taking our culture forward

Which Hop tu Naa do you sing?

Wed, 21 Oct 2020

In the tenth in our series of articles about Manx music, this piece looks at the songs to be heard at Hop tu Naa. This was recently published in the Manx Independent:

'Witch’ Hop tu Naa do you sing?

The Island is witnessing a renewed surge of interest in the ancient tradition of Hop tu Naa. More than ever, schools, businesses, government and the general public are intentionally calling the festival its distinctive Manx name.

Relating to Hogmanay, Sauin and the Celtic New Year’s Eve, Hop tu Naa joins Hunt the Wren as one of the Island’s oldest continuous traditions. As well as scooping out turnip lanterns and fortune-telling, there is a dance and a plethora of songs passed down through the oral tradition.

The songs are well documented. Back in 1845, Joseph Train collected the singing rhyme; “Hop tu Naa, If you are going to give us anything, give us it soon. Or we’ll be away by the light of the moon”, and in 1890, the Manx celebration attracted the attention of J.G. Frazer in his study of magic and religion, The Golden Bough: “Bands of young men perambulated the island by night, and at the door of every dwelling-house they struck up a Manx rhyme, beginning "Noght oie howney hop-dy-naw", that is to say, "This is Hollantide Eve."

There are many variants on the Hop tu Naa rhyme and over time, elements have been transformed. The grinning pole cat in the Manx Gaelic song is called a wild cat, bull cat and witch cat in other versions; and depending on the storyline, the singer can discover an old woman “baking bannocks and roasting collops” in Scotland, “baking cakes” in London, or back on home turf, “baking bonnags”!

Although I was brought up in Maughold, my mum was originally from Peel and so she taught me and many of my Dhoon School friends the Peel song she was familiar with:

Hop tu Naa, Put in the pot,
Hop tu Naa, Scald my trot [throat],
Hop tu Naa, I met an ole woman,
Hop tu Naa, She was baking bonnags,
Hop tu Naa, I asked her for a bit,
Hop tu Naa, She gave me a bit, as big as my big toe.
Hop tu Naa, She dipped it in milk,
Hop tu Naa, She wrapped it in silk,
Hop tu Naa, trol la laa.
Jinny the witch went over the house, to catch a stick to lather the mouse.
Hop tu Naa, trol la laa.
If you don’t give us something, we’ll run away with the light of the moon.

The Vocabulary of the Anglo-Manx Dialect (1924) quotes a very similar version from Peel and explains; “The children repeat the rhyme of Hop-the-nei and collect coppers for a 'taffy spree' to be held later in the evening among themselves. If money is refused, the boys bang the doors with cabbage-stalks and turnips.”

The now infamous Jinny the Witch makes her first appearance in song around 1893 when T.E. Brown was in Castletown and heard “Jenny Squinney went over the wall, To get a rod to beat the foal. Hop tu Naa. Jenny Squinney went over the house, To get a rod to beat the mouse. Hop tu Naa.” Over time, Jenny or Joney has become Jinny, and as well as being a standalone rhyme, her refrain closes most of the other songs.

Wherever you are in the Island on 31st October, make sure you ask for a song when the young Hop tu Naa-ers come to your door, and don’t forget to give extra treats for turnip lanterns!

There is everything you need to know about Hop tu Naa on Culture Vannin’s website, including extensive research by Stephen Miller RBV and the lively dance tune is the focus of this month’s guitar tutorial film.

The article is available to be enjoyed on the Isle of Man Newspapers' website.
This article links to the series of traditional Manx music arranged for guitar being released as a free download and video lesson. More information is available here.