Think the Isle of Man has no more secret wonders up its sleeve? Think again! Ellan Vannin, the Manx name, offers much more than meets the eye when it comes to a colourful culture and history.
The Isle of Man’s independence from the Crown and free-trade policy became strained during the early 18th century when Britain placed custom duties on all goods. Manxmen called the policy “protectionist” and a few decided to take matters into their own hands.
They built several tunnels or secret passages, many in the coastal town of Peel, under homes and surrounding cliffs. These passages became a hive of activity at night revolving around an underground malt and beer brewing industry.
But smuggling deprived the British government of valuable tax and parliament eventually retaliated with the Smuggling Act in 1765. The enforcement of strict penalties caused the closure of the tunnels.
Forget death row. The Crypt at Peel Castle (1229-1780) was a cold damp hole, where guards chained prisoners to the walls in darkness. Not only was it the first prison on the Isle of Man, but anyone could be sent here for something as simple as not paying tithes.
In the 18th century, the conversion of the Castle Rushen – tucked in the Isle of Man’s ancient capital of Castletown – into a jail was considered a vast improvement from the Crypt.
For many years, the unfortunate prisoners were only kept alive by members of the public and the benevolence of the governor. Eventually the castle was remodeled, serving not only as a prison, but also as a lunatic asylum up until the late 19th century.
Behind Church Walls
Fourteen centuries of Christian worship can be traced to the former parish of Braddan, which was consecrated in 1876. Stones from the first Celtic Keeil (Chapel) are found here dating back to 400 A.D., and include many Celtic and Scandinavian crosses.
But the most remarkable story linked to the old Braddan church dates back to 1832. Men came off the boats sick with typhus and cholera. More than 83 fell victim to the disease and ended up buried in the churchyard.
On the top of Peel Hill stands a 50-foot high landmark. People from around the world climb the hill and admire the panoramic views of the ocean and the coastal town below. They then chisel their names on the tower walls. Some of the names date back hundreds of years.
But the entrance to the tower is always locked to protect the Corrin family’s historical writing chiselled in the four chambers. The wealthy and eccentric landowner, Thomas Corrin built the tower in 1806 in memory of his wife, Alice, who died in childbirth.
Before his death, Thomas spent a lot of time reading in the narrow chambers. But the ships far out at sea mistook the flickering of his candlelight for a lighthouse. As a result, people complained to the government, resulting in the blocking up of the narrow windows at the top.
The Corrin family was associated with Athol Street Congregational Church in Douglas, but Thomas had no communion with the established church, which believed in burying members in consecrated ground. Thomas wanted to be buried on the top of Peel hill with his family, believing it would bring them “closer to God.”
When Thomas died, his surviving son had ‘taken religion’ and refused to have his father buried in unconsecrated ground. Instead he buried him in the churchyard at Kirk Patrick with his wife Alice. That night, friends of Thomas exhumed the bodies of Thomas and Alice and reburied them, according to his wishes, on top of the hill.
This resulted in a compromise. The graves could remain on the hill only if they were enclosed in a walled area. A walled area of earth was then built around the graves, and later a more permanent stone wall.
Enemy aliens within Europe and the United Kingdom were dispatched to the Isle of Man, as a result of concern over spies infiltrating the government during the First World War (1914-18) and the Second World War (1939-45). Men, women, and children were divided and placed behind the barbed wire of internment camps.
The biggest and worst internment camp on the island was Knockaloe in Kirk Patrick. Originally designed for 5,000 German civilians, Knockaloe Camp ended up housing more than 20,000 men in cramped and dirty conditions.
A rail-link built from Peel carried food and supplies to the camp. Despite efforts, more than 200 died in captivity and many were buried in the grounds of Kirk Patrick church.
After the war, the remaining internees were deported. Those that were buried in the graveyard at Patrick were re-interred at Cannock Chase in Britain, 1962. Two Jewish and a few Turkish graves still remain at the Patrick church graveyard.
Although Knockaloe returned to its former glory as a farm, you can still see a section of the camp built from stone, and along the drive are handfuls of small private cottages that were once used as meat sheds. According to the locals, this area is “extremely haunted.”
Round, peculiar land molds are scattered across the farmlands of Dalby. These molds are actually bunkers that once formed part of a system of Radio Detection Findings (RDF) or pylons.
The bunkers were built to draw away enemy fire during the Second World War. The pylons, also nicknamed “radars,” helped prevent German invasion by directing a small force of fighter airplanes to their appropriate positions for attacking incoming airplanes. These comprised the world’s first comprehensive radar system.
Eventually, locals using explosives took out the pylons after the war and used the wood to build nearby farmhouses.
The Manx cat is no secret. Bred on the Isle of Man, these gentle-natured tailless cats are the result of natural genetic mutation. Females weigh around eight to 10 pounds and males average between 10 to 12 pounds. Sadly, Manx cats are on the decline.
The dominant gene that causes the cat to be born tailless is also lethal. Known as “Manx Syndrome,” the gene causes the shortening of the spine, leading to damage of the nerves, bowels, bladder and digestive system.
This lethal side effect is more common with the Rumpy breed that exhibits a dimple at the base where the tail should be. In order to prevent genetic defects, the Rumpy can be bred with the Stumpy, a variant of the tailless breed.