The Zoologist/4th series, vol 1 (1897)/Issue 668/On Manx Bird-names

On Manx Bird-names (1897)
by Pilcher George Ralfe
4039095On Manx Bird-names1897Pilcher George Ralfe


By P. Ralfe.

In the following paper an attempt has been made to collect such Manx names of birds as may still with reasonable certainty be applied. In obtaining the correct Gaelic nomenclature of natural objects there is now a growing difficulty, for of the small and ever-decreasing number who speak the primitive tongue, few are able with precision to identify any but the most common, or in some way conspicuous species. In the impoverished Manx now current, many names have doubtless been lost.

When we turn to the two published dictionaries of the language, we find animal and plant names very numerous in both, but unfortunately their value is impaired by the vagueness and incorrectness of the English equivalents, proving that the compilers had little acquaintance with the English names of the objects signified.

For some birds common here I have been unable to trace any (Gaelic) Manx name, the English or a corruption of it being used in the Gaelic speech. There are, on the other hand, species whose Gaelic names are still frequently or universally used by Manxmen is speaking English.

The Gaelic names are naturally often quite or almost identical with those of Irish and Scotch Highland Gaelic. I am not aware that any trace of the Scandinavian influence for centuries dominant in Man, and which has left so strong an impression on our place-names, can be found among them.

The writer's acknowledgments are due to Mr. J.B. Keig, of Ramsey, and his family, to Messrs. W. Quayle and W. Tupper, of Laxey, and others, whose information and verifications have given this article the greater part of whatever value it may possess. The following works have also been referred to:—

Cregeen, 'Manx Dictionary,' Douglas, 1835.

Kelly's 'Manx Dictionary' (Manx Soc. vol. xiii., original about 1772, with additions), Douglas, 1866.

O'Reilly and O'Donovan, 'Irish-English Dictionary,' Dublin.

Harvie Brown and Buckley, 'Vertebrate Fauna of Outer Hebrides,' Edinburgh, 1888; from which the references to Scotch Gaelic are mainly taken.

Macpherson, 'Fauna of Lakeland,' Edinburgh, 1892.

Mitchell, 'Birds of Lancashire,' London, 1892.

Holland, 'Faune Populaire de la France,' tome ii., Paris, 1879.

Moore, 'Surnames and Place-names of the Isle of Man,' London, 1890.

Moore, 'Manx Folk-lore,' Douglas, 1891.

'Manx Note-book,' edited by A.W. Moore, Douglas, 1885–7.

'Yn Lioar Manninagh' (Transactions of Isle of Man Nat. Hist. &c. Soc, 1880 et seq.)

'Manx Bible' (Translation made under direction of Bishop Hildesley about 1768), edition 1819.

Kermode, 'Manx Crosses,' Ramsey, 1892.

The initials M.S.D. refer to the Manx Society's or 'Kelly's Dictionary'; Cr. to 'Cregeen's Dictionary.'

Local English names in use on the island are added enclosed in brackets.

An asterisk prefixed to a Gaelic name signifies that the name has been verified as in use at the present time. The erratic nature of Manx orthography will be observed in the variant forms of many names.

Missel Thrush, Turdus viscivorus. (Wood Thrush; Scotch Thrush.)

Song Thrush, T. musicus. Treshlen (M.S.D.), evidently a corrupt diminutive of the English.

Fieldfare, T. pilaris. (Snow-bird.) Ushag-ny; Traghtee or Sniaghtee (M.S.D.). *Ushag-sniaghtey=Snow-bird. These names are probably also often used for the Redwing, T. iliacus.

Blackbird, T. merula. Lhon, Lhondoo, Lhon-ghoo (M.S.D.); Lhon (Cr.). I think *Lhondhoo=Black Thrush is now the usual form. The legend of the Lhondoo and Ushag-reaisht is thus given in Mr. Moore's 'Manx Folk-lore,' p. 150:—"It is said that once upon a time the haunts of the Lhondoo were confined to the mountains, and those of the Ushag-reaisht (Charadrius pluvialis) to the lowlands. One day, however, the two birds met on the borders of their respective territories, and, after some conversation, it was arranged to change places for a while, the Ushag-reaisht remaining in the mountains till the Lhondoo should return. The Lhondoo, finding the new quarters much more congenial than the old, conveniently forgot his promise to go back. Consequently the poor Ushag-reaisht was left to bewail his folly in making the exchange, and has ever since been giving expression to his woes in the following plaintive, querulous pipe:—

Lhondoo, vel oo cheet, vel oo cheet?
Blackbird, are you coming, are you coming?

