Bernard Caine: a man of principle

Bernard Caine

Bernard Caine

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Stuart Hartill writes an obituary for his old friend.


Upon the death of Bernard Caine (Manx language revivalist, former chairman of the Manx Museum and National Trust and many other things besides) the island lost a dear son, and many of us lost a dear friend.

I first met Bernard when we both worked on the old Peel City Guardian, where our relationship – in hindsight – was probably less Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein than me playing Granville to Bernard’s Albert E. Arkwright.

I can hardly believe I will never again see him burst into the room with such joyous observations of life in the Centre of Western Civilisation (Bernard’s tongue-in-cheek epithet for Peel) as ‘Can you believe I’ve just seen a three legged dog chasing a Manx cat down Market Street?’

And the funniest thing about those happy days is that he would have: astonishing things like that just seemed to happen around him.

None of which should prevent a more serious appreciation of Bernard’s many contributions to Manx life.

Tony Pass’s recent observation that Bernard Caine would be equally friendly to everyone, from The Queen to a colleague in the bus queue, goes to the heart of the matter.

He wore his considerable scholarship lightly, and shrugged off decades of hard work for this nation. Perhaps because he considered that he owed his own education, from a King William’s College scholarship to Glasgow University and beyond, to the determined efforts of his mother and the tacit support of a whole community of modestly-off folk.

In this sense, his views on culture uncannily echo Raymond Williams who, on arriving at Cambridge from a working class family in a Welsh village, could feel only pity for mere Etonians with no discernable community or culture behind them – even if they would drift into running an empire after graduating.

At a time in the 1980s when a market-led re-appreciation of ‘history as tourist commodity’ had UK museums introducing admission charges I also remember asking Bernard if the Manx Museum would follow.

‘Over my dead body’ (or words to that effect) was his immediate response. And he meant it.

The principle that no child should ever be prevented by accident of birth from learning their own history was absolute to Bernard, and no more to be forsaken than the Rechabite pledge of his youth.

I will miss him terribly, as will many others.

I can only hope that, rather than seeing Manx worthies like Bernard Caine as the last of a remarkable era, we will see their selfless, principled, yet full and happy lives as something to aspire to.

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