Mona Douglas

Year: 1988

Mona Douglas

photo: Valerie Cottle

The Reih Bleeaney Vanannan for 1988 was awarded posthumously to Mona Douglas for her huge contribution to, and promotion of, Manx culture during the 20th century.

A collector of folklore, music, song and dance, Mona published more than 18 books of poetry, music, dance, plays, novels and non-fiction about the Island’s heritage. She also contributed many articles to journals and newspapers – both national and international.

Mona Douglas started collecting material as a child when she moved to live with her Grandparents on the Isle of Man. Doctors had advised that her constitution was not strong enough for her to attend school, so instead Mona spent much of her childhood in the Manx countryside, learning from the characters that she met.

When she was ten years old, Mona met the eminent folk collector Sophia Morrison from whom she learned the rudiments of music and was inspired and encouraged to document the stories, songs, dances, place names that she heard.

After a period of living in London, where she worked closely with the English Folk Dance Society (EFDS) at Cecil Sharp House, Mona’s longing for the Island soon became irresistible and she returned to become Rural librarian for the Isle of Man Education Authority, a job which she held for thirty years.

Mona’s work to promote traditional culture within the Isle of Man and Manx culture internationally was entirely voluntary. She was a performer of song and dance; a teacher and youth leader; and a key figure in developing organisations and festivals including Ellynyn ny Gael (Arts of the Gael) – arts society and Yn Chruinnaght Inter-Celtic Festival (The Gathering).

Of the many songs and dances that she collected, the one that is considered most important is the Dirk Dance, sung to ‘Reeaghyn dy Vannin’, the Kings of Mann, which is still performed on Tynwald Day today.

Mona was well-known in the Island and throughout the world as the person to ask about Manx culture. As well as performing and speaking at festivals, she worked with professional composers such as Arnold Foster to make arrangements of Manx music. In recognition of her contribution, she was given a multitude of awards, including an MBE in 1982, and in 1987 she was appointed to the Principal Order of the Gorsedd and given a Bardic name: Mona Manaw.