The Isle of Man is full of mystery and mythology and past civilisations, and this past weekend brought some of those to mind as we celebrated Old Midsummers Eve in St John’s.  This was a time chosen for celebration of pagan rituals in ancient times and our island very cleverly used this day for the official closing of our parliament Tynwald, and so we celebrate Tynwald Day.

The name Tynwald, like the Icelandic Þingvellir and Norwegian Tingvoll, is derived from the Old Norse word Þingvǫllr meaning the meeting place of the assembly, the field (vǫllr→wald, cf. the Old English cognate weald)

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The High Court of Tynwald is the parliament of the Isle of Man and has an unlimited, but not necessarily exclusive, legislative competence.Tynwald is of Norse origin and over 1,000 years old, and is thus the oldest parliament in the world with an unbroken existence.

It has two Branches, the Legislative Council and the House of Keys, which sit separately to consider legislation, but also sit together in Douglas, and annually at St John’s, for other parliamentary purposes

The celebration of Midsummer’s Eve (St. John’s Eve among Christians) was from ancient times a festival of the summer solstice. Bonfires were lit to protect against evil spirits which were believed to roam freely when the sun was turning southward again. In later years, witches were also thought to be on their way to meetings with other powerful beings.

The solstice itself has remained a special moment of the annual cycle of the year since Neolithic times. The concentration of the observance is not on the day as we reckon it, commencing at midnight or at dawn, as it is customary for cultures following lunar calendars to place the beginning of the day on the previous eve at dusk at the moment when the Sun has set.

Old Midsummers day was chosen as it was  the closest feast day to that of St John, the name of the small village where the ceremony is held. Apart from the official closing of Tynwald, reading of the laws in both languages and all any petitions there was a big fair, and lots of festivities.  Tynwald day, even today is a day out, lots for the families to do followed by a big Ceileidh at the end of the day for those who have any energy left.

This year I joined the Vikings of Mann for a brief period, dressed as a Viking and sitting in the Viking village, surrounded by people who are very involved in the Viking World.  Far from being the looters and pillaging people we are led to believe, these Vikings brought  not only order and law to the island but also left a legacy of land division, place names and infrastructure which has made the island what it is today.

Recent funding for the Vikings of Mann will hopefully boost Viking tourism and make people more aware of what an interesting and diverse group of people these people were.  Viking Tourism gets a boost with EU Funding