The Blackbird, now plump and flourishing, replies:—

Cha-nel dy bragh, cha-nel dy bragh!
No, never! no, never!

The poor Ushag-reaisht, shivering—

T'eh feer feayr, fell feer feayr!
It's very cold, it's very cold!"

For "a quaint fancy derived from the Blackbird's and Thrush's songs," see p. 151 of the same work; and in the 'Manx Notebook,' No. 2, 55, the song of the former is thus prettily rendered (with a charming illustration) into Manx:—

Kione jiarg. Kione jiarg.
Apyrn dhoo. Apyrn dhoo.
Vel oo cheet? Vel oo cheet?
Skee fieau! Skee fieau!
Lhondoo. Lhondoo.
Red head. Red head.
Black apron. Black apron.
Are you coming? Are you coming?
Tired waiting! Tired waiting!
Blackbird. Blackbird.

Wheatear, Saxicola œnanthe. (Stonechatter.) Claghyncloie (Cr.); Clachan-ny-gleiee, Clogh-ny-cleigh (M.S.D.)=Stone of the hedge, cf. Clochirean, Scotch Gaelic. This is one of the "Shiaght Cadlagyn" or "seven sleepers" of 'Manx Folk-lore' (Kermode, 'Yn Lioar Manninagh,' I. i. 44).

Stonechat, S. rubicola. (Stonechatter; Blackcap; Nickchick). *Claghyn-cloie is applied to this species also, and it is probably the Kione-doo-ny-eeigynyn="Black-head of the gorse" of the M.S.D.

Willow Warbler, Phylloscopus trochilus. (White Wren; Tomtit.) *Drein-vane=White Wren. These names are of vague application, and "White Wren" seems sometimes to denote some fancied variety of the Common Wren. Mitchell gives "White Wren" for the Willow Warbler in Lancashire.

Sedge Warbler, Acrocephalus schœnobœnus. (Mocking-bird.)

Hedgesparrow, Accentor modularis. (Rough Wran; Little Thrush; Blue Buntie,? because its eggs are blue.) Dreinmollagh=Rough Wren, rendered "Titmouse" by Cregeen; *Ushag-keir=Grey-bird; *Boght-keir; *Bo'keir=Poor grey (bird).

Great Titmouse, Parus major. (Blackcap.) As in Lancashire (Mitchell).

Wren, Troglodytes parvulus. (Jinnie; Jinnie Wran.) *Drein, Drean (M.S.D. and Cr.); Dreeain (M.S.D.), cf. Ir. Dreathan; Sc. Gael. Dreollan, Drethein. The ceremonies on St. Stephen's Day connected with the Wren are well known. See 'Manx Folk-lore,' p. 133, et seq.

Pied Wagtail, Motacilla lugubris. Ushag-vreck (M.S.D.)=Pied-bird; Skibbag-ny-vultin (M.S.D).; Ushag-voltee (Cr.).

Meadow and Rock Pipits, Anthus pratensis, A. obscurus. *Ushag-y-veet; *Ushag-veet; *Billy-yn-tweet; *Tweet; *Cheet or Chit Veg.Names expressing the note.

Swallow, Hirundo rustica. *Gollan-geayee or gheayee (M.S.D. and Cr.)=Fork of the wind. Used in Ps. cxxxiv. 3. Cf. Ir. and Sc. Gael. Gobhlan Gaoithe; Welsh Gwennol; Breton Gwignol, Gwignelenn. One of the "seven sleepers" (Y.L.M. I. i. 44).

Goldfinch, Carduelis elegans. *Lossyr-ny-keeyley=Flame of the wood (M.S.D.); Kiark-my-Leydee (Cr.)=My lady's hen. As in Lancashire, "Flinch" is here a common error for "Finch."

Sparrow, Passer domesticus, is rendered "Sparroo" in the Manx scriptures, as if even at the date of translation no Gaelic Manx name was known. (Spadger.)

Chaffinch, Fringilla cœlebs. (Spink) in Lonan.

Greenfinch, Ligurinus chloris. (Green Linnet.)

Linnet, Linaria cannabina. (Philip.) Bytermyn (Cr.). *Fillip-ny-kempey=Philip of the hemp, is in M.S.D. rendered Bunting. Mitchell says that the Twite (L.flavirostris) is called "Manx Linnet" in Lancashire.

