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Constance Mona Douglas

 

 

 

 

(Constance) Mona Douglas, (18 September 1898 – 8 October 1987), a folklorist, was born at 49 Allerton Road, Much Woolton, Liverpool (although she claimed to have been born on the Ellan Vannin, on passage between the Isle of Man and Liverpool). She was the daughter of Frank Beardmore Douglas (c.1864–1943), shop manager, and his wife, Frances Mona Holmes (c.1873–1953). She was an only child who, because of ill health, was educated at home. Her childhood holidays were usually spent with her grandparents in the Isle of Man, where she roamed the countryside, striking up conversations with men and women who worked on the land and at sea. Her interest in folklore was kindled by Sophia Morrison, who encouraged her to write down the stories and songs that she heard, a task that she took very seriously. Morrison also developed Mona's interest in all things Celtic, an interest that was to preoccupy her for the rest of her life. By 1921 she was the secretary of the Manx branch of the Celtic Congress and had already had published two books of poetry (Manx Song and Maiden Song, 1915, Mychurachan, 1917) and three plays. In 1917 she was admitted to the third order of the Gorsedd of Bards at the ‘Black’ eisteddfod in Birkenhead. She came into contact with many influential writers, scholars, and politicians, including W. B. Yeats, George Russell (AE), and Maud Gonne. In 1925 she moved to Harlech where she worked as a secretary to the poet A. P. Graves while he was writing his autobiography To Return to All That. Graves encouraged her to go to London to widen her horizons. There, she strengthened her links with the English Folk Dance Society, corresponding with A. G. Gilchrist and apparently contributing to A. G. Gilchrist's three issues (1924–6) of the society's journal devoted to Manx traditional music. She also collaborated with Arnold Foster on the first of three sets of arrangements of Manx songs (Stainer and Bell, 1928, 1929, and 1957).

In the 1930s Douglas returned to live in the Isle of Man and work in the Rural Library. Her boundless energy enabled her to work tirelessly up until the end of her long life, teaching young people Manx songs, dances, stories, and the island's history, continuing to write poetry and articles for learned journals, and writing and producing Manx Gaelic and Manx dialect plays. After her ‘retirement’ she fulfilled another ambition, working as a journalist for a further twenty-five years. She also published two novels (Song of Mannin, 1976, and Rallying Song, 1981) that embody her cultural, political, and religious beliefs. In 1976 she revived Yn Chruinnaght, a festival of Manx dance, music, and literature that, in spite of gloom-mongerers' predictions, went from strength to strength. This was to be one of her greatest memorials, inspiring generations of young people to participate in and enjoy the music and dance that was so close to her heart.

Mona Douglas never married but had a long and close relationship with the colourful Nikolai Giovannelli from before the Second World War until his death in the early 1980s. For six years they ran a brave but unsuccessful experiment in upland farming at the Clarum, which had to be sold in 1949 to meet increasing debts. She seemed to be equally comfortable worshipping in a Methodist chapel or a Roman Catholic church but felt particularly close to the mystical Christian spirituality of the early Celtic church. The spirit of the sea-god Manannan and ‘the shining fellowship’ was central to her visionary poetry and prose. Her character was a remarkable mixture of practicality and mysticism. She was utterly single-minded and determined, with an extraordinary stamina. From her friends and colleagues she expected a commitment to all things Manx that was equal to her own. Animals, particularly cats, were important to her and her car driving was famous for its excitement and eccentricity. Her hospitality was generous. She was a talented singer and actress, who was able to produce memorable performances, particularly in comic roles. Her dream of a Manx theatre to rival the Abbey in Dublin did not come to fruition.

After a lifetime of dedication, Douglas's work was finally recognized with an MBE in 1982, awarded for outstanding services to Manx culture; she also received the Mannanan trophy (1972), was patron of the Manx Heritage Foundation (1986), was awarded membership of the principal order of the Gorsedd of Bards in 1987, and the Reih Bleeaney Vanannan was awarded posthumously in 1988. Just before Christmas 1986 Douglas fell and broke her leg but, in spite of her friends' urgings, refused to move from her remote cottage in the hills. However, within months she had to return to Noble's Hospital, where she died peacefully on 8 October 1987 in her ninetieth year. She was cremated in Douglas a few days later. In the following months her achievements were celebrated in a series of memorial services and concerts.

 

 

 

 

 

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