Lezayre Kissacks

The largest of he Lezayre Kissack families was the one associated with Close-y-Killip. 'There was a case in 1773 about the proper maintenance of ditches on Close-y-Killip, when it was stated it had come into being as an extension northwards of Kerrowmoar by reclamation of curragh land across the Sulby River. By 1700 two Kissack families were in possession, one of them headed by William a miller, the other by a Ewan. By 1773 it had been divided into several holdings, some of which were still held in the Miller's family. Other information given was that peat had been extensively taken from it, in parts up to 21 spade`s depths. No records survive to tell what would have been the fascinating story of the reclamation of the Lezayre fen-lands. Certainly the family had played its part, and still looked back to a William of the Curragh. It is a fair inference from its origins with Kerrowmoar that the Close-y-Killip families must have emerged from cadet lines of the quarterland family.

The miller's family was not the only one to live on Close-y-Killip and the neighbourhood, but it is the one which seems most clearly delintated. There was also William the Cooper and his wife Jane (LzXII); a 'Ewan Kissag from Kirk Andrews' (LzXVI); and another Andreas family, one of whom (Thomas) had a craft on the Nappin (LzXVIII). Another was Robert the Wheelwright. In 1770, there is allusion to a William the Tailor.

As with the Kerrowmoar family, the lines of descent in the l7th century are mere conjecture from other documents. But again, there was a William who died in 1654, designated the Miller, and a Ewan who died in 1681. His wife was Jane Sayle, and in 1667 the couple had faced the Courts for 'living together as man and wife', a phrase that may reflect the attitude adopted by post-Restoration clergy to the Commonwealth regime which had not recognised church-marriages, and so let them fall into controversial abeyance. But the legitimacy was not challenged at his death. In 1691 at Braddan, another William designated 'de Lezayre' married Mariod Killey (LzVI). This couple can be identified with the parents of Ewan the Miller, c1696-1778 (LzVIII), who made a marriage contract for him with Mary Kinread in 1717, and left wills, hers of 1718, his of 1720, in which her name is Gill, this being the alternative form of Killey in those years.

If the Kerrowmoar family failed from lack of sons, that was a fate far from the Close-y-Killip one. There were to be some 120 Kissack baptisms in 18th century Lezayre, far ahead of any other parish. Of these 14 were children of Ewan, 22 his grandchildren, and 4 his great-grandchildren. 18 of these 40 were male, 13 of them died young or left the Island and were lost to sight. Three only of his legitimate sons - Michael, Mark and John (LzVIII) had male issue, but their male lines failed, those of Michael and John after a single generation, that of Mark when his great-grandson William (LzXXIX) was reported on the Electoral Roll as living in America.

We catch a glimpse of Mark, Robert and Mark's son John (known as John-Vark) in a case of 1768, which also lifts the curtain on contemporary Manx horse-trading and treatment of animals. The deal was a 'swapp' in which William Crow traded the unhappy horse in question plus 7/- 'boot' to Mark in exchange for a mare. But the very next day, as John-Vark with William Crow's son were bringing in a load of peat from the mountain, the horse fell at a place called by the long-forgotten name of Top o the Mealey. Resort was made to a sailor who had skills in curing horses with oil, but in vain. Pages of evidence survive on man's inhumanity to man in selling a horse in suspected distemper, without ever a word of concern for the poor creature itself.

The best of Ewan's sons were Michael, by his first wife, and Robert by Mary Corkish, his second. His first-born son William appears only in Presentments. In May 1745 a Court was faced with a blank refusal from Michael 'to make oath concerning the goods of his brother William Kissage, the father of Bahee Corlett`s illegitimate child.' Twelve years later a William was presented for 'repeatedly damning at cards'. Could it be he? He does not feature in either of his father's wills (1764 and 1774). A burial entry of 1769 reads: 'Will, son of Ewan Kissack, miller', a strange entry for a man of 50, and perhaps a mistake for a young son of Michael's. Ewan's will refers to Ann and Thomas, children 'off the Island`, whose inheritance depended on their returning to claim it. In 1757 a Thomas was presented for 'habitually swearing by his conscience', and two years later he, or a namesake, had a similar concern shown for his morals, when presented for not attending divine service in Ramsey. Have we here two examples of sons leaving home from a distaste for the life of a miller`s family in Lezayre? One maybe out of shame, the other out of boredom. It would hardly be from poverty; in contrast to his Kerrowmoar namesake the Miller never seemed short of money. But his house was no place for a 20-year old to ape the idle rich.

