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Sophia Morrison: the First Curator

“Something of the national Character, somewhat of the history of a people, much of its manners and customs, may be gleaned from its folklore.”

Sophia Morrison, Preface to Manx Proverbs and Sayings, 1905

 

Who was Sophia Morrison?

Miss Morrison was the daughter of the local grocer in Peel and a hard working member of various Manx societies. She was born in Peel in 1859 and died there in 1917.

She cared passionately about what it meant to be Manx and helped record and identify the different features that make up Manx culture.

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Ref: PG/13100 Miss Morrison

The Morrisons were a well-established Peel family. Sophia’s grandfather Morrison was a local cooper and her grandfather Crellin had a farm near St Johns.

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Ref: PG/6693 Sophia Morrison of Peel

 

Campaigner for the Manx Language

Through Manx classes, publications and the use of the language in her own work Sophia inspired others to believe that the language was the Island’s ‘most precious heritage’.

By the 1900s, Sophia Morrison was one of a shrinking number of Manx speakers. Recognising the downward trend, Sophia helped start Manx language classes in Peel in the 1890s and encouraged her cousin, Edmund Goodwin, to publish his First Lessons in Manx. In 1899 she was one of the founding members and secretary of Yn Cheshaght Ghailckagh (The Manx Language Society).

She was not always successful. A campaign to encourage the teaching of Manx in local schools was ultimately met by too many obstacles and opposition.

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Ref: PG/1911 Edmund Goodwin

 

Manx Political Campaigner

Sophia Morrison strongly resisted the threat of the Island being annexed as part of England – there were calls for the Island’s own parliament, Tynwald to end. As part of England, the Manx would benefit from English welfare reforms, but many felt this would be at the cost of its cultural and political identity.

A growing recognition of a shared ‘Celtic’ heritage let to the first Pan-Celtic Congress in 1901 in Dublin. Sophia was amongst the first delegates who also came from Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

The need to stay independent was integral to Sophia Morrison’s vision of the future.

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Ref: PG/6958/2 Miss Sophia Morrison at Celtic Congress 1904 Caernarfon

 

Collector of Tales

Sophia is most well known as the author of Manx Fairytales. This is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of her work as a folklorist. She collected her material directly from the source, visiting people in their homes or talking to older fishermen on the quays.

 

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Ref: 1970-0149/5 The Buggane of Glen Meay Waterfall. Illustration by Archibald Knox for Sophia Morrison’s ‘Manx Fairy Tales’ 

 

The significance of Sophia’s work was not just in the act of collecting but also in her desire to let the world know about it – whether a scholar, general public or fascinated child.

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Ref: 1970-0149/9 How the Herring became King of the Sea. Illustration by Archibald Knox for Sophia Morrison’s ‘Manx Fairy Tales’ 

 

Manx Fairy Tales was first published in 1911 and reprinted in 1929 with the title pages for each story illustrated by Archibald Knox.

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Ref: 1970-0149/40A Manannan Mac-y-LeirrIllustration by Archibald Knox for Sophia Morrison’s ‘Manx Fairy Tales’ 

 

Her Legacy

When Sophia Morrison died in 1917 many people felt that a ‘light’ had truly gone out and the Manx Cultural Revival had lost one of its greatest supporters, but her legacy lives on.

Yn Cheshaght Ghailckagh (The Manx Language Society) continues to flourish and many Manx speakers still learn using her cousin’s First Lessons in Manx. The Manx language is now taught in all the Island’s schools and a generation of children have been taught through the medium of Manx at the Bunscoill Ghaelgagh in St John’s.

Sophia Morrison inspired future generations – particularly her protégé Mona Douglas. And the material evidence that she collected continues to weave its way through our modern lives and contributes to a truly vibrant culture.

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Ref: PG/0078/2 Constance Mona Douglas, author, journalist, musician and antiquarian (1898-1987)

 

The exhibition ‘Sophia Morrison: the First Curator’ is on display at the Manx Museum, Douglas, until 6 May 2017 and will be accompanied by various events. Admission is free.