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Isle of Man, Mannin, Ellan Vannin

Last modified: 2007-07-28 by rob raeside
Keywords: man | isle of man | trinacria | triskelion | sicily |
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[Manx flag] by Stuart Notholt
Use of flag confirmed 27 August 1971.

See also:


The national flag of Man is a plain red field with the "trinacria" emblem in the centre. This is a banner of the arms which date back to the 13th century and are believed to be connected with Sicily, where a similar device was used in the Norman period.

Roy Stilling, 7 December 1996.

The present rotation of the legs was restored by a royal proclamation in 1968.

Pascal Vagnat, 25 September 1998.

Origin of the triskelion

According to the World Encyclopedia of Flags, by A. Znamierovski, 1999:
'The triskelion (from the Greek "three-legged") is one of the oldest symbols known to mankind. The earliest representations of it were found in prehistoric rock carvings in northern Italy. It also appears on Greek vases and coins from the 6th and 8th centuries BC., and was revered by Norse and Sicilian peoples. The Sicilian version has a representation of the head of Medusa in the center. The Manx people believe that the triskelion came from Scandinavia. According to Norse mythology, the triskelion was a symbol of the movement of the sun through the heavens.'
Jarig Bakker, 27 April 2000

In "Emblemes et symboles des Bretons et des Celtes" (Coop Breizh, 1998), Divy Kervella explores in depth the possible meaning of the triskell. It is the symbol of triplicity in unity, one of the basis of the Celtic religion, and probably originally a solar symbol. Triplicity in the Celtic civilisation is exemplified by: 
- the staff of the Celtic pantheon: Lugh, Daghda (Taran), and Ogme ; 
- the unique goddess who has three aspects: daughter, wife, and mother ; 
- the division of the society in three classes: priestly class, ruling and martial class, and productive class (craftsmen, farmers, fishers ...) 
- the philosophical conceptions of the world based on number 3: the three circles of existence, the bardic triads... 
The triskell is also often said to represent the three dynamics elements: water, air, and fire, or the wave of sea, the breath of wind, and the flame of fire. One of these elements is sometimes replaced by the furrow of the earth. A more complex interpretation says that the centre of the triskell is the static earth, which receives life from the three dynamic elements. The spiral could symbolize life, dynamics and enthusiasm, as opposed to everything straight and spellbound.

The representation of the triskell must be dextrogyrous (turning to the right). A senstrogyrous (turning to the left) triskell would have a maleficent, or at least hostile meaning. Traditional Breton dances and processions always turn to the right. The war dances of the ancient Celts started by turning to the left to show hostility, and ended by turning to the right, as a sign of victory.

The triskell is close to the hevoud, another Celtic symbol and the Basque lauburu, and is probably of pre-Celtic origin (for instance on the cairn of Bru na Boinne in Ireland). 

Ivan Sache, 27 April 2000

Local people have an explanation as to why the legs turn anti-clockwise; this is in order that we do not kneel to the British!

Christine Cain, 4 April 2002

The Legend of Mannanin

The Three Magic Legs (from

LONG, LONG AGO, in the old, old times, there was a magician living on the island they were calling Mannanin-mac-Lir-Mannanin, Son of Lir, God of the Sea. A fine, bold, upstanding fellow he was, with fierce flashing eyes, hair black as night, and the wind of his going like the rush of the sea. He'd a grand castle on the top of Barrule, and the like of the fine company that was at him hasn't been seen before nor since. Feasting and hunting the purr (the wild boar) and dancing half the night they were, and odd times Mannanin would he making his spells. He'd stand on the top of the mountain, and if he saw a ship out at sea he'd draw a curtain of mist round the island, so the captain of the ship would say, 'Is there an island in, or is me eyes failin' me?'. Or maybe Mannanin would set a man on the mountain and that man would look like a hundred, to the men on the ship, and if a ship managed to slip into harbour, Mannanin would turn himself into a wheel of fire, and come hurtling down the hill into the midst of them, and the sailors wouldn't be able to get quick enough into their boats.

So, for a long time, there wasn't any coming and going between the island and the rest of the world. On Midsummer Eve the Manx ones who were living in the island would bring a tribute of rushes to Mannanin, as rent for their bits of crofts. Terrible poor and ignorant they were, not knowing how to till their fields, but only to scratch the earth and put in their scant crops. The houses they were living- in weren't too clever at all, for they were made of sods, and thatched with ling, and a hole in the roof for the smoke to come out. Anyway at all, it wasn't an army that came to the island, in the end, but St Patrick and some of his monks, that got themselves cast away in a storm. A little islet off the west coast it was, they landed on, called St Patrick's Isle to this day, and when they'd scrambled up the rocks, and got to the green top, St Patrick looked round, and he said, "Tis for some good purpose we've been sent here, little brothers', and the monks thought so, too. So, when they'd built themselves a shelter from the storm, away with St Patrick to the big island for 'tis but a step, at low tide - and preaching to the islanders he was, and baptising them, and blessing their boats when they went to the herring, and blessing their crops when they were sown. But first he banished every snake and toad from the island. never let me see top nor tail of ye again. And true it is, you won't find one of the creatures, if you search from one end of the island to the other.

The monks too were teaching the Manx ones how to till their fields, and how to spin and weave the wool from their sheep to make themselves clothes; and after a bit, the islanders weren't for paying tribute to Mannanin any more. Well, that one was in a terrible taking. It wasn't any use drawing a curtain of mist round the island, because the monks were there already, and as for setting one man on the hills to look like a hundred, the holy man could see quite well how many there were. So Mannanin changed himself into three legs, joined together, and clad in armour. 'Whichever way you throw me, I stand,' says he, and away with him down the hill, flaming like fire. 

