Isle of Man

Some history


The Isle of Man has a long history from the Stone Age. The Vikings left their mark on the island with their place names and system of Parliament


The Isle of Man has been settled since the stone age with groups of hunter gatherers and remains of flint tools have been found on St Patrick’s Isle. They also left chambered cairns at Meayll Hill near Port Erin, King Orry’s Grave in Laxey and Cashel yn Ard near Glen Mona.

Isle of Man

By the Iron Age, the island was inhabited by Celts speaking a form of Gaelic and their settlements are recognised by the Balla prefix, meaning homestead. These were peace loving farmers. There is little written history although there is a strong oral folk lore involving Manannan the Celtic Sea God.

The Romans never reached the Isle of Man. Celtic missionaries from Ireland, known as Culdees, arrived from the C5th. They began to convert the population and built small chapels known as Keeils around the island. The remains of these can still be seen. 

Isle of Man

With the establishment of parishes, some of the keeils became the parish church and are recognised by the name of Celtic saint, like St Lupus, Malew, or St Ruinius, Marown.

Isle of Man

Christian burials were marked by stones carved with a simple cross.

The Vikings arrived from the start of the C9th, first as raiders but they soon settled and intermarried with the Celts. The Isle of Man held a strategic position on the sea routes across the Irish sea. They formed strong sea faring and trading communities. Gaelic remained the language of the home but Viking place names began to appear as well as the Norse type of government with the Tynwald. Evidence of their settlement can be seen on the slopes of the hill below the Braaid.

Isle of Man

There is also evidence of a Vikng ship burial at Balladoole. Norse gods and characters from myths also appear on crosses found around the island, although by the C10th the Vikings  were Christianised.

The Kingdom of Mann and the Hebrides was established around 1079 with the arrival of Godred Croven who was proclaimed King of Mann, although it was nominally under the control of Norway. He is the king Orry of Manx legends and is attributed with the establishment of Tynwald.  This was the start of the dynasty of Norse Kings. His son Olaf I gave land for the building of Rushen Abbey. The Bishopric of Sodor and Mann was established by the mid C12th as part of the See of Nidaros (Trondheim). It remained there until the reformation when it became part of the See of York.

Magnus Olafsonn died in 1265 and was the last Viking King with no obvious successor. This was also a time of increasing power struggles between Norway, Scotland and England for control of the island. The power base regularly changed hands between the English and the Scots until the English finally gained control of the island at the end of the C14th.

In 1405, Henry IV granted the Isle of Man to the Stanleys, who became the Earls of Derby in 1485. They ruled first as Kings of Mann but later as Lords of Mann, until 1736. The Stanleys rarely visited the island which was under the control of a Lord Lieutenant. James Stanley, the Great Stanley,  was the only ruler who spent much time on the island. Tynwald remained the style of government although English was now the official language.

James Stanley, 10th Earl of Derby had no surviving son, so the title passed to his daughter, the Duchess of Atholl.

By the end of the C17th, the Isle of Man became a centre for smuggling as custom duties were lower than in Great Britain or ireland. The Westminster Parliament was concerned about loss of duties and in 1726 passed an act aimed at suppressing smuggling and authorising the purchase of the Isle of Man from the Lords of Mann. The third Duke of Atholl and his wife eventually sold the island to the British Crown in 1764 for £70,000. The Isle of Man became, and still is, a dependency of the British Crown. The forth Duke of Atholl was appointed Lieutenant Governor, before selling all his remaining privileges and properties in the island to the British Crown for another £409,000.

The C19th was a time of great change in the island. Lead mining flourished and lead ore (along with herring) was a major export. The Great Laxey Mine was at the height of its prosperity and other smaller mines had opened in the surrounding area as well as around Foxdale.  

Isle of Man Steam Packet began running regular steam ship services and by the end of the century, the Isle of Man was a major holiday resort for English visitors. New hotels were built to accommodate them and a railway network opened up the island for tourism. During Both World Wars, the island was used to house enemy aliens.

After the Second World War, tourism numbers plummeted with the arrival of the family car and cheap foreign holidays, The island became much more dependent on the financial industry for wealth.

Tourism numbers are gradually increasing again as visitors discover the unique history and culture of the island. The annual TT races are a major draw with visitors from around the world.

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