This very interesting keeill sits high above Ballacreggan Farm in Glen Maye with beautiful views out to sea, it is a place to sit and watch the sun go down. Keeill Moirrey was the first keeill we visited in 2016. Nicola, William and I walked up to this chapel high up on the Glen Maye hillside above the Lhaggan, it was January 2016 and rather cold, we found Keeill Moirrey and had our cake but left without taking many photos, with it being our first keeill we did not realise that it was one of the more unusual of the thirty five.
When I went back in July to take more photographs, it was so overgrown with bracken that we struggled to find it, we did sit and watch the sunset though and really enjoyed our visit!
Thank you to Andrew Foxon (www.prayingthekeeills.org) and Sam Hudson for allowing me to use their photographs to supplement the few I managed to take on our two trips.
Keeill Moirrey (or Woirrey as it has also been known) is one of twelve keeills or ancient chapels that are known to have existed in the parish of Patrick, only three of these have visible remains in 2016. This little chapel is dedicated to St. Mary, the foundations are well preserved and it stands I would think about 3ft. high. It is quite remote and most likely gets few visitors which will have helped to keep it in this condition, however, in the days when slate was being quarried in the valley below and the mines in Foxdale were open, this area of the Isle of Man would have been much less isolated. The keeill is on a site that seems to have been busy historically, there is a cairn close by, and sitting in the trees above the keeill is what Walter Gill in the Patrick section of his fantastic ‘Manx Scrapbook’, calls ‘The Gold Stone’. This is a quartz crag of rock that was mined, Gill says that;
‘”Gold” was obtained from it for a few years and exported to gild china vessels.’ (Manx Notebook, W. Gill)
However, it is thought to have been more like iron pyrite (known as Fool’s Gold). In his ‘Second Manx Scrapbook’, Gill mentions there is a version of the well known Hop Tu Naa song that is unique to Glen Maye;
” I went to the rock, The rock gave me cold, The cold to the smith,” etc.
He thinks ‘cold’ should be ‘gold’ and that it is inspired by the Gold Stone above Keeill Moirrey. So, there you are, fascinating, and this mine entrance still survives today although the mine is now filled in. Gill also mentions that above the Gold Stone are mounds thought to be burial sites and nearby is an ancient burial ground, not attached to the keeill, and known locally as ‘the Churchyard’. Who would have thought there would be so much history in this little area of hill top.
In ‘Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries’, W. Evans Wentz/S. Morrison (1911), there is mention of folklore connected to this little chapel;
Again, there is a belief that at Keeill Moirrey (Mary’s Church), near Glen Meay, a little old woman in a red cloak is sometimes seen coming over the mountain towards the keeill, ringing a bell, just about the hour when church service begins. Keeill Moirrey is one of the early little Celtic cells, probably of the sixth century, of which nothing remains but the foundations.
When we visited, we didn’t see the little old woman, I only wish we had. We did find the foundations of an unusual looking keeill in good structural condition. The building is unusual as the walls of the keeill are very closely surrounded by a second wall, with just enough room for a walkway between.
Disappointingly, I can find hardly anything on this keeill. It doesn’t seem to have been visited by the IOM Antiquarians or the archaeological commission of 1877, even Kermode isn’t really helping me out here. In the First Report of the Manx Archaeological Survey (1909), Kermode mentions the keeill;
KEEILL WOIRREY, near Glen Meaye, O.S., XII, 2, (2278), was last winter opened by the proprietor, Mr. W. Quayle, M.H.K., who has kindly given permission for its more complete examination, the result of which we hope to include in our next report. The doorway is in the middle of the west wall. A built recess, lined with small flat stones, was found at the east end, by which one of the pillar-stones of the altar was still standing. No trace now remained of the surrounding enclosure which had been ploughed over. It stands about 350 ft. above the sea, and has an easterly aspect.
Unfortunately, no mention is made of the keeill in the following surveys so I have no idea if they did do a more detailed excavation in the end. In the Archaeology Data Service, Keeill Woirrey is described as being 5.7 by 1.7 metres with walls 0.8 metres wide and an internal height of 0.7 metres with the doorway being in the west wall. They also mention the strange second wall;
Trenches through and around the building confuse interpretation, creating a sense of a second ‘wall’ closely surrounding the structure on all sides except for the north-east corner.
