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Tynwald Day

Tynwald Day is the national holiday of the Isle of Man, usually occurring on 5 July. On this day, Tynwald, the Isle's legislature, meets in St John's , rather than its usual meeting place, Douglas. The session is held both in the Chapel of St John the Baptist and in open air, on Tynwald Hill (an artificially constructed mound). The meeting, the first recorded instance of which dates to 1417, is known as "Midsummer Court." It is attended by include members of the two branches of Tynwald, the House of Keys and the Legislative Council. The Lieutenant Governor of the Isle of Man, the representative of Lord of Mann (the British Sovereign), presides, except on the rare occasions when the British monarch or a member of the British Royal Family is in attendance.

All bills that have received the Royal Assent are promulgated on Tynwald Day; any Act of Tynwald which is not promulgated within eighteen months of passage ceases to have effect. Other proceedings include the presentation of petitions and the swearing-in of certain public officials.



Tynwald Days have traditionally occurred, since the first recorded instance thereof (1417), on 24 June (also the feast day of Saint John the Baptist and Midsummer's Day). In 1753, the Isle of Man chose to replace the Julian Calendar with the Gregorian Calendar after Great Britain had already done so; the move required a shift of eleven days. But the Act retained the Julian Calendar for the purpose of determining Tynwald Day, providing, "Midsummer Tynwald Court shall be holden and kept ... upon or according to the same natural Days upon or according to which the same should have been so kept or holden ... in case this Act had never been made." Hence, Tynwald Day occurs on 24 June in the Julian Calendar, but on 5 July in the Gregorian Calendar. If Tynwald Day occurs on a Saturday or Sunday, it is normally commemorated on the next Monday.


Midsummer Courts were sometimes presided over personally by the Lords of Mann, but, more often, by representatives, as the Lords of Mann were often British aristocrats or monarchs who were not resident on the island. After the Duke of Atholl presided in 1736, over two centuries passed before a Lord of Mann participated in Tynwald Day ceremonies. George VI presided in 1946; his successor Elizabeth II, presided in 1979 (the millennial anniversary of Tynwald's establishment) and again in 2003. In some rare instances, a member of the Royal Family may preside, as HRH The Prince Edward did in 1986, and HRH The Prince of Wales did in 2000. Normally, it is the Lieutenant Governor, the representative of the Sovereign on the Isle of Man, who presides over the ceremony.

The national flag of the Isle of Man
The national flag of the Isle of Man

The Lieutenant Governor (or whoever else presides) is preceded by the Sword-Bearer, who wears a scarlet uniform and bears the Sword of State. The Sword of State probably dates to the fifteenth century and may have been made for Sir John Stanley. The Sword, which is blunt for the sake of safety, includes the traditional "three legs" symbol (which also appears on the Manx flag).

Members of the House of Keys and of the Legislative Council are also in attendance. The Speaker of the House of Keys wears a wig and black robes with gold decorations. Similarly, the President of Tynwald, the presiding officer of the Legislative Council, wears a wig and blue robes with silver decorations. The President's robes also display the three legs symbol.

The Isle of Man's highest judicial officers—the Deemsters—participate in the ceremony, wearing scarlet robes and long wigs. There are two Deemsters, known as the First and Second Deemsters. Their office is of great antiquity, as is reflected by the curious phraseology of their ancient oath, during which they promise to "execute the laws of this isle justly ... betwixt party and party, as indifferently as the herring's backbone doth lie in the midst of the fish."

Some individuals are invited to participate as "Guests of Honour." Guests of Honour include representatives from the United Kingdom and of other nations, normally including the Republic of Ireland and some Scandinavian countries. In recent years, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have sent separate representatives, in addition to those for the United Kingdom. Notable guests in recent years have included: The Lord Waddington (1998), The Lord Williams of Mostyn (1999), Dr Rory O'Hanlon (1999), Senator Liam Cosgrave (2002), HM The King of Norway (2002), The Lord Steel of Aikwood (2002) and The Rt Hon. Jack McConnell (2003).

Other participants include clergymen, leaders of local governments and several other officials. All participants wear on the left breast the mugwort, the Manx national flower, which is referred to as yn bollan bale, literally, the white wort. Detachments and bands from the Constabulary and the military also take part in the ceremony, which is attended by members of the general public.

