Sophia Morrison had already established language classes in Peel by the time she was a founder member and committee member of The Manx Language Society in 1899, and went on to become the Society’s Secretary in 1901. She wrote to the Island’s school boards, offering Manx lessons in the schools. Only one board took up her offer, and J J Kneen prepared and gave lessons in Ballamodha school, though only for a short time. Sophia Morrison would have been delighted to see not only lessons on offer to schoolchildren throughout the Island, but the establishment of the Bunscoill Ghaelgagh, not teaching Manx but teaching through the medium of the Manx language. The concert was opened beautifully by young performers from the Bunscoill Ghaelgagh singing two songs and with Matilda and Frank reading out Manx poems they had written.
From the 1870s, Sophia Morrison became familiar with the poetic work of T E Brown, whom she revered as the National Poet. In 1913 she worked with Welsh celtophile Alys Mallt to prepare a calendar or book of days with a quotation from T E Brown’s work for each day. This was sent to all the schools, who also all received an iconic photograph of T E Brown the following year, plus a volume of Brown’s collected works. Sophia Morrison championed the observing of a T E Brown Day on his birthday, 5th May, not just in the schools, but nationally. Our second performer of the evening was Deborah Taubman with a finely-nuanced rendition of T E Brown’s A Dialogue between Hom-veg and Ballure’s River.
Sophia Morrison was a musician, playing the violin, and was among the first tranche of students to gain an award with honours from Trinity College of Music. The friend with whom she developed the T E Brown calendar, Alys Mallt, was a great supporter of harp music in Wales, and Sophia Morrison herself would have encountered the sound of the harp in attending the Pan Celtic Congress meetings in Dublin in 1901 and in Caernarfon in 1904. The first half of the concert was brought to an end with a skilful display of musicianship and dexterity by harp player Mera Royle, who performed on behalf of the Manx Branch at the International Celtic Congress in Newquay and is the current holder of the BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award.
Stephen Miller has carried out research into the papers of Sophia Morrison and recently made his photographs and transcripts available, also including pieces collected by Sophia Morrison’s friend, the poet Cushag (Josephine Kermode). Who better to give this material to but one of the most powerful creative forces in the Island, Annie Kissack, the current Manx Bard, who is also the musical director of Caarjyn Cooidjagh. Annie included a poem by Cushag, as well as pieces of her own, and Caarjyn Cooidjagh performed Annie’s superb arrangements of songs and music from the collection and elsewhere.
Sandra Caley had suggested holding an event to encourage people to write in the Manx language, and so a competition was launched for a short-story in Manx . The winning entry for Aundyr Sophia Morrison (Sophia Morrison Award) was by Paul Salmon with a story entitled Yn Doolane. He was presented with a certificate and cash prize by Lhiass-Eaghtyrane Banglane Manninagh y Chohaglym Celtiagh, Stewart Bennett.
Sophia Morrison had attended the Pan Celtic Congress in Dublin in 1901 and had undoubtedly seen and heard of the success of the Abbey Theatre and its Irish productions. She was instrumental in encouraging the foundation of Peel Players and in having Manx dialect plays performed. The concert came to a close with an excellent performance by Michael Players RBV of J E Q Cooil’s amusing playlet, In the Doctor’s Waiting Room.
The evening concluded with the Arrane Oie Vie and Arrane Ashoonagh. It was a wonderful and hugely entertaining way to celebrate the 160th anniversary of the birth of Sophia Morrison.