RBV award for Stephen Miller

Fri, 07 Feb 2020


Stephen Miller’s scholarship and dedication to Manx folklore and culture over many decades are recognised in the award of the Reih Bleeaney Vanannan this year.

A dedicated researcher into Manx folklore, folksong, and folk dance, as well as the figures and collectors involved with the Celtic revival, Stephen’s time, energy and expertise working on precious archives in the Manx Museum and beyond for over forty years have resulted in an extremely impressive body of work in the field of Manx and Celtic Studies which he continues to share freely online, in print and in person.

An early adopter of technology, Stephen’s work has been made available to others on his Chiollagh Books website, by monthly contribution of his research to the Kiaull Manninagh Jiu Manx Music and Dance Newsletter, within the Ballaugh Heritage Trust newsletter, as well as through his own publications and public talks. He remains someone determined to tease remarkable stories relating to Manx cultural and social history out of the archives in order to bring life to some of the key characters who have shaped our Island, to understand what their focus was in terms of collecting, recording or promoting Manx culture, and to share his findings with other researchers.

Stephen grew up in the Island, attending Douglas High School for Boys, and went on to gain a BA in History and an MA in Folk Life Studies from the University of Leeds. Much of his working life was spent attached to various universities, and he has lectured on folklore and folk life. Most recently, his work has taken him to Austria, where he worked at the Austrian Academy of Sciences on the Austrian Academy Corpus as well as teaching at the University of Vienna.

In spite of being based away from the Island, he has been a frequent visitor, collecting oral history reminiscences from people during some trips, walking the hills during others, but, in the main, camping out in the national archives held by Manx National Heritage, painstakingly transcribing, collating and generally making sense of old letters, notebooks and other collected papers.

His interest in Manx folklore encouraged him to transcribe and re-print such important works as William Cashen’s Manx Folk-Lore and John Rhys’s Manx Folklore and Superstitions, keeping important texts accessible to new audiences. His transcriptions of letters and documents, his tracing of informants and collectors through census material, all of this work has helped a better understanding of the work of various waves of Manx antiquarian and cultural revival and interest.

2020 marks the 25th anniversary of Stephen’s Chiollagh Books website making it one of the longest running websites in the field of Celtic Studies. As well as works mentioned above, the series also includes reprints of Clague’s Manx Reminscences, Roeder’s Manx Notes & Queries, Skeealyn Cheeil-Chiollee: Manx Folk Tales, as well as two editions of Mona Douglas’ Collected Writings on Manx Folk Dance and Song. The Manx Notes series on the website now stands at an impressive 410 entries.

Stephen is interested in folklore and digitisation within an international context, too, and his research interests extend beyond the Isle of Man to include other figures in the Celtic Revival, as well as Scottish folklorists such as the Reverend Walter Gregor. His research has been published in national and international journals such as Béaloideas, Béascna, Folklore, Folk Music Journal, Isle of Man Studies, Northern Scotland, Proceedings of the Isle of Man Natural History and Antiquarian Society, Review of Scottish Culture, Studia Japonica Celtica, Zeitschrift für celtische Philologie, among others. Stephen has been invited to share his research at prestigious institutions such as Cecil Sharpe House in London.

Nominations for the award singled out his 2019 collaboration with Culture Vannin on the production of ‘a beautiful edition of Karl Roeder's Manx Notes & Queries, Ghosts, Bugganes & Fairy Pigs’, which they described as ‘his most sumptuous offering so far.’ ‘It's fascinating and addictive’, commented one proposer, ‘his knowledge of the material is acknowledged as second to none’, noted another.

Stephen was presented with a medal and a cheque, and named Mooinjer Veggey as his chosen Manx cultural cause for the additional donation. For the first time, a certificate designed by Julia Ashby-Smyth was also presented, depicting Manannan with his flowing cloak, staff, and Eric Austwick-inspired headdress, mirroring the design of the trophy beautifully.

The selection panel, comprising representatives from Yn Cheshaght Ghailckagh, Yn Chruinnaght, Manx National Heritage, IOM Arts Council and Culture Vannin, was delighted to name Stephen Miller ‘Manannan’s Choice of the Year’ in recognition of his research into Manx folklore, music and dance and its collection. Without his research and, most importantly, his generosity in sharing what he finds, Manx Studies and Manx culture would not be the same today.