Keeill number twenty three.
With kind permission from Mr J. Cannell, Ballahimmin.
To sing a song shall please my countrymen;
To unlock the treasures of the Island heart;
With loving feet to trace each hill and glen,
And find the ore that is not for the mart
Of commerce : this is all I ask.
(T. E. Brown, ‘Fo’c’sle Yarns’)
Little London is an small hamlet, quite remote and with few inhabitants in the 21st century but the many tholtans (ruined houses) in the area tell a different story of the past, this was once a thriving community with a chapel that had an average attendance of 48 (the chapel building was demolished in 2002). Little London sits in a valley that is very dark and damp on a rainy day and as has been so often the case, that was just the kind of weather we encountered when we visited the Ballahimmin Keeill.
This keeill sits on the land of Ballahimmin Equestrian Centre, it is common to see surrounding hedges and boundaries recessed to fit around the keeill and burial ground but Ballahimmin is unusual as a hedge has been built in to it on both sides and when walking up to it, it appears as a rather conspicuous mound (measuring almost 50 ft. across in places) in the middle of a hedge.
We didn’t visit the keeill on our own, Nicola was standing on top of the keeill mound when a large goat sprung up and gave her a friendly nudge, he was very friendly and the mound of the keeill was his playground! There were also some lovely horses in the field which I suppose is to be expected as it is an equestrian centre, they all added to the visit.
The field on one side of the keeill is known as “little chapel field” with the field on the other side being “the big chapel field” (Second Report of the Manx Archaeological Survey, 1910).
The existing mound is very high, between 6 to 8ft. and there is just one area of stonework visible to the rear side of the keeill:
I could find very little out about this little chapel other than a mention of a trip by the Isle of Man Natural History and Antiquarian Society in 1959 which didn’t take place due to the weather (they obviously weren’t as hardy as us!). The keeill has such a large mound that I assumed the structure below was quite substantial, however, when it was surveyed in the Second Report of the Manx Archaeological Survey, they found that nothing remained except for the foundations which were between 3 and 4 ft. high and made of local stones and much white quartz. They thought the dimensions would have been about 15 ft. by 9 ft. with walls that were very wide, 5 ft. in places, with an earthen bank at the base faced with single stones, possibly to strengthen the building to support a thatched roof, this theory is likely as they found two ‘Bwhid Suggane’; items used to fasten the ropes that held down thatch from the roof, the only ones that have been found in a keeill excavation.
They found the doorway and outer edge to be rounded and made entirely of glittering white quartz which would have been quite effective at making this building stand out and be visible from a distance. The doorway was in the west wall but the jamb and sill stones were gone, there were a number of paving stones still in place along with an unusual feature:
A curious thing was that at the N.W. corner there appeared to have been another doorway. The skirting of upright stones along the North wall, ended at about 2 ft. from the corner, and, upon clearing the foundations here to ascertain the width of the wall it was found to have come to an end. Only two courses of stones remained, but they were distinctly built to form a face ending the wall, and had every appearance of being part of the original structure. Between this and the corner, on a level with the floor, were stones having the appearance of a pavement, and this was found to have been continued at a slope, with steps, 18 in. wide for a distance of 8 ft. the sides being marked here and there by quartz boulders. This paved path terminated at a height of 2 ft. above the level of the field where the fence had been built up against it.
The survey is starting to paint a picture of a building that would really have stood out in this bleak landscape.
There were a couple of large slabs that had formed part of the altar but they seemed to have been moved out of position.
The survey team, on excavating the mound, found evidence of Bronze Age burials beneath, they surmised that this was an earlier site that had been selected for a use at a much later date as a Christian church. They found a large stone in the keeill which they think had remained in place since the earlier period and the large amount of white quartz found in the structure was probably from the Bronze Age tumulus. A number of graves had been found in the surrounding area.
So we have another site telling stories of people living here in the Bronze Age and perhaps earlier, a sacred site protected inside a large mound and now visited mainly by livestock.
Secrets hidden in the landscape.