One of the six Celtic Nations, (the others are Cornwall, Wales, Ireland, Scotland and Brittany), the Isle of Man cherishes its Gaelic heritage and independence. It is, for example, not part of the United Kingdom, but a Crown Protectorate with the Queen as Lord of Mann represented on the island by the Lieutenant Governor. Its Parliament, the Tynwald, dates back more than 1000 years to AD979 and is the oldest continuous parliament in the world. It does not exact capital gains or inheritance tax, and personal tax allowances and reliefs are much more generous than in the UK itself. The island issues its own stamps, coins and notes with the currency having an equivalent value to that of the UK. Recently issued coins include ones to commemorate the 2007/8 Tutankhamun exhibition at the O2 Arena, a crown coin marking the Chinese Year of the Horse, 2002, and, each year, a limited number of 50p coins featuring the Tourist Trophy (TT) races. The island is perhaps best known for these annual TT motorcycle races, along with its tailless cat, Manx kippers, and as a tax haven for the wealthy.
Although only 33 miles long and 13 miles wide, the island contains a rich diversity of scenery and heritage and, perhaps best of all, exudes a sense of peacefulness epitomised by the Manx Gaelic saying: traa-dy-liooar – “Time enough”.
This magical place became an island around 10,000 years ago when the melt water of the Ice Age raised the sea level. Soon afterwards, the first settlers arrived, working and developing the island into the landscape seen today. The distinctive influences of the various cultures who have lived here still remain, leaving a land with a unique and colourful heritage.
Among the first arrivals were the Vikings. Evidence of their era abounds throughout the island. Against the skyline on the seaward side of the road between Ballaugh and Bride are some ancient hilltop Viking burial mounds and, at the ancient castle in Peel, an archaeological dig revealed many hidden Viking treasures, which are now on display at the Manx Museum in Douglas.
Despite their reputation for plunder, rape and pillage, the Vikings also made some positive contributions to life on the island, not least of which was the establishment of the Manx governmental system, known as Tynwald. The Manx name for Tynwald Hill is Cronk John’s Church. Although there is no evidence to confirm the story that it contains earth from all of the 17 parish churches here, it is not unlikely that token portions of soil were added to the mound in accordance with Norse tradition.
The Tynwald ceremony continues still with an annual meeting of the island’s governors on Midsummer’s Day at the ancient parliament field at St John’s, where Manx citizens can also petition parliament.
The island’s famous three-legged symbol seems to have been adopted in the 13th century as the armorial bearings of the native kings of the Isle of Man, whose dominion also included the Hebridean islands. After 1266, when the native dynasty ended and control of the island passed briefly to the Crown of Scotland and then permanently to the Crown of England, the emblem was retained. Among the earliest surviving representations are those on the Manx Sword of State, thought to have been made in 1300. The Three Legs also appeared on Manx coinage from the 17th to the 19th century, and are still seen in the form of the official Manx flag.