taking our culture forward

Mona Douglas, Manannan, and Manx culture for future generations

Sun, 15 May 2022

This was one article in a series by Breesha Maddrell, Director of Culture Vannin, looking at the journey of Manx culture and its importance to our sense of identity and belonging. It was first published in the Manx Independent:

The first patron of the Manx Heritage Foundation was Mona Douglas, an extraordinary woman who collected and created and inspired others to keep Manx culture alive and kicking. She wasn’t someone who fitted into any pigeon-hole – she was awkward, determined, at times obsessive, and, as a woman who ‘didn’t know her place’ at a time when you were often expected to, totally unfathomable to a lot of those around her. Uncompromisingly unconventional may be the best way to describe her.

Mona Douglas published poetry, revived Yn Chruinnaght Celtic festival, created an arts organisation, Ellynyn ny Gael, a youth movement, wrote two novels and published books of articles about Manx matters, took Manx dance to the Albert Hall in London, collaborated with and inspired composers from other countries, and taught tribes of children that Manx culture belonged to them, and that they should take it into their hearts. She did this at a time when there wasn’t always much respect for Manx culture, let alone government support, and she didn’t receive a penny for most of what she achieved. Even so, she took our Island story to international audiences, performing and broadcasting, as well as participating in inter-Celtic events and happenings.

Most importantly, perhaps, she was one of the key forces in developing the story of Manannan as legendary first ruler of the Isle of Man that we know so well today. Of course, stories about Manannan existed before she was born, but the Irish poet, George Russell, known enigmatically as ‘AE’, told her that she should ‘make more of the Manannan myth’ and so she promoted him as the original patron of Manx culture. Through her work, we know Manannan in songs and stories, and trophies in his honour which are now awarded for the greatest contribution to Manx culture.

Mona’s story is one that reminds us of the many hands that have held and nurtured Manx culture over the centuries – she learnt from Sophia Morrison, she rubbed shoulders with J J Kneen and William Cubbon, and then she taught so many children through Aeglagh Vannin, people like Annie Kissack and Clare Kilgallon, who have, in turn, taught so many others, whether at the Bunscoill Ghaelgagh, their own children, or the many choirs, music and dance groups they’ve been involved with.

The Manx Heritage Foundation honoured Mona Douglas with the Reih Bleeaney Vanannan – Manannan’s Choice of the Year award posthumously. The Foundation is known today as Culture Vannin, an organisation that continues her legacy of teaching people of all ages about Manx culture and cultural heritage.

Manx culture is a journey we’ve all been on since the time of Manannan – whenever that may have been or will be – if you’re a shape-shifting sea god, perhaps you can be a time-traveller, too. Now that would make an interesting episode of Dr Who!

More information about the Culture Vannin 40 anniversary celebrations can be found here: Culture Vannin 40