Indeed the Close-y-Killip story could be told with the moral that too many sons could threaten a family's existence as badly as too few, unless they were all Michaels. Yet as we have seen, all four of Michael`s own sons disappeared (LzXVII), as did two of Edward, Ewan`s brother (LzXX). John, the eldest son of Ewan`s second wife, Mary Corkish, showed similar restlessness. He ran off to Liverpool with Margaret Crow, returned with a son and a tale of a dubious marriage and was properly married in Lezayre within the time limit that legitimised the child. Thereafter Margaret bore 7 children to him in 3 different parishes in 8 years, as he worked as a miller. He died in 1785.

At this period, unless one was a sailor and jumped ship in a foreign port, emigrating Manx usually made for Liverpool. It was only in the 1820s that America began to call them. The trail was via Baltimore and the Alleghennies to the Ohio River. When a Manx army doctor came home in 1825 to proclaim the prospects of the West, he opened up a steady stream of emigration around Cleveland, over 200 arriving in each of the years 1827 and 1828, and following the expanding frontier. This would be the route taken in the 1840's by a great-grandson of Ewan in an abortive emigration into Illinois. But he was in the line of Ewan's illegitimate son.

For if Close-y-Killip was free of some of the problems of Kerrowmoar, it was not free of its passions. The identity of the William whose own wife had him presented in 1718 'for being drunk 5 or 6 Sundays in succession', and of the one who in 1721 and 1723, with his wife, appear as fellow-sinners with Ewan and his Cry neighbours for missing Easter communion, and of the one who in 1727 stood in court with M Garrett, solemnly to swear they had no carnal knowledge of each other, are all unproven, but none were of Kerrowmoar. And then in 1766, Ewan the Miller, who must have been 70 at the time, had to answer for siring a son Isaac, by Ann Garrett.

After the Christians of Milnthorpe, the Garretts were probably the most prominent Lezayre family in the 18th century. Their memorials in the parish church carry a coat of arms - a very un-Manx thing to do but in the tradition of those ambitious families who cultivated marriages with the English squirearchy. Their senior line had Ballabrooie for their quarterland. But all their pretensions were to end when William Garrett died after a fracas by the Sulby roadside in April 1799, with his son-in-law Henry Quayle, who was acquitted of the charge of murder. But there were so many debts against the estate that it had to be sold in 1806 to the Bacon family.

Ann was not of so distinguished a branch. Born in 1729 and unmarried, she had borne two other illegitimate children, and featured in 1759 as one of six women named in an episcopal edict for repeated lapses. At the time of Isaac`s birth she was a servant on one of the Kella farms adjacent to Ewan`s mill. When the farm was sold up in 1770 she is recorded as buying for a few pence old coverlets and crock-pots and some oats. Thereafter her story is not clear. An Ann Garrett `of Jurby` (the next parish) with a similar reputation seems to have married in 1773 a husband with a correspondingly indisciplined past. An Ann Garrett "of Sulby" died in 1772. But which was Isaac`s mother is unknown.

Ewan acknowledged paternity and served his 14 days in St. Germans, but it was only 4 years later that he reluctantly performed his penance and made judicious peace with the Church. He no doubt paid Ann the legitimate damages, but there are no indications that he took any further interest in Isaac. There is no mention of him in a will he made in 1774, presumably motivated by the deaths of his son Michael and Eleanor his wife both within a few weeks. In this he expresses dubiety about his son John (husband of Margaret Crow) ever assuming the responsibility for his mother, and settling part of Close-y-Killip on Mark. He was apprehensive lest Mark should demand more. But Ewan does not seem to have died till 1778.

