Ten things that make the Isle of Man special:
1. The only whole country to be designated as a Biosphere Reserve by the United Nations, for its preservation of a special natural environment that is home to hen harriers and basking sharks.
The accreditation from UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) recognises the Island as a haven of sustainable development, where there is harmony between human activity and conservation.
Other Biosphere Reserves around the world include the Galápagos Islands, the Sierra Nevada mountains in Spain and the Yellowstone National Park in the USA.
2. The world’s oldest continuous parliament, Tynwald, founded by Viking settlers more than one thousand years ago and still making the Island’s own laws.
The Isle of Man’s self-government means it can do things differently from its larger neighbours. For example in 1881 it became the first country in the world to allow women to vote in national elections, 37 years ahead of England.
And in 2006 it led the way by giving votes to 16 and 17 year olds.
The Island also has its own banknotes, coins and stamps.
3. Manx Gaelic, a Celtic language that has given the Isle of Man many of its distinctive place and personal names (like Quirk!).
Closely related to Irish and Scots Gaelic, Manx can still be heard though it is no longer spoken by the majority of the population.
Local surnames often start with the letters C, K or Q, reflecting the fact that they once began with ‘Mac’. Common place name components include Balla, indicating a farm or village, and Slieau for mountain. Snaefell, the name of the highest peak, is actually of Norse origin and means Snow Mountain.
(There is also a Snaefell, and a Tynwald, in Iceland).
4. Unique native fauna like the tailless Manx cat and the multi-horned Loaghtan sheep.
The famous cat is either an insular genetic mutation or the descendant of a biblical moggy that got its tail trapped in the door of Noah’s Ark, depending on how scientific you want to be.
The brownish Loaghtan, meanwhile, boasts up to six horns and looks a bit Viking.
Other native curiosities include a significant population of fugitive wallabies, formerly resident in the government-owned wildlife park.
What you will not see in the Manx countryside is any snakes, as these were banished by St Patrick when he was driving the reptiles out of Ireland.
5. The Fairy Bridge, where superstitious locals wave hello to the little people to avoid bad luck. Many are the tales of the misfortune that befalls those who fail to acknowledge the Mooinjer Veggey.
Some Manxies also refuse to say R*t when referring to a common rodent, and use ‘Longtail’ as a safer alternative. This strange habit comes from old sailors’ taboos against speaking the names of certain creatures while at sea.
(Rabbit, pig and salmon were regarded as dangerous words too, and were replaced by bunny, grunter and pink fish. Remember this the next time you go on the ferry).
The Isle of Man is rich in folklore and mythology. According to legend the Island was itself created when a Irish giant ripped up a piece of his own land, hurled it at a Scottish rival and missed. The hole thus created is now Lough Neagh in Ulster.
6. The TT motorcycle races, run annually on a 38-mile circuit round closed country roads, which has been attracting international competitors and spectators since 1907.
In that time average speeds have gone from 34mph to 135mph and the event has made the Island the Road Racing Capital of the World.
For a fortnight in May/June every year the 85,000 local population is joined by 45,000 bike enthusiasts who watch competitors tackle the dangerous mountain course and experience a unique festival of motorcycling.
7. The Three Legs, the ancient national symbol of the Isle of Man, and its motto ‘Whichever way you throw it, it will stand’, reflecting the resilience of a resourceful people.
The Legs have been associated with the Island since the 13th century, when they were used as a badge by Manx Kings who then also ruled over the Inner Hebrides of Scotland.
No-one knows how or why these limbs found their way to the Isle of Man, though the design is believed to have started as an ancient sun symbol.
The Three Legs is also the emblem of Sicily, leading to speculation that it could have been brought here by Vikings who were active in both islands.
8. Laxey Wheel, the largest working water wheel in the world, built in the mid 19th century to pump water from local lead mines.
Mining, along with farming and fishing, was a mainstay of the Manx economy in the 19th century, gradually overtaken by tourism as British and Irish visitors discovered the Island’s charms.
Farming, fishing and tourism are still important. But in recent years the Isle of Man has prospered as an offshore centre for international finance and business, including online gambling, precision engineering, information technology, insurance and banking.
9. Varieties of vintage Victorian transport, powered by steam, horse and electricity.
The Isle of Man Steam Railway dates back to the 1870s and is the longest narrow gauge steam line in Britain still using the original locomotives and carriages. It runs for more than 15 miles from Douglas to the south.
Of a similar age, the 19th century horse tramway on the promenade in Douglas is the last of its kind in the world.
The Manx Electric Railway runs along the north-east coast from Douglas to Ramsey via Laxey. It was created in the 1890s, as was the Snaefell Mountain Railway winding up from Laxey to the Island’s highest point.
From the summit of Snaefell they say you can see Seven Kingdoms – the Isle of Man, England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, the Kingdom of Neptune (the sea) and the Kingdom of Heaven.
10. The expression Traa dy liooar, Manx for ‘time enough’, sums up the Island’s very special quality of life. Like manana but without the urgency…..
by Alistair Ramsay