I haven’t found a mention anywhere of why the walls are so close together which makes it completely different to any of the other keeills. If I’ve missed information somewhere or you know more about this site, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Kermode papers are currently being catalogued at the Manx Museum, I can only hope the excavation notes are found during this process.
A particularly interesting keeill in a beautiful spot, I would love to know more.
Update on 27th August 2016:
With the hope of finding new information on the keeills and specifically, the ‘lost’ survey of Ballawoods Keeill along with more information on Keeill Moirrey and Raby Keeill, I started to go through the private papers of P. M. C. Kermode. The Kermode papers are thought to have been salvaged by a family member in the 1940’s but have never been catalogued, they are an absolute delight and have given me a real insight in to Kermode as a person and life at the time of the archaeological survey. Firstly, I found the Ballawoods survey report which was never published and then I came across the reason why the survey of Keeill Moirrey didn’t appear in the Second Report of the Manx Archaeological Commission like it was meant to.
I found a mention of the keeill in a hand drawn chart (MS 08979), it mentioned that the excavation had been ‘executed badly by owner’, I then found a letter from the landowner. Kermode mentioned in the first report that the landowner had given permission for a more thorough examination of the keeill but unfortunately it seems he then changed his mind and had a bash at it himself! I wonder how he got on, maybe that is where the second ‘wall’ came from!
Keeills number twenty eight, twenty nine and thirty.
The remains of these three keeills lie in the churchyard at Maughold where there is public access. This church and the surrounding graveyard are worth a visit for so many reasons; the existing building dates from around the eleventh century but is built on the site of a Celtic monastery from the seventh century, there are about fifty Manx crosses (which is a third of the Manx crosses found on the Island) in a shelter in the churchyard, the visit is worthwhile for these alone.
Until recently, the Maughold Cross sat outside the entrance to the churchyard, it has now been moved inside of the church where it is more protected from the elements. The cross is made from St. Bees’ sandstone and has incredible detail, it is not known how old it is but it could be as early as 1250.
Behind the church is a public footpath which you can follow around the headland to the Maughold ‘brooghs’ and which passes St Maughold’s holy well on the way. As you might have been able to tell from all my Maughold keeill posts, it’s rather a favourite place.
There are the remains or sites of nineteen keeills that are known to have existed in the parish of Maughold and at least seven of these were within the enclosure of the churchyard with three still having visible foundations. The churchyard covers four acres but was originally fortified and much larger with traces of a wall and moat on the east side that were still visible seen until recent times. The Rectory of Maughold was part of the Priory of St. Bees which also owned the land of the Barony on which Keeill Vael sits. The site seems to have been similar to early Irish monasteries with several chapels, an abbot’s house, guest house, refectory and cells for the monks although the remains of these are long gone (much of this information has been taken from the Journal of the Manx Museum vol. III #49 pp144/153 – 1936). According to information from the Manx Archaeological Commission of 1877, there had been a ‘long barrow’, a prehistoric monument that usually contained a collection of cremated burials, close by to the church at Maughold. This mound had been levelled about twelve years before the survey (around 1865) so they could increase the capacity of the church yard, they found collections of black ashes which they found to consist of charcoal, carbonate of lime and human bones. Layers of history.
The church is dedicated to St. Maughold who was a convert of St. Patrick and who arrived on the Isle of Man in a coracle, he became Bishop of the Isle and is known to have been buried in the churchyard at Kirk Maughold although the knowledge of the whereabouts of the grave has long since been lost. P. M. C. Kermode, the first director of the Manx Museum and author of the Manx Archaeological Survey (amongst many other works) is also buried in the churchyard along with a memorial to his sister (who is buried in England). His sister, Josephine Kermode was the renowned poet, ‘Cushag‘, who wrote this poem about Maughold, a place that was very personal to her:
THE joyous company of mounting larks
Sing to the quiet dead,
And slumber song of thymy bees is heard
Around their bed;
While nought may vex them there on Maughold’s breast
Nor wake the summer stillness of their rest.
And on the hill their sleeping kinsfolk lie
Beneath the driving gale;
They heed not beat of sun nor whirling blast
Nor winter hail;
But rest as sweetly under storm and snow
As those who shelter with the Saint below.
Enough for One they reached their Home at last
By roads that could not meet,
Until the shining of the sunset light
Showed weary feet
That all those diverse paths that late they trod
Were byways only of the road to God.
