How to spot a buggane

Thu, 21 Feb 2019


In the second of our series of articles about Manx folklore and calendar customs, the article about some lesser-known aspects of bugganes was recently published in the Manx Independent. The article is as follows:

How to spot a buggane

There’s a lot more to bugganes than just smashing the roof off churches.

In fact, whether it’s Maughold or Rushen, there is hardly a parish which has not been terrorised by this great Manx monster.

Most Manx people will know about the buggane which terrorised St. Trinian’s Church in Marown.

The story tells how the buggane would frustrate all attempts to complete the church beside Greeba Mountain, pulling the roof off each night after it was put up.

But a tailor named Timothy took a bet to spend a night in the church to sew a pair of breeches, successfully managing it the nick of time, leaping out the window as the roof crashed in around the buggane who had emerged through the floor.

Timothy then raced to safety in the hallowed ground of Marown Church, narrowly avoiding the buggane’s head, which he threw over the wall to explode amongst the gravestones.

This remains one of the Isle of Man’s favourite tales, even prompting memorabilia to be displayed in the now-closed pub, The Highlander, where they apparently had the very scissors Timothy used that fateful night!

(We don’t know what happened to these scissors when the pub closed, but perhaps someone can tell us…?)

This apparent faith in the truth of the tale was once so absolute that a vicar in the 1730s attempted to mock the Marown people out of the belief in it by dressing up as the buggane to fool them. However, the plan back-fired and the Bishop had to step in to repair the rift between the vicar and his flock!

But what would this vicar have dressed up like?

We normally imagine bugganes as like the one at St. Trinian’s; ‘covered with a mane of coarse, black hair’ with ‘eyes like torches, and glittering sharp tusks.’

However, 100 years ago, when other buggane tales were more common, it was well-known that a buggane could appear in any form it chose.

So a buggane near Ramsey changed from a small cat to become a beast as large as a horse, or into a fierce bull near Fistard, or one near Port St. Mary was shapeless ‘like a turf stack’!

In fact, Gef, the mysterious talking Mongoose near Dalby in the 1930s, was initially referred to as a buggane in the Manx newspapers.

This makes sense, as the Manx word ‘buggane’ just means something undefined but frightening. This is why ‘buggane’ is the word used in the Bunscoill Ghaelgagh in St. John’s for ‘Monster.’

So, if you ever have the misfortune of actually meeting a buggane, be sure to be like the Port St. Mary fishermen of the past and offer it rum – apparently it does wonders to placate them!

The article can soon be enjoyed on the Isle of Man Newspapers' website.
A few of the significant Manx tales of bugganes are available on the Manx Literature website as follows: