Keeill number thirty one.
With kind permission of Mrs Clague, Ballacreggan.
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!