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Isle of Man

Man, Mannin, Ellan Vannin

Last modified: 2003-09-06 by
Keywords: man | isle of man | trinacria | triskelion | sicily |
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[Manx flag] by Stuart Notholt
Use of flag confirmed 27 August 1971.


See also:


Description

The national flag of Man is a plain red field with the "trinacria" emblem in the centre. This is a banner of the arms which date back to the 13th century and are believed to be connected with Sicily, where a similar device was used in the Norman period.
Roy Stilling, 7 December 1996.

The present rotation of the legs was restored by a royal proclamation in 1968.
Pascal Vagnat, 25 September 1998.


Origin of the triskelion

According to the World Encyclopedia of Flags, by A. Znamierovski, 1999:
'The triskelion (from the Greek "three-legged") is one of the oldest symbols known to mankind. The earliest representations of it were found in prehistoric rock carvings in northern Italy. It also appears on Greek vases and coins from the 6th and 8th centuries BC., and was revered by Norse and Sicilian peoples. The Sicilian version has a representation of the head of Medusa in the center. The Manx people believe that the triskelion came from Scandinavia. According to Norse mythology, the triskelion was a symbol of the movement of the sun through the heavens.'
Jarig Bakker, 27 April 2000

In "Emblemes et symboles des Bretons et des Celtes" (Coop Breizh, 1998), Divy Kervella explores in depth the possible meaning of the triskell. It is the symbol of triplicity in unity, one of the basis of the Celtic religion, and probably originally a solar symbol. Triplicity in the Celtic civilisation is exemplified by: 
- the staff of the Celtic pantheon: Lugh, Daghda (Taran), and Ogme ; 
- the unique goddess who has three aspects: daughter, wife, and mother ; 
- the division of the society in three classes: priestly class, ruling and martial class, and productive class (craftsmen, farmers, fishers ...) 
- the philosophical conceptions of the world based on number 3: the three circles of existence, the bardic triads... 
The triskell is also often said to represent the three dynamics elements: water, air, and fire, or the wave of sea, the breath of wind, and the flame of fire. One of these elements is sometimes replaced by the furrow of the earth. A more complex interpretation says that the centre of the triskell is the static earth, which receives life from the three dynamic elements. The spiral could symbolize life, dynamics and enthusiasm, as opposed to everything straight and spellbound.

The representation of the triskell must be dextrogyrous (turning to the right). A senstrogyrous (turning to the left) triskell would have a maleficent, or at least hostile meaning. Traditional Breton dances and processions always turn to the right. The war dances of the ancient Celts started by turning to the left to show hostility, and ended by turning to the right, as a sign of victory.

The triskell is close to the hevoud, another Celtic symbol and the Basque lauburu, and is probably of pre-Celtic origin (for instance on the cairn of Bru na Boinne in Ireland). 
Ivan Sache, 27 April 2000

Local people have an explanation as to why the legs turn anti-clockwise; this is in order that we do not kneel to the British!
Christine Cain, 4 April 2002

In the 19th century, it became fashionable for the Manx to associate themselves with everything Norse, and it is possible that the supposed Norse origin of the Manx flag came about at this time... although the triskele and swastika(!) were known amongst Norse people, they weren't particularly common... the three-armed symbol however occurs in "stripped-down" form very early on in so called Celtic art, and it's likely that the armour on the legs is a medieval addition. Usually the early forms appeared as a three-armed "swirl" on pottery and the like, and the arms were rounded. This is far more likely than any of the fanciful "Viking" origins. The actual direction of the legs on the flag tends to be arbitrary, although I believe it has been established by law in recent years... one can still see logos, souvenirs etc right next to each other with the legs going in opposite directions. If I remember rightly, there is a wood cut of an early meeting of the Manx parliament, with the triskele clearly depicted on the wall - turning CLOCKWISE!
Ray Bell, 15 November 2002

The Three Magic Legs and the Legend of Mannanin are at www.feegan.com/fltales/fltales1.htm.
Christine Cain, 4 April 2002

Interesting information (not straight flag related) about The Three Legs of Mann at www.isle-of-man.com/interests/three-legs/index.shtml.
Gvido Petersons, 20 May 2003


Civil ensign

[Manx civil ensign]

This is the official civil ensign for the Isle of Man. The three conjoined legs are the "triskelion", the symbol of Man. The land flag for the Isle of Man is red with the triskelion in the centre (no Union Flag).
Graham Bartram, 7 December 1996.

The defaced Red Ensign which was abolished in 1935 and restored by a royal proclamation on 18 September 1971.
Pascal Vagnat, 25 September 1998.

Until 1968 the only official British flag that related to the Isle of Man was that of the Lieutenant-Governor. This was the Union Flag defaced in the centre by a gold trinacria on a red shield on a white disc surrounded by a laurel leaf garland. The land flag, a gold trinacria on a red flag, was authorised 9 July 1968. The Red Ensign was authorised on 27 August 1971. Any Isle of Man Red Ensigns before this date were probably based on the not uncommon misconception that badges on Union Flags, Red Ensigns and Blue Ensigns are interchangeable.
David Prothero, 13 August 1999

Barraclough and Crampton say on p.49: "On 18 September 1971 the Manx Red Ensign was restored for use by all ships registered in the Isle of Man" but infuriatingly give no other details. None of my other books mention a previous Manx Red Ensign.
Roy Stilling, 13 August 1999


Variant in 1848 text

Norie and Hobbs (1848) describes a Civil Ensign, but with a triskelion with reverse rotation.

Flag of Tynwald

[Flag of Tynwald] by Vincent Morley

The flag of the Manx parliament (Tynwald) is on display in the chamber of Tynwald and is illustrated on their website. I believe it is a version of the mediaeval arms of the lords of Man.
Kenneth Campbell Fraser, 23 November 1998

This flag is a banner of the former arms of the Kings of Man, and is known as the MacDonald flag. It was first flown in 1971.
Pascal Vagnat, 25 September 1998.


Miscellaneous flags

There are several other flags in use in the Isle of Man:

Lieutenant Governor:

[Manx Lieutenant Governor] a possible rendition by António Martins

The Lieutenant-Governor's flag is the British Union Flag with the shield of the Manx arms surrounded by a garland in the middle. This flag is used as a car flag by the Lieutenant-Governor.

Customs and Excise Service:
The flag of the Isle of Man Customs and Excise Service is blue and red vertically (about 1:5), proportions 2:3, with the emblem of the service in the middle of the red field.

Manx Constabulary:
The flag of the Manx Constabulary is blue with the badge of the force in the middle. Proportions 1:2.

Isle of Man Harbour Board:
The flag of the Isle of Man Harbour Board is blue with the Board's badge in the middle. Proportions 1:2.

Herring fleet flags:
Until 1993 there were some pennants for the admiral and vice-admiral of the herring fleet (responsible for the good conduct of the fishermen whilst at sea and for the regulation of the herring fishery), who were known since 1976 as Admiral and Vice-Admiral of the Fishing Fleet. The first pennants (until 1984) were red with a white canton charged with two fishes in blue for the admiral and one single fish for the vice-admiral. The proportions of those pennants are unknown, possibly 1:2. The one for the vice-admiral was swallow-tailed. In 1984 those pennants were lost and were replaced by new ones which were triangular: blue, charged with a silver fish, a scallop in white, and two little three-leg emblems for the admiral (one for the vice-admiral). In 1993, the act which gave power to the Lieutenant-Governor to appoint the Admiral and Vice Admiral of the Fishing Fleet was repealed and the pennants went out of use.

Source: Michel Lupant, Flags, coats of arms and badges of the Isle of Man, Centre Belgo-Européen d'Études des Drapeaux, November 1996.
Pascal Vagnat, 25 September 1998.


Arms

The motto of the Isle of Man, which often accompanies the arms, is the Latin Quocunque jeceris stabit, which means "wherever you throw, it will stand", referring to the triskelion
Clive Barbour, 28 September 1995

There is an interesting variant of the Manx arms. Between approximately 1735 and 1765 the island was ruled by the Duke of Atholl. During that time two series of coins were issued in the name of the duke with counter-clockwise legs. Before and after that time, when coins were issued in the name of British monarchs, the direction was clockwise. Does anybody know if there was an official decree for this change of direction in the Manx coat of arms/flag?
Harald Müller, 9 December 1996

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