Common Bunting, Emberiza miliaria, *Pompee-ny-hoarn (Cr.)=Bunting of the barley. Cregeen translates this merely "a small bird." This species is no doubt also Ushag rouayr (or roauyr) ny hoarn=Fat bird of the barley, of both dictionaries.

Yellow Bunting, E. citrinella, *Ushag-wee (Cr.); Ushagvuigh (M.S.D.)=Yellow-bird; cf. Sc. Gael. Bhuidheag.

Skylark, Alauda arvensis. *Ushag-y-tappee, Ushag-tappagh (M.S.D.)=Crested-bird; Ushag chabbagh (M.S.D.)=Stammering or babbling bird; Ushag happagh (Cr.). Cf. Sc. Gael. Uiseag, I. Fuiseog. But Ushag is the common Manse generic term for "bird," as may be seen by many compounds in this list, although Eean (cf. Sc. Gael, and I. Eun) is also used. In Lonan, Ushag is usually pronounced Ulliag.

Starling, Sturnus vulgaris. *Truitlag (M.S.D. and Cr.) Cf. Sc. G. Druideag; I. Truid, Truideog; Wel. Drudwy; Bret. Tred.

Chough, Fregilus graculus. *Caaig (Cr.); Caag (M.S.D.); pronounced "Keg," cf. Sc. Gael. Cathag. M.S.D. translates "Chough, Daw, or Jay"; Cregeen, "Jay." This is a well-known name as applied to this species; I have not heard it used for the Jackdaw, as in Scotch Gaelic.

Magpie, Pica caudata. *Piannad, Pieanat (M.S.D.); Pieannat (Cr.). Cf. Sc. Gael. Pitheid, &c.; I. Pighe, Pighead; Eng. Piet, Pie-Annet, of which these are corruptions.

Jackdaw, Corvus monedula. Juan-teayst (M.S.D. and Cr.). An attempted translation of the English name read as "John Dough!"

Rook, C.frugilegus. *Craue-feeagh (M.S.D.).

Hooded Crow, C. cornix. (Greyback). Fannag, Trogh, Troghan (M.S.D.); Fannag (Cr.). Cf. Sc. Gael. Feannag; I. Feannog. Mitchell gives "Manx Crow" as a Lancashire name.

Raven, C. corax. *Feeagh (M.S.D.; Cr., Lev. ii. 15, &c). Cf. S. Gael. Fitheach; I. Fiach, Fitheach. Feeagh-vooar is properly the Raven, Feeagh including also the "Greyback" and Rook. The Raven is commemorated in various place-names, as Edd Feeagh-vooar=Raven's nest; Glion Feeagh=Raven's glen, &c.; and perhaps the Scandinavian Ramsey; and here, as elsewhere, Fiach became a family name, now translated into Crowe. On Manx-inscribed crosses of the Norse period (eleventh to thirteenth century) we find in runes the personal name fiak and its compounds ufaik and ufaak (i.e. O'Faac) and (?) feeak, the former part of the name being in this case defaced and uncertain (malfeeak and thurfeeak suggested). Cur meer da'n feeagh, as hig eh reeisht (Give a piece to the Raven, and he'll come again), and Myr's'doo yn feeagh, yiow eh sheshey (Black as is the Raven, he will find a mate) are Manx proverbs. A bit of Raven-lore, too long for quotation here, is given by Rev. T.E. Brown, in 'Brown's Popular Guide to Isle of Man,' ed. 1877, p. 352.

Cuckoo, Cuculus canorus. *Cooag (M.S.D., Cr., Lev. ii. 16). Cf. Sc. Gael. Coi, Cuach; I. Cubhag. One of "the seven sleepers."

Long-eared and Short-eared Owls, Asio otus and A. accipitrinus. Hullad, Kione-chayt=Cat's-head (M.S.D.); Hullad (Cr.). *Hullad-screeagh. Hullad is used in various scriptural passages; cf. Eng. Howlet.

Eagle, Haliaëtus albicilla, was probably the Manx species. *Urley (pr. Urla), (M.S.D., Cr., and in Lev. xi. 18, Deut. xiv. 12, Job. xxxix. 27); but in Lev. xi. 13 and 17, strange to say, the English "Eagle" is inserted. Cf. Sc. Gael. Iolair; I. Iolar; Welsh and Brit. Er. The name Cronk Urleigh, formerly Renurling, probably refers to the Eagle as a device of the Stanleys, lords of Man, the place having been used as a Tynwald.

