Our capital town is Douglas, the seat of the Manx Government and main centre of population. Other major settlements are Onchan, Ramsey, Peel, Port Erin, Castletown and Port St Mary. New housing in estates and village outskirts is gradually changing the traditional look of the Island but there is still plenty of 'green' space and quiet, unspoilt countryside.
Just off the southern tip of the Island lies a two square kilometer islet called the Calf of Man, an official Bird Sanctuary which is owned by the Manx National Trust. The Calf's only year-round resident is a warden but it is open to public visits during the summer.
The Isle of Man is part of the British Isles but not the United Kingdom. It is a Crown Dependency, with its own parliament, Tynwald. Established by the Vikings, Tynwald is the oldest continuous parliament in Europe, having celebrated its own millennium in 1979. It is divided into two distinct parts: the Legislative Council and the House of Keys. The 24 publicly-elected Members of the House of Keys ('MHKs') are the island's equivalent of MPs, but due to the Isle of Man's unique political system, there are no party politics. The Queen is 'Lord of Mann', the island's constitutional head of state, represented by a resident Lieutenant Governor. The island is not a full member of the European Union; instead, it has associate status. This enables island traders to trade with the rest of the community but the island is not eligible for EU grants or liable for financial contributions.
Islanders are known as 'Manx' but classified (for passport purposes, for instance) as British. The Manx are one of the Celtic peoples (the rest being Scots, Irish, Welsh, Cornish and Breton). Roughly half the population is Manx-born, with the rest mostly coming from the UK, Scotland and Ireland, although an increasingly varied mix of nationalities are coming to the Isle of Man to work in its finance and service industries.
Gaelic meets English
English is the first language of modern Manx people but the old language is Manx Gaelic, which is closely related to Scots and Irish Gaelic but distinct from both. There are no longer any native Manx speakers on the island but the language has been kept alive by a growing number of scholars and enthusiasts. There are now Manx Gaelic nursery and primary schools and children can continue to study Manx at secondary school. Government departments use both Manx and English on all documentation and official signage such as street and town names are also dual-language.
The Isle of Man economy has experienced steady growth since the 1970s due to a combination of low taxation, political and fiscal stability, investment in infrastructure and Government initiatives to stimulate economic activity. Unemployment is low and quality of life is above average as a result. The island's finance sector is now its largest employer, followed by the manufacturing industry, although traditional sectors such as agriculture still play a significant role. The island has earned 'AA+' status and has won a reputation as a international finance centre and the Government continues to promote the island as an ideal platform for business.
The island typically enjoys British weather tempered by the effects of the Gulf Stream that runs through the surrounding Irish Sea. Exposure to sea breezes keeps average summer temperatures in the early to mid 20s (Centigrade), while winters tend to hover around 9 degrees and snow sometimes strikes in late February/early March. The thick sea fog that occasionally smothers the island's lowland areas is known as 'Manannan's Cloak', a reference to the island's ancient sea god swathing his kingdom in mist to protect it from unwanted visitors.
The Isle of Man's unique status is represented by a number of national differences and distinctions.
Flag - The Manx flag consists of three jointed, armoured legs on a red background. The three legs symbol or 'triskelion', thought to be derived from an ancient pagan sun sign is also, in a different variation, the national symbol of Sicily. On the island, it was first officially used in the 14th Century on the Manx Sword of State.
Motto - The Latin 'Quocunque Jeceris Stabit', which appears with the Three Legs, on Manx currency and the Government crest, means 'whichever way you throw me, I stand' and testifies to the resilient spirit and independence of the Manx. One story attributes this motto to the island's pagan sea god, Manannan, who turned himself at will into the 'Three Legs'; in some versions, this was his final act of defiance against the missionary St Patrick.
Anthem - The Manx National Anthem was written (in English) by W H Gill to an adapted Manx tune and dedicated to the Lieutenant Governor Lord Raglan's wife in 1907. It has eight verses but in most cases only the first is sung:
O Land of our Birth
O gem of God's earth
O Island so strong and so fair;
Built firm as Barrule,
Thy throne of home rule,
Makes us free as our sweet mountain air
Day - 'Tynwald Day', the Manx national day and a public holiday, is 5th July. On this day, there is a special ceremony held on the parliament's historic outdoor site at St Johns. The island's politicians and dignitaries assemble on Tynwald Hill - a grassy four-tiered hill - and the laws are read out in English and Manx.
Flower - Unofficially, the Manx national flower is the yellow cushag or ragwort, which blooms in late summer. For many, gorse and heather - found in abundance on the hedgerows and hills - are most representative of the Manx countryside.
Tartan - The island has its own tartan, whose colours each symbolise a different facet of the Manx landscape: blue for the sky, purple for the heather, yellow for the gorse, green for the hills and white for the traditional whitewashed crofts.
Animals - According to legend, St Patrick banished toads and snakes from the island upon his arrival, and you won't find any to this day. British mammals which are notable by their absence from the Isle of Man include voles, badgers, squirrels and foxes. By way of compensation, we can claim two particularly unusual four-legged inhabitants. One is the famous Manx cat, which is tailless and has longer hind legs than most other breeds. The other is the Manx Loaghtan sheep, which has four horns and a rich brown fleece and is thought to have been introduced by the Vikings.
Currency - Sterling - but the island prints its own notes and coins which are not acceptable in the UK, although Pounds Sterling are accepted on the island.