There is little out of which to build up any portrait of Isaac. He left no will. He served as a parish Questman twice. He features as a witness in two cases of animal trespass. In one he is a firm witness for a William Garrett, which strengthens the belief that he must have been brought up by Ann`s family. When he had a home of his own it was clearly up Narradale, and he testifies that it was within sight of the mountain fence that separated the holdings from the common moorlands. In the second case of trespass, brought by a Thomas Shimmin, he was both a defendant and a witness for the prosecution. He admitted that four of his own sheep were at fault, and the Court finds : " . . . Isaac Kissage to have agreed with the plaintiff as far as his damage is concerned". It suspiciously sounds like `grassing`, but a twist is given to the mystery when Isaac next presents Thomas Shimmin for "damning Isaac Kissage`s soul repeatedly, being one of the Quest".

For the rest, he married Mary Kinley of Lonan, though the event is not recorded, probably through a lacuna in the Lonan registers. Her parents were Thomas and Alice, and ultimately they settled with Isaac in Lezavre. He had 11 children (LzXXVII). Of the girls only two can be traced. The eldest, Elizabeth never married and died in 1839. Mary (1810 1850) was unmarried but had 3 illegitimate children. Jane (born 1796) conceivably married John Blevings at Michael in 1811, and Catherine (b. 1807) married John Kelly in German in 1828, (he was a miner), but nothing can be surmised of Margaret (1792) or Isabella (1812). Nor can any creditable trace be found for two sons, James and Robert. The oldest three all` left Lezayre in their twenties. William the eldest married Jane (*1) Kaighin and moved about 1820 to Cronk-y-Voddy, German. Jane was 10 years his senior, and they settled in a croft in an area where her relatives owned land. Thomas moved to Santon, and John to the Ballagilbert area of Malew and Arbory, where he married Ann Watterson, the daughter of a local farming family. It seems all of a pattern, a desire to escape from a place whose associations were humiliating. At any rate the 1841 census shows only Mary the widow and her daughter Mary with a 10 year old James Skinner living up Narradale. Mary died in 1846 at 79, and her daughter in 1850 at 40.

Will and Jane settled in a croft on Corvalley, aptly known as The Tops, which was to be their family home for three generations. Fred, Will`s grandson, has described the site on the Staarvey Road, stretching up to the crest of the ridge whence one looked down on the sea and Peel:

"To the east are the mountains of Sartfield, Penny-Pot and Slieu Dhoo; underneath are the villages of Cronk-e-Voddie, Bargarrow, with the farms on the slope. To the north, the Scots mountains, and the north of the Island; to the west the Sea and the Irish mountains. To the south is South Barrule mountain, and Higher Foxdale with a white road winding round its base . . " To Will and Jane it must have been reminiscent of the high lookout of Narradale, whence the north of the Island and South West Scotland were equally displayed. It could well be that a remote isolated home with broad far vsitas chimed in with an aloof, hurt, and rejected family.

Here the couple raised their family (GrVII). Two sons died in childhood. There was a daughter Jane, who never had much to do with the family after marrying into a Scots family, named McArdle, living in Douglas, one of whose sons would one day snub Fred Kissack in a Cleveland street-car. Will II, too, the elder son, had the desire to go further, and in the 1840`s emigrated to Illinois. However he returned after a quarry accident had impaired his capacity for the kind if labour the New World required. From then on he worked on various farms around the Michael-German border, often with Kaighin connections. He is said to have brought back three objects never before seen in those parts - an 8-day clock, a boat's log, and a scythe. Especially does legend make his scythe the wonder of the harvest field, when others had no better than the traditional sickle.