This site is historically very important and played an important part in the growth of Celtic Christianity on the Island, the fact that the foundations of three keeills still lie in the churchyard pay testament to this. Their situations in relation to the church are shown on the plan below which was taken from the Fourth Report of the Manx Archaeological Survey where Kermode and his team surveyed the keeills in the parish of Maughold. The writing is difficult to read but the top keeill on the plan is the North Keeill, the one above the church to the right is the Middle Keeill and the one in the bottom right hand section is the Eastern Keeill.
North Keeill, Maughold Churchyard.
The North Keeill sits about 30 yards from the north wall and the same from the west wall and measures 15ft. 6ins. by 9ft. 2ins., it seems strange to come across a keeill sitting amongst graves in what looks like a standard churchyard! At one stage in time this keeill had its own burial ground and in Kermode’s report on the Maughold keeills for the Fourth Report of the Manx Archaeological Survey he writes that:
Though the fence had long been levelled we were able with the help of Mr. Harrison’s memory of it to judge that it had measured about 51 yards N. and S. by 31 yards E. and W., crossing the moat, which formed its N.E. boundary.
I can only assume that ‘Mr Harrison’ was the Rev. Harrison, a Vicar of Maughold, as he is mentioned a number of times in this section of the report. The keeill is well built of stone with a number of pieces of dressed sandstone, there were found to be traces of rough casting and lime mortar. A recess was found in the middle of the north wall about 8ins. above the footing and in it had been found earlier by Mr Harrison, a carved piece of red sand stone from a window, this had disappeared by the time of the survey.
No trace of the altar or flooring remained, the pebbled flooring that we find in 2016 must be a more recent addition. Interestingly, some broken roofing tiles of local slate with holes for a wooden peg were found which suggest the building had been used in fairly recent times although it was possible they could have been left there from the church or another site. The doorway was in the middle of the west wall and some sandstone door jambs remained, on either side of the doorway there were found to be remains of a projecting wall that was 2ft. wide and 6ft. long, forming a narrow porch way. There was a buttress on the south west corner that was the same width and projected westwards for 4ft.
Two carved stones were found in the keeill and burial ground, one was a broken cross slab from the twelfth century and was described in the survey:
Fig. 34. Cross-slab from North Keeill, Maughold Churchyard.
To judge from some scribblings and scratchings on it, this must have been at the surface within a hundred years, but was lost again and unremembered over 50 years ago when Cumming described these monuments. It bears on each face a rudely-designed cross, and, in well-cut runes, the inscription, ‘ Hedin set this cross to the memory of his daughter [H] lif. Arni carved these runes ‘ It is of interest as showing for the first time on a Manx monument the figure of a Viking Ship. ,
We played ‘Find the Keeill’ (not a game you can really play anywhere other than Maughold churchyard), this was the first one William found so we had our picnic here. He managed to find a second one too, that’s my boy. Of course, being two years old, he’d lost interest by keeill number three.
Middle Keeill, Maughold Churchyard.
The middle keeill sits about 35 yards north of the east gable of the church (see plan earlier in post). It seems to have acquired an unfortunate covering of cement since the time of the Kermode survey, giving it a rather different appearance. Kermode found it to measure 19ft. by 11ft. 6ins. with walls standing between 19 and 22 inches high, the walls were well built of surface stones but with no trace of mortar. The walls measured between 24 and 30 inches wide and have a footing both outside and inside of 6 inches, the doorway in the west wall was 2ft. 9 inches wide and was found to be paved with a large slab. Two of the sandstone door jambs remained although the floor paving and altar had been removed. Thirty white pebbles were found in and around the building.
Unlike the North Keeill, no boundaries or enclosure could be traced although there was ‘an appearance inside as of disturbed lintel graves’. Just outside of the keeill they found a broken slab with the name (BLAK)GMON written in Anglian runes from the seventh century. There was no other information given on this keeill in the survey, I’m not sure where it stands chronologically in relation to the other two keeills.
Eastern Keeill, Maughold Churchyard.
