Keeill number one.
With kind permission from Mrs Osborne.
There are eight known keeill sites in the Parish of Marown which is the first parish to have been surveyed by the Manx Archaeological Survey team around 1908/09. Out of the eight, only five have visible remains in 2016 and one of these is Keeill Pherick at Ballafreer which is believed to date from the seventh century and is dedicated to St. Patrick. Keeill Pherick sits nearby to three other keeills; Cabbal Druiaght at Glenlough, Keeill Vreeshey at Eyreton and Camlork Keeill, two of which have public access agreements.
It is said that St. Patrick visited the Island on his journey to Ireland and the tradition is that he visited Marown and Ballafreer itself. There is good reason to believe that he may well have spent time on the Isle of Man in his journey of spreading the news of Christianity as the connection is mentioned in many ancient documents and much folk lore still exists to support it on the Island. I found this piece of folklore in the excellent book, ‘Island Heritage. Dealing with some phases of Manx history’, William Cubbon (1952):
Not far from the ancient Keeill Pherick, believed by Kermode to be of the seventh century, is a huge flat-surfaced stone called Lhiabbee Pherick, or ‘ Saint Patrick’s Bed.’ It is the Kewley family tradition that Saint Patrick, being sorry that he had shown his passion, repented. That night, therefore, he passed his time recumbent on this slab, with another stone for his pillow. This ‘pillow,’ a white quartz boulder, is still near by.
I found out from Sam Hudson, who is wealth of knowledge on these ‘minor’ but fascinating antiquities, that not only was Lhiabbee Pherick still there but he had some photos he had taken that I could share with you, thanks Sam. I have since visited it myself and have been left wondering who carved the words in to the stone and whether it was to attract visitors or to preserve the folklore for the future. The third photo is taken from the imuseum.
‘Chibbyr Pherick’, sits close by ‘St. Patrick’s Bed’ and it was the custom at Ballafreer to cleanse the butter with the water from this well which is looking a little neglected in 2016.
We visited this keeill in February when the daffodils were just shoots and we agreed that we would have to come back when they were in flower as it would be so beautiful.
This keeill was in a rather lovely setting, in a little close between two fields and entered by an iron gate. The keeill sits at the far end of a little orchard with fruit trees (according to a friend who grew up nearby as a child and played there and enjoyed the plums!).
Mr Thomas Clucas, a member of the well known Clucas family of Ballafreer who were renowned bonesetters and who farmed Ballafreer for many years, sadly took his own life in 1890 and the family took the decision to bury him next to the Keeill. In those days he wasn’t able to be buried in consecrated ground and I can imagine that to the family this was the next best thing. His parents also seem to be buried there as they are named on the gravestone but I haven’t been able to find out more about that, perhaps they loved this beautiful little chapel too.
As Nicola and I sat and enjoyed the peaceful surroundings and William, my two year old, clambered around the trees, we both thought how Mr Thomas Clucas got the best deal, the setting at Ballafreer is a tremendous place to spend the rest of your days, far nicer than your standard church yard.
However, because of this burial, the family decided not to allow the keeill to be part of the archaeological surveys that took place at the start of the 20th Century and this has meant there isn’t much information about the structure of the keeill itself other than what Kermode could see from its outside appearance:
KEEILL PHERICK. — The Ordnance Sheet, XIII, 2, (1333), shows the position of Keeill Pherick on Ballafreer, some 260 ft. above sea level. We were denied permission to examine it by removing the growth and accumulated rubbish, and were, therefore, unable to take accurate measurements, or to ascertain the nature of the building, or whether it had remains of pavement or altar, or traces of any windows. So far as could be judged as it lay hidden under the sod, it appeared to measure about 15 ft. 3 in. by 8 ft. 10 in., and to have the doorway in the west gable. Inside was a large stone with shallow basin, said to be a font.
The keeill is in a small plantation called the ” Orchard,” a part of the present hedge of which is evidently that of the original embankment of the cemetery. In former times, until about 50 years ago, the vicar of Marown read prayers in the chapel on Ascension day. Vicar Duggan, 1840 to 1862, appears to have been the last to have done so. In connection with it, a story is told of S. Patrick, that when the saint was passing through the field, his foot was torn by a briar, whereupon he declared that the field should never yield fruit to deprive men of their senses ; and for this reason, we were told, it is always kept under pasture. Y. L. M., III, p. 433.
It was good to see that the hollowed out stone that is mentioned above is still sitting in the keeill itself in 2016. This is an interesting site that has been protected by its location. There are some that say that the rough and ready methods of excavation employed by Kermode and his team did much damage to the keeill foundations so it could be that the owner at the time did the keeill a favour by not allowing it to be disturbed.
Truly a hidden place and a special one at that.
And there, where lowing kine now meekly browse
O’er that old pasturage, St. Patrick stray’d.
With pious mission charg’d to Trolaby —
Sweet Ballafreer ! ev’n to thy hallow’d shades
St. Patrick came. Alas ! that even saint
Walks not this world unpierced of its thorns !
That brambles should deform a saintly toe !
Yea, even Patrick’s toe an envious thorn
Pierced most malignantly, and drew the blood
The gen’rous blood, from Patrick’s honest heart.
Please be aware that these sites are, unless noted as being otherwise, on private land and can only be accessed with permission from the landowner.