History and Features of Port Erin
The name ‘Port Erin’ may mean Irish Port or possibly Iron Port or Lord’s Port. The village grew up around the shore of the lovely horseshoe-shaped bay. The town is famed for its views including spectacular sunsets over Port Erin Bay and Bradda Head as well as frequent glimpses of the Mountains of Mourne in Northern Ireland in the distance.
Port Erin Bay provided some shelter, an easy landing place and fresh water for fishermen. When Christianity came to the Isle of Man an early chapel or keeill site was built on the shore near a fresh-water spring dedicated and both were dedicated to St Catherine. The keeill has long eroded away, but St Catherine’s Well can still be found and the nearby St Catherine’s Church continues to carry her name.
The outer breakwater, visible at low tide only, was an abandoned project constructed in 1863 using the Port Erin Breakwater Railway and saw the first steam locomotive used on the Isle of Man. A severe storm of 1884 later destroyed the breakwater and it was never rebuilt. Today, a marker buoy shows the extent of the breakwater and the land end is still clearly discernible. To the north-east, by the A7 road, are the earthwork remains of a motte and bailey castle known as Cronk Howe Mooar or Fairy Hill, possibly the site of a timber fortification built by Magnus Barelegs [Barefoot] c1100.
The beach is sandy and is bounded by two headlands which funnel the prevailing westerly wind towards the village. One, Bradda Head, has a memorial tower built in 1871 and called Milner’s Tower. William Milner owned an internationally famous safe-making firm, settled in Port Erin and was a great benefactor to the poor. The Promenade, which is somewhat higher than the seafront, primarily consists of hotels – mostly built in Victorian times. During World War 2, these hotels and other guest houses formed the core of an internment camp for ‘enemy aliens’. After the war the buildings reverted to holiday accommodation, but due to more recent changes in taste among tourists, many of these are being converted into flats and apartments.
In 1874 the steam railway came to Port Erin and provided a link through Port St Mary and Castletown to Douglas. This enabled those arriving on holiday in Douglas to have a much easier and faster direct journey to the family resort of Port Erin. Even now the red brick railway station, the steam railway and the railway museum are major parts of village life.