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The Oldest Parliament in the World


There are quite a number of contenders for the title "Oldest Parliament in the World", but the Manx parliament on the Isle of Man is the longest continuously operated one. Known as the Tynwald it was founded in 979 and is of Norse origin as the Isle of Man was under Nordic rule at that time.

The Tynwald is older even than the Parliament of England (which dates back to 1066AD when William of Normandy sought advice from his tenants-in-chief and church leaders before passing laws. This of course was superseded by the British Parliament in 1801.) Although the Icelandic Althing Parliament is older, dating back to 930AD, it has not been in continuous operation.

Tynwald Hill (c) AboutBritain.com
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Tynwald Day Celebrations

The Manx Parliament has two branches which sit separately to consider new laws: the Legislative Council and the House of Keys. They normally sit in the Legislative Buildings on Finch Road in Douglas, the capital of the Isle of Man, but on Tynwald Day an open air session is held on Tynwald Hill in St John's.

Old House of Keys (c) AboutBritain.com
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This historic event is usually held on 5th July, but if it falls on the weekend, Tynwald Day is held the following Monday. It has become the National Day on the Isle of Man.

This once-a-year gathering is also known as the Midsummer Court and was first recorded in 1417. It was originally held on Midsummer's Day, June 24, immediately after the summer solstice.

Tynwald Hill (c) AboutBritain.com
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However, in 1753, the Isle of Man moved from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar, in line with Great Britain, and this required a shift of dates.

Members of both the Legislative Council and the House of Keys attend the ceremony which is presided over by the Lieutenant Governor of the island acting as the representative of the Lord of Mann. However, occasionally the Lord of Mann himself attends, or a member of the British Royal Family, in which case they head this historic ceremony.

The traditional Tynwald Day events begin when the parade of dignitaries gather to march along the processional route lined with flagpoles to St John's Chapel. The Lieutenant Governor arrives around 10.40am, receives the Royal Salute and inspects the Guard of Honour. He is preceded in the parade by a sword-bearer in a red uniform who carries the official 15th century Sword of State. A wreath is laid at the National War Memorial before the official service begins at 11am.

St Johns Church (c) AboutBritain.com
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The solemn ceremony then continues outdoors at the artificial mound known as Tynwald Hill. All the laws passed during the year in Douglas are read out, officials are sworn in and petitions are submitted. The officials then return to the church for the final sitting.

Once the serious business is over, the Tynwald Day festivities begin in earnest with a fair and side stalls on the historic site. Typical entertainment includes the Grand Manx Dance, Dog Agility Trials, circus performers entertaining and community arts projects.

Marquees house photographs and exhibits of Old Manx and later in the day there are musical concerts and a lively Ceilidh. The event draws to a close with fireworks lighting up the sky.

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