Cregneash was a very isolated settlement at the southern tip of the island and the Manx language lasted here longer than elsewhere.
Harry Kelly (1852-1935) was one of the last Manx speakers on the Isle of Man. Professor Marstranbder from Norway made three trips to the island between 1929-33 to record Manx culture and language and spent time talking and listening to Harry Kelly and making recordings of him. Open air folk museums had already been established in Norway and this prompted the idea for here.
When Harry Kelly died in 1935, his family gifted his cottage to the Manx Museum and it opened as the first Open Air Museum in Britain in 1938. The cottage had belonged to Harry Kelly’s parents and grandparents and was, even then, 50 years out of date. Most of the contents seen today belonged to Harry Kelly or his family.
It is a typical Manx Cottage with whitewashed walls and thatched roof. Life must have been hard. The door leads into the main room, Thie Mooar, with its large open fireplace, burning peat dug on nearby Meayll Hill. This was whitewashed every year. The small cupboards set into the wall were for storing things like salt that needed to be kept dry.
The dresser was the showcase of family affluence. The display items also acted as ‘currency’ as they could be sold or bartered in times of hardship. Cups were always hung facing inwards to keep good luck in the house. The grandfather clock was also a status symbol.
The bedroom leads off Thie Mooar. Hanging above the door is a Crosh Cuirn, a good luck charm. There was implicit belief in fairies and the importance of keeping the ‘little people’ happy. May Day was the period between the death of winter and the rebirth of summer and was regarded as the time witches and fairies were at their most dangerous. A wooden cross was made from two rowan sticks which had to be broken off by hand and tied together using sheep’s wool gathered from the hedgerows. It was believed to be a powerful charm against evil spirits and had to be replaced every year.
Harry Kelly bought the bed at a farm sale on the Calf of Man. It was originally a four poster bed but proved too large to get into his cottage and had to be cut down. The room has a small open grate, but is sparsely furnished with a home made chest and hooks for hanging clothes.
Above the bedroom is an open loft where children would have slept. Harry Kelly was unmarried, so this would have been used for storage.
There is always a costumed interpreter in the cottage and it is worth taking the time to sit and talk as they are a wealth of information and stories. There is the hook used to wind straw to form ropes and the boat float made from a dog’s skin which doesn’t have sweat glands so is watertight…
There is a lot more information and pictures about Cregneash “here.”:http://wasleys.org.uk/eleanor/man/south/cregneash/index.html