Keeill number seventeen.

With kind permission from Dave Martin, Knock-e-Dhooney.

On a beautiful May evening, we headed up to Knock-e-Dhooney in Andreas to meet Dave Martin who had kindly agreed to show us around the Knock-e-Dhooney Keeill.  The Martin family have been at Knock-e-Dhooney since at least 1450 and it was wonderful to have a guide who knew so much about the keeill and the surrounding area.  This is the only keeill with existing visible remains in the Parish of Andreas.

 The chapel is thought to be very early, perhaps as early as 400 – 600 AD and sits in the middle of a field next to the farmhouse.  It has been well maintained and fenced and is under the guardianship of the Manx Museum and National Trust who cut the grass inside and keep the fence in good order.  The keeill walls are fairly high, internally there seems to be a fair amount of infill raising the height of the floor, perhaps it is tumble from the upper sod part of the walls or the detritus from the excavation.  We sat down in the keeill with some delicious orange cake and Dave told us a bit more about the history of this area.

Dave Martin sampling keeills and cake.
Dave pointed out that to modern eyes it is an unusual choice of site for a keeill as it is very exposed with no shelter, there’s no water nearby and it’s not very visible, there are plenty of other sites nearby that would have been more obvious choices.  Dave Martin is very interested in LiDAR which is a form of digital surveying that uses lasers to map areas in great detail.  Using this, he was able to show us how the keeill was actually only visible from very small areas of the north of the Island, unlike the site of the Viking boat burial close by that is very widely visible.  It would seem that the emphasis is on it being more important as a place of worship for the locals and not on it being seen from afar as a form of outreach.
Dr Larch Garrad said that at the time period when all the keeills were in use, there were far fewer trees and each keeill was in the sightline of another, it would be fascinating if this could be proven – digital archaeology may have the answers!
It has also been suggested that this keeill was perhaps the pilgrims’ last holy place to call at before sailing over to the Abbey at Whithorn but it is unlikely that this will ever be anything more than speculation.
The walls of the keeill in 2016 are very thick, 3-4ft wide in places and some of the stones are very large and not found locally, they must have been dropped by the ice-age glaciers.  Some of the stones appear to have been tidied up and there were also socket stones made for a door so it is a complex structure for the time and would certainly be a job for more than one person, it seems to have been a community effort.
Although Knock-e-Dhooney was surveyed by P. M. C. Kermode for the third report in 1909, the survey was restricted to the keeill itself and not the surrounding area.  This is what generally happened in the Manx Archaeolgical Survey due to time constraints and financial limitations.  In 1945/46 when digging a pipe to bring water to the farm, human remains were found quite far away from the keeill at the far side of the field, they were not examined and were reinterred under the pipe.  They would seem to have been far outside the chapel boundary although it could be that these may have been a separate burial from a different time period or one that was specifically outside of the ‘consecrated area’.  In the Sixth Report of the Manx Archaeological Survey (1968), Mr J. R. Bruce writes that:
… where the keeills had no successors, and their burial sites reverted to agricultural land, it was not unnatural for the farmer to demur at the use of his land for burial, especially as there was a belief, devoid of legal warranty, that a path once used by a funeral party became a right of way, but this did not prevent the occasional use of a field border for clandestine burial, protected by a few slabs of stone, as several instances have revealed.  In Arbory Parish, I have been credibly informed by an old farmer that, in his grandfather’s day, it was not unknown for the burial party, intent on a ‘keeill burial’, to perform their task at any available point ‘from which they could see the old place’. 
This is very interesting but possibly not relevant to the Knock-e-Dhooney field burials as these lie even closer to the farm house than the keeill itself.
To look at the wider context, Prof. Mark Noel and Dave have embarked on a geophysical survey of the area around the keeill and this is already revealing hints of now invisible long term occupation (their surveys are fuelled by Eccles Cakes rather than home baking though!).
Plan of keeill taken from Manx Archaeological Survey.

