Keeills and Cake; Keeill Woirrey, Patrick.

Keeills and Cake; Keeill Woirrey, Patrick.

Keeill number thirty five.

With kind permission from Mr Roberts, Kerrowdhoo.

Kerrowdhoo (meaning ‘Dark Quarter’) sits high above Foxdale in an area known as Glen Needle.   Although seemingly isolated in 2016, the many tholtans (dialect for ruined dwellings) picked out on the surrounding hillsides tell of a very different time for this part of the Isle of Man.  When the Foxdale mines were open between  1723 and 1911, the census reports list many miners, often lodging, living in the numerous dwellings in the area known as ‘Kerrowdhoo’.  The upper land on the hills was still cultivated and being worked by many small farmsteads and crofts, the ruins of which you can still see dotted across the landscape today and with countless workers walking to and from their shifts at the mines, the hills really would have been alive over one hundred years ago.

In 2016, there are a scattering of dwellings around Glen Needle and it is a very beautiful and peaceful part of the Island.


In the 1851 census, my own great great great grandfather, Daniel Teare, was lodging at ‘Kerrowdhoo’ when working in the Foxdale mines before he moved along the road where he farmed at Slieau Whallian Farm for the rest of his life.  When I was delivering post in Foxdale, I often thought of Daniel Teare when walking up the farm ‘street’ at Kerrowdhoo, I never once wondered what the raised remains in the ground were that I was walking right past every day.

‘St Mary’s Chapel and Burial Ground’ at Kerrowdhoo, marked on 1869 Ordnance Survey.

In the First Report of the Manx Archaeological Survey (Kermode, 1909) it mentions that the field across the road from the keeill which was thought to have been part of the graveyard, was known as ‘Bwoal y Voirrey’.  ‘Bwoal’ is not a Manx word so I was assuming it was an incorrect spelling of ‘Boayl’, meaning ‘Place’.  However, in a hand annotated copy of the survey that I found amongst the Kermode papers in the museum library, I found Kermode had corrected it to ‘Bwoaillee’ which means ‘milking place or fold’ (thanks to the long suffering Breesha Maddrell, always on hand to help with Manx language queries).  The field is known as ‘Bwoaillee y Voirrey’- ‘Fold of Mary’, this suggests a dedication to Mary and is why the keeill is one of many on the Island that are known as ‘Keeill Woirrey’ (Church of Mary).

Keeill Woirrey, Kerrowdhoo, was not on our original list of keeills to visit but when we realised that the IOMNHAS had visited the site and found keeill remains as late as 1957, we decided that it was definitely worth a trip.

Kerrowdhoo was not visited by the archaeological commission in 1877 and the first mention of it that I could find was in ‘Vestigia Insulae Manniae Antiquiora’ (Oliver, 1860).  The keeill is mentioned in an extract from a letter by Rev. William Gill, Vicar of Malew, it was referred to by name as part of list, ‘St. Mary’s or Keeil Woirrey, at Kerroo Dhoo’ and gave no further information.  In the same book, Kerrowdhoo is found again, this time in a report to the ‘Council of the Manx Society’ on the keeills in his parish by the Rev. A. Holmes, vicar of Patrick.  This gives a little more information on the site as it was over 150 years ago:

‘At the Kerroodhoo, a farm a little to the south of Slieuwhallan, are the remains of a chapel under the invocation of St. Mary; the walls on the east end are four feet high. The burial ground is about an acre in extent, covered with stone coffins, the tops of which in several places are visible.’

Wall at Kerrowdhoo.

In an article in the Mona’s Herald from 1903, there is the best description of all of a visit by the Antiquarian Society to Kerrowdhoo.  I’d paraphrase it but it’s just written so descriptively:

…recently had his attention drawn to a tumulus on the estate of Kerroodhoo, in Foxdale, on the Eastern slope of Slieu-Whallian mountain, and in a very wild and secluded district.  It is one which has seemed heretofore to have escaped the attentions of those with antiquarian tendencies…

The tumulus of Kerroodhoo stands picturesquely on a slope of the mountain between the Glen Needle and Kerroodhoo streams, which unite at Foxdale waterfall.  The site of the tumulus, with magnificent views of the southern mountains, is one that rightly suggests itself as a burial ground.  The ancient highroad known as “Bishop Wilson’s Road” crosses the Kerrowdhoo quarter, and skirts the margin of the tumulus…

The farm steading is built on the eastern declivity of the churchyard – the churchyard being oncircled by a wall.  Below the adjoining haggard there are a large number of graves visible on the farm street and its approach, the upper edges of the stone cists being plainly traceable.  Operations were begun – the kind permission of the landlord, Mr Kelly, Peveril Terrace, Peel, having been previously secured.  A series of measurements made by one of the more ardent members of the party resulted in a mean average length being obtained of 5ft. 6 and 1/8in, thus proving that the inhabitants of 800 years ago were not of the height commonly supposed.  An ancient stone font of granite was discovered in the possession of the proprietor, who guards it with great care…

Excavations were then commenced around the ancient keill or church.  So far as could be ascertained from inquiries, nothing is known traditionally in the neighbourhood of a name that might imply a certain dedication.  The orientation of the church, as ascertained by Mr Kelly by means of careful compass reckonings, was discovered to be due east and west.  With regard to the graves, the majority of them lie due east and west, with some peculiarly curious derivations from this arrangement.  After laying bare what was conjecturally the south wall, the foundations of which are still insitu, another excavation was made in the north-west corner, disclosing a mass of masonry with peculiar ochre0coloured mortar, which proved to be the fallen west gable.  One of the oldest members of the neighbourhood strikingly confirmed the conjectures of the party.  A very singular monolith, carefully measured, proved to have a length of twelve feet.  It appears to have formerly stood within the precincts of the keill, but  had, unfortunately, been removed to serve as a bridge on the farm.  A further monolith, about eight feet, of remarkably graceful outline, and beautiful weathering, was much admired.  On close investigation a strong presumption existed that it had been shaped as a cross, as there were clear traces of ornamentation on what appears to have been the head, now partially broken off.  Later, another grave was opened, with interesting discoveries.

An al fresco luncheon was enjoyed on the pleasant turf adjoining, served up by the ladies of the party most perfectly.  It was with regret that the company left a site palpitating with antiquarian possibilities, and wended their way homewards as the shades of evening came on.’

Sounds like a wonderful day out and a bit different to an antiquarian outing in 2016 – a little bit of amateur archaeology and digging around in the graves then sitting in the graveyard and being served ‘luncheon’, I think we’re missing out!

These antiquarian write ups are great for recording what a site was like at the time but also for their descriptive and evocative writing .  Kerrowdhoo in 1903 was a place full of history.

I was surprised that they couldn’t find local knowledge of a dedication for the keeill, when it is marked as ‘St. Mary’s Chapel’ on the 1869 O.S., it is only six years later in when Kermode writes about the name of the field opposite and the assumed dedication to Mary.  I was interested to read about the very large stones, especially the one thought to be a cross, as this is not mentioned in the Kermode survey which was only a few years later.

The keeills in the parish of Patrick are listed in the First Report of the Manx Archaeological Survey (Kermode, 1909), only six years after the antiquarians had visited.  Of Keeill Woirrey, Kerrowdhoo, Kermode writes that the north wall still remained as part of the haggard (a dialect word for an enclosure on a farm for stacking grain) and measured about 18ft. long, 5ft. 6in. high and 2ft. 6in. wide.  It is described as being built of small ‘slaty’ stones from the neighbourhood, ‘unhewn and undressed’ with some quartz boulders and earth in between, the ochre coloured mortar wasn’t mentioned.  The granite font was lying by a nearby stream, Kermode thought that perhaps this marked the only boundary line of the cemetery and needed to be preserved.

Thankfully, there was more information to be found in the Second Report of the Manx Archaeological Survey (Kermode, 1910).  By this time, the foundations of the keeill had been cleared and exposed by Mr. R. Lace who was excavating on behalf of the committee, the keeill was described as being 24ft. by 12ft. with a doorway in the west end.  There were foundations at the level of the outside surface which measured 4ft. wide and were formed of large, flat stones.  Large flat slate stones make up part of the path at Kerrowdhoo in 2016 following the line of the original ‘farm street’, we noticed one which looked to have a simple cross carved in to it, I wonder if these were the same stones that are mentioned above.


The north wall in 1910 was fairly complete and was 4ft. high above the floor level, the east wall which was mentioned by Holmes as 4ft. high in 1860, was not mentioned, parts of the north west and south east corners remained.  Against the south wall were found a number of large boulders, probably forming what would have been a bank around the structure which may have possible supported the weight of a thatched roof at one time.  There was no trace of an altar to be found but 12 inches below the floor level at the east end, were found seven lintel graves side by side, most of them had two quartz boulders above the little slab at the foot and were lined at the bottom and covered in slabs. These can be seen in the plan below which was taken from the second report (not to scale).


A further lintel grave was found in the north east corner just below floor level and this was found to be resting on top of another.  The total number of graves that were found was seventeen including three outside the keeill, one was beneath the north wall and two were just outside the north wall.  There were areas that remained unexamined so there could have been far more.  When the road alongside the farm was widened a number of similar graves had been found meaning that the burial ground was quite extensive.

Kermode writes that the late Mrs Cannell from Ballacarnane, remembered the gable standing with ‘two narrow windows’, this was thought to have been eighty years before which would make it around 1830.

When looking through the private papers of P. M. C. Kermode, I came across a letter (uncatalogued but in box MS08979) from a Mrs Cooil, dated 1908.  The letter mentioned the Kerrowdhoo keeill along with a ‘promised’ subscription to the archaeological survey.  As I have been looking through the papers, especially the correspondence, the more apparent it has become that the survey really struggled for funds and getting people to subscribe especially later on when WW1 was squeezing many pockets, proved often very difficult.  It is the generosity of many people who realised the importance of documenting and exploring these ancient buildings that were able to help fund the project and meant that Kermode was able to carry out his excavations and publish the results.  Keeill Woirrey is an example of a keeill that has declined in condition since the time of the survey and without Kermode’s survey much of the information about the site would have been lost.

Mrs Cooil writes;

‘I received your letter a few days ago enquiring whether my mother remembered anything about the keeill at Kerrowdhoo near Gleneedle, Patrick.  I asked her about it and she says it has been the same as it is all her time… My cousin, Miss Christiana Cannell, Ballacarnane, told my mother that her mother told her that she remembered a chimney standing on the keeill (this might have been a belfry).  Mrs Cannell was my mother’s oldest sister, and was five years older than my mother, she died in May 1907.  John Kennaugh who farms Brack-a-Broom, near Poortown was brought up in the farm adjoining Kerrowdhoo, and it about the same age as my aunt, Mrs Cannell.  He might be likely to remember this “chimney” standing on the keeill.  If you would see him, he might tell you something.’

Strange that Kermode mentions the ‘gable with two narrow windows’ in the report but not the ‘chimney’.

My relative lived in the area of Kerrowdhoo around the time period they’re talking about and I like to think of him wondering about this ancient chapel as he walked past on his way to a long day working in the mines.  I suppose that in those days they had little time for fanciful daydreaming about the past like we’re more inclined to do in the 21st century, or I am at least!

Field above Kerrowdhoo.


So, at the start of the twentieth century this keeill had, relatively speaking, substantial remains of the foundations with a section of wall that was 4ft. high.

The next mention I came across of the keeill was in a newspaper article about a visit to the area by the Isle of Man Natural History and Antiquarian Society in the Isle of Man Times from 1939 ( unfortunately, the keeill is only mentioned in passing but it did mention something else of interest;

‘… a small Stone Age Circle at Kerrowdhoo, in close proximity to an early Christian keeill, or cell-church with its burial ground.

This ‘Stone Age Circle’ is not mentioned in any of the other antiquarian write ups and I haven’t been able to find mention of it anywhere else, in fact it’s the third ‘stone circle’ (which seems to be quite a broad description) that I’ve come across recently when doing research and that I haven’t been able to find in any list of antiquities.  Anyone know anything of this? I think it has ceased to exist in 2016.

Keeill Woirrey was once again visited by the Isle of Man Natural History and Antiquarian Society in 1957 and a report was published in the Isle of Man Examiner;

‘A halt was made at Kerrowdhoo to see the Keeill Voirrey (St. Mary’s Chapel).  The site was excavated and the keeill walls uncovered by Mr Richard Lace who was a schoolmaster in Santon.  Mr P. M. C. Kermode directed the work and reported it to the Museum.  In 1860 a Mr Holmes reported that there was a burial ground here covering an acre of ground in which were stone lintel coffins.  He also mentioned a stone font that had been used as a pigs’ trough but had later been removed.  Col. Vaughan, by whose kind permission the party visited the keeill on the Kerrowdhoo farm street, later took the members who were interested to see the font, which was a short distance away near the Glendhoo stream.  Mr Callister, whose childhood was spent in the district, gave the Manx names of the nearby field, one of which was the Margher Rhennee Killey (Ferny Field of the Church).

A halt was made for tea on the banks of the Glendhoo stream…

The day was fine and warm, a “pet day” between two storms; the country was new to most members, the walk not too strenuous (a lady of 96 years old accompanied the Ramsey party) and it was voted by all to be one of the most enjoyable excursions of the year.’

This also sounded like a good day out!

In the 1957 visit, little is mentioned of the condition they found the foundations of the keeill in, however, in the not so recent past there has been a fair amount of heavy handed redevelopment at Kerrowdhoo, an example of this being the building of a garage at the entrance to the farm which, as can be seen from the gable end still remaining behind the new structure, replaced a much older building.


In the last century, I think it is fair to say that the condition of the keeill at Kerrowdhoo has declined greatly.

Sam and I visited Kerrowdhoo in August 2016 (Nicola was off Island), we hadn’t contacted the landowner in advance as it was an off the cuff decision to visit after an afternoon at the Raby Keeill.  I remembered that when I had delivered the post there, the landowners were very pleasant people so we decided to knock.

On walking towards the house, we could see what little remained of Keeill Woirrey in 2016, a very different picture to the one painted by Kermode over 106 years ago.


The only remains in 2016 are a raised area along with a larger area of wall jutting out to the right of the standing stone in the photograph above, I am not sure from what part of the keeilll the area of remaining wall is from.

I’m hoping I may come across a photograph of the site as it was at the time of the survey but I haven’t found one yet.  The standing stone marks the spot where the previous owners thought the altar would have sat but the current owner is unsure of the accuracy of this.

We knocked on the door and explained our mission to Mr Roberts.  Mr Roberts has lived at Kerrowdhoo for the last few years although the family of Mrs Roberts lived at Kerrowdhoo and throughout the surrounding area for many generations.  My memory served me right and Mr Roberts was not only a very pleasant gentleman but he was also a fellow Antiquarian who was very knowledgeable and who cared deeply for the history of the Island and particularly of this site.  Mr Roberts wasn’t able to tell us much about the keeill itself but he did tell us that the ‘font’ mentioned as being down at the river, was now in the large objects store under the care of Manx National Heritage, this was good to hear as it saved us trekking down the river to try and find it which was our next mission!


We had a good chat with Mr Roberts and left, pleased to have visited Raby and Kerrowdhoo and feeling that we had explored two very interesting places.  After our visit, I received a message from Lynn Roberts, Mr Roberts’ daughter, who had studied archaeology and was interested in the Manx keeills.  We were sorry that Lynn missed our visit as she is very knowledgable and we would have liked to meet her, however, she very kindly sent me a photograph of what is assumed to be the holy water stoop from the keeill that they found when they were renovating one of the outbuildings at Kerrowdhoo, what a find that was!


I felt sad that the foundations of an ancient structure such as the keeill at Kerrowdhoo could survive until the twentieth century and then be destroyed at a time when the history and the value of the site were already known and documented.

Thankfully, it was quite obvious that under the ownership of Mr and Mrs Roberts, Keeill Woirrey is now in good hands.


Ruins of dwellings above Kerrowdhoo.


Find out more about our visits to Manx keeills in 2016.

Please be aware that these sites are, unless noted as being otherwise, on private land and can only be accessed with permission from the landowner.

Keeills and Cake; Raby Keeill, Patrick.

Keeills and Cake; Raby Keeill, Patrick.

Keeill number thirty four.

With kind permission from the tenant farmer and the landowners.

The name, Raby (also spelt Rhaby, Reaby and Rheaby), is said to come from the Scandinavian word ‘Rarbyr’, meaning ‘roe farm’, it is likely that at one time the King’s deer were preserved at estates bearing this name. (‘Place Names of the Isle of Man’, J. Kneen, 1925)

Raby Mooar Farm sits just outside Glen Maye on the west coast of the Island.  The house is striking and is an impressive site viewed through the trees.  Raby was in the hands of the Quirk family for many generations but the last of that line sadly passed away just a few years ago and the farm house is now up for sale although the land continues to be tenanted and farmed.


The Quirks were found in Dalby as early as 1430 and were prominent landowners in the west, in fact, it was said that at one point they owned all the farms on the west coast ‘from Peel to Dalby point’.  The Quirks were known to be hard working and studious, in an article about ‘The Quirks’ by Mrs M.A. Watterson (nee Quirk), they are described as this:

The ancient Quirks were of a retiring disposition, cautious in friendship, dubious of strangers, industrious and hard-working. They were religiously inclined and of a studious nature. The remark has – often been made : “Where there’s a Quirk, there’s a book.”

The Quirks were a very interesting family with a fascinating past and it would be fair to say the same about Raby Mooar Farm.


When starting our keeill visits, we didn’t intend to visit the site at Raby as Kermode mentioned in his survey that the stones were removed from the keeill itself in 1906 and we were only visiting sites that we suspected would have ‘visible remains’.  However, after visiting all the sites on our list we started looking at the sites where we knew the keeill building was most likely gone.  After looking on Google Earth at Raby, we thought it was definitely worth a visit.  Although the keeill building itself at Raby no longer exists, the earthworks were very visible and the area so interesting that I felt it really did deserve a post of its own.

Sam was accompanying me on this visit as Nicola was off Island and we were very much looking forward to seeing what we could find as the land is not easily accessible and other than the tenant farmer, probably has few visitors.  In the first report of the Manx Archaeological Survey, Kermode describes Raby as ‘a place of great interest’ and certainly we found this to be the case, we really enjoyed our time exploring this site although we missed Nicola and you will miss her beautiful photos in this post!

1869 Ordnance Survey.
Embankment surrounding the keeill is very visible from the air.

The keeill sits in a field known as Magher Rhullick, Manx for ‘Graveyard Field’, along with a well that was ‘once reputed curative’ and the cemetery surrounding the keeill.  In the Patrick Parish section of the ‘Manx Scrapbook’ (1929), W. Gill says;

Cists are still being uncovered in ploughing. One I inspected struck me as not appearing very ancient. It is said that at least one person – a woman – belonging to the neighbourhood was buried here within the last half-century or thereabouts.

In ‘Manks Antiquities’ (Kermode, 1914), Kermode mentions the enclosure of the Raby Keeill;

We know that at the introduction of Christianity into other Celtic lands, when a grant of land was obtained from the chieftain–if indeed he did not present them with a Fort-it was customary for the missionary to erect a ” Lis ” or ” Caisel,” within which to place his Church as well as the dwellings of those who became Christians, and that this custom was long continued. Possibly this may be the explanation of some of the larger enclosures found in connection with a few of the early Keeills, as at Rhaby, Patrick; Ballaquinney, Marown ; and Balladoole, Arbory.

From the ‘recent’ burial mentioned above, the remains of the chapel were obviously still considered a sacred site until comparatively recent times.  Frequently these sites remained burial sites for centuries after their use as Christian chapels ended, there are many stories of unbaptised babies and sometimes suicide victims being buried outside these Celtic chapels in the dead of night, they were important places in the community and their survival for so many years reflected that.


In Oswald’s ‘Vestigia Insulae Manniae Antiquiora’ (1860), he quotes from a report by the Rev. A. Holmes, vicar of Kirk Patrick, respecting the Keeils in the parish of Patrick;

At Rheaby-mooar there are the remains of a chapel, walls two feet high; burial ground bout quarter of an acre in extent. The ancient baptismal font — a rude granite block — lies there, about three yards distant from a well in the neighbourhood of the chapel. The proprietor of the estate, Richard Quirk, Esq., C.P., relates that about nine years ago nine stone coffins were discovered in the burial ground, and in one of them were found a few human bones, but they soon crumbled into dust on being exposed to the air.

Over fifteen years later, the Manx Archaeological Commission was set up to report back to the then Governor, Henry Loch, on the ‘Pre-historic monuments and other antiquities of the Isle of Man’.  The survey took place in the 1870’s and although it didn’t cover the whole Island, the keeill at Raby was visited by the Archaeological Commission around 1876.  At the time of their visit, ‘Mr. Quirk, the proprietor of the estate, informed the Commissioners that he had not been able to ascertain the name of this keeyll’.  The keeill had walls at the time of the visit and was described as being 17ft by 9ft. 6 inches and the enclosure was measured at 40 yards long by 26 yards wide.  Inside the keeill, they found the old square font.  We found this lying in the middle of the enclosure in 2016.rab3

The commissioners also mention the well which was said to have been used for sacred purposes, the well sat in the bottom corner of the field and although there wasn’t a stone entrance or anything familiar, we were still able to see the wet area that supplied the water for the keeill.


The commissioners also mention a ‘large circular flat mass of granite, which has in its centre a round cup-like cavity about three inches deep’.  We had found this interesting stone ourselves, almost one metre across in width and almost as high and and we were surmising what it had been used for, we wondered whether the hollow had been filled with water and been used for baptismal purposes as it sat so close to the well.  It is marked as a ‘font’ on the 1869 O.S. although it doesn’t bear any resemblance to one.  In their visit around 1876, the members of the archaeological commission thought the stone may have been a base for a cross.  In 1886, the Antiquarians visited and in a write up for the Isle of Man Times ( mentioned that this stone had ‘excited a deal of discussion’ with the prevailing opinion being that it was the under stone of an arrangement for grinding corn. In ‘A Vocabulary of the Anglo Manx Dialect’ (1924), I found a far more interesting suggestion for the use of this stone:

CURSING STONE. Near the old Keeill at Reaby on the top of the houghs of Magher n Ruilhck (‘ field of the graveyard ‘) is a large round stone raised on an artificial mound. In the centre of the stone is a circular hollow such as those in which the old Celt, when he wished ill to an enemy, twisted his thumb round against the sun and cursed him with a ‘ prayer of cursing’.

An article on ‘Sorcery and Witchcraft in Mann’ by D. Craine for ‘The Journal of the Manx Museum’ (1939) gives more information on the folklore of ‘cursing’ on the Island.  For many years, the most potent curse was ‘Shiaght mynney mollaght’ (the seven swearings of a curse) which was in early times associated with a ritual whereby a round swear stone  was turned seven times anti clockwise in the cup shaped hole of a larger stone.  This curse survived until as late as the seventeenth century when is mentioned that Moore the miller of Pulrose reported that a neighbour had said ‘I hear badd toake of my god daughter.  If it be true my seven curses on her’.

A base for a cross, part of a device for grinding corn or a cursing stone?  We will never know!  It seems a little strange to me for there to have been a cursing stone so close to a holy site and I know it was probably something far less interesting.  I love it when you come across something like that when researching that’s so strange and a real insight in to life hundreds of years ago.  Whatever it was made for, I think it’s wonderful that it’s still sitting up there in the graveyard field all these years later.

When Kermode visited the keeill for the First Report of the Manx Archaeological Survey, he wrote very little on it:

RHABY. — O.S. IX, 13, (638), is a place of great interest, and though the walls of the keeill are now gone (some of the stones being built into a fence of the field to the south-east of it), its measurements are recorded by the Archaeological Commissioners in their Report, 1876, as 17 ft. by 9 ft. 6 in. (interior), the doorway, we were told by Mr. Quirk, was on the west.

The enclosure at a height of some 300 ft. above the sea has a westerly aspect, and rneasuras (to the outside of the embankment) about 43 yards from north to south by 18 yards from east to west, and is artificially raised to a level and protected by a strong embankment. The late Mr. Quirk found nine lintel graves in the cemetery. The keeill was at the north-east, its eastern wall against the inner foot of the embankment. Mr. Quirk has given its permission to examine these remains, an account of which we hope to to include in our next Report.

In the second report it is mentioned that they are struggling due to a shortage of funds but are hoping to make a more exhaustive examination of the enclosure of ‘Rhaby’.  I have looked through Kermode’s private papers but unfortunately I could not find any further mention of it.

As we arrived at the ‘Magher Rhullick’ field, we saw immediately the walls of the enclosure which remain very high in places and make for quite a feature in the landscape, the earthworks are not as impressive in the photos as it they are in ‘real life’, I should have made Sam stand next to them to give an idea of the size.  We knew approximately where the keeill had sat within the enclosure thanks to descriptions of the site by Kermode.


All that remained was a large clump of stinging nettles in that corner, we didn’t try and see if there was anything underneath.  There must be an indent in the land there as the nettles sat in almost the shape of the keeill.


It is thought that the stones from the wall of the keeill were removed in 1906.  It seemed strange that they were removed when the large enclosure remained which rendered the area unable to be ploughed and cultivated.  In a letter from Sophia Morrison to J.J. Kneen, she says:

‘But how much we have lost in our own day, of our national treasures… Yesterday, Prof Dawkins, Mr P.M.C Kermode and myself went to Rheaby to explore an old Keeill that the owner is pulling down to build hedges.’

I can only assume that the hedges nearby really needed improving and the keeill became a useful building material.  We looked for the stones in the field boundary and found them fairly easily as some were rounded at the edges, perhaps sill stones?  What a great pity Sophia or P.M.C Kermode didn’t think to draw a plan of the chapel at the time.


The wall in which the stones were placed was built in a thoughtful and attractive way with the larger stones forming a row across the middle.  I’m often amazed by the pride the builders of these walls took in their work, leaving beautiful walls in often isolated areas.


I found an interesting article by A. W. Moore in the ‘Isle of Man Examiner’ in 1898, the article was called ‘Manx Folklore’ and a section of it mentioned ‘the disasters entailed by removing the stones of the old stone circles’.  One story was ‘told to Miss Graves by an old man in Dalby’ in a wonderful Manx dialect, it talks about the removal of the stones from Raby, it doesn’t mention the keeill specifically but I think it must have been, perhaps grave markers or stones from the chapel itself.

You’ll maybe have heard tell of the people they war callin’ Druids to, in times gone by, an’ of how they would be offerin’ human sacrifices!  It was some of theer stones, they war sayin’ was on Rheaby farm.  Well, once they war for buildin’ a new wall, the masther, thinkin’ no harm, toul the men to take thee stones for to help to build the wall.  Terrible big ones they war’ an’ it tuk two horses to drag them away.  But they war no sooner in the wall tho’ till the people had no res’ of their luves for the cryin’ and screechin’ theer was roun’ the place.  Yis, an’ bad luck too, cattle dyin’ an jiel’ uncommon.  Of coorse they knew then what was there doin’ on them, an’ they tried to put the stone back again.  But behoul’ ye! back they cud’n get them, no matter how they thried, for no hores could drag them!  Then oul’ Rheaby went to a wise woman that was livin’ in the south ide, an she tul’ jim what to do, an’ when he comes home he does her biddin’ which was this:  He got seven young horses that had never been harnessed and put them agate of the stones.  Sure enough then they come away as aisy as ye plase, and the people had life after that.

Wonderful stuff although perhaps best taken with a pinch of salt!  There are a number of large stones lying inside the enclosure, maybe dragged back by seven young horses.  What I find hard to understand is that this folklore was obviously pre 1898 but the Mr Quirk that owned the site in 1877 was praised for how he had looked after it.  I have been told that it was that gentleman’s grandson that removed the keeill in 1906, a brave man indeed after what had allegedly happened last time someone tried it!

raby3Raby Farm was an absolute delight and is a great example of the layers of history, often hidden, that make up so much of our beautiful Island.  I found the visit left me with more questions than answers but isn’t that what makes life so interesting?


Some photos from a lovely evening at Raby on an IOMNHAS ( excursion in July 2018.

More information on our keeill visits in 2016.

Please be aware that these sites are, unless noted as being otherwise, on private land and can only be accessed with permission from the landowner.

(photos in this post are Sam and Katie’s)

Keeills and Cake; Keeill Ean, Lezayre.

Keeills and Cake; Keeill Ean, Lezayre.

Keeill number thirty three.

Keeill Ean sits in the Brookdale plantation in Glen Auldyn, the plantation belongs to the Forestry Board (DEFA) and is accessible to the public. 

There are three roads to Glen Auldyn. The first is towards Albert Tower Hill, past the foot of Elfin Glen, a very sweet wooded ravine west of the tower, and along the hill west of Clybane, a fine old Manx place, perfectly characteristic, half mansion, half farmhouse, shaded with giant elms.  The second route is by the Lezayre Road, past Milntown, and to the left up the flats by Glen Auldyn River. The third route is a riverside path from Ramsey Bridge through Greenland, also entering Glen Auldyn just beyond Milntown.  Skyhill is a beautifully wooded and very steep abutment upon the plain, of a ridge of heights standing out from the mountains. Glen Auldyn is the gorge winding between-a gorge with the wild and weird fascination of surprise and mystery. The first mile is seductive with all kinds of picturesque grace road and river gliding along flats, with nestling cottages and straggling fringes of trees and truant woodland, the afternoon sun scarce clear above the ridge of Skyhill.  On the left, in a side ravine, is the Alt or Cascade, in Manx, the Spooyt Vooar (great spout), which gives its name to Altdale corrupted into Altyn. Its Norse name was Braid Foss. The main glen narrows, assumes a wilder aspect, with increasing upward gradient, the summit of Snaefell topping the folding vista southwards. At a lonely spot three miles out the glen forks-a steep climb to the left leading to the Snaefell Road, and… to the right the hill path to Sulby. (Mate’s Isle of Man Illustrated, 1902).

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Glen Auldyn is one of the most fascinating areas of the Island and is renowned for its folklore and stories, many involving ‘fairies’.  I highly recommend a read of ‘Legends of a Lifetime’ by George Quayle, this wonderful book will tell you so much about this part of the Island and really breathes magic in to it.  The glen lies close to Ramsey and was a favourite spot for visitors in the heyday of the tourist trade on the Island, it was also where P. M. C Kermode (who became the first director of the Manx Museum and was instigator and author of the Manx Archaeological Survey) and his sister, Josephine (alias ‘Cushag’), the Manx poet, lived.


There were three keeills known to have existed in Glen Auldyn.  There was Keeill Phooigyn, of which nothing remains but the memory of the name, Ballameanagh keeill (known as Keeill Ean) and Keeill Vael.  Keeill Vael, dedicated to St. Michael, is thought to have sat in a glen known as ‘Glion Keeill Vael’ but the knowledge of the site of the keeill is now lost although Kermode mentioned it as at approximately O.S., V, 14, (3243 or 3244).  Kermode in the Fourth Report of the Manx Archaeological Survey, calls the Ballameanagh Keeill ‘The Cabbal’ and he doesn’t mention the name Keeill Ean (although this is what it is known as in other publications).  There had been a custom of gathering at the keeill on St. John’s Day which suggested strongly the dedication of the keeill to St. John (Proc IoMNH&ASoc, vol3), Keeill Ean is the Manx translation.  Kermode describes the keeill site;

In a field behind Mr. Cubbon’s house in Glen Aldyn, are ruins still known to a few people as the ‘Cabbal,’ or the ‘old Chapel.’ This is in the enclosure marked V, 14 (3080) on the O.S., at a height above sea-level of 18o ft. or thereabouts. On a projecting bluff at the S. E. corner of the small field a portion of the ancient cemetery remains and part of the foundations of the keeill.

In the last half of the 19th century, a road had cut through the keeill diagonally and many stones had been removed, this is shown on a plan from the Kermode Survey:


From the remains, Kermode estimated the size of the building to have been about 15 by 9ft., he found the bank against the south west corner to have been flagged with large stones, there were also traces of this at the north east and south east corners.  The exposed area of the west wall showed that the keeill had an inner and outer facing of stone filled with soil and rubble, the middle of the west wall showed traces of a doorway.  At the time of the survey, a few of the paving stones from the floor remained in place.  In the road way that had intersected the keeill, Kermode found a stone lined grave which must have been directly under the north wall, from the remains of it, it was thought to be a ‘heathen’ pre-historic grave, yet another example of a Christian chapel being built on a site that was historically sacred.  During the making of the road that cut through the keeill, Kermode was told that a bone needle and some rings were found that had since been lost, I wonder where those ended up!

They also found further evidence of burial in the triangular space to the east of the keeill.  There was folklore associated with this keeill which is mentioned in the Kermode report and also in other publications; in earlier times, a method of divining the future was practised at this keeill site.  The keeill was visited on St. John’s Eve at midnight and people watched for ‘lights’ in the glen, the number of lights seen would foretell the number of deaths in the locality of the following year.  Kermode mentions that one year, twenty one lights were seen ‘dancing’ up the glen.  That year was the ‘great epidemic’ and there were twenty one deaths, just as the lights had foretold.

