taking our culture forward

An oral history interview in Manx Gaelic with Pat Burgess, recorded by Fiona McArdle RBV on 29 March 2022.

Pat was born and brought up in Stockport. Her great grandfather was a Laxey miner and her grandfather was born in Laxey. An aunt was the postmistress at Garwick. She attended school in Stockport and eventually went to Manchester Teacher Training College.

When young, she bought Goodwin’s ‘First Lessons’ and ‘Gailck Coloayrtyssagh’ but she didn’t find the books easy and learned little or nothing.

After a couple of years teaching in Canada, Pat came to the Isle of Man in 1972 to teach at St. Johns. The Headteacher at St. Johns was soon Les Quilliam. Les knew some Manx but he wrote about it more than he spoke it. Pat learned Manx at school and at Lewis Crellin’s Peel evening class. She went to a conversation group with Leslie Quirk at one stage. When she went to school the next day Pat taught the pupils what she had learned the evening before. Then the following week she’d say, “Remember last week? Well, that was wrong, it’s like this”. Her pupils were aged 6/7 – 9 as she had the same group for several years. Julie Patrick, Bronwen Williams and Aalin Clague learned wonderful Manx like ‘little sponges’. Julie wrote a good play but the script is (currently) lost.

Pat entered them in the Guild, at one stage entering 54 for various classes, not all in Manx. She entered pupils in competitions in Yn Chruinnaght and Eisteddfodau where in the latter case children’s competitions could go on for a while till 11pm or so.

Pat was a member of a Local Studies Teachers’ group and translated traditional stories from English for children; she would go to Doug Fargher’s house where Adrian Pilgrim was living at the time, then Adrian would put red marks all over it and she would write it out again. Stuff such as about dinosaurs, a woman in an accident.

When Les Quilliam retired, Pat moved to teach at Marown School as Deputy Head, where she remained until her retirement. After retirement, Pat continued to ‘supply’ teach music and Esperanto at Marown School.

Pat was a member of Yn Cheshaght Ghailckagh but was concerned about the ‘split’ when Banglane Twoaie ny Sheshaght Ghailckagh was formed in the 1970s. She had started teaching Manx at the College in 1973 with Adrian Pilgrim taking the higher class and Pat the lower.

Adrian and Fiona McArdle RBV were trying to arrange an ‘O’ level examination with Robert Thomson, who was still at Leeds University prior to his retirement when he came to live at Ballabeg (Arbory). Alun Davies, the then Director of Education, helped with that and the first exam from The JMB (Joint Matriculation Board) was sat in 1982 by an adult College class.

Pat tells a story of her ‘wall work’ at St. Johns around that time when Alun Davies brought someone for the Board of Education round the school who said of her classroom, “Why is there no English on he walls?” Alun came back and said, “I hear you’re teaching Manx in school time?” “Yes, indeed.” He said, “That’s not right.” Whereupon Pat said, “They’re only learning Manx when all their other work is done.” “There should be more tasks for them.” Pat replied, “Well, if they learn a language when they’re young, it’ll be very easy for them to learn more languages when they grow up.” And that was OK.

Pat belonged to a small group of friends – Pat herself, Adrian Pilgrim, Robert Thomson (when he was on the Island) and Audrey Ainsworth. They met at Adrian’s house.

They got the rights for Yn Cheshaght Ghailckagh to translate Usborne’s “First 1000 Words” using the original artwork so they went through the book in English, wrote the words in Manx, Pat went home and typed them up, stuck them into the book, and then took it to Usborne who published it.

As part of the Revival of the 1970s and 1980s Pat taught Manx singing, several parts, and produced the cassette tape, ‘Kiaull yn Aeglagh.’

Pat says that Manx today has many differences from the Manx she learned in the 1970s and thinks that most of the differences concern ‘bound prepositions’ and idiom. Adrian could translate from Irish and somewhere she has an article he wrote about the changes he saw in Manx Gaelic.

She has visited the Bunscoill Ghaelgagh and was very pleased to see how Manx teaching has progressed from the days when she taught it in the same building.


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  • Pat Burgess interviewed by Fiona McArdle RBV (28 March 2022)