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The Three Magic Legs

LONG, LONG AGO, in the old, old times, there was a magician living on the island they were calling Mannanin-mac-Lir-Mannanin, Son of Lir, God-of the Sea. A fine, bold, upstanding fellow he was, with fierce flashing eyes, hair black as night, and the wind of his going like the rush of the sea. He'd a grand castle on the top of Barrule, and the like of the fine company that was at him hasn't been seen before nor since. Feasting and hunting the purr (the wild boar) and dancing half the night they were, and odd times Mannanin would he making his spells.

He'd stand on the top of the mountain, and if he saw a ship out at sea he'd draw a curtain of mist round the island, so the captain of the ship would say, 'Is there an island in, or is me eyes failin' me?'. Or maybe Mannanin would set a man on the mountain and that man would look like a hundred, to the men on the ship, and if a ship managed to slip into harbour, Mannanin would turn himself into a wheel of fire, and come hurtling down the hill into the midst of them, and the sailors wouldn't be able to get quick enough into their boats.

So, for a long time, there wasn't any coming and going between the island and the rest of the world. On Midsummer Eve the Manx ones who were living in the island would bring a tribute of rushes to Mannanin, as rent for their bits of crofts. Terrible poor and ignorant they were, not knowing how to till their fields, but only to scratch the earth and put in their scant crops. The houses they were living- in weren't too clever at all, for they were made of sods, and thatched with ling, and a hole in the roof for the smoke to come out. Anyway at all, it wasn't an army that came to the island, in the end, but St Patrick and some of his monks, that got themselves cast away in a storm. A little islet off the west coast it was, they landed on, called St Patrick's Isle to this day, and when they'd scrambled up the rocks, and got to the green top, St Patrick looked round, and he said, "Tis for some good purpose we've been sent here, little brothers', and the monks thought so, too. So, when they'd built themselves a shelter from the storm, away with St Patrick to the big island for 'tis but a step, at low tide - and preaching to the islanders he was, and baptising them, and blessing their boats when they went to the herring, and blessing their crops when they were sown. But first he banished every snake and toad from the island. never let me see top nor tail of ye again. And true it is, you won't find one of the creatures, if you search from one end of the island to the other. The monks too were teaching the Manx ones how to till their fields, and how to spin and weave the wool from their sheep to make themselves clothes ; and after a bit, the islanders weren't for paying tribute to Mannanin any more.

Well, that one was in a terrible taking. It wasn't any use drawing a curtain of mist round the island, because the monks were there already, and as for setting one man on the hills to look like a hundred, the holy man could see quite well how many there were. So Mannanin changed himself into three legs, joined together, and clad in armour. 'Whichever way you throw me, I stand,' says he, and away with him down the hill, flaming like fire. When St Patrick saw him coming, he wasn't put out, though. He began to chant St. Patrick's Breastplate, which is a sort of a hymn, and a sort of a prayer, that he made himself, and the monks all began to sing too, and Mannanin couldn't harm them when the Breastplate was between them and him. So he changed back into his own shape, and told St. Patrick that he'd better get out of that quickly, but St Patrick just raised his staff , and looked at him sternly, and the nearer the saint came to the magician the farther that one shrank away, until at last he turned tail, and away with him up the mountain, with the wind howling and the storm whirling behind him. Then the monks raised a psalm of praise, and the Manx ones came out of their houses, and everybody was glad, because they didn't have to be afraid of Mannanin, or to pay tribute to him any more. The fine castle that was on Barrule melted away, and the grand company vanished.

Some have it to say that Mannanin still lives on Barrule, and when that mist comes down, blotting out everything, they will say 'Mannanin is drawing his cloak.' You'll see the three mailed legs that he turned himself into, on the arms of the island, and the motto that runs round them, 'Whichever way you throw me, I stand,' in Latin. True it is, that Ellan Vannin, the Little Island, has been tossed this way and that: to the Scandinavians, the Irish, the Scots, the English, but 'Whichever way you throw me, I stand,' is still it's motto, for Manx it is, and Manx it will remain, there's no gain saying that. And if Mannanin's up on Barrule, in the big black thunder-clouds, I for one, am not going looking for him.