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Skeealyn Vannin (Stories of Mann), the complete collection of Manx language archive recordings made by the Irish Folklore Commission in 1948

Date(s): 1948

Creator(s): Irish Folklore Commission

Scope & Content: This archive comprises 6 CDs digitised from the original acetate discs. Acetates as they were known, were the standard medium for studio recording and playback and for broadcast work from the 1920s until the introduction of magnetic tape. Discs had a short life span providing approximately ten high quality plays. After further playback, the soft grooves were susceptible to wear and damage and the surface could deteriorate rapidly.

Harry Bradshaw (formerly of RTÈ) and Anna Bale (University College Dublin’s Folklore Department) have played a key role in the restoration of these recordings. They began by carefully replaying the original acetates and utilised Cedar declicking technologies and Sonic Solutions software to reveal the remarkable fidelity of these 1948 recordings.

Although digital restoration has been carried out on the entire archive, it is inevitable that the final sound quality is variable due to contemporary recording standards when the material was first captured in 1948. However, Manx National Heritage felt it important to publish the archive in its entirety, regardless of sound quality, due to the importance of content.

Administration / Biographical History: In July 1947 a former Royal Navy fisheries protection vessel, newly named ‘Macha’, left Dublin for sea trials. On board was Eamon DeValera, the Irish Taoiseach, who was taking the opportunity of the trials to have a few days holiday.

Having visited the Blaskets, the Aran Islands and Tory Island the Captain was somewhat alarmed when DeValera asked him to set a course for Barra in the Outer Hebrides. The tour continued via Iona to the Isle of Man where the representative of the British Crown, Governor Bromet, showed DeValera the hospitality and courtesy ‘appropriate to the distinguished head of a friendly foreign power’.

This was the Taoiseach’s first trip outside of the Irish Republic since the Irish took a neutral stance in the second world war. This potentially controversial visit proved to be an important first step in thawing the frosty
relations which had developed between Ireland and the UK during the war.

DeValera’s visit had an equally important spin off for the Isle of Man. The Taoiseach expressed great interest in the Celtic culture of the Island and had a good conversation with native Manx speaker Ned Maddrell, DeValera speaking Irish and Ned speaking Manx.

Following this conversation DeValera offered to send the Irish Folklore Commission’s newly-acquired, fullyequipped recording van to Mann to assist in the recording of the last native speakers of Manx Gaelic. The
Commission had long been interested in collecting evidence of Gaelic language and culture to add to their substantial archives in Dublin. The Isle of Man was, ‘…a most important link in the chain and we are most anxious to help in the rounding up of the stragglers of Manx oral tradition.’ (Letter to Basil Megaw from Professor JH Delargy IFC 1948.)

The offer of help was eagerly accepted and the Commission’s van arrived in Douglas with folk collector Kevin Danaher on a cattle boat from Dublin on April 22nd 1948.

Kevin Danaher recalls the unusual arrival of the recording van at the Manx Museum:

“…We brought the thing over to the Isle of Man…Oh, in those days it was an adventure! I drove down about 11 o’clock in the evening and had the recording van slung from a crane and dropped into the hold of a cattle boat
which was coming to Douglas. And then the cattle came in and they occupied the upper deck and, what should I say, the “effluent” descended upon the lower deck, so that in the morning it was rather difficult to see where the van was, especially as the van was a sort of dark green colour…so I drove up to the Manx Museum to be greeted with horror by the Director thereof, Basil Megaw, a gentle soul who was somewhat perturbed to see the
state in which we were. And he called to me from a distance - a safe distance - … Don’t get out and close the windows! And he summoned a stout fellow with a strong hose who hosed the thing down…”

Danaher was an enthusiastic and energetic officer of the Irish Folklore Commission and by the time of his death in March 2002 was recognised as a pioneer of Irish ethnological studies. He spent 16 fruitful days on the
Island working with the Manx Museum recording 23 informants. Without this invaluable record of native Manx Gaelic and Manx English speech it is unlikely that the recent revival in the Manx language would have been so
successful.

The Irish Folklore Commission recordings were made at a significant time in the transition of language use in Mann. In the late 18th century the Manx population was primarily Manx speaking but during the 19th century there was a massive shift from Manx Gaelic to English. In the course of this shift, which was caused principally by changing economic and social circumstances, a transitional language or dialect of English ‘Manx
English’, developed.

By the early part of the 20th century Manx Gaelic was only spoken by older people, generally from more isolated locations. By the 1930s Manx Gaelic was no longer used as a community language and by the time Danaher made his recordings for the Irish Folklore Commission only a handful of native Manx Gaelic speakers were known. Many of the speakers recorded had not used Manx Gaelic for decades and some found it quite difficult at first to recall the language of their long past youth. For some of the speakers it would appear that the increasing influence of English had altered their Manx Gaelic grammar and knowledge of vocabulary. Other speakers demonstrated a great command of their native tongue with little obvious English influence but clear signs of a shift towards a more simplified form of Gaelic.

Manx English was still widely spoken at the time of the recordings and the Gaelic influences in grammar, idiom and pronunciation of this language or dialect are clearly evident, particularly in the conversation on Manx customs between Mr and Mrs Kinvig of Ronague and Ned Maddrell of Glenchass.

Planning and organising the trip took surprisingly little time considering the challenging circumstances of the post-war period. Additional coupons were requested from the Manx Petrol Rationing Commission to ensure that the recording van could reach the Manx speakers living in remote parts of the Island.

The van was equipped with a new Presto recording lathe to cut these records at 78 rpm on 12-inch acetate discs. An acetate disc was a wafer thin aluminium platter covered on both sides with a coating of cellulose acetate on which the cutting stylus scored a groove along which the audio signal was etched. The recording began at the disc’s centre and cut outwards towards the edge, the reverse of commercial 78 discs which played from outer edge to the record’s centre.

It is hard to imagine how unnerving many of the informants must have found their initial contact with the technology housed in the recording van. The recording process was a clash of traditional and modern cultures which initially at least added to the anxiety of some speakers who were already having problems recalling a language which they had not used for 20 or 30 years.

Kevin Danaher and the interviewers often had great difficulties coaxing some of the informants to speak while being recorded. Annie Kneale frequently switched from Manx Gaelic to English explaining that she found it difficult to ‘get at’ the Manx. Sage Kinvig and Eleanor Karran felt intimidated by the men they were speaking with and so said little on the recordings despite having very good Manx. Other informants, such as The Gaaue,
found the language came flooding back to them and would clearly have spoken for many more hours.

Language: eng

Collection: Sound Archive

Level: FONDS

ID number: SA 0579

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