The ceremony is coordinated by the Tynwald Ceremony Arrangements Committee. The President of Tynwald is the ex officio chairman; the Committee's other members include the Speaker of the House of Keys and the Chief Minister. Recently, a Tynwald Settings Enhancements Sub-Committee was constituted to improve Tynwald Day celebrations; the President and Speaker both serve on it, with the former serving as Chairman.


Before Tynwald sits, the individual presiding inspects the Guard of Honour and lays a wreath at the National War Memorial, which was inaugurated in 1923. A foreign head of state attending the ceremony may accompany the Lieutenant Governor, as HM The King of Norway did in 2002.

At eleven o'clock in the forenoon, Tynwald convenes in the Chapel of St John the Baptist for a religious service. Thereafter, they proceed to Tynwald Hill. The path is strewn with rushes; the tradition is traceable to the Celtic custom of propitiating the sea god, Manannan, by offering bundles of rushes on Midsummer's Eve. The route is aligned with numerous flagpoles, which fly both the red national flag and the blue parliamentary flag (which displays a lymphad galley).

The first procession includes clergymen and certain government officials. The second procession, known as the Tynwald Court Procession, follows; in order, it comprises the officers of the House of Keys, the members of the House of Keys, the Chief Minister of the Isle of Man, the Speaker of the House of Keys, a messenger of the House of Keys, officers of the Legislative Council, members of the Legislative Council, the Attorney General (an ex officio member of the Legislative Council), the Deemsters, the Lord Bishop of Sodor and Man (also an ex officio member of the Legislative Council), the President of Tynwald and a messenger of the Legislative Council. Thereafter, two guards, the Sword-bearer, the Lord of Mann (or the individual representing him or her) and attendants follow. Even when not presiding, the Lieutenant Governor, along with his attendants, appears at the rear of the procession.

Tynwald Hill

The main ceremonies of the day take place on Tynwald Hill, known in the Manx language as Cronk-y-Keeillown, or the Mound of the Church of John, in the village of St John's. The mound is said to include soil from all seventeen of the Isle's parishes. The mound, approximately 3.6 metres (12 feet) in height, includes four circular platforms, which are of successively decreasing size, thereby giving Tynwald Hill a somewhat conical shape. The approximate circumferences of the bottoms of the platforms, beginning with the lowest one, are: 78 metres (256 feet), 49 metres (162 feet), 31 metres (102 feet) and 18 metres (60 feet).

The ceremony of proclaiming laws on Tynwald Hill is traceable to the Norse practice of making public proclamations from mounds; Iceland, for example, once used the Logberg (Law-Rock or Law-Hill) for the same purpose. The origins of Tynwald Hill—a man-made mound—are unclear, but it existed by the end of the fourteenth century. It was used in 1393 for the inauguration of Sir William le Scrope , and again in 1408 for the inauguration of Sir John Stanley, as Lord of Mann. Its first recorded use for the promulgation of laws dates to 24 June 1417; Sir John Stanley presided.

The Lieutenant Governor, together with the Sword-Bearer, and the officers and members of the Legislative Council occupy the highest level of the Hill; officers and members of the House of Keys occupy the next level. Other officials are accommodated on the lower levels and at the foot of the hill. Formerly, a canopy was placed over the Lord of Mann or Lieutenant Governor, with others being in the open air; now, however, a tent covers the top platform. The flag of the Isle of Man flies from the flagpole (which protrudes through the tent during the ceremony), save that the Royal Standard flies when the Sovereign personally presides.

After the Royal Anthem (the first verse of "God Save the Queen") is sung, the First Deemster, upon the instruction of the Lieutenant Governor, directs the Coroner of Glenfaba (one of the six sheadings) to "fence the Court." The Coroner accomplishes the task by declaring, "I fence this Court of Tynwald in the name of our most gracious Sovereign Lady The Queen. I charge that no person do quarrel, brawl or make any disturbance and that all persons do answer to their names when called. I charge this audience to witness this Court is fenced. I charge this audience to witness this Court is fenced. I charge this whole audience to bear witness this Court is now fenced." An officer known as yn Lhaihder (the Reader) repeats the same words in Manx.