A few years after the survey, the keeill at Ballameanagh was visited by the antiquarian society in 1923, the visit was led by Kermode himself (Proc IoMNH&ASoc vol2 #1), at the visit, a Mrs Cubbon remembered the site being known as the ‘Cabbal’, in fact, it was her uncle that had cut the road way through the building.  I did wonder why the whole chapel wasn’t demolished, they weren’t superstitious or they wouldn’t have destroyed it in the first place, I can only assume that to remove the rest of the keeill without the benefit of modern machinery would have been unnecessary effort.

There was a stone ‘font’ and a ‘holy water stoup’ found nearby that were thought to have come from the Ballameanagh keeill.  I found a letter (FLS Q/020-E) in the Manx Museum library from a Mrs Elizabeth Quayle to Mr Basil Megaw (the Director of the Manx Museum at the time) written in 1955 regarding a these items.  The letter notes that the owner of Ballameanagh at the time, a Mr Harry Cubbon, said that the ‘font’ had been;

…for generations in a cowhouse of a croft, to the south of the old chapel, occupied by people named Caley.  It had been used (for) holding meal and water for the cow.  The foundations of croft buildings were washed away in the 1929 flood, and tumbled in to the river from where the font was rescued by Mr. Cubbon and placed in its present position, a field to the south of the chapel.

The stoup had been used as a pig’s trough for the owners’ life time and it was noted that the property had been in the owners family for generations.  Mrs Quayle, who lived at Upper Glentrammon, had written to the museum with information and sketches of these two items, Mr Megaw’s reply was, I felt, rather patronising.  He thanked her for the sketches and notes but said that items like these were rather a problem to the museum as none had been found in the actual keeills, usually in places nearby or had been placed in the keeills by people assuming the connection.  He wasn’t sure they would have been used in the keeills as he felt that often, the ‘sacred chibbyr’ (holy well) was close by and used instead.  I’ve shared an extract from the letter below;

It doesn’t follow that these stoups are not old – some certainly are.  But their use in many cases remain uncertain, and that is what we must hope to find more about.  Meanwhile, your notes are admirable, and I hope you’ll carry on in this way now you have tried your hand at sketching!  There are lots of other good subjects too!

… The poor old museum will burst at the seams if we take in more of these troughs just at present!  We have dozens, and while I would like to accept them we just can’t cope at the moment.  We hope for more accommodation before too long, and I trust that Mr. Cubbon will be able to find a safe place for his troughs around the farm.

I wonder what happened to these interesting items and whether they ever made it to the museum, or whether they’re still holding water at Ballameanagh!

glen auldyn 3

Keeill Ean was not on our list of keeills with existing remains in 2016, it was just one we were curious about as we knew the antiquarians had visited it in the 1950’s which was recent enough for there to be a chance of us finding something.  Nicola was unable to come with me that evening and so my friend Sam came along, we didn’t really expect to find anything as it wasn’t on the list, I thought at best it would be a pleasant evening stroll.  The keeill was not shown on the 1869 O.S. map but strangely, it is on the modern leisure map which we didn’t realise until we had spent quite some time working its location out from the Kermode survey!:


We headed up Brookdale plantation which sits on the spur of land that bisects Glen Auldyn from two other smaller glens.  We followed a footpath to the right in the direction of the keeill according to the leisure map, we knew it was behind ‘Mr Cubbon’s house’ and as the footpath runs along the edge of the plantation which then slopes steeply towards the houses, we thought we were in the right area.  The problem was, we couldn’t find anything!  So we went back to the drawing board and decided to knock at the houses below; at the first house they hadn’t heard of Keeill Ean but we had more luck at the second.  The occupiers had lived at Glen Auldyn for many years but had never visited the keeill site, they were only aware of it as when they had closed a footpath on their land, there was someone who raised an objection to it closing as they used it to visit an ancient keeill!  This was useful information as it hinted at the foundations still being there, we had even more luck with an elderly gentleman in the house next door.  This gentleman had visited the keeill himself many moons ago and said it was hard to find as it was ‘behind a wall’.  With this to work from we headed back in to the plantation, we knew it must be near the end of the closed footpath, we also knew from the occupiers of house two, the areas where the keeill definitely wasn’t!  We could see the shape of the path that had cut through the keeill (from the Kermode diagram) and we used the 1869 O.S. to place the keeill somewhere inside the triangular path marked on the left of the map below;


Using the old map to work out the whereabouts of the track that bisects the keeill along with a bit of hedge clambering, we eventually found what we were looking for.  Behind a boundary wall, we found what looked like a large hedge built partly with stones, what stopped us climbing back over to the path was what looked like the edge of a wall protruding from the mound.  This was the pointer that we needed, we had found the remains of part of the west wall of Keeill Ean.


We were so excited we might have jumped around a bit, sounds a bit unnecessary for a few stones but we had been looking for a few hours at this point.  Just below the wall was the remains of the lane (long unused and very overgrown) that had cut through the keeill and a few metres away, the ground dropped away just as it does in the Kermode plan.  Confirming the site was in the right field, 3080, that Kermode had said it was in (Fourth Report of the Manx Archaeological Survey), was the final triumph.


It is hard to imagine these remains in this dark corner of the plantation as the Keeill Ean where locals gathered to look down the valley for the telling lights, in 2016 you can barely see the light through the trees.  The site in 2016 would certainly have been unrecognisable from the days before the trees were planted when it sat on a plateau in open countrysideit would have had a wonderful view.

It seems that the keeill is still visited (or certainly until recently) by at least the person that objected to the footpath closing, however, when we had researched the keeill, we couldn’t find anyone that knew of its whereabouts so we were pretty pleased to put this keeill site back on the map by giving it a post of its own.  We weren’t able to tell the extent of the remaining foundations due to it being very overgrown, I’m pretty sure that the remaining walls of Keeill Ean are still sitting safe inside that mound.



