Hear Us
Malcolm Lowry's connection with the Isle of Man began with family holidays on the Island. We are extremely grateful to members of the Lowry family for allowing us to share the photographs reproduced below, from the summer of 1920, when Malcolm turned eleven. The photos show Malcolm with his father, Arthur, in a sailing boat; Malcolm with his older brother Russell at the entrance to the Fort Anne Hotel in Douglas, where the family stayed; and other members of the family playing golf (a favourite family pastime).

Later in his life, when he and his second wife, Margerie Bonner, were living in a squatter’s shack on the shore at Dollarton, near Vancouver, they had as a neighbour a Manx boatbuilder named James (‘Jimmy’) Craige. It was Lowry’s friendship with Craige that rekindled his interest in, and sense of connection to the Isle of Man. He used the Manx fishermen’s hymn, Hear Us O Lord from Heaven Thy Dwelling Place, as the title and framing idea for the collection of short stories that he worked on during the late 1940s and right up to his death in 1957. One of the stories, Elephant and Colosseum, features a Manx protagonist, Kennish Drumgold Cosnahan, and is shot through with Cosnahan’s memories of the island, its people, and its natural beauty; in Rome, admiring the wildflowers rather than the ruins, he finds himself thinking wistfully of "Isle of Man wildflowers! Eryngo root in the north, samphire at St. Anne’s Head; pennyroyal in the marlpits at Ballaugh, and sea kale near Peel ..."

Meanwhile, in the long story The Forest Path to the Spring, Lowry’s tribute to the natural beauty of the forest and the tidal inlet at Dollarton, Jimmy Craige is immortalised in the semi-mythical figure of a Manx boatbuilder named Quaggan, "whose boat shed was large as a small church" and who acts as a kind of spiritual guide or father-figure to the shack-dwellers. "Sometimes when it was stormy", the narrator recalls, "we used to sit in his shack strewn with a litter-like neatness, with bradawls and hacksaws, frows and nailsets and driftbolts, and drink tea, or when we had any, whisky, and sing the old Manx fishermen’s hymn while the tempest howled across the inlet […] There is no hymn", he goes on, "like this great hymn sung to the tune of Peel Castle with its booming minor chords in which sounds all the savagery of the sea yet whose words of supplication make less an appeal to, than a poem of, God’s mercy."

Lowry was deeply aware, even in the 1950s, of the damage and destruction being caused to the natural environment by human exploitation and industrial development; the Isle of Man, and the figure of the Manx boatbuilder, appear in the stories as images of a more positive and sustainable relationship between humans and the environment, and suggest an abiding fondness for the place he had known as a boy.

Malcolm with his father Arthur Lowry boating on the Isle of Man.

Malcolm, left, with his brother Russell near their hotel on the Isle of Man.

Some of the Lowrys golfing on the Isle of Man.