After the Court is fenced, the coroners appointed for the coming year take the oath. The Coroners ascend the Hill in order of precedence, commencing with the Coroner of Glenfaba, followed by the Coroner of Michael, the Coroner of Ayre, the Coroner of Garff the Coroner of Middle and the Coroner of Rushen (fewer than six may take part in the ceremony because individuals often serve as Coroners in multiple sheadings). The First Deemster administers the oath, which includes Biblical references, to the kneeling coroners: "By that book and by the holy contents thereof and by the wonderful works that God hath miraculously wrought in heaven above and in the earth beneath in six days and seven nights, you shall, without respect of favour or friendship, love or gain, consanguinity or affinity, envy or malice, well and truly execute the office of Coroner for each Sheading to which you have been appointed for the ensuing year. So help you God." The phrase "wonderful works that God hath miraculously wrought ... in six days and seven nights" alludes to Genesis, the first book of the Old Testament, a literal reading of which suggests that night precedes day, and that God created the world in six days, resting on the seventh. The Coroners then receive ceremonial staves from the Lieutenant Governor.

After the Coroners take the oath, the Lieutenant Governor states, "Learned Deemsters, I exhort you to proclaim to the people in ancient form such laws as have been enacted during the past year and which have received the Royal Assent." Each law is promulgated by the one Deemster in English and by the other Deemster in Manx. The Deemsters state the title, and a brief description of the effects, of each act. For example, on Tynwald Day in 2003, one Act was promulgated with the words "Transfer of Deemsters' Functions Act 2003, which transfers certain functions of the Deemsters to the Treasury." If an Act is not promulgated within eighteen months of receiving the Royal Assent, it ceases to remain valid.

Once the Deemsters promulgate the laws, individuals may present petitions for the redress of grievances. Petitions are presented at the foot of Tynwald Hill to the Clerk of Tynwald, who conveys them to the Lieutenant Governor. The petitions are then referred to a committee of Tynwald. Thereafter, after the singing of the first verse of the National Anthem, Tynwald adjourns to the Chapel.

Captioning ceremony

Tynwald then reconvenes in the Chapel. The joint sitting of both Houses is not unique to Tynwald Day; such sittings are often held in the capital, Douglas. Tynwald Court, as a joint session is normally known, is held in Douglas thrice in July and once in each other month (except August and September). The Lieutenant Governor, as the representative of the Lord of Mann, normally presides over Tynwald Court in St John's, but the President of Tynwald presides in Douglas. While Tynwald contracts substantive business (such as the nomination of the Chief Minister, voting on the levying of taxes and voting on the appropriation of money) in Douglas, it only participates in the "captioning ceremony" in St John's. During the ceremony, the Lieutenant Governor (or whoever else is presiding), the President of Tynwald and the Speaker of the House of Keys use quills to sign certificates ascertaining the promulgation of the laws.

Once the captioning of the acts concludes, the Lieutenant Governor, the President of Tynwald and members of the Legislative Council leave the Chapel, but the members of the House of Keys remain for a session of their house. If there are any bills that have not completed all of their stages in the House of Keys, a member moves "That all Bills and other business before the House remaining unfinished at this date be suspended and continued at the same stage at the first sitting of the House in the next legislative year." This pro forma motion is approved by a voice vote; the House of Keys then adjourns. Even if there remains no unfinished business before it, the House of Keys still meets, but no motion is made, and adjournment is immediate.

Once Midsummer concludes, Tynwald Court returns to Douglas for three further sittings, normally held on the Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday following Tynwald Day. If, however, Tynwald Day occurs on a Monday, the sittings are not held until the week next ensuing. Following these sittings, Tynwald adjourns for the summer, not reconvening until October.

Other celebrations

Traditionally, Tynwald Day was also marked by a fair and market; these customs still continue. In recent years, the Tynwald Settings Enhancements Sub-Committee has introduced several other forms of celebration. Since 2000, the week of Tynwald Day has been commemorated as "Manx National Week." Concerts are held in the evening; at the conclusion, the Manx national anthem is played, and a fireworks display is staged.

See also


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