The Eastern Keeill is similar in the method of building to the previous two keeills but different in character with walling from more than one time period;
At about 13 yards from the present eastern boundary of the church-yard, we came across the inner facing of stone to the strong embankment which formed the original boundary to the whole enclosure on this side. At two points about six and sixteen yards north of this, we found by excavation that it consisted of a dry stone wall, six feet wide and now reaching from the surface to a depth of two feet. Mr. Harrison remembered that it had had an earthen bank above and sloped into a fosse which came all the way from the north of the church-yard. South of the point where we struck it, it had been broken into, but we were able to trace the inner line of it for four yards to the corner where it was met by another wall running west. This was at a point about 14 yards north of the present boundary wall ; only the foundations remained, they were 3 ft. wide, strong and well-laid. From the inner stone facing of this Eastern rampart, but not actually built into it, extended the northern wall of the keeill.
They found the remains to be well built of stone, often quite large sizes, with walls 2ft. wide and between 3 and 18 inches high, which seems to describe the remains that are visible in 2016. The keeill itself measured 21ft by 11ft.
The doorway was found to be in the west gable, the north end of the west gable was well built with some of the stones being the full width of the wall but the south side was gone, the south east corner of the keeill was also damaged. There was no trace of an altar but there was some rough pavement towards the east end which may have been original, there was also some pavement outside the north wall similar to the paving found in the paths at the Skyhill Keeill. The foundations and footing of the north wall continued to the embankment (shown in the plan) and possibly the south wall would have continued in this way but there was no evidence of that by the early twentieth century. There was other walling without proper foundations, formed by stones that had possibly been taken from the ruined keeill, this seemed to have been a building about 15 by 13ft. extending westwards from the embankment and accounts for the confusing plan of the keeill taken from the survey.
At a later date, a well had been sunk in the south east corner of the keeill, breaking through the walling of the second building also. The walls of the well were most likely made from stone taken from the buildings, it makes for a very interesting feature!
After the survey, the walls of the Eastern Keeill were raised to a level and turfed over, giving the neat and tidy appearance of the keeill in 2016.
Kermode also talks about a fourth keeill in the churchyard, about 10 yards north west of the porch of the current church, he calls it the Western Keeill. The area was covered by graves so they did not excavate, it is mentioned that Mr Harrison remembered remains of sod fences that may have been on the boundary of the old cemetery, it was known as ‘Church Croft’. It seems that the 19th century must have been a real time of change in Maughold churchyard. This again highlights the importance of the Manx Archaeological Survey, not only for its excavation findings but for recording important local knowledge and folklore that might otherwise have been lost.
Apologies for the ‘busy’ post, there was so much information to fit in.
I finish the post with an extract I liked from a speech in ‘The Manx Sun’ by P.M.C. Kermode in 1906 at the dedication of the shelter erected in Maughold churchyard for the protection of Manx crosses (www.imuseum.im):
Upon these rude and weathered stones we are able to see and to touch the very hand-work of those whose skilful fingers have crumbled into dust more than a thousand years ago.
Could they be to return – picture to yourselves, they would be as much astonished at the altered aspect of the land as we should be were we able to see it as it was in their days. No roads, no hedges, no cultivated fields, no towns – woods and heather and gorse.
The streams swollen with a much larger volume of water from the undrained hills, unconfined by banks, spreading over many acres of the lowlands, large lakes and swamps in the North of the Island. Reeds and rushes and water loving plants in the plains, on the hills the purple heather and the golden gorse, everywhere waste lands with woods and an abundance of water. But, standing by their little church, of which the foundations may be seen at the upper end of this churchyard, they would view the same lovely hills trending inland from the high peak of Barrule; they would see the same rugged headland, at the sheltered foot of which their church nestled in the sunshine; they would look as we do on the tumbling waves and gaze upwards into the same skies, bright and clear in the noonday sun or darkened by hurrying clouds in the storm.
And with these men themselves, greatly as they differed from us, we have this thing in common – Christ’s religion, with a church in which to worship him, and this quiet resting place for the holy dead.
The keeill and Viking burial site at Balladoole have an access agreement in place and are under guardianship of the Manx Museum and National Trust. The location is a short walk, well signposted from the road leading to Balladoole House. The ‘Chapel Hill’ site was a perfect playground for my toddler as it’s a warren of pathways, it’s also a lovely place for a picnic on a sunny day.
Balladoole is the seat of one of the oldest landed families on the Isle of Man. The Stevenson family were first mentioned living at Balladoole in the early fourteenth century and were there until the end of the nineteenth century. Keeill Vael at Balladoole is one of eight known keeills dedicated to St. Michael and is one of the more frequently visited of the keeills, in part due to the other elements of the site; it is an array of interaction and settlement over six different time periods.
