Mona Douglas was the main driving force behind the modern revival of Manx culture; we owe to her the existence of Yn Chruinnaght, the survival of Manx dancing, many of the Manx songs popular today and a body of poems, plays and novels that form an essential part of the Island’s literary heritage.
Mona Douglas was born in 1898 in Liverpool to Manx parents, but she went to live with her grandparents in Lezayre at a very young age for the sake of her health. Clearly precociously talented, a prize-winning poem Douglas wrote aged nine brought her to the attention of William Cubbon, W. Walter Gill and, most importantly, Sophia Morrison. It was Morrison who set her on the path of collecting folklore, music and dance – areas in which Douglas would eventually make her most significant contributions to Manx culture.
Her first of six collections of poetry, Manx Song & Maiden Song, came out in 1915 when Douglas was only 16. It was two years after this that she was elected Secretary of Yn Çheshaght Ghailckagh (The Manx Language Society) and also editor of the important Manx cultural journal, Mannin, following the death of Sophia Morrison. By this time her plays had begun to appear on the stage, notably those published together with a play by J. J. Kneen as Four Manx Plays in 1921.
During a time working in Wales and London she began to collected together and publish Manx songs and when she returned to the Isle of Man she effectively saved Manx dancing back from extinction. It was due to her that the traditional dances of the Isle of Man were reconstruction and re-introduced to the Island.
From 1933 Douglas worked as a Rural Librarian before taking up journalism with the Isle of Man Times in 1963. Throughout this time she had worked tirelessly to promote Manx culture and had produced a number of books of poetry and prose. In 1976 she produced her first novel, Song of Mannin, which was followed by Rallying Song in 1981. In between these books she had started the modern Yn Chruinnaght, the most important event in the Manx music calendar and a focal point for the continued revival of Manx music. It was in recognition of the sum of this work that she was awarded an MBE in 1982, and a posthumous RBV in 1988 for her contributions to Manx culture.
She died on the 8th October 1987 at the age of 89, and it is thanks to her lifetime’s work that the landscape of the Island’s culture is as we enjoy it today.
[Image courtesy of Manx National Heritage]
Works by Mona Douglas
Manx Song & Maiden Song (1915)
Four Manx Plays (1921)
The Widow’s House (1933)