Keeill number six.
With kind permission from Mrs A. Cain, Renshent.
This very early keeill has no known dedication although the name Renshent comes from Rheynn sheaynt, the Manx Gaelic for ‘blest division’, and was originally part of the ‘Abbey Lands’. The Keeill sits in landscaped grounds and looks picturesque with its unusual covering of heather, the standard shape is obvious but we couldn’t see any of the stones as the plant cover was so thick.
I found this newspaper extract from the Manx Sun in 1877 describing a visit to Renshent Keeill by commissioners who had been tasked with reporting to his Excellency the Lieutenant Governor on the ancient monuments of the Island, they were a bit more floral in their descriptive language than we’re used to in 2016! The setting and keeill are still very attractive so I assumed from this article that perhaps the structure had remained unchanged in the intervening years:
This was until I read the section on Renshent in the Sixth Report of the Manx Archaeological Survey. The Sixth Report was a much later edition published in 1966 where Mr J.R.Bruce reported on the keeills and burial grounds in the Sheading of Rushen in relation to what P.M.C. Kermode and his team found fifty years earlier. Many thanks to Sam Hudson for lending me his copy, it makes for fascinating reading.
The survey reported that in 1870 O.S. map, the site is marked as ‘Chapel and Burial Ground (Ruins of)’ and the building is shown along with a surrounding bank, around 50 yards in diameter. However, in the 1957 edition, the bank is no longer shown and it is simply described as ‘Chapel’. Bruce laments the damage suffered by the chapel over the years:
For many years no protection seems to have been afforded to this monument, nor any examination undertaken, and at a meeting of N.H.A.S, in December 1916 (Proc. N.H.A.S., II, No.2, p.95) attention was drawn to ‘grievous damage’ suffered by the keeill during the year. The nature and extent of this damage is recorded by P.M.C. Kermode (in a personal letter to Wm. Cubbon, dated 18th August 1917) – ‘Renshent Keeill has been stripped entirely of its stones. As often the case, the earth mound does not give the lines of the building. The west end is entirely gone.’ He was apparently able, however, to make some examination of the mutilated remains, clearing the foundations of the E., N. and S. walls, and noted that some floor pavement and an indication of the altar remained.
In 1935, a further clearance of the site, together with the erection of a post and wire fence around the actual keeill remains, was carried out by the Inspector of Ancient Monuments, Mr. G. J. H. Neely (30th Rept. Manx Museum Trustees, 1935, p.16). The Inspector also reported at this time (Manx Register of Ancient Monuments) ‘that the interior of the keeill showed signs of former excavation – though no record of such has been traced’. The owner of the site was then stated to be Owen Williams, of Bala, North Wales, and the occupier, J. Shimmin.
J. R. Bruce wrote of his findings when he visited the site himself in the early 1960’s, he described the appearance of the keeill to date from the ‘clearing and partial reconstruction’ in 1935, when stones and floor material were used to rebuild the walls and to replace the stones that had been ‘robbed’. In 2016 it is hard to see any stonewor whatseoever, but in the 1960’s, between one and three courses were visible, internally faced with rough blocks of granite and quartzite.
Above the layers of stone, earth had been piled which raised the total height of the walls to between 3 and 4.5ft. above the floor level. No stones were visible in the west end, Bruce thought that an opening to the north of the mid point in the west wall may have been the position of the original doorway but no door jambs remained, he found the building to measure 18 by 9ft. internally.
The altar foundations that had been mentioned by Kermode in 1917 were no longer visible and no trace of the burial ground was visible, the farmer had never ploughed up any graves in the area.
So there you are, fascinating stuff. If you visited this pretty little keeill today above the river and read the newspaper article from 1877, you would think you were looking at the same scene but actually in the intervening years an awful lot of changes have taken place.
However, despite these, Renshent still remains ‘exceedingly beautiful and interesting’, just as the committee found it almost 140 years ago.