Last modified: 2014-10-04 by rob raeside
Keywords: man | isle of man | trinacria | triskelion | sicily |
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Isle of Man has 24 local government bodies - 1 borough, 3 towns, 3 villages, 2 districts and 15 parishes:
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
Pascal Vagnat, 25 September 1998.
Land flag of the Isle of Man, officially adopted in 1971, but in use from
before this date. Barraclough and Crampton (1978),
page 48 tell us: "In the past some versions have shown the legs running in an
anti-clockwise direction. However, since 1968 the the more ancient clockwise
position has been restored." Two flags, presumably are stitched together as
Pedersen mentions that the legs must appear to run in the same
direction no matter what side you view it from. This is a similar state of
affairs as the Saudi Arabian National and
Merchant flag, which is possibly the most "famous" of
this genre of Flags.
Martin Grieve, 12 September 2004
The flag shown at the Isle of Man government website (http://www.gov.im/Isleofman/facts.xml#flag)
apparently has dimensions of 2:3.
Valentin Poposki, 17 September 2006
image by Martin Grieve, 12 September 2004
Just a graphics observation from me here:
If you are a CorelDRAW user, and draw this up, you will probably be tempted to "group" the 3 legs and "align and distribute" this on to the red rectangle thus making the Triskellion dead-centred. This however, would appear not to be the case as the Triskellion is positioned slightly below the horizontal centre line, and in Graham's book "British Flags & Emblems" this is confirmed. The ratio is 1:2 but can also be manufactured at 3:5 or is that the other way round?
Martin Grieve, 12 September 2004
This is kind of logical, since it is the circle in which the triskelion is
inscribed is centered itself - and therefore also the point where three legs
meet each other should be in the center of the flag. In the words that are often
seen in legislation in this case the saying would be something like "the point
where the legs meet should be set in the crossing point of the two diagonals of
Željko Heimer, 12 September 2004
'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
- 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 Three Magic Legs (from www.feegan.com/fltales.htm)
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
Prior to 9 July 1968 the
legs were drawn anti-clockwise which can be seen on old flag charts and books.
Nozomi Kariyasu, 16 September 2004
The consensus of informed opinion seems to be that the 'Three Legs of Man'
have been a emblem of the island since at least the 13th Century, and have been
'armed' since the end of the 14th. I have no way of confirming this from my own
files, but I have a suggested date for formal adoption of the 'triskele' or 'trinacria'
as the island's flag of 1 January 1933. There are also suggestions (from various
sources) that the Vikings may have brought the Manx Legs to the island, that
they're based on an old symbol of Sicily and/or that
they may have begun life as an ancient sun emblem.
I would be interested to hear if there was another reason, but the change to clockwise appears to have been completely arbitrary, in so far as there was no 'right or wrong way' to display them before.
Christopher Southworth, 16 September 2004
Smith (1975), a very old Manx red
ensign is depicted with the legs running anti-clockwise and unarmed.
Martin Grieve, 17 September 2004
The Bavarian city of Füssen has such a "triskele", too. The first seal with
the three legs is from the end of the 13th century or beginning of the 14th
http://www.ngw.nl/int/dld/f/fussen.htm they are giving the date of 1295. In
this time the three legs were separated and were joint later.
J. Patrick Fischer, 17 September 2004
The website at
http://www.isle-of-man.com/manxnotebook/wma/v2p274.htm gives, without any
substantiation, a date of 1931. At the bottom of the page it is suggested that
the Manx flag began to be used on merchant ships between 1842 and 1854. I guess
that at this time the legs would have been on a plain red flag without a Union
canton, though by 1888 they were being placed in the fly of the Red Ensign, an
act which led to the plain Red Ensign being defined as the proper national flag
for British merchant ships.
On 24th October 1888 the British Consul in Dunkirk wrote to the Foreign Office that the barque 'Lady Elizabeth', 1154 tons burthen of Castletown, Official Number 881576, master George C.Kerran, had entered the harbour on the 20th wearing the Manx three legs in yellow, in the plain red part of the Red Ensign. "Was this allowed?", the consul asked.
The Foreign Office wrote to the Board of Trade asking what answer should be given. The Board of Trade wrote to the Admiralty quoting Section 105 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1854, and asking if their Lordships had issued a warrant authorising the use of such a device by vessels of the Merchant Marine. Correspondence in 1874-5 on the right of colonial vessels to carry the Red Ensign with a colonial badge had decided that only government vessels might have a badge, and that on a Blue Ensign. On 3rd December the Admiralty replied that no warrant had been issued.
The Board of Trade wrote to James Little, the ship-owners, that the only permitted flag was the Red Ensign. They added that, " There does not however appear to be any statute which prohibits ships from exhibiting fancy flags so long as they do not resemble the colours usually worn by HM ships and are not distinctive national colours."
A Board of Trade minute of 5th December 1888 stated that the doubtful state of the law as to the flying of "fancy flags" was to be investigated. Reference was made to a recent case concerning the Irish Ensign. An entry on the minute dated 4th March 1889 noted "They are going to insert a provision in the Merchant Shipping (Colours) Bill, defining the Red Ensign, with certain exceptions, as the proper national flag for all British merchant ships."
An Admiralty letter of 4th March 1889, explained that the gist of Section 105 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1854 was to prevent a British merchant ship from making herself out to be a British man-of-war. Although the Red Ensign was no longer used by the Royal Navy, it had been when the Act came into force, and until the Act was amended the Red Ensign had to be considered one of Her Majesty's colours, especially as the Admiralty had never relinquished authority over the Red Ensign. While the Manx Red Ensign was not one of HM's colours, it did resemble one of HM's colours. [National Archives (PRO) MT 10/528]
David Prothero, 17 September 2004
A Dutch flag chart made in mid 18th century [illustrated in Smith (1976), Japanese edition] shows flag of Isle of Man which is red ensign charged with yellow anticlockwise three legs in the fly and St. George in the canton. Other flag charts Norie & Hobbs (1848), Bromme (1862), Flags of Maritime Nations (1882) in my hands show the same ensign with the Union Flag in the canton. A flag book published in 1902 shows the badge with anticlockwise three legs in a red shield in a white disc. British Heraldry book published in 1910 refers to three legs in shield above the caption, "Gules, three legs in armour flexed at the knee and conjoined at the thigh, all proper, garnished and spurred or. Recorded in the College of Arms."
In a collection of crests by Le Neve a crest is assigned to this
coat, namely, two arms embowed in armour argent, holding in the hands a gem-ring
or, stoned sable, but this is hardly of authority, and I believe is never made
use of. Motto:" Stabit quocunque jeceris". The Isle of Man "kneels to England,
kicks at Scotland and spurns Ireland"
Nozomi Kariyasu, 17 September 2004
The Isle of Man Government web site is quite categorical about the
anti-clockwise legs: "All the early examples of the Manx "Legs" show them as if
running sunwise (i.e. clockwise) and to that extent the heraldic symbol of the
Island still retained an essential feature of the ancient pagan sun symbol.
Although sometimes drawn anti-clockwise, that is singularly inappropriate."
Source: Isle of Man Government http://www.gov.im/IsleOfMan/facts.xml#flag
Colin Dobson, 21 September 2004
1:2 image by Martin Grieve, 12 September 2004
The Triskelion in its present form was adopted in 1968, and prior to this date
the emblem was of a different style in that the legs rotated in an anti-
clockwise direction, and there was a greater amount of gold contained within
them than on the present-day version. The legs were different in style too, and
are NOT polar-arrayed around the centre of an imaginary circle whose diameter is
3/4 of the hoist width, but rather are individually placed to fit within this
The adoption date for this version was given by David Prothero as 1931, while Christopher Southworth offers us (tentatively) 1933. I add that in Znamierovski, 1999 that this adoption date is given as 1929, and also states that the flag depicted was adopted in its present form on 9 July 1968. In Pedersen (1970) the pre-1968 version of the legs of Man are erroneously shown instead of the newer version from 1968, and it is this version that I have used to produce the set of flags up to 1968. The Adoption of 1929 should be placed on "hold" until this matter has been resolved, as it appears that 1931 is a more trustworthy date.
Martin Grieve, 21 September 2004
The various books I have agree on the triskelion in the pre-1968 flag being
somewhat asymmetry, like Martin made his image. They all have in the centre the
two stripes forming almost, but not quite, an inverted T. They don't, however,
agree on further asymmetry.
Campbell and Evans - The Book of Flags [4th edition, 1960] have the gap between the upper calf and the outer thigh only barely larger, but have two yellow bands on the lower calf, rather than one as Martin has it. They write: "Very strange and very old is the device of the Isle of Man. It consists of three white and yellow legs, in armour and spurred, united at the thigh, and is flown on a red field. This Trinacria, as it is called, is based on an ancient emblem of Sicily."
The image in Preben Kannik - Bandiere di tutto il Mondo and Pedersen - Alverdens flag i farver, in 1956 and 1970, has the gap similar to Martin's, but it has a yellow band on the inside of the outer thigh. In Pedersen 1970, the description includes that the charge sometimes turns the other way, and that in 1968 it was determined that the flag should be used on public buildings. No relation between the one and the other is indicated, though.
In Pedersen 1979, the flag has the new symmetrical symbol, which goes the other way, drawn as taking up most of the height of the flag. The description notes that the a government circular from 19 July determined both the government use of the flag and the clockwise direction of the emblem.
Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 25 November 2010
image by Klaus-Michael Schneider, 18 December 2013
The flag’s ratio is according to one source approx 2:3. The flag is red and has
a St. George’s cross in the canton. A yellow nude, i.e. not armed, triskelion
with two feet anticlockwise and one foot clockwise is shifted to the hoist and
partially beneath the canton.
Sources: v.d. Kiebom: “Connaissance des Pavillons ou Banniéres, que la Plúspart des Nations Arborent en Mer”, 1737
Diderot D’Alembert: “Encyclopedie, vol. Marine”, editions 1751 and 1780
Siegel: “Die Flagge”, 1912
Klaus-Michael Schneider, 18 December 2013
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.
Pascal Vagnat, 25 September 1998
The flag of the Isle of Man Harbour Board is blue with the Board's badge
in the middle. Proportions 1:2.
Pascal Vagnat, 25 September 1998
image located by Esteban Rivera, 14 April 2007
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
A detailed presentation of the flag and arms of Man is given on the website
of the Isle of Man government:
Ivan Sache, 14 April 2007
The Isle of Man flag is basically the banner of arms of the Isle of man, so
the coat of arms has vexillological significance.
Željko Heimer, 15 April 2007