Yet his were not to be the happiest of fortunes. He married Margaret Kermeen in December, 1849, and between then and 1864 she bore him 5 sons and 2 daughters. But then they both died, he in December, 1865 at 46, she 6 weeks later at only 36. The children were scattered. John James (GrIX) and perhaps one of the girls joined the Tops household. Known a; Johnny Kissack he was to become a legendry Methodist local-preacher, and to follow his Uncle James as an expert drainsman. Another of the children James, was farming Ballacross In German, when he died, again at only? in 1894. He left his widow, Jane Fargher, with 4 small children (WeI) ultimately to emigrate to Canada as Homesteaders in 1908/9.

It was another James, the second son of WiIIiam I and Jane Kaighen whose life was to be completely identified with the Tops at Cronk-y-Voddy He was born there in 1824, and with his death in I903, the family`s connection with the area ended (GrX). He grew up working the croft with his father, and though his mother, Jane was to end her days in 1858 under the roof of William II and Margaret, William I died at the Tops in 1861 aged 67. James is said to have been the last man in the neighbourhood to have worn the old country dress of smock-waistcoat. Perhaps he had little natural taste for farming. Certainly his name ranked higher as a digger of field-drains. They say he drained fields of the Bishop`s demesne, 5 miles away, and would join in doughty theological arguments with his Lordship in the process. He was a firm Church of England man. His grandson recalls how he and his grandfather formed the entire congregation at the Cronk-y-Voddy chapel-at-ease on the day of the Methodist Anniversary. The tale is also told of how he and a fellow-spirit stayed at home by the fireside one night while the womenfolk went to a revival meeting. The two discussed the mystery of the faith that moved mountains. They had been instructed to have the porridge on the boil for supper. They decided to test out the potency of naked faith, and put no oats in the pot. The women returned; but there was no porridge in the pot. The old men shook their heads in resignation. Said his friend: 'And wasn't I thinking all the while there wouldn't be any?' 'And me too', James confessed. He was a great reader of the Manx Bible. The Manx had better scriptures than the English, he would tell his grandsons; for they were translated direct from the Hebrew and Greek. I have in my possession a leatherbacked book, the cover scratched and cut across, and some 30 pages at the end torn out. My great-aunt told me : 'He bought it at the Douglas market; it was just the thing to strop his razor on. And he would tear out the pages to wipe the blade'. And it turned out to be a first edition of The Vicar of Wakefield. I also have his armchair, eaten by woodworm, and banished to the garden shed. 'Chalse a Killey sat in that chair often enough,' I was told. The Tops standing on the ancient Staarvey road, that legendary itinerant character, immortalised by T. E. Brown, a kind of Manx mendicant equivalent of Scott`s Edie Ochiltree, would use the house as one of his calling-places.

So little did James seem to like farming that he told the officers of the 1871 and 1881 censuses that his occupation was Fisherman (or was it his pride in the Buttermilk boat?). His economic battle to be a farmer and landowner ended in defeat. Nor did he make it easier for himself with his determination that none of his sons should be fettered to the land as he was. Thomas was apprenticed to a baker, James to a miller, Charles to a Douglas grocer, Fred to a joiner, and Will' (who had no special aptitude) to work in Peel; there were only a daughter Bessie and a grand-daughter Lillie to work the land with him. His wife Margaret Cubbon died in I89I.

Isaac's third son, John, was also to move into German, when after years in Malew and Arbory, he returned about 1860 to farm first Ballalis and later Ballacross. Left a childless widower of 71, he married a second wife, the young widow, Eleanora Cooil, in 1873, and had two children by her before his death in 1877. The boy John Joseph Benjamin, (GrXIII), was the father of Mabel Kissack, of Crewe College of Education, who can boast thus of a grandfather born in 1802 and a great-great-grandfather, Ewan the Miller, born no later than 1696.

