Did Old Trit Trot ever get the wool?! The answer lies in an old Manx song.

One of the most well-known Manx children’s songs today is ‘Arrane Queeyl-Nieuee’ (Song of the Spinning Wheel) - also known as Spin, Wheel, Spin! or Snieu, wheeyl, snieu!

The song connects to the story of ‘The Lazy Wife’ – a woman who is far too ‘traa-dy-liooar’ to get the spinning done. After a day of procrastination, her husband returns from work to find the house is a mess, there’s no dinner and certainly not enough wool spun to sell to the weaver.

However, she tricks her furious husband into thinking she’s been spinning all day by throwing and catching the same ball of wool up and down from the loft while he counts ‘nane, jees, tree...’

Now caught out by her own lie, she goes up the hill to the giant (the ‘foawr’) who agrees to do all of the spinning if she can guess his name by the end of the week. She has no idea of his name until the final night, when her husband returns home and recalls hearing the giant singing ‘Arrane Queeyl-Nieuee’ with words that translated to; ‘How little she knows, the lazy wife, that my name is Mollyndroat!’

Next morning, armed with the correct answer, the wife took home all the balls of wool from a rather angry giant.

There are other versions of the story in Manx folklore. The giant is sometimes a buggane, or there is an evil queen called Trit Trot who wants to enslave the wife. In other tales, the little people or ‘themselves’ who live in the tramman tree above her spinning wheel help out.

The bare melody of the song was first collected in July 1895 by WH Gill from Peel ‘master mariner’, Thomas Crellin (AKA Tom the Mate), who arranged it for piano solo in Manx National Music (published 1898). Folklore collector AW Moore had also called on Crellin and had taken down a single verse in Manx, which he published in Manx Ballads and Music in 1896.

A decade later, the single verse was taught to Peel children by folklorist and language revivalist Sophia Morrison and they sung it at an Old Christmas concert in 1907. At the end of the concert, a local woman came forward to say she knew the whole song.

The lyrics and fairytale were noted and Morrison joined forces with rising poet and playwright Josephine Kermode (pen-name ‘Cushag’) to write Manx dialect play ‘The Lazy Wife’ which was premiered in Peel Clothworkers’ School in 1908.

Illiam and Joaney were the names of the husband and wife, along with the ‘Foawr’ and his enslaved fairies. Three years later, the full story and song lyrics appeared in Morrison’s Manx Fairy Tales (1911).

Shortly after, Mona Douglas also collected the song from Eleanor Callow, a farmer’s wife from Cardle Veg in Maughold.

Working with English composer Arnold Foster, Douglas published the song in London in 1930, and it later appeared in the Manx National Song Book.

Even more recently in 1992, Dr Fenella Bazin collected a variant called ‘A Spinster of Peel’ from Mrs Tipping in Glen Mona. ‘Once there lived spinster, near the town of Peel; Sat she ‘neath the tramman tree beside her spinning wheel.’

A set piece in the Manx Folk Awards 2022 and performed just last week at the Guild by Platform Theatre’s young Gaelic choir, ‘Snieu, Queeyl, Snieu’ is now a staple of the Manx song repertoire, and you can hear and learn it on manxmusic.com