Keeill number four.
With kind permission from the landowners.
The remains of Keeill Lingan sits in a beautiful setting in the grounds of the newly built Ballingan House just before Ballacotch Lane in Marown. From the name of the farm ‘Ballingan’, it is thought that the keeill may have been dedicated to either St. Fingan, Finnian, Lingan or Ninnian.
This area of the Island has a number of Celtic Christian sites in close proximity to each other; the keeill at Ballaquinnea is just a few fields away down the Glen Darragh Road and the church of St. Runius nearby is also thought to have been built on an ancient chapel site. There were two further keeills to the west at Ballachrink but sadly these were ploughed in to the ground over one hundred years ago although we did visit their locations out of curiosity. Of course we don’t know that these chapels were all in use at the same time.
Near to Keeill Lingan are the remains of a Norse farmstead (visible on the 1869 O.S. above) thought to have been built on a stone circle site and used from the time of the Iron Age or even earlier and is known as the ‘Braaid Circle’, this is a beautiful and interesting site. The Braaid Circle has public access from a footpath opposite a layby on the road from the Braaid to the Cooill and is well worth a visit.
Also in the locality is ‘St. Patrick’s Chair’, a number of standing stones that show simple Christian crosses carved in to them although the stones themselves are thought to pre-date Christianity from possibly prehistoric times. It is not known what the stones were used for, whether marking burial sites or a meeting place, there is local legend that Saint Patrick himself sat there but this is thought to be unlikely, in fact it can’t be proven that Patrick himself even visited the Island. This site has public access from a footpath on the road from The Garth to St. Runius.
There is a lot to be seen in this area not far out from the busy roads of Douglas but for me, the most lovely site is Keeill Lingan itself.
What an absolute pleasure it was to wend our way down the field to this little early medieval chapel on a sunny day in March. Sitting in a valley with a bank surrounding it, the whole area is fenced off from the rest of the field and is thought to be built on a Bronze Age site. As we entered the enclosure we could feel the peace of this place, it felt a real privilege to be there. The keeill is mentioned by J. Oliver in his ‘Antiquitates Manniae’ (1860-62) who called it ‘one of the best specimens existing of our insular keeills’:
‘The annexed view of the ruins of St. Lingan’s Treen Keeill and enclosure, Marown, will give the reader a correct idea of one of these old places of worship. It is situated on the Ballingan estate adjoining Ballaquinney, about a mile and a quarter from the Peel Road, and is one of the best specimens existing of our insular keeills. The enclosure in which stands the keeill is one hundred and eight feet long by sixty-three feet broad, ovicular in form, and in an excellent state of preservation. This is the necropolis of the church. In the south east part lies St. Lingan’s. The portion of the walls remaining measure four feet high by three feet thick, but the masonry is of a much superior description than is usual in keeills of the sod and stone formation. In the west end there has once been a window, but it is now entirely destroyed by visitors using it as a short cut into the church. The doom-way is in the south east angle, and formed by two inclining monolithic jambs supported by rubble stonework, so regular as to have the appearance of ashlar masonry.
In the north-east angle of the church, deeply embedded in the ground, lies the font. It measures one foot eleven inches long, by ten and a half inches broad. The interior walling of the west end is concave, and gives it the appearance of a couched semi-circular absis. It is, however, nothing more than irregular masonry producing this effect. The gentleman*[J. J. Carran, Esq.] who owns the property, with a laudable motive, has planted the enclosure with trees to protect it from injury. An example we should wish to see more followed.’
Keeil Lingan was also visited by ‘The Archaeological Commission’ in 1877 who called it ‘one of the best specimens’ and found it ‘in an excellent state of preservation’, they also mentioned the font lying inside the keeill.
Seeing just the foundations of these small buildings, it can be difficult to visualise them as once sacred spaces and to imagine the culdees or hermits preaching from them over 1000 years ago, a life that would very likely have been isolated and hard. Most of the chapels are so old that they predate modern folklore and because of this it can be hard to make a personal connection with them, certainly at the start I found this to be the case.
Keeill Lingan was surveyed for the First Report of the Manx Archaeological Survey around 1908, they found it sitting in an almost rectangular enclosure with the usual bank outside just about traceable three feet from the walls. The keeill was measured at 13ft. by 9ft. 6ins with the doorway sitting in an unusual position at the east end of the south wall. The threshold is crossed by a step that is 9 inches high. The walls were faced with unhewn stone against a bank of earth and stones and stood around 4ft. high from the floor level, the same height that Oliver had found at the time of his visit.
There was no trace of an altar or a paved floor by the early twentieth century or at least no paving was visible through the grass. The enclosure measured 90ft. north and south by 70ft. east and west and was found to be artificially raised to a level, the surrounding embankment was made of earth and stones. From a drawing made for ‘Archaeologia Cambrensis’ in 1866, we can see how the keeill and enclosure looked 150 years ago:
A hollowed stone called a ‘font’ but thought to be too shallow to have been used as one, was found inside the keeill.
From graves that they found under the keeill and below the foundations and also from the remains of cinerary urns, they were able to ascertain that the site had been a Bronze Age cemetery before it was converted to a Christian use as has been found to be the case at many of the sites. It seems that the Celtic Christians were reluctant to turn their back on the sacred sites and burial grounds of their ancestors and built their churches on top of these sites, giving a tradition of worship in the same spot for possibly thousands of years.
The keeill and enclosure are in the care of the Manx Museum and National Trust and were fenced in 1939 which has much to do with its excellent condition, they are also doing a great job at cutting the grass down which was good to see.
From reading the survey and looking at the site in 2016, I think it stands in pretty much the same state as it was 100 years ago which is great to find. The font was still in the keeill in 1953 when it was mentioned in a description of a visit to the keeill by the Isle of Man Natural History and Antiquarian Society, however, we didn’t see it at the time of our visit, it may well now be in the care of the Manx Museum as many are.
This was a place steeped in history and felt particularly special, it is definitely one of the ‘thin places’. If I had to pick a personal favourite out of all the keeills we have visited, it would be this one.
Keeill Lingan was a place for reflection. And cake.
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.