Manx as a language, cats and motorcycles

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The Isle of Manx

The Isle of Man was first inhabited by humans about 6500 BC. The language that developed as a result was called Manx Gailic. Although it was the primary language of its inhabitants, English speaking visitors who later settled on the island prevailed and the last person known to speak Manx fluently died in 1974. It's still considered the official language of the island and recently 53 people have re-learned the language and they are considered to be first speakers, with another 1800 second language speakers behind them.

In the 1800s, cats were living on the Isle of Man. They developed an odd mutation and as they bred, their tails got shorter with each generation. Originally known as stubbing cats, they were later renamed Manx cats. They can and have been bred with other cats and today you will see short-hair, long-hair, tabby, tuxedo, mackerel and many other cross breeds, with the telltale distinguishing trait being - the missing tail.

During cat shows in the late 19th century, there was no category for Manx, and they were shown under The Other category. Finally in 1903, they were officially accepted as a breed and able to compete among themselves.

Two years later in 1905, the first motorcycles were raced in the International Motor-Cycle Cup Race on The Isle of Man as part of the Gordon Bennett Eliminating Trial which began just one year before. A few years later, in 1907, the first Isle of Man TT races were run and have continued all the way into the 21st century, although during World Wars I and II the races were shelved. When racing returned in 1946, the event surfaced as the Manx Grand Prix, then returned to the Isle of Man TT in 1947.

Norton Motorcycles, which had participated in every Isle of Man TT since its 1907 debut into the 1970s felt it fit to apply the Manx name to its racing models, dubbing their 1936 to 1940 series of roadster racers as Manx Grand Prix. The first consumer models came to market after World War II and the Grand Prix part of the name was dropped. Norton shuttered their doors in the 1960s but the name has been passed on as part of the assets and used on a number of post-Norton builds. It's common to see them being run during vintage races, and they show up at local bike nights here in the Pacific Northwest fairly frequently.

From language, to cats, and then motorcycles, the Manx name has had quite a ride.

Due to the pandemic, there was no Isle of Man TT held in 2020 and that will be the case this year as well. With any luck, the event will return in 2022 and one would hope by then the announcers will have had enough time to learn Manx as a second language and call the races in the native tongue, with sub-titles of course. And those of us who can't make the trip to the British Isle can all watch from home with our trusty Manx cats or otherwise.

TM/May 2021


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