Widely acclaimed as the Isle of Man’s greatest playwright, Christopher Shimmin’s intriguing works reflect his highly unusual life.
Born in 1870 in Strand Street, Peel, Shimmin emigrated to America at the age of 21 in 1892. After struggling to find work during the depression he returned to Peel but could only find work on board a ship as a sailmaker. With the advent of steam he soon had to retrain, initially in Liverpool as a sanitary inspector, and then back in Peel as a mason. Some of his monumental masonry can still be seen today in Patrick cemetery, where he was responsible for the graves of internees from the WWI internment camp at Knockaloe. He was elected to the House of Keys in 1919, where he would remain through two re-elections until his death in January 1933; his wife succeeding him at the subsequent election.
He was a man of strong beliefs, being a founding member of the Manx Labour Party, a leader of the Peel Branch of the Worker’s Union, a firm believer in alcohol abstinence (as a member of the Star of Mona Rechabite Tent), and a Manx Nationalist. The last of these saw him write a short history of the Isle of Man, help in a dig of Peel Castle with P. M. C. Kermode (Cushag’s brother) and John Quine, write a number of short stories and create the eight plays that would establish his name in the history of Manx literature.
The plays began with The Charm and Illiam Kodhere’s Will in 1912, followed by Luss ny Graih and The Dooinney Moyllee in 1914, and continued to appear over the next decade. They were mostly comedies in Manx dialect focussing on the traditional way of life of working class characters in and around Peel. A clear part of his reason for creating these dramas was to present and celebrate Manx life and its characters on stage. This overt Manx agenda, and Shimmin’s obvious and at times startling skill as a playwright, are shown in plays such as Mrs. Kelly’s Slough and The Third Boat.
[Image courtesy of Manx National Heritage]
Works by Christopher Shimmin
Illiam Kodhere’s Will (1912)
The Charm (1912)
Luss ny Graih (1914)
The Dooinney Moyllee (1914)
The Club Day (1920)
Mrs. Kelly’s Slough (1921)
The Third Boat (1931)