When St Patrick saw him coming, he wasn't put out, though. He began to chant St. Patrick's Breastplate, which is a sort of a hymn, and a sort of a prayer, that he made himself, and the monks all began to sing too, and Mannanin couldn't harm them when the Breastplate was between them and him. So he changed back into his own shape, and told St. Patrick that he'd better get out of that quickly, but St Patrick just raised his staff , and looked at him sternly, and the nearer the saint came to the magician the farther that one shrank away, until at last he turned tail, and away with him up the mountain, with the wind howling and the storm whirling behind him. Then the monks raised a psalm of praise, and the Manx ones came out of their houses, and everybody was glad, because they didn't have to be afraid of Mannanin, or to pay tribute to him any more. The fine castle that was on Barrule melted away, and the grand company vanished.

Some have it to say that Mannanin still lives on Barrule, and when that mist comes down, blotting out everything, they will say 'Mannanin is drawing his cloak.' You'll see the three mailed legs that he turned himself into, on the arms of the island, and the motto that runs round them, 'Whichever way you throw me, I stand,' in Latin. True it is, that Ellan Vannin, the Little Island, has been tossed this way and that: to the Scandinavians, the Irish, the Scots, the English, but 'Whichever way you throw me, I stand,' is still it's motto, for Manx it is, and Manx it will remain, there's no gainsaying that. And if Mannanin's up on Barrule, in the big black thunder-clouds, I for one, am not going looking for him.

Christine Cain, 4 April 2002

Civil ensign

[Manx civil ensign]

This is the official civil ensign for the Isle of Man. The three conjoined legs are the "triskelion", the symbol of Man. The land flag for the Isle of Man is red with the triskelion in the centre (no union flag).

Graham Bartram, 7 December 1996.

The defaced Red Ensign which was abolished in 1935 and restored by a royal proclamation on 18 September 1971.

Pascal Vagnat, 25 September 1998.

Until 1968 the only official British flag that related to the Isle of Man was that of the lieutenant-governor. This was the Union Flag defaced in the centre by a gold trinacria on a red shield on a white disc surrounded by a laurel leaf garland. The land flag, a gold trinacria on a red flag, was authorised 9 July 1968. The Red Ensign was authorised on 27 August 1971. Any Isle of Man Red Ensigns before this date were probably based on the not uncommon misconception that badges on Union Flags, Red Ensigns and Blue Ensigns are interchangeable.

David Prothero, 13 August 1999

Barraclough and Crampton say on p.49: "On 18 September 1971 the Manx Red Ensign was restored for use by all ships registered in the Isle of Man" but infuriatingly give no other details. None of my other books mention a previous Manx Red Ensign.

Roy Stilling, 13 August 1999

Variant in 1848 text

Norris and Hobbs (1848) describes a Civil Ensign, but with a triskelion with reverse rotation.

Flag of Tynwald

[Flag of Tynwald] by Vincent Morley

The flag of the Manx parliament (Tynwald) is on display in the chamber of Tynwald and is illustrated on their website. I believe it is a version of the mediaeval arms of the lords of Man.

Kenneth Campbell Fraser, 23 November 1998

This flag is a banner of the former arms of the Kings of Man, and is known as the MacDonald flag. It was first flown in 1971.

Pascal Vagnat, 25 September 1998.

Miscellaneous flags

There are several other flags in use on the Isle of Man:

Lieutenant Governor:

[Manx Lieutenant Governor] a possible rendition by António Martins

The lieutenant governor's flag is the British Union Flag with the shield of the Manx arms surrounded by a garland in the middle. This flag is used as a car flag by the lieutenant governor.

Customs and Excise Service:
The flag of the Isle of Man Customs and Excise Service is blue and red vertically (about 1:5), proportions 2:3, with the emblem of the service in the middle of the red field.

Manx Constabulary:
The flag of the Manx Constabulary is blue with the badge of the force in the middle. Proportions 1:2.

Isle of Man Harbour Board:
The flag of the Isle of Man Harbour Board is blue with the Board's badge in the middle. Proportions 1:2.

Herring fleet flags:
Until 1993 there were some pennants for the admiral and vice-admiral of the herring fleet (responsible for the good conduct of the fishermen whilst at sea and for the regulation of the herring fishery), who were known since 1976 as Admiral and Vice-Admiral of the Fishing Fleet. The first pennants (until 1984) were red with a white canton charged with two fishes in blue for the admiral and one single fish for the vice-admiral. The proportions of those pennants are unknown, possibly 1:2. The one for the vice-admiral was swallow-tailed. In 1984 those pennants were lost and were replaced by new ones which were triangular: blue, charged with a silver fish, a scallop in white, and two little three-leg emblems for the admiral (one for the vice-admiral). In 1993, the act which gave power to the lieutenant-governor to appoint the Admiral and Vice Admiral of the Fishing Fleet was repealed and the pennants went out of use.

Source: Michel Lupant, Flags, coats of arms and badges of the Isle of Man, Centre Belgo-Européen d'Études des Drapeaux, November 1996.

Pascal Vagnat, 25 September 1998.


The motto of the Isle of Man, which often accompanies the arms, is the Latin Quocunque jeceris stabit, which means "wherever you throw, it will stand", referring to the triskelion

Clive Barbour, 28 September 1995

There is an interesting variant of the Manx arms. Between approximately 1735 and 1765 the island was ruled by the Duke of Atholl. During that time two series of coins were issued in the name of the duke with counter-clockwise legs. Before and after that time, when coins were issued in the name of British monarchs, the direction was clockwise. Does anybody know if there was an official decree for this change of direction in the Manx coat of arms/flag?

Harald Müller, 9 December 1996