Peregrine Falcon, Falco peregrinus. (Falcon Hawk; Royal Falcon).

Hawk (generally). Shawk (M.S.D. and Cr.). Cf. Sc. Gael. Seobhag; I. Seabhac; Welsh Hebog. Shirragh (M.S.D.); Stannair (Cr.). *Shirragh-ny-Giark (Cr.)=Hen-hawk, refers probably to the Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus). Shawk in Deut. xiv. 13=Glede, and in Lev. xi. 16, Hawk in the English version; in Lev. xi.14, Shyrragh=Kite.

Cormorant, Phalacrocorax carbo. (Diver; Jinnie Diver.) Shag, P. graculus. The name *Shag, given in both Manx dictionaries, applies to both species; and both give also Fannag-varrey=Seacrow. Feeagh-marrey=Sea-raven appears in Lev. xi. 17. Arrag vooar or Arrag'ooar means P. carbo, perhaps only the young white-breasted birds. Cf. I. Siagaidh, Siogaidh; Sc. Gael. Orag; I. Odharog, "a young Cormorant." Various isolated crags round our coast are well known as "Shag Rock," "apricis statio gratissima mergis."

Gannet, Sula bassana. (Johnny Gant). *Gant, Gaunt (M.S.D.).

Common Heron, Ardea cinerea. Coayr. *Coayr-ny-hastan=Eel Crane, Coayr-glass=Grey Crane (M.S.D.); Coar-nyhastan (Cr.). Cf. Sc. Gael. Corra-ghlas, Corr; I. Corr, Corriasc, Corr-ghlas; Wel. Creyr-glâs; Bret. Kerc'heiz; cognate with Gr. γερανος; Lat. Grus; Eng. Crane, &c. In Deut. xiv. 18, "Heron" is Coar-ny-hastan, and Coar in Lev. xi. 19. As in some other parts of Britain, the Heron is here generally known by the name Crane.

Bittern, Botaurus stellaris (extinct). Ushag-ny-boob (M.S.D.). Cf. Sc. Gael. Bubaire; Welsh Aderyn y Bwn.

Goose (gen.), Anser sp. *Guiy (M.S.D., Cr.). Cf. Gael. Giadh; Wel. Gwydd; Bret. Gwas, Gwai, &c.

Swan, Cygnus ferus, &c. *Ollay (M.S.D., Cr., Lev. xi. 18). Cf. Sc. Gael. Eala; Bret. Alar'ch; Lat. Olor.

Duck, Anas boschas, &c. *Thunnag (M.S.D., Cr.). Cf. I. Tonnog.

Teal, Querquedula crecca. Laagh, *Laaghag (M.S.D.). Cf. Sc. Gael. Lach, Lacha=Duck; I. Lacha=Duck.

Ring Dove, Columba palumbus. *Calmane-keeylley (M.S.D.)=Wood-pigeon. Cf. Sc. Gael. Calman coille; I. Colm=Dove; Lat. Columba.

Red Grouse, Lagopus scoticus. Kellagh-ruy=Red cock; Kiark-freoaie=Heath-hen (M.S.D.). Cf. Sc. Gael. Ceare-Fhraoich, Coilleach-Ruadh.

Partridge, Perdix cinerea. *Kiark-rhennee or rheinnee (M.S.D., Cr., 1 Sam. xxvi. 20)=Fern-hen; Patrag, Eean-patrag (M.S.D.). Cf. Sc. Gael, and I. Ceare Thomain; Sc. Gael. Ceare Chruthach. M.S.D. applies Kiark-rhennee also to the Woodcock (Scolopax rusticola).

Landrail, Crex pratensis. *Eean or Yeean-raip, Eean-raip (M.S.D.); Eean-reap (Cr.)— onomatopœtic.

Moorhen, Gallinula crex. *Kiark-ushtey (M.S.D).=Waterhen ("a Coot," Cr.). Cf. Sc. Gael, and I. Cearc-uisge.

Golden Plover, Charadrius pluvialis. *Ushag reaisht, reeaisht, or reeast (M.S.D. and Cr.)=Bird of the waste. *Fedjag (pr. Fashag) reeast (Cr. and M.S.D.)=Whistler of the waste; Feddag (M.S.D.). Cf. Sc. Gael. Feadag, Feadag-bhuidhe; I. Feudog. See Blackbird, supra. Some Manx people say Ushag-reeast is applied to some smaller bird, perhaps the Redwing or Snow Bunting; but the legend, with its imitation of the Plover's well-known cry, cannot apply to either of these. Mr. Moore says this is also the "little red bird of the black turf-ground" in the ballad on pp. 149, 150 of 'Manx Folk-lore'; but the description seems very inappropriate.

