea levels were rising due to the retreat of the polar ice sheets. 

As the water rose, the British Isles were disconnected from continental Europe, and the Isle of Man was disconnected from Great Britain and Ireland. 

Here, I should give a brief explanation of the geography of the region. The British Isles consist of all of the islands off the northwest coast of Europe. This includes the large islands of Great Britain and Ireland, as well as 6,000 other smaller islands, including the Channel Islands, the Orkneys, the Inner and Outer Hebrides, and the Isle of Man. 

At its closest points, it is 51 kilometers or 32 miles from Ireland, approximately the same distance to England, and  29 kilometers or 18 miles from Scotland

Despite being so close to both Ireland and Great Britain, it has had a very different history. 

There is evidence of humans on the island dating back to the stone age. It is probable that the first humans crossed the land bridge connecting it to Scotland. 

During the iron age, the Isle of Man fell under Celtic influence, and its culture became fundamentally Celtic. 

Despite how close it is to Great Britain, there is no evidence that the Romans ever bothered settling there. If they did, there are no records of them doing so, and no artifacts have ever been found. 

The name Man probably comes from an ancient Celtic word for mountain: Môn. 

In the 5th century, there was either a mass migration or an invasion of the island from Ireland. 

The Irish brought two things with them that fundamentally changed the island. The first was their language, which eventually evolved into the language on the island known as Manx.  Manx is a Gaelic language that is closely related to Irish and Scottish Gaelic. 

More on Manx in a bit.

The second thing that the Irish brought with them was Christianity. According to legend, Saint Maughold, a follower of Saint Patrick, was the one who converted the island, and he remains the patron saint of the Isle of Man today.

In the 9th century, the island was invaded by Vikings. At first, the Vikings just came to plunder the people who lived there, but eventually, they established settlements.

The Norse controlled the island until the 13th century when it came under the control of Scotland when it was sold to the Scottish king for  4000 marks. 

It was only in Scottish hands for about 20 years before it came under the control of the English for the first time. 

Through the 14th century, the island changed hands between the Scottish and English several times before winding up a permanent crown dependency of England. 

Here I should note that while the Isle of Man was under the authority of the King of England, it was never itself part of England. 

In 1405, King Henry IV of England gave the island to Sir John Stanley on a feudal basis, on the condition that he and his heirs provide two falcons to all future kings upon their coronation. 

In the 17th century, the Stanley family found itself on the wrong side of the English Civil War. With King Charles I beheaded, Oliver Cromwell, the new Lord Protector of England, appointed Thomas Fairfax as “Lord of Mann and the Isles.” 

The Stanley family returned to control the island until the British Parliament passed the Isle of Man Purchase Act of 1765, known on the Isle of Man as the Revestment Act. 

The act gave £70,000 and a £2,000 pound annual annuity to the family that ruled the island and transferred the title of Lord of Mann to the King. 

The head of state of the Isle of Mann is the Lord of Mann, which is the British Monarch, but it is held as a separate title. When Queen Elizabeth died, who was stylized the Lady of Mann, Charles was proclaimed the Lord of Mann by the Manx Parliament. 

In 1828, all the remaining rights held by the descendants of the Stanleys were sold to the crown for £417,144.

Over the last 150 years, the Isle of Man has seen increased autonomy and independence. 

The status of the Isle of Man is very similar to that of Jersey and Guernsey, which I covered in a previous episode. 

All three are considered crown dependencies. They are not part of the United Kingdom, but they are reliant on the UK Government for defense and international relations. When the UK was part of the European Union, the Isle of Man was not part of the EU and was explicitly excluded. 

There are several things that make the Isle of Man unique and quite different from Jersey and Guernsey. 

One of the big differences is the Manx Parliament which is called the Tynwald. 

The Tynwald was established during the Viking rule in the year 979, making it older than the English parliament. 

The only national parliament which can claim earlier origins is Iceland, which established legislative body in 930. However, the Icelandic Althing hasn’t been in continuous operation the entire time, which is why the people of Mann call the Tynwald the “world’s oldest continuous parliament.”

