What is a landscape of memory? This term might be applied to many environs, but specifically in this context I’m interested in the sacralisation of an assembly place in the commemoration of national origins and identities.
In a recent post, I discussed the biography of the Manx assembly of Tynwald Hill, St John’s. Here I want to complement Tim Darvill’s 2004 book chapter about the site (which provided the basis of the other post) with a discussion of Tynwald as a contemporary landscape of memory. Darvill only discusses the current appearance of the site as a window onto the past and doesn’t focus on how the site has been augmented in recent decades by successive memorial elements.
In this regard, Tynwald is not unique: its constellation of memorial dimensions is similar to many urban centres across the British Isles. However, here the memorials have a distinctive flavour and focus on Manx national identity as one might expect, focus on a ‘real’ ancient monument and parlimentary site.
In previous posts, I’ve discussed the landscape dimensions of memorialisation at the National Memorial Arboretum, and how it attempts to mimick and ‘improve upon’ modern imaginings of what prehistoric ceremonial complexes are thought to have endeavoured to achieve through centuries of accruing monuments and burials. Here, we see something between invention and inheritance: a ‘sacred’ space of national identity created through a clustering of memorials linking war, nationhood and identity at this place of assembly.
In addition to the mound and enclosure, these include, but are not restricted to:
- St John’s Chapel and its memorials, including war memorials within;
- the 10th-century Manx cross within the porch, a symbol of the island’s Viking heritage;
- the Manx War Memorial: a gigantic pseudo ‘Celtic’ cross, based on Irish high-crosses;
- a reassembled Neolithic megalithic monument – the Ballaharra Stones;
- The Millennium Stone – a memorial set up in the 1970s, supposedly commemorating the thousand years of the Manx parliament;
- Memorials to the first TT race’s 90th and centenary years, located the start and finish line to 1997;
- The heritage signs explaining the historical significance of Tynwald Hill
Let’s take each in turn.
Historically the church and courthouse for the Manx parliament, this is a 19th-century building, replacing an earlier place of worship. Within are a range of memorials, including a plaque honouring the memory of the men of the neighbourhood who died in the Great War. The distinctive instance of a Second World War war memorial daubed over by printed-out hymns is… interesting… There is also a small plaque commemorating the Manx contribution to the 1944 Normandy Campaign.
The Cross in the porch has a plaque explaining its significance. It was found in the old church of St John’s when demolished in 1850. It has ring-chain design and and a runic text running down the left edge: ‘In Osruthr: raist: runer: thsar’ (but Osruth carved these runes). It is important to remember that this is the only demonstrably ‘Viking’ element of the entire site.
The Manx War Memorial
This grandiose war memorial evokes Christian and early medieval origins through its design. It is situated on the north side of the enclosure running between church and mound. Inspired by Irish high crosses, it has a black-painted iron fence and a bench. The base of the plinth is festooned with wreaths. The principal text is on the south side:
IN GRATEFUL REMEMBRANCE 1914-1918.
The Millennium Stone
Set on a two-stepped base, this stone commemorates a thousand years (of what?) associated with the date 1979. I presume it is millennium of the Manx parliament, but what the date 979 denotes is unclear. Triskelions run around the border of the text which states:
CLAGH Y FEAILLEY MILLEY VLEEANAGH
THE MILLENNIUM STONE
Below are the names of the six Manx districts: Glenfaba, Ayre, Middle, Michael, Carff, Rushen. There is no information about the origins of the stone or its significance.
The Ballaharra Stones
I’ve posted about these before, situated across the road from St John’s chapel is a reconstructed Neolithic megalithic chambered tomb and memorials commemorating the Women’s Institute.
The TT Memorials
On the wall of one of the buildings opposite, are two plaques, the upper one commemorating the start and finish line fo the TT races from 1907 to 1997. It commemorates the 90th anniversary of the winning of the first motorcycle TT. Below, a second plaque marks the centenary.
The First World War Placards
Along the road approaching the Tynwald Field and Hill, there are a series of placards commemorating key events of the First World War including the Somme and the Battle of Jutland.
We finish with the pairing of commemorative texts explaining the hill itself. One is a monolith with a blue text, explaining that ‘since time immemorial the national assembly of the Manx People has been held here on Old Midsummer Day 5 July (formerly 24 June) when Tynwald the Manx Parliament meets on the hill and all new laws are proclaimed’.
It then suggests that the soil of the mound is symbol of the unity of Man: ‘The terracved hill is said to be formed of soil gathered from each of the ancient parishes’. This last theme is fascinating and presumably part of the mythology of Tynwald Hill as the symbolic epicentre of Manx nationhood.
The longer text proclaims that it might date to before the Icelandic parliament of Thing-vellir.
Together, claims to the Viking past, and the accumulation of commemorative monuments create an aura of transtemporality to the site. The geography of Man is redolent, as with both the soil of the thing mound itself and the Millennium Stone’s naming of Manx districts.
Each individual memorial has its storeies to tell. Combine them and we see careful selective remembering and forgetting at work, with the honoured war dead taking pride of place alongside early medieval monuments – apparent and imagined.