Sophia Morrison, by James Franklin – 18th November 2020

Report by John Slater

James Franklin of Culture Vannin sub-titled his talk on Sophia Morrison of Peel, ‘All for the Cause’ and the reason for this was soon apparent. She is credited with much of what we enjoy, as Manx, today.

Sophia was born in downtown Peel in Market Street, then known as College Street on the 24th May 1859. Her father a grocer, a merchant, an entrepreneur, owner of boats also built Athol Street, paid off the debt on Peel clock, supported the railway line and still found time to sire nine children! He was also the Charles of Charles Street.

Charles’ wife outlived him. She owned a quarry and left the children what was then the huge sum of £10 000. Sophia spent much of her youth in Onchan, travelled widely, speaking many languages. However, she returned to Peel aged 36, becoming Lady Captain of Peel Golf Club in 1898, the year she launched A Manx revival.

James now turned his attention to Chengey – language and Sophia’s important role in spearheading a revival.. The state of the Manx language was dire. MHK A.W. Moore said that the Manx language should be ‘left to die’. The Manx Language Society fought back. In just two weeks Manx classes started in the Centenary Hall, Peel with successful fundraising. Yn Cheshaight Ghailckagh was in action. Manx was introduced to children in schools. This took ages to organise and started in about 1904.

Recordings of surviving Manx speakers were made Island wide and language books were published. The then innovative technology of recording was applied to make recordings all over the island to conserve native speakers and their local dialect. This was just in time as so few native speakers survived. This enabled Manx language books to be published. Songs were also gathered and taught
in classes island – wide. Sophia coupled this with publishing Manx music.

Our speaker, James, then looked at Manx fairy tales and folklore. Sophia published some of these in Fairy Tales 1911. These were much more than children’s stories. The famous Manx artist, Archibald Knox re-did the illustrations. Many were published in other journals.

James then looked at Sophia’s role in Manx literature., particularly the works of T. E. Brown. She strongly promoted his works, even ensuring in 1914 that every primary school had a copy of his collected works and a framed portrait hung in a prominent place.

Sophia had a long record of influencing many Manx writers and had established a tradition of Manx dialect theatre, the first performance in 1903 being in the now ruined St Peter’s Church in Peel. Wouldn’t it be good to do a repeat, even if an open- air theatre now! Plays were later staged in Peel’s very own Albert Hall. Sophia died in 1917 aged just 56.

The second half of the evening was packed with more tales and events. Do read more about Sophia in one of the splendid books readily available.

Our next meeting is at 7.30pm on Wednesday, 17th February in the Centenary Centre when Miss Christian and Miss Moore will give us recollections of the school in 1910. Oh, and a brief but fascinating AGM as a further treat!