The Tynwald is a bicameral body consisting of the House of Keys and the Legislative Council.  

The House of Keys is directly elected by the Manx people, similar to the British House of Commons, and has 24 seats. The Legislative Council consists of 11 seats, 8 of which are selected by the House of Keys, and the other three are the President of Tynwald, the Bishop of Mann, and the Attorney General of the Island, who cannot vote. 

The national day for the Isle of Man is Tynwald Day, which is usually on July 5th.

One of the other notable things about the Isle of Man is the language that developed there, called Manx. 

Manx, as I mentioned before, is a Gaelic language that is in the same language family as Irish, Scottish Gaelic, and Welsh. 

While all of these languages have become endangered with the spread of English, the most endangered language has been Manx due to the island’s small population. 

The last person who was considered a native speaker of Manx was Ned Maddrell, who died in 1974 at the age of 97. 

Thankfully, Ned lived long enough to help take part in a Manx cultural revival that began in the 1960s. He worked with many younger people who were learning the Manx language. 

Today, there are more people on the island who are naming their children with traditional Manx names, and there has been increased signage with words in both English and Manx. 

As of 2022, there are an estimated 2,200 Manx speakers, which corresponds to about 2.5% of the population of 84,000.

The flag and symbol of the Isle of Man are very distinctive. It consists of a symbol known as a triskelion.  The Isle of Man triskelion consists of three armored legs wearing golden spurs that are arranged like a pinwheel. At first glance, it is very reminiscent of a Nazi swastika. 

The triskelion is actually an ancient symbol that dates back several thousand years. 

The triskelion can be found on the flag, license plates, currency, and other official documents.  

True story, the last day I was on the Isle of Man, I needed to get some cash, so I went to an ATM machine and took out 200 pounds. When the bills came out of the machine, I didn’t even look at them and put them in my wallet. I had been using British pounds during my stay without any problem and didn’t think about what would come out of the machine. 

The next day I was in Glasgow, and I went to a movie theater and took a 20-pound note out of my wallet to pay for my ticket. The woman at the counter looked at me funny and said, “Sir, we can’t accept this.”

I asked why not, and she said, “look.”  

Sure enough, I had been given Isle of Man pound notes with a giant triskelion right on the front. I had to find a bank where I could convert them to Bank of England notes. 

You can also find a very prominent triskelion on the world’s largest water wheel, the Great Laxey Wheel. Built in 1854, the Great Laxey Wheel is 72.5 feet or 22.1 meters in diameter. It was originally built to help power a mine, but it is a historic site today. 

If you ask many people what they know about the Isle of Man, there is a good chance they will mention the Isle of Man Tourist Trophy or the Isle of Man TT. Perhaps the world’s most famous and dangerous motorcycle race. 

The first race was run in 1907. Today the race runs on a 37.7-mile or 60.7-kilometer road course, which goes in a loop around much of the island, and through the mountainous interior of the island. 

Since the first race in 1907, there have been 266 deaths, and in 2022 alone, there six people were killed during formal motorcycle races.  That total doesn’t include spectators and race officials, of which there are about a dozen more.

What makes the race so dangerous are the 264 corners that must be navigated on each lap, and the high speeds contestants achieve. Also, because this is a road course, there are often cliffs or walls on the course, unlike what you might find on a race track with plenty of space on the sides of the track.

Visiting the Isle of Man is pretty easy to do. Much easier than visiting Jersey or Guernsey, which isn’t that hard either. 

There are ferries that go to the capital city of Douglas from Dublin, Belfast, Liverpool, and Heysham. Likewise, there are short flights from many major cities in the region, and you don’t need a visa if you are already in the UK or Ireland. 

Visiting the Isle of Man is very much like visiting England. If you rent a car, you can easily see pretty much everything of interest on the island in about four days. 

When you think of the British Isles, the big islands with all the people obviously get all the attention. However, don’t forget about the Isle of Man. It might be small, but it has a history, culture, and language unlike any of its neighbors.