The eldest son of William II and Margaret, himself a William, went to Onchan, whence his mother's family came, and worked as labourer at Baroose in Lonan (LoVIII). His gravestone stands at Lonan Old Church. Dying in 1922, he was spared the knowledge that Thomas Edward, the youngest of his 6 children would in 1933 shoot and kill a man and be found guilty of murder. As a youth, a fall over Clay Head cliffs, and the resulting exposure to hot summer sun for the better part of a day, left him permanently disturbed, mentally and psychologically. Today State care could have helped him, but left to his own resources as he then was, he could merely sink deeper in failure and trouble. The army, dishonourable discharge, prison, perversion and ultimately the Asylum brought him at 47 to the tragedy. His one happiness, it was said, was to hunt rabbits. So when he slipped his guard on a working party from the Mental Hospital, he took to the hills and stole a gun. Startled, discovered and cornered up the staircase in an isolated mountain cottage, he fatally shot his finder, and died in Broadmoor. It is an irony of family history that the publicity of his trial means that more has been written about him than almost any other of the people this book deals with.

After James' death in 1903, the Tops passed through mortgage to the Cannell family, and Christian, Bessie and Lily moved into Douglas, Christian, widowed of her sea-captain husband, kept a series of boarding houses, retiring in the early '30s to a cottage in Peel, where she died in 1952, aged 93. Bessie's efforts in the same direction were not so successful, and I have memories of her destined to pass the last 20 years of her life, moving from one rented bed-sitter to the next, dependent chiefly on the not-over-regular remittance from her brother Fred in the States. If I recall aright, she would pay some 4/6 a week for her room, which she would have to vacate at the approach of every Visitors' season, and find accommodation which could not be devoted to them. She had been a wonderfully beautiful girl in youth, and seemed possessed of some fatal atavistic sense of gentility, which made her utterly averse to manual work. Once she said 'I can't bear to see butter on the table in its paper'. She felt constantly sick, and once asked me what the word 'hypochondriac' meant. She carried from room to rented room a few nick-nacks of the Tops, including a brass candle stick that had been her grandmother's, into which she rested the point of her poker, as she crouched over the tiny bed-room grates, and a memento of Queen Victoria's golden jubilee, in the form of a model Manx cottage arm-chair, painted gold but made of Manx lead, with '1887' on the backrest. The first is now with a great-grand-niece in Tennessee, and the other purchased back from a Junk-shop after her death in 1943, is kept by me as a memorial of what spinster aunts and daughters had to endure in the pre-Welfare State era.

In Douglas also, mercifully, were Christian and her brother Charles. He had stuck to the Island and to his first avocation in a grocer's shop. He soon had his own in Murray's Road. He had four sons, Frederick the eldest was lost in World-War I, Alfred and Oliver became clerks with the Island`s railways, while Ernest the eldest surviving followed him in the shop. (DrIX, XXIX & XXX). Two other brothers from the Tops went to Liverpool. William had a sweet shop, but did in 1899, having tended to separate himself from his family. Tom, the eldest, went as a journeyman baker with his first wife, Mary Cottier, daughter of 'Cottier-Cretney' the Peel Auctioneer. He acted as secretary to an early local bakers' union, but later entered the Corporation service as Inspector of Bakehouses. He would retire as Chief Inspector of Lodging Houses, filling one of his Manx nephews on a visit to Liverpool, with awestruck admiration at his power to smell opium-smoking just by passing by in the street. He died in 1937, and was buried in Liverpool, the only one of his male line, I belie ve, to have been buried off the Island.

Fred Kissack`s homecoming journal of 1903 gives us a glimpse of him, when on November 12 that year, Fred lands at Liverpool from the liner Cedric :

`.. . I pass into the Liverpool Customs House, walk up to the letter `K`, and am about to turn away to the same letter higher up, when my brother Tom puts his hand on my shoulder. He takes me to one side to answer the question I have asked him, and I learn for the first time I am too late to see Father . . I get through Customs very easy. I had to open my case, and they put the Government stamp on my trunk without me having to open it. I never got through in the same way before, but I attribute it to my Brother, who had on his tall hat and Government suit . . . At Castle St., we wait for the car for Salisbury Rd., where my brother lives. The Car is crowded. My brother loses sixpence which I give him to pay our fares. We find it just as we get out . . . At his home I meet his new wife for the first time, and have supper and a long talk, and go to bed after midnight`.


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.


(*1) Correction from `James` to `Jane` - source "The MacIsaacs : possible origins of a Scots-Manx surname "


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