Academic journal article Folklore

Speaking from the Shadows: Sophia Morrison and the Manx Cultural Revival. (Research Article: Focus on Women)

Academic journal article Folklore

Speaking from the Shadows: Sophia Morrison and the Manx Cultural Revival. (Research Article: Focus on Women)

Article excerpt


The true extent of national and cultural revival in the Isle of Man, 1880-1920, is only now beginning to be understood. The present paper focuses on a previously marginalised figure, the folklorist and activist Sophia Morrison. Her work exposes the importance of folklore in providing impetus for the revival movement in the absence of a strong literary tradition for Manx Gaelic. Morrison's ability to move between social circles sets her apart from other antiquarians, and she emerges as a key figure in the Manx language movement.


If the legacies of collectors such as Lucy Broadwood, Maud Karpeles and Anne (Annie) Gilchrist have remained unresearched and undervalued for so long, it is hardly surprising that women in the cultural revival in the Isle of Man have remained marginalised for even longer. After all, little is widely known about the Manx revival of the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century in general. Unsurprisingly, the late nineteenth-century trend towards an intensification of antiquarian activity also found its expression in the Isle of Man, as the Island sought ways in which it could come to terms with itself as a modern nation. Revived interest in the Manx Gaelic language was accompanied by archaeological and historical re-discovery: a nation struggled to find and assert its identity. Nestling in the circles of antiquarians, revivalists and nation-builders of that time is the work of folklore collector and revivalist Sophia Morrison (1859-1917), the daughter of the owner of a fishing fleet in the western port of Peel. Her contribution adds detail to our knowledge not only of the Manx cultural revival, but also of regional collecting practices in the British Isles at the turn of the twentieth century.

Morrison's work for the Manx revival saw her adopting a wide range of roles. Fundamentally, however, she acted as a facilitator, as an agent working to further the general population's understanding of a Manx "Kultur." Her roles can be summarised as follows:

* collector and fieldworker;

* learner and teacher of Manx Gaelic;

* secretary of Yn Cheshaght Ghailckagh (Manx Language Society);

* Manx representative to the pan-Celtic movement;

* promoter of Manx music and drama;

* encourager/facilitator, especially of the young;

* published author and editor of Mannin, the journal of Yn Cheshaght Ghailckagh;

* amateur comparative philologist.

Crucially, Morrison's roles in the first two categories saw her acting as a bridge between social classes. In addition, she was instrumental in bridging the gap between the domains articulated by Manx Gaelic and English codes, using the transference of cultural and national values within the linguistic domain as the key to continuation and revival. The ability to move between a complexity of social and intellectual spheres makes Morrison unusual within the circle of antiquarians and folklorists during this period.

The present paper will look at Morrison's fieldwork and then move to examine some of the ways in which she applied it in the form of her revivalist activities. These focus on the preservation and promotion of the Manx Gaelic language and culture, and on her involvement with the pan-Celtic movement. Her roles as secretary of Yn Cheshaght Ghailckagh and in the society's association with dialect plays must be left to another paper.

A Brief Historical Overview of the Isle of Man

Despite lying at the centre of the British Isles, the Isle of Man is often inexplicably confused with other small islands in the region. It is almost as if its position at the centre of the British Isles and at the heart of the "Celtic periphery" causes it to disappear from view. Situated in the north of the Irish Sea, its 227 square miles now support a population of 70 000, less than one-half of whom are Manx-born. …

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