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Edward Maddrell

Epithet: Last native speaker of Manx Gaelic (1877-1974)

Record type: Biographies

Biography: From ‘New Manx Worthies’ (2006):

Ned Maddrell, or 'Plucky Ned' as he was known to his friends, was the last native speaker of Manx Gaelic. He was the eldest child and due to the size of the family, he went as a young boy to live with his great-aunt, Paaie Humman (Margaret 'Peggy' Taubman), who could scarcely speak English. As he pointed out in his native tongue, "ec yn traa shen, v'ad loayrt Gailck ayns dy chooilley thie bunnys ayns yn boayl." (' ... they spoke Manx in almost every house at that time').

Ned was raised in a community which lived in a world where the old Manx traditions, customs and language were still very much to the fore. Indeed, for the first 40 years of his life Manx was the prevalent community language in Cregneash.

He recalled that the people of the village gathered a great deal at other people's houses, and one of the favourite diversions was the telling of stories about fairies and bugganes. The buggane stories were very frightening and some were told with the idea of keeping children out of mischief. His aunt tried to cure him of wandering out to the dangerous cliffs at Black Head by telling him a fearsome story of the Beisht Kione Dhoo (Beast of Black Head) who used to devour children! Ned remembered hearing people who claimed to have seen fairies - these usually taking the form of little men in red caps.

Ned attended an infant school at Dandy Hill Sunday School, from which he often played truant, and when a little older was sent to school in Port St Mary until he was thirteen. He was very fond of the following biographical ditty which he often recited:

Va mee ruggit ayns Corvalley;
Troggit seose ayns Creneash;
Hie mee dy schoill ec Purt le Moirrey.
C'red t'ou coontey jee'm nish?

I was born in Corvalley,
Brought up in Cregneash
I went to school in Port St Mary.
What do you think of me now?

Ned Maddrell spent much of his early life at sea, starting in the fishing boats and moving on to merchant shipping. At fourteen he joined the crew of a ketch, called the Mona, and sailed as cook to the fishing off Kinsale. He sailed from 1892 to 1904 with the Manx fishing fleet (some 50 or so boats from Port St Mary) to Kinsale and South West Ireland for mackerel in the spring and to the Shetlands for herring in the summer. He met many Irish and Scottish fishermen during this time and found he could understand their Gaelic quite well. By 1902 Ned was skipper of a ketch called the Harvest Home which he took deep sea fishing off Fastnet.

In 1904 Ned joined the merchant service. He sailed for nine years on the Cheshire Coast, trading in and out of many British and Irish ports with a number of different cargoes. Ned made one deep sea journey, from Liverpool to the Gulf of Mexico with the Harrison line. He also spent some time sailing with Manx schooners carrying salt from Ramsey and returning with coal to the Island.

Although he spent a lot of time away from home he held onto his language and belief in his Island and people. It saddened him that so many of his contemporaries and even people older than him were apparently so reluctant to admit their knowledge of the Manx language. 'I am a Manx nationalist', he said. 'I don't mean we should cut adrift from Empire but I think we should preserve what is our own.'

In 1936 he left the merchant service and spent a few years in charge of the motorboat used at the time by the University of Liverpool to do marine research in Manx waters. He spent the remainder of his life on land, working for some time as curator of the Manx Folk Museum at Cregneash. In July 1947 Eamonn de Valera, then Taoiseach of Ireland, visited Cregneash and met Ned Maddrell - a memory which Ned cherished for the rest of his life.

Ned's meeting with de Valera proved the catalyst for a major project to record the last surviving native Manx speakers. De Valera was so alarmed at how perilously close the Manx language was to extinction that he instructed the Irish Folklore Commission to send its mobile recording unit to Mann. Four hours of invaluable recordings were made during the visit which took place from 22nd April to 5th May 1948, with Ned Maddrell providing considerable support and contributions to the project.

The work of the Irish Folklore Commission prompted Yn cheshaght Ghailckagh (the Manx Gaelic Society) to continue recording the native speakers, and Ned was frequently recorded in the years before his death. These recordings are extremely important to the development of modern Manx, providing good examples of native spoken Manx to teachers and scholars alike.

After the death of Sage Kinvig in 1962, Ned Maddrell was reckoned to be the last native speaker. As such he received many visits from Manx Gaelic learners and enthusiasts. He had a long association with Yn cheshaght Ghailckagh and was keen to give support and assistance to learners of Manx. Ned was honoured by Yn Cheshaght Ghailckagh towards the end of his life by being made the society's president.

The extensive recordings of Ned's Manx speech provide a significant record of late nineteenth to early 20th century spoken Manx. Ned's survival through to a time when the number of Manx speakers had begun to increase again provided an important link between native Manx and the Manx currently spoken.

Ned was sorry so many people of his own age had been ashamed of knowing Manx. By the time he died in 1974 the decline in fortunes of Manx had ceased, and a new mood of optimism existed among Manx speakers and supporters.

Biography written by Phil Gawne.

(With thanks to Culture Vannin as publishers of the book: Kelly, Dollin (general editor), ‘New Manx Worthies’, Manx Heritage Foundation/Culture Vannin, 2006, pp.289-90.)

Culture Vannin


Gender: Male

Date of birth: 1877

Date of death: 27 December 1974


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