“We are the people of the Glen,” they said,
And then, again, the Christmas darkness rang
With those old tuneful melodies they sang,
While we a welcome in their music read.
Swiftly the busy years have passed and fled,
Nor could the parting be without a pang
From all the kindliness and love which sprang
To meet us with a courtesy inbred.

O glen of roses, glen of mingling streams,
Glen of the swallows and the tender wren.
Glen of the children, glen of elfin dreams,
That lay in mystery beyond our ken;
Life all around us touched by faery gleams,
We loved with you, dear People of the Glen!


neryglennnglen auldyn2glen auldyn1glen auldynglen auldyn 3


I have ended the post with some of Nicola’s beautiful photographs of Glen Auldyn and the surrounding area, a wonderful place to visit.

Tell me more about keeills.




Keeills and Cake; Ballacuberagh Keeill, Lezayre.

Keeills and Cake; Ballacuberagh Keeill, Lezayre.

Keeill number thirty two.

With kind permission from Myra Kelly, Ballacuberagh.

‘From the station it is a quarter of a mile to Old Sulby hamlet, and half a mile to the river bank at the mouth of the Glen. Old Sulby has a woollen mill for Manx homespun, and at the mouth of the Glen a disused starch mill–once an active industry. This point is bewilderingly beautiful. A ravine comes down from the right from Carran mountain. Here is Kilculberagh, or St. Cuthbert’s Church, the site only traceable.  The ascent of Carran Mountain gives a succession of magnificent mountain views, especially along Sulby Glen to Snaefell. The first reach of the Glen is eastwards. The Glen sides are inaccessible steeps of grass and gorse broken by projecting crags. At the bend the Glen turns south. On the left, beyond the river and a little nook of mountain crofts, is a high cascade, called the Cluggit, in the elbow of the Glen. It comes from a ledge several hundred feet above the tiny fields and clumps of ash trees embowering the homesteads to which a footbridge and ford invite an hour’s exploration of its hinterland.’ (Mate’s Isle of Man Illustrated, 1902).


Although the keeill at Ballacuberagh in Sulby was not on our original list of keeills (with visible remains), the site of this keeill is still obvious and we have seen less at some of the keeills on the list itself.  I decided to cover it in a post as it is important to document the memory of these sacred places.



Ballacuberagh means ‘place of Cuthbert’ and the naming of this area in Sulby suggests a dedication to Saint Cuthbert.  Saint Cuthbert was a monk, bishop and hermit living in Lindisfarne, Northumberland, and is thought to be one of the most important of the English saints.  After he died in AD687, his body was found to be ‘incorruptible’ and it is said that pilgrimage to his shrine often led to people being healed miraculously.

Interestingly, in an article in the Mona’s Herald from 1889 reporting on a visit to Sulby by the Isle of Man Natural History and Antiquarian Society (, it is suggested that the name ‘Ballacuberagh’ is actually a corruption of ‘Balla Chibbyragh’ (the place of the wells), named after two celebrated wells in the valley opposite.  For the sake of this post, I’m backing the Cuthbert reference!

The keeill is not marked on the earliest of the Ordnance Survey maps suggesting it has been some time since the keeill had substantial foundations.  The site of the keeill is in the orchard behind the house which is known as ‘Magher Keeill’ (Chapel Field), the field closer to the river is known as ‘Lheannee fo Keeill’ (Maedow below the Keeill) and the field above the keeill is known as ‘Magher heose Keeill’ (Field above the Keeill), this information is from the Third Report of the Manx Archaeological Survey.  Kermode doesn’t mention visiting the keeill site but reports that it is thought to lie in the orchard.


We hadn’t considered visiting Ballacuberagh until I had a conversation with Andy Raine from Lindisfarne who was on the Island for Praying the Keeills week in May 2016 (  The current owner of the property, Myra Kelly, had kindly given them permission to visit the keeill site and hold a small service there.  Andy told us that the site was still an obvious imprint in the ground with a number of stones around and as this was already an improvement on what we had found at Speke and Sulby keeills, we decided to ask Miss Kelly for permission to visit ourselves.  The Kelly family have lived at Ballacuberagh for many years, a Mrs Kelly was interviewed for the Manx Folk Life Survey in 1963 and mentioned that ‘there used to be a church on Ballacuberagh’, the past tense meant we didn’t expect to find much.  Myra Kelly kindly gave us permission, she felt it was important that the site of the little church to St. Cuthbert was remembered.



We found the keeill site lying close to the back wall of the orchard, although it was very overgrown, it was quite easy to tell the site.  There is a noticeable dip in the landscape under the shade of the trees (the keeill site lies inside the line of the ferns in the photograph above) and although there were no stones in situ, there were a number lying around including an interesting one with what looked to be hand made marks in it.


I have been able to find little else on the keeill itself as the building was obviously lost many years ago, before any antiquarian visits had been documented unfortunately! However, even without foundations, the keeill site in the orchard was still easy for us to find in 2016 and we were glad to have visited it.  Ballacuberagh will be remembered.

Statues, says Cicero, perish by weather, violence or age; but the sanctity of the tomb lies in the ground, which cannot be obliterated, or moved by force; and as all else becomes extinct, so the tomb becomes more hallowed by age. (J. R. Oliver, Archaeologia Cambrensis, Isle of Man, 1866).


Ballacuberagh sits off the Tholt y Will road in Sulby, a beautiful part of the Isle of Man.  I can recommend a visit to Killabrega, the remains of a large hill top farm high above Tholt y Will, one of many beautiful ruins sitting around the same height above the Sulby Valley.  These farms were often deserted when families emigrated to start new lives overseas, life had become difficult when the common lands were enclosed