The anthem is sung to an adaptation of the traditional Manx melody of Mylecharaine, which had been described as the 'Manx national melody' long before Gill's composition. The words that accompanied the melody date to around 1800 and concern the impoverishment of a father in order to pay a dowry. However, those curious words have been identified as disparate pieces of older songs amalgamated together incompletely. The first verse of the song is: O Vylecharaine, c'raad hooar oo dty stoyr? / Nagh dooar mee 'sy Churragh eh dowin, dowin dy liooar? / My lomarcan daag oo mee (O Mylecharaine, where did you get your store? / Did I not get it in the Curragh, deep, deep enough? / Alone you left me).
First performed at the Manx Music Festival on Thursday 21 March 1907, there are eight verses in total, but the first verse is usually sung. The anthem was given official status by the Isle of Man's legislature Tynwald at a sitting on 22 January 2003, with God Save the Queen, being designated as the Royal Anthem. The National Anthem is used on official and ceremonial occasions and in schools, the Royal Anthem is normally reserved for use additionally on those occasions when the Sovereign, members of the Royal Family or the Lieutenant Governor are present.
The song Ellan Vannin had up to this point vied to be an equal unofficial national anthem.