The keeill lies inside an Iron Age promontory fort, the outside banks of which can still be traced around the hill top, there are also the remains of a Viking ship burial which is said to be the most perfect example in the British Isles. The Viking burial was excavated in 1945 by Gerhard Bersu, a German archaeologist interned on the Island during WWII. Bersu was allowed by the authorities to excavate ancient sites during his time on the Isle of Man, Balladoole was the first of three Viking burial sites that he excavated on the Island.
It is interesting that the pagan Viking burial sits on top of a number of Celtic Christian graves, some of these graves were recent at the time of the burial and were disturbed when the boat was placed on them. The Norse invaders brought their own beliefs to this sacred site and had little respect at the time for the burial ground of the Christian natives.
Of course, not long afterwards the Norseman became Christians themselves.
There are no less than four known keeill sites and/or burial grounds within 100 yards of the border of the Balladoole estate (Sixth Report of the Archaeological Survey), there has also been evidence found of habitation here in the Neolithic time period. I mean, where do you start, this place has obviously been important for thousands of years.
The dedication of the keeill to St. Michael is thought to date from the 11th or 12th century but the keeill itself dates from much earlier. It is interesting that J. J. Kneen (in the proceedings of the IoMNH&ASoc vol.3) suggests that it is possible that the correct name in Gaelic was Cill Dhiorbhail, ‘ Dorothy’s church,’ with vael being a worn down form of the Gaelic, this is possible as the approximate pronunciation of the name would be Keeill Yorvael.
P. M. C. Kermode suggested that some five centuries after the chapel was built, it was of such importance that it was renovated. The doorway was enlarged, probably new windows were inserted, the outside rough cast and the inside plastered which is a feature not found in any other Manx keeills.
At the time of the Kermode survey, some small areas of plaster remained with a red colouring, Kermode suggested there may have been fresco drawings which have since been lost, the plaster is long gone in 2016 although a sample is in the Manx Museum. It would be most likely that it was at the time of this renovation that the dedication to St. Michael was formalised (IoMNHASVol 2 no.3).
Keeill Vael was visited by the Archaeological Commission in 1877, this was a group of people who were commissioned to report to the Lieutenant Governor on ancient and prehistoric monuments throughout the Island, unfortunately this survey ran out of steam early on. At Keeill Vael in 1877 they found graves surrounding the keeill and exhumed one wherein they found a body, there were so many other areas of interest on the site that the keeill building itself was only mentioned in passing. When Kermode’s team surveyed the keeill around 1918, the survey was not published at the time. However, an account of the survey was pieced together by J. R. Bruce in the Sixth Report of the Archaeological Survey (1966) along with a description of the remains which Bruce found in the 1960s’s; The keeill sits in the south west part of the Iron Age enclosure and measures 16 ft. 4 in. by 9 ft. 10 in. internally, the walls are wide for the size of the building measuring 3 ft. 6 ins. thick and dressed on both sides with limestone with infill of rubble between, no wall height was mentioned. The floor was ‘carefully paved with Poyllvaaish flags’ which are either long removed or hidden underneath the grass covering the floor in 2016. They found a boulder and some smaller stones forming what must have been the altar, this large boulder is still in situ and can be seen in our photographs. Kermode found the doorway to be blocked but he must have removed the blockage as a doorway is now evident in the south wall. The keeill sits in a flat rectangular area and Kermode found stones protruding in the turf that indicated that it was once surrounded by a wall, these remains were also mentioned in the 1877 survey by the Archaeological Commission and seem to have been more visible then.
The area surrounding the keeill has been excavated and many lintel graves have been found across the entire Iron Age enclosure, Kermode found in his excavation that the small cemetery surrounding the keeill was once paved all over by Pooillvaaish flag stones, only traces remained in the sections he excavated.
It was good to see that the remains of Keeill Vael in 2016 have changed very little since Kermode visited almost 100 years ago.
As is often the case with these Christian sites, they were associated with fairs and Balladoole was the site of the ‘Periwinkle Fair’ which was held close to Keeill Vael on 6th February each year. The fair was held as recently as 1834 and the items offered for sale were periwinkles, gingerbread and Manx ponies (information taken from the Sixth Report of the Manx Archaeological Survey), oh, to be able to go back in time just to see that!