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.
Thank you to Alison Cowin for allowing me to use her photographs of the church and churchyard taken on a much nicer day than we had on our visits!