Education

Until a century ago, in common with all Manx families, quite 95 % of Kissacks would never write even their own names. Literacy lagged quite two generations behind the mainland. Yet in the 17th century, both Bishop and Lord had tried to remedy the situation. James, the seventh Earl, the only one to spend any great time or interest on the Island, and so known as Stanlagh Moar (the great Stanley), wanted to found a University there. But in the Civil War he lost all, even his head. After the Restoration, his son far a time used Bishop Barrow as his Governor also. He began to set aside funds for a College, and "the erection of Free Schools and Pettie Schools in the parish churches." But the people were "backward to make use of them". The frequency of subsequent rebukes and enactments prove the law that the more attention governments seem to give to an issue, the surer the current popular resistance to it. Yet for those who wanted it, schooling was available from the 17th century on.

The first wife of Ewan Kissage, the miller, of Lezayre died in 1731 while her children were in their teens. Mary Kinread could not write her own name, but her will provided for their schooling. Michael the eldest had three months with the Vicar, and a quarter-century later at the Kella case, (so the manuscript testimony suggests) he takes the pen and laboriously writes 'Michael', under his testimony whereat the clerk seems impatiently to have taken it from him, and added `Kissage` himself. When he died in 1774, he charged his daughters to see his youngest son get schooling. Yet his father Ewan was using a cross to the end of his life. Indeed when James, his great-grandson (and my great-grandfather), married in 1851, he indeed signed his name, but not his bride. Edward Kissack, of Santon might be farming 120 acres in the 19th century, and be Parish Churchwarden himself but when his daughter Catherine married in 1850, even she made her mark.

In Maughold another miller, Robert Kissag of Purt-y-Vullen, directed in his will of 1749 that his eldest son should serve apprenticeship to Ewan Curghey the Cooper, and specified that all his three sons were to have 3 years schooling. In those days the costs were, 6d a quarter to be taught to read, and 9d to write, English.

Waldron held the clergy to blame for this sluggard progress. He asked two of the younger clergy why, for all the talk, so little had been done to publish the Scriptures in Manx. "They agreed in their answer : That it was happy for the people that the Scriptures were locked up from them, for it prevented divisions in the interpretations of them". There was another negative factor too. Education was wholly aimed at teaching English. (Bishop Wilson`s concern in 1700 had been that only two-thirds of the population could speak English). The result was a confused and retarded people. It helps explain why, unlike Wales, the Isle of Man has no genuine Manx literature, and why its linguistic distinction (so well expressed by T. E. Brown the 19th century poet) was a dialect language of the `pigeon` type, combining words and phrase-structures of the Gaelic Manx with English grammatical structure and vocabulary. A general comment of the people when they finally got the Scriptures in their own Manx language, was that now they felt they really understood their bible. As a result the production of the Manx Bible triggered of a great desire for education. It stimulated both the desire to learn to read, and to read Manx as well as English.

But the cost to family life and feelings that the general illiteracy of the 18th century imposed, allied with the necessity of children being compelled to leave the Island to make a living, is poignantly revealed in the Wills of the time. Edward Kissag (LzXI), dying in 1774, wills his land and money to his children : . . .

"To my eldest daughter Christian the bed clothes and furniture To Marty a choice sheep and yearling. To Ellinor all my part of the Bees that I have out in holdings of other people in the Halves. To John the featherbed in which he usually lay : To my wife Isabel all my part of the household goods and utensils under the roofs of our houses."

Then he pauses and the codicil comes :

" I call to mind that I had two sons, namely Edward and William Kissage, who went abroad some years ago, and since reported to be dead. But in case they or either of them do happen to be alive and come to this Isle I leave to them the sum of 24s. apiece as legacy".

And in 1795 the daughters of Michael the Miller petition the Courts that their four brothers, John, William, Michael and Phillip Kissage, having departed the Island above 17 years ago, and not heard from or of since, should be deemed dead and the girls declared their heirs. (LzXVII).

Over a century later, Fred Kissack, two generations on in the family, a carpenter who had done well in Cleveland, Ohio, whither he had emigrated from Cronk-y-Voddy some 20 years earlier, came hurrying home in 1903 hoping to see James his dying father. He sent back to his American wife in diary form his thoughts on passing again the village school :

"As I look my mind goes back to the first day I entered it, to the day I left; and how near I came to being a teacher, had my folks allowed it. I often wonder why, but it is too late to know now."

Reading it 80 years later, Jimmie Kissack his nephew, 95 years old, who (also a carpenter) had followed him to Cleveland, recalled how he had returned from school in Peel one day to be told by his mother that she had apprenticed him to a joiner, and how he had gone out, found a lonely spot on the headlands and wept, for he too had set his heart on being a teacher.

Though legal provision for full popular education had existed since 1878, it only became an actuality about 1890 when it was made free. In general the end of schooling was just to learn a trade. I have found only one Kissack who was a schoolmaster before the 20th century, old Hugh of Andreas (1772-1867), though at least two Kissack daughters in the 19th century taught in parish schools. 

Please note that the copyright of the 'Seed of Isaac' and 'The MacIsaacs' remains with the family of Rex Kissack and no part may be reproduced from this site without their permission.


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