Hop tu Naa, put in the pot!

Thu, 17 Oct 2019

In the tenth in our series of articles about Manx folklore and calendar customs, this piece looks at one of the most controversial things in the Manx year - what is the real Hop tu Naa song? This was recently published in the Manx Independent:


Hop tu Naa, put in the pot!

“Jinny the witch flew over the house, to fetch a stick to lather the mouse…” or did she?

As the end of October looms, people all over the Isle of Man will soon start discussing what the ‘true’ Hop tu Naa song is.

Is it your mother who’s gone away? How did get Jinny get over the house? And was it even Jinny?

There’s a lot we can learn from looking at the song, like where the evening’s name comes from.

Some of the earliest versions, from the 1840s, begin “Noght Oie Houney” – “Tonight is Houney/Hollantide Eve.” This ‘Hollantide Eve’ name for the evening remained through to the mid-twentieth century, when it was displaced by ‘Hop tu Naa.’

Of course, this name comes from the song’s refrain – “it’s Hop tu Naa (singing) night!”

In fact, one set of the words dating back perhaps 200 years speaks of, ‘Tonight is New Year’s night.’ This supports the theory that ‘Hop tu Naa’ relates to ‘Hogmanay,’ Scottish New Year’s Eve. The thought is that in pre-Christian times the year was measured from November to October. So, 31 October was indeed ‘New Year’s Night.’

Scholars might debate this, but one thing beyond doubt will surprise many: Jinny the Witch is relatively a recent addition.

Versions of the song were recorded for decades before Jinny arrived, and even then – in the 1890s – she was ‘Jenny Swinny’ or ‘Jinny Squinney.’ It was only in the 1950s that she emerged at last as a witch.

Admittedly, Jinny appears to be witch-like in going over the house. But one of the earliest versions of this comes from T. E. Brown in the 1890s:

Jinny Squinney went over the wall, to get a rod to beat the foal,
Jinny Squinney went over the house, to get a rod to beat the mouse,
Jinny Squinney went up to the claddagh, to get an apron full of barragh.

The more you look into it, things don’t clarify; they are confused – crazy cats appear, Jinny begins to eat horses and dogs, gool ringers and fingers turn up.

In fact, there never has been a single ‘true’ Hop tu Naa song. There is a riot of change and difference all the way back. If one version of the song were ever to become the ‘correct’ version, something would be wrong!

So, it’s right that we should disagree about the ‘true’ words for our Hop tu Naa songs each year.

Let’s sing, but let’s not sing in unison. Let’s celebrate our glorious difference!

More information about the song and other aspects of Hop tu Naa is available courtesy of Stephen Miller on the Culture Vannin website.


The article is available to be enjoyed on the Isle of Man Newspapers' website.
More about the folklore and customs of the Isle of Man can be found amongst our Manx Year pages.