From the very tip of the island to the close-knit farming community in and around the northern plains, the family of a Manx teacher and musician have long roots spreading through the history of Bride.
As a tribute to her family links to the north of the island, Dilys Sowrey has created a musical, ’Ayres and Braces’, based on her mother’s life as a farmer’s wife and stalwart member of the Bride Chapel community.
The play will feature a series of songs written by Dilys , marking several key moments in the life of her mother and of the lives of some of her ancestors, sung by actors over music performed by a live band.
The time-span of the play covers the arrival of Dilys’ great-grandfather to the island up to Joan’s eventual marriage and is told via flashbacks and conversations around the kitchen table.
Central to the play is Dilys ’ mother, Joan, who was the eldest of four sisters.
Jen Derbyshire plays Joan, with Dilys and Lexi Forbes playing sisters Sheila and Margaret. Dylis’ five-year-old grand daughter plays Barbara, the youngest sister.
They will be joined on stage by singers Paul Costain and Christine Bregazzi and musicians Paul Rogers, Gareth Moore, Matt Kelly, John Kaghin and Pete Woodman.
Joan herself died in 2015, but she left Dilys with a wealth of stories, reminiscences, anecdotes and tales of family history, which she was able to trace back through generations.
Dilys ’ great-grandfather, William Gibb Petrie, first arrived on the Isle of Man from Scotland to take up the post of keeper at the Point of Ayre Lighthouse, the final man to hold the position.
His daughter, Christina Skinner (nee Petrie), who was Dylis’ grandmother, trained as a school teacher and, after following her parents to the island, became a school teacher and piano player at the Bride Chapel.
Dilys was able to find out a great deal of family history and connections from the Bride chapel Sunday school book, which she now looks after as the secretary of the Bride Sunday school.
’My grandparents’ wedding party is documented in the Sunday school book that I still write in,’ said Dilys .
’The book started in 1923 and their wedding was in 1926, and here I am, writing in the same book.
’It was only when I was reading back through it that I realised what a wealth of history is connected between my family and the Bride chapel. My Nanna was the musical director of the Sunday school at the start of the book, and it writes about how she went off to find a piano.
’In the middle of it, my mother was also the musical director, and had to find a new piano, and now I’m the musical director and, funnily enough, I also had to find a piano not so long ago. Its funny how these things repeat themselves.
’I suppose we are the same sort of people. I’m a teacher, and my Nanna was a teacher, although she had to give it up when she became a farmer’s wife.
Childhood illness meant that Joan, a bright and clever child, was unable to go to Grammar School, so instead became a farm labourer with her husband, Norman Kaighin, Dylis’ father.
’We have always been a very musical family and I’ve based a lot of it around Bride chapel and school,’ she said.
’One of the songs featured is based on a poem written by my mother, a parody on the poem ’if’, that tells about how hard life was as a farm wife.
’Its really a celebration of the times and of how hard life was around then, as well as a tribute to my mum who had to give up school work and become a farm worker, but who made the best of whatever came her way.’
’Ayres and Braces’ will be performed at the Peel Centenary Centre over two nights, on Friday, 25 and Saturday 26, February,from 8pm, and tickets are £10, available from Celtic Gold, Shakti Mann, G.H.Corlett’s, in Douglas, and Thompson Travel in Port Erin, and online from peelcentenarycentre.com
The play is supported by Culture Vannin.