Kermode excavated the keeill at Knock-y-Dhooney for the Third Report of the Manx Archaeological Survey (1911) and found it to measure about 17ft. by 11ft. with walls that were between 3ft. 3ins. and 4ft. 6ins. in width and built of shore boulders, mainly granite, the boulders on the lower course were good size and well fitted.  The inner and outer face of stone were packed with sand and rubble.

A large stone was found, almost 38 ins. long by 27 in. high and between 10 and 14 in. thick, this stone stretched from the south corner to the doorway in the west wall which was 5ft. 2 in. wide.  The walls were between 2ft. 6in. and 3ft. in height and the familiar embankment of earth and stone was visible outside.  The survey team found rebates in the wall in which the door would have been set and two worn socket stones were also found.  There was a pavement slab from which was a drop of 3in. to a cobble pavement in the narrow part of the doorway.

They found the remains of the altar against the east wall, this was made up of a large slab, plain and undressed and measuring 2 ft. 9in. long by 15 to 20in. wide and around 3in. thick.  This was neatly fitted in to an upright slab on the south side although the front and north side slabs were gone.  This was the first altar to be found with its covering slab still in position at the top and showed that the overall height was only 24in.  Kermode suggested it was possible that a portable altar may have been brought by the priest to sit on top of this stone but even then it wouldn’t be very high.  The two photographs below show the altar as we found it in 2016 and at the time of the excavation by Kermode in the early twentieth century.


In the excavation, they also found a large number of white shore pebbles and several worked flints, the floor paving had long gone with the exception of a small area at the doorway and around the altar.

With the rough and ready way of excavating, it was lucky that Mr. Martin the landowner, noticed a boulder with a plain Latin cross carved in to it, amongst the loose stones ‘thrown out of the keeill’.

The most important discovery made by the survey was a carved stone pillar with a bi-lingual inscription, three lines in Latin on one face and a Celtic inscription in Ogam characters along the edge.  The Latin inscription reads:

(Ammecat son of Rocatus lies here).


The photographs (taken by Mr G. B. Cowen) show the two inscriptions on the stone (the Ogam inscription echoes the Latin) and were taken from the Third Report of the Archaeological Survey.  The stone which measured 5ft. 9in. by 17 to 10in. wide and between 8 to 10in. thick, is now in the care of the Manx Museum.
Dave Martin told us that P. M. C. Kermode when speaking to his grandparents, had told them that someone had told him that Ammecat was a Prince, son of an Irish King and that he had been killed when invading the Isle of Man.  This is a verbal source and to date Dave hasn’t been able to find written confirmation to back this up.  However, the stone was found facing downwards and Dave wonders whether his ancestors possibly turned the stone upside down as they didn’t want to desecrate a grave but also did not want to venerate an invader!  Having spent some time facing downwards, the inscription on the stone had been protected and was in much better condition that it would have been if it had been open to the elements.

As if the keeill wasn’t fascinating enough, there is also an impressive Viking boat burial on Knock-e-Dhooney.  It is interesting to think that although the keeill would have been in use when the Viking burial took place, the Vikings who were generally pagan did not destroy this Christian site and instead made the decision to bury their dead nearby and within sight of it.  This could be seen to be a sign of the Vikings accepting the Celtic Christianity of the locals, that there was no human sacrifices in the ship burial is another sign of the gradual change in beliefs and traditions that was taking place.

Dave had a Viking cloak pin that his father had found on the land, it was lovely to look at it close up, especially when sitting on the top of the burial mound!



So much history in one small area, such a privilege to share it!


Knock e Dhooney Keeill.
The view from the Viking burial mound looking over at the keeill and the farm house.
The view from the keeill.

On Saturday 8th October 2016, Dave Martin will be leading a guided tour of Knock e Dhooney Farm for the Isle of Man Natural History and Antiquarian Society as part of the MNH Open Weekend events, for more information check out their website or book your place on the tour by contacting

What are keeills?



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