From Ballaugh to Ballamona and Back…Sarah Christian

Many of us had read Sarah’s recent, delightful book on Glen Dhoo. This gave us a good starting point and is highly recommended.

Opening her talk by describing genealogical research as a personal journey through other people’s lives really grabbed our attention. Any thoughts of research being dull or simply a dry, academic exercise were instantly dispelled.

Sarah said that her interest was awakened by the Head of Kirk Michael School and then further encouraged in 1979 by Bob Forster, the first Head of QE2 when she was in the initial intake. It’s very cheering to us ‘old’ teachers to find that we sparked an interest in pupils that has enhanced their lives. It is a long- term investment, of course and one seldom knows which seeds grow and enrich.

Moving from a developing interest in feminism, Sarah recounted with commendable frankness, a spell in Ard Aalin with depression. She praised the staff and successful treatment that has led her to develop a career in mental health. Apparently, one in four of us will encounter mental health problems at some time in our lives so the better informed and more caring we become, the better.

There is no causal link between mental health and feminism but Sarah’s reasons for opening these two themes became clear as her talk progressed. Her own capacity for work, raising a family whilst successfully studying at the I.O.M. College to secure a BSc (Hons.) in Public Health is a testimony to this remarkable speaker.

A founder member of Ballaugh Heritage Trust, Sarah began research on Glen Dhoo in 1975, partly because of family connections. She explained how she used the Internet, MNH library, the Registry, Manchester Central library and Ballaugh records. She found that she had a relative who was put into Ballamona Hospital because he suffered from epilepsy. This is treatable, now but is still little understood.

Sarah’s feminist interest was partly aroused by the number of women admitted to the mental hospital as, ‘deviant women.’ This term might be applied if they were regarded as drinking too much or were sexually active outside marriage. This process didn’t seem to apply to men, hence feminism.

The way women were used and abused was noted. The military in the Boer War and more recently were so concerned about troops being weakened by syphilis that they organised a supply of ‘clean’ women. History is slow to acknowledge this double standard. 

The study of Glen Dhoo demonstrated problems of in-breeding. Apparently, young couples were expected to court within sight of their future in-laws’ chimney smoke, limiting the genetic pool. This accounted for the small number of family names. Not all were adversely affected of course, nor was the problem limited to this small, isolated community. Do read Sarah’s book to learn more.

Our AGM is on Wednesday, 20th February, 7.30pm in the Centenary Centre. This will be preceded by Frances Coakley talking on Manx mapping. Both are unmissable!