The best-loved poet of her generation and perhaps the island’s most intriguing playwright, Cushag is one of the most important writers that the Isle of Man has ever known.
Born on the 18 September 1852, at 73 Parliament Street, Ramsey, Josephine Kermode was educated by a governess as the family moved with her father’s postings as Vicar in Ramsey, Maughold and finally Ballaugh. After her father’s death in 1890, Cushag (as she was known within the family) returned to Ramsey and took up a role as a district nurse, although ill health soon halted that career. Instead she became housekeeper for her brother, P. M. C. Kermode, an historian famed for deciphering the Celtic-Norse crosses of the Island.
Having been publishing poetry in the Manx papers since 1899, Cushag’s first book, Poems of Cushag, was published in 1907. This was followed by Ellan Vannin in 1911, two smaller works (Granny and The Glen), and then Manx Melodies in 1922. Her powerful and arresting verse proved to be incredibly popular, not least for their mix of humour, lyricism and use of traditional Manx themes and dialect. Her obituary in the Ramsey Courier accurately recorded that:
“To Manx people her poems are not merely literary creations of high standing but are treasures of the heart.”
Less well remembered today are her plays, which are some of the most remarkable in all of Manx literature. Always invested in traditional Manx culture, not least through her folklore collecting with Sophia Morrison, Cushag used the stage to retell stories from the Island’s folklore tradition. Her many popular plays are a startling example both of how versatile and forceful Manx folk tales can be and also of how great a writer Cushag clearly was.
She lived for ten years in Douglas with her brother, then the director of the newly created Manx Museum (where Cushag’s bust can still be seen in the cafe today), but upon his death in 1932 she moved to live with her sister in Bournemouth. It was there that she died at the age of 84 on 15 February 1937.
The years have slipped away from me
Like snow before the rain;
I would not ask to have them back
Or live them through again;
But thankful at the close of day
To linger on the homeward way
An’ watch the childher at their play
In the little everin’.
[Image courtesy of Manx National Heritage]
Works by Cushag
Poems by Cushag (1907)
Poems by Cushag (1907)
The Peel Plays: Sketches of Manx Life (1908)
Granny: A Tale of Old Christmas (1910)
Ellan Vannin (1911)
Glen Aldyn Plays (1916)
The Glen (1919)
Manx Melodies (1922)
The Quakers of Ballafayle (1926)