Following the death of Mrs. Sage Kinvig (ca. 1870–1962), Maddrell was the only remaining person who could claim to have spoken Manx Gaelic from childhood (according to one source, Maddrell had some knowledge of English before he learned Manx, and learned Manx from his great-aunt), although at the time some other people spoke it as a second language, having learned it later in life.
Maddrell recorded some of his speech for the sake of linguistic preservation; for example, in 1948 he recorded the following about fishing (in Manx, with the English translation):
- Dooyrt "Ballooilley" rish:
- "Ballooilley" said to him:
- "Vel ny partanyn snaue, Joe?"
- "Are the crabs crawling, Joe?"
- "Cha nel monney, cha nel monney," dooyrt Joe. "T'ad feer ghoan."
- "Not much, not much," said Joe. "They're very scarce."
A newspaper article about the decline of Manx from about 1960 (Maddrell's age was given as 82) mentions and quotes him, since at the time he was, along with Kinvig, one of only two native speakers:
Ned Maddrell, who went to sea at 13, found he was able to keep his Manx "alive" by talking to Gaelic-speaking sailors on British ships. He was brought up in the remote village of Cregneash, where "unless you had the Manx you were a deaf and dumb man and no good to anybody." This was not the case in the towns. "Nobody there wanted to talk Manx, even those who had it well. They were ashamed, like. 'It will never earn a penny for you,' they said." Ned is a sprightly old man, a trifle deaf but very proud of his role as one of the last native speakers. "They have tape recordings of me telling legends and stories in Manx," he said, "in Ireland and in America and in places you never heard of."
In contrast to some other native speakers, Maddrell appears to have enjoyed his minor celebrity status, and was very willing to teach younger language revivalists such as Leslie Quirk and Brian Stowell. When Irish Taoiseach Éamon de Valera visited the island he called upon Ned personally. De Valera had been angered some years before at the inaction of the British and Manx governments over the demise of the language, and had sent over a team from the Irish Folklore Commission with a sound recording van to preserve what was left.
- Language Decline and Language Revival in the Isle of Man: Ned Maddrell Memorial Lecture, November 28, 1996.
- Manx Language Samples (with audio): "Are the Crabs Crawling?"
- "Newspaper clipping from the 1950s", quoted in a Usenet post from September 2, 1993.