Ringed Plover, Ægialitis hiaticula. (Miller or Millard; Sand-lark; Sea-lark; this and other small shore-birds.) I do not know the etymology of the first two names; perhaps simply English "Miller" from the bird's colouring. Can it have any connection with Norse "Sandmyla" (Holmgren, 'Skan. Foglar,' ii. 766)?

Lapwing, Vanellus cristatus, (Peewit.) *Eairkan (M.S.D.); Earkan (Cr.). The "Lapwing" of Lev. xi. 19 is also so rendered in the Manx Bible. Derived from Eairk, "a horn." Cf. Sc. Gael. Adhareag-luachrach, Adharean-luachrach; I. Adhairein; Welsh Conchwiglan; Bret. Kernigel. There is a hill-farm in Lezayre called Parknearkin or Park-ny-earkan; and Mr. Moore derives from the bird's name also the appellation of a shore in Maughold, Traie ny Earkan or Earaghyn, which I have heard locally explained in the same way; but a different and perhaps more likely derivation is given in 'Yn Lioar Manninagh,' vol. i. part ii. p. 75.

Oystercatcher, Hæmatopus ostralegus. *Garey-vreck; *Garee-breck (Cr.); *Bridgeen. Vreek=Pied. For the meaning of Garey, see 'Fauna of the Outer Hebrides,' p. 117, where the equivalent Gearra is said to be applied to various animals and birds. In the same volume Gearra-breac is given as a name for the Black Guillemot (Uria grylle). Cf. Sc. Gael. Bridean, Gillebride; I. Gillebride.

Snipe, Gallinago cœlestis. *Coayr-heddagh (M.S.D.); Coar-chrattagh (Cr.); two attempts at spelling the same sounds. *Coarny-heddagh. Cf. Sc. Gael. Gobhar Athar; I. Gobhar-oidche; German Himmelziege; French Chèvre céleste, &c. Coar (Crane) in the Manx names should doubtless be Goar (Goat).

Common Curlew, Numenius arquatus. *Crottag (M.S.D.), (pr. Crothag). Cf. Sc. Gael. Crotach-mhara, Crotag-mara.

Tern, Sterna sp. *Gibbyn-Gant=Gannet of the Sand-launce (Ammodytes).

Black-headed Gull, Larus ridibundus. *Pirragh (Cr.). I have heard this given as Perrac, Parrac, and even Parrakeet. Cregeen translates "a species of gull, pinquin" (sic), but this is the species to which the name is applied. Cf. Sc. Gael. Tarroch=Kittiwake; Lane, &c, Turnock.

Herring Gull, L. argentatus; and other species. *Foillan (M.S.D. and Cr.), (pr. Fōlyan). Cf. Sc. Gael. Faoilean, Faoileag; I. Faoilleann, Faoileog; Wei. Gwylan; Bret. Gwelan, Goulen. There is a Traie Foillan (Gull's Shore) in Maughold, and an Ellan-ny-Foillan (Gull's Island) in Lezayre.

Lesser Black-backed Gull, L. fuscus. (Parson, at Peel.)

Great Black-backed Gull, L. marinus. Juan-mooar (Cr.)=Big John.

Skua, Stercorarius sp. *Shirragh-varrey=Sea-hawk.

Razorbill, Alca torda. (Ducker.) Coltrag, Caltrag (M.S.D.); Coltrag (Cr.). The latter translates "a coulter-bill fowl." I have not heard this name used. Does it apply to this species, or the Puffin, or both? Cf. Sc. Gael. Coltrachan=Puffin.

Common Guillemot, Uria troile. *Stronnag (not in dictionaries), from Stroin=nose, in allusion to its pointed beak; or its derivative Stron, Stronneraght=Snuffle, from the murmuring cry.

Black Guillemot, U. grylle. (Sea-pigeon, and, according to Mr. Kermode, Rock Dove, at Peel.)

Puffin, Fratercula arctica. (Sea-parrot.) Pibbin (Cr.). The "Manx Puffin," so often mentioned by old writers as taken from holes in the Calf of Man for food, was of course Puffinus Anglorum.

The writer believes that this is far from a complete list of the names recoverable, by careful and leisurely investigation, especially in the remoter districts; but it may perhaps serve as a foundation.

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