Keeill number twenty six.

With kind permission from Lord Davis-Goff and tenant farmer of Eairy Moar Farm, Ray Griffin.

Spelled in various ways as Earey Mooar/Moar, Eary Mooar/Moar, Eairy Mooar/Moar, a name that translates as ‘Great Sheiling’, the Eairy Moar Keeill sits on the hillside above Glen Helen on the land of Eairy Moar Farm.

Glen Helen, previously known as ‘Rhenass’, was planted in the 1860’s and grew in to a well known tourist attraction where locals and visitors flocked to visit the ‘Swiss Cottage’ and enjoy trout fishing, skittles, swings and excellent cheese cakes amongst many other forms of entertainment (‘Jenkinson’s Practical Guide’, 1874).  Even in the 1920’s there was plenty of fun to be had with:

…an amusement park with gardens and lawns, an aviary, dancing floor and tea gardens, and a boating lake with fountains playing, but beyond, the long glen winds so far into the mountains that it is easy to get out of sight and sound of the merry-makers. The wide glen is one of the most richly and beautifully wooded on the Island, and the Rhenass Falls, about a mile from the entrance, are in an enchanting setting of woods and rocks. (Official Handbook Isle of Man, 1923)

Glen Helen in 2016 is made up of the recently closed Glen Helen Inn and Swiss House Restaurant and a child’s play park along with the glen and Rhenass Falls, it is most popular during TT and MGP week as a viewing and commentary spot but is fairly quiet the rest of the year especially now the businesses have closed.

Hiding in a field, just above the top footpath running through Glen Helen, is the Eairy Moar Keeill.  With all the visitors to the Rhenass Falls below and the keeill sitting just off the upper footpath which was popular with Victorian tourists heading for Little London, I was surprised that I couldn’t find any mention of the keeill in the tourism literature at the time, these chapels were often popular places to visit.  I did, however, find this mention of a stone circle which must have sat close by the keeill:

Paths lead down the glen, either high up the side of the hill or close to the stream, on the opposite side to that by which the tourist came. By following the higher track, a small but perfect stone circle will be found in a field at the back of the plantation, on the Eairy Moar farm, nearly half-way down the glen. It is evidently one of the many ancient burial-places met with on the island. (‘Jenkinson’s Practical Guide to the Isle of Man’, 1874)

I couldn’t find any other reference to this stone circle so I can only assume it did not survive in to the twentieth century.  To say the keeill is hidden is an understatement, you really could walk past it without knowing it was there as the undergrowth is so thick.  Our first attempt was on a very wet day in February, it was pretty grim and we got quite lost.

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The second visit was in June 2016, kindly accompanied by Ray Griffin.  Ray has looked after the 300 acres at Eairy Moar for Lord and Lady Davis Goff for over twenty years, he is now 83 and still taking care of the land and his herd of highland cattle every day.

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Ray was very pleasant company and a real character!  He didn’t know much about the keeill other than that Lord Davis-Goff was very respectful of it and intended to fence it at some stage.  Being so overgrown and hidden in the landscape, this little chapel could easily be forgotten so it was good to see that it is very much in safe hands.

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I can find no mention of the keeill being visited by the Isle of Man Natural History and Antiquarian Society which is a pity as the write up of these visits in the local press often provides valuable information on the structure and associated folklore of these places.  However, the Eairy Moar Keeill was surveyed for the ‘Second Report of the Manx Archaeological Survey’ (1910) which does provide us with an explanation of what hopefully still sits beneath the undergrowth in 2016.

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The survey team found the building to measure 14 ft. by 7 ft. with walls that were between 3 ft. 6 ins. and 4 ft. wide and standing between 2 and 3 ft. high, the foundation is deeper on one side to make up for it being built in to the hillside.  Instead of the usual earthen bank faced with stone, the chapel at Eairy Moar is built from stone throughout with a high proportion of the stone being white quartz.  This is similar to the keeill at Ballahimmin which is just up the valley from here.  The proportion of quartz stone is very high although there was no mention in the survey of it having been built on an Iron Age site which is often the case when there is a large amount of quartz in use.

The doorway was found to be in the middle of the west wall, being reached by a step about 9 inches high.  There was no paving still in position but many stones were found with the corners chipped to make them more round and they could possibly have been part of the flooring.  The base of the altar remained and was 12 inches high, 2 ft. 10 ins by 2 ft. built from large stones and earth.  The skirting of upright stones round the walls had almost all been carried away.

We were not able to see if the altar still remains in place due to the thickness of the undergrowth unfortunately, hopefully its secluded position will have protected it.

Although there is now nowhere to buy cake in the vicinity, Glen Helen is still well worth a visit.  The Rhenass Falls are just as spectacular as they were when the Victorian tourists posed in front for their photographs and they have probably changed very little from when our Celtic ancestors climbed up the hill from Rhenass with the sound of the waterfall in the background to worship at the Eairy Moar Keeill over 1000 years ago.

You can almost picture the keeill as it was then, with the sun setting in the west and reflecting off the walls full of glistening white quartz; making the chapel so visible on the open hillside that it would be a landmark of the Celtic faith for miles around.

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What’s a keeill?

Please be aware that these sites are on private land unless noted as being otherwise and are visited with permission of the landowner.

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