Keeill number eighteen.
With kind permission from Alan Stott.
There is a public footpath running close to the Cabbal Dreem Ruy Keeill but it is on private land.
On an overcast afternoon in May, we wandered down the public footpath in Ronague to the keeill at Ballayelse. Imagine our delight when on entering the field, we were greeted by pygmy goats, donkeys, geese and miniature ponies. One particular bottle fed pygmy goat, ‘Juliette’, was extremely friendly and followed us round like a little puppy, the keeill itself is rather lovely but I do think that Juliette was the highlight of this trip for us!
Cabbal Dreem Ruy (Chapel of the Red Ridge) is a name that was only connected with this keeill when it was used by P. M. C. Kermode in a list of Manx antiquities in 1894. It is often known as the Ballayelse Keeill as it sits on Ballayelse Farm land, it has no known dedication. In the past journals of the IOMNHAS, I found a description of a visit to the keeill by the society in 1899:
The cars were in waiting at the Round Table, and, seats being resumed, the road was followed to Ballayelse. Here stands a good example of our ancient Keeils, almost all of which have unfortunately been allowed to fall so completely into ruin. It lies N.W. and S.E., and the internal measurement is 19 feet 6 inches by 10 feet 6 inches, the walls being from two feet nine inches to three feet thick. The inside height is six feet. An uncultivated space. around of five to six yards marks the ancient burial ground. A doorway appears to have been near the east end of the south wall; there is no trace of any window, nor were any signs of carving observed.
Eight years later in 1907, P. M. C. Kermode writes an article for the IOMNHAS on ‘An Introduction to the study of church buildings in the Isle of Man earlier than the eleventh century’, he mentions the keeill at Ballayelse:
‘The walls vary from 2 ft. 6 in. to about 5 ft. in thickness at the foundation. Ballayelse, in Arbory, is the only example remaining which shows their full height, and in that instance they stand 6 ft.’
Over 100 years later at our visit, the keeill is fenced off and appears well looked after, the structure seems comparatively good but the height is more like 3-4ft so we could see that there had been considerable deterioration over the past century. All the same, we thought it was picture perfect with its striking white stones and bluebells and very uniform appearance, we later found out why!
There are very large quartz boulders at each corner and scattered throughout the walls which gave it quite a distinctive quality, we hadn’t come across many with such a large amount of quartz. White stones are frequently found in large numbers when these sites are surveyed and their use can often be a sign of the keeill being built on an earlier Bronze Age site. The white stones seem to have held religious significance to these early Christians, perhaps a continuation of their importance from earlier pagan times. In an article from the Mona’s Herald from 1937 describing a visit to the keeill, it mentions that a large number of the white stones had been taken away and re-used in the farm buildings which would account for the depletion of the structure.
This is also mentioned in an extract from an article in the Ramsey Courier in 1953 describing a visit by IOMNHAS to the keeill (www.imuseum.im):
Ballayelse Keeill was visited briefly by the Archaeological Commissioners in 1878 where they described the remains as ‘quite extensive’, at the time the walls were 6ft high and 3ft wide at the base, in their write up they thank the owner of Ballayelse, Mr Cubbon, for his preservation of such an ‘interesting monument’. Unfortunately, it seems like his descendant didn’t have the same respect for the structure when he used the stones from the keeill for building a barn.
Canon E.B. Savage visited the site a few years later and wrote in 1885 that the measurements were 19ft 2in. x 10ft 2in. with a 2ft wide doorway, the walls were built of slate stones and quartz ‘presenting a curiously mottled appearance’, he found the remains of an enclosure, possibly a priest’s cell, about 7ft from the chapel walls. Canon E. B. Savage also found a graveyard marked by a circle of large stones , 30 yards from the chapel. Unfortunately, many of the stones from the burial site had been removed for re-use as building materials in the first half of the nineteenth century, a local told him that the death of many cows and calves that followed was attributed to this ‘sacrilege’ and no more stones were taken away.
Sadly, the site was never surveyed by P. M. C. Kermode and his team and it was left to the Sixth Report of the Manx Archaeological Survey where it was visited by Mr J. R. Bruce in 1963-64 by which time the structure was very different. Five years after P. M. C. Kermode died, in 1937, the Sixth Report tells us that:
…the Museum and Ancient Monuments Trustees, on the advice of their Inspector, undertook ‘a certain amount of renovation’… This involved the cleaning of the fallen stones and the replacement of them on the walls to a height of several feet, as well as the erection of a post and wire fence around the building.
This accounts for the neat and tidy look of the current structure, the Survey also says that:
Seen in the light of today’s more conservative approach to such problems, the work carried out in 1937 may seem unduly restorative, but care was taken to build only upon the old foundations and to retain the ‘mottled appearance’ noted by Canon Savage – the result is an attractive reminder that here was one of the older Churches in Man. It is unfortunate that the opportunity could not have been taken, while this work at the keeill was in progress, to re-determine and perhaps to mark out the boundary of the burial ground, which seems to have possessed a striking appearance. As it is, what is little more than a replica is fenced and preserved for posterity while an ancient graveyard, rich in archaeological potential, is lost to the plough.
When the keeill was visited in 1963-64, it would be in a similar condition to how we found it at our visit, Mr J. R. Bruce writes about its condition at the time;
The number of white quartzite blocks in its construction makes the keeill a conspicuous object, as seen from the vicinity of the Awin Vitchel Bridge at Ronague. Reference has already been made to the ‘renovations’ of 1937, to which the present appearance of the site is largely due, Two very large quartzite boulders, almost certainly in their original positions, mark the outer corners of the west end of the building, the long axis of which is east-south-east by west-south-west. The entrance, unaccountably placed near the east end of the south wall, is on its originally described site but its narrow passage, obliquely traversing the wall in a north-south direction, is of doubtful antiquity. It might be a window opening subsequently cut down to ground level. As now rebuilt, the walls are stone faced on both sides, which may recall an original feature, since the majority of such walls are stone revetted on the internal face only.
Bruce could find no trace of the altar or the ‘internal bank’, he mentioned that the mound that was shown on the 1869 O.S. wasn’t really visible but he thought it may follow the line of the current fencing. The banks of the burial ground had been completely ploughed over along with the ‘enclosure’ that was mentioned by Canon Savage in his 1885 visit.
It is unfortunate that it wasn’t surveyed at the start of the twentieth century with the majority of the keeill sites as this would have given us more information on a fairly intact example before a large proportion of it was destroyed. It only takes a read of the archaeological surveys to see that this is just one of a huge number of keeills that survived over 1000 years and have been destroyed in the last 150 years.
It would seem that this very attractive chapel is not quite all that it seems.
However, a picturesque keeill in an attractive location with a friendly pygmy goat – what’s not to like?