An ancient meeting place that's a symbol of rich heritage
Tynwald Hill at St John's is the traditional, ancient meeting place of the Manx parliamentary assembly, dating back at least to the late first millennium AD. The four-tiered hill is used in the modern Tynwald Day ceremony. The parliament of the island has its origins in the things of the Viking Age and is a living legacy of the Viking era.
The hill itself is an artificial mound, stepped in profile, approximately 25m in diameter at the base, and 3.6m high. Its earliest phase dates to later prehistory, when the first indications of communal assemblies can be glimpsed. Later, the development of a royal centre focused in the nearby upper Neb valley allowed the site to increase in importance, and by the early second millennium AD, Tynwald Hill was in use as a national meeting place.
The site continues to be active today and in 1979 it celebrated its millennium as a continuous parliament. The Tynwald Court now meets in the island’s modern capital, Douglas, on the third Tuesday of each month, but once a year on 5th July an open-air ceremony is still held at Tynwald Hill. This day is a national holiday for the island, and the laws passed during the year are proclaimed in both Manx Gaelic and English.
The site of Tynwald Hill is thus one of the most important ancient monuments in the island, representing not just a symbol of the rich heritage of the Manx people, but also a contemporary focus where the future life and culture of the community is forged.
Tynwald Day occurs annually on 5th July before an audience of thousands. A representative of the British monarchy, usually the Lieutenant Governor, presides over the ceremony, whilst parliament, officials and honoured guests are gathered on, or close to, Tynwald Hill. The main business is to proclaim the new laws created during the preceding year and to offer the opportunity for personal grievances to be presented. The modern ceremony is a continuation of the public assembly thought to have been in existence for over 1,000 years.
The open-air ceremony begins with a procession of the Guard of Honour, Military Band and Standard Bearers along with representatives from local schools and other organisations. The Lieutenant Governor’s arrival is marked with an RAF flypast then he inspects the military and lays a wreath at the War Memorial before observing a minute’s silence and joining Members of Tynwald, other dignitaries and invited guests for a Church service in the Royal Chapel.
Proclaiming the Laws
After the service, the Members of Tynwald and participants proceed along the Processional Way to Tynwald Hill where they are seated in a tiered system, with the Lieutenant Governor, his officers and the Legislative Council (upper branch of Tynwald) on the top; followed by Members of the House of Keys (the lower, directly elected branch of Tynwald); then public officials, civic dignitaries, and religious representatives; down to the fourth tier reserved for members of the Church of England clergy and two lecterns for the Deemsters (judges).
The Lieutenant Governor instructs the First Deemster to direct the 'Fencing of the Court' (calling the assembly to order) before the Laws are proclaimed, first in English (by the First Deemster) and then in Manx (by the Second Deemster). The Lieutenant Governor then invites anyone with a Petition for Redress to present it. This simple but ancient procedure enables grievances to be remedied and can lead directly to the enactment of legislation. Following the ceremony, a formal sitting of Tynwald meets in the Chapel to sign the certificates of proclamation for the Acts and deal with other business.
Royal Chapel and the Fairfield
Tynwald Hill is linked by a pathway to the Royal Chapel of St John the Baptist, 115m to the east. Both the Hill and the Chapel are set within a dumb-bell shaped walled enclosure. Around the enclosure is open ground – the Fairfield.
Tynwald Hill, the Chapel and the Fairfield all lie together near the western end of a flat-topped natural gravel plateau rising between two branches of the River Neb about 3km southeast of the ancient city of Peel. This plateau is, in addition to the features already noted, known to be rich in archaeological sites. The earliest of these is a stone cist or burial chamber known as Follagh y Vannin, which lies immediately west of the minor road leading from St John's round the rear of Tynwald Hill to Glenmooar. This cist dates to the early Bronze Age, approximately 2000 BC, and would originally have been set within a mound of turf, soil and stone.
The Tynwald exhibition, in the hall next to the Chapel of St John, explores the history and ceremony of Tynwald Hill. Visits to the Legislative Buildings, Tynwald High Court, the House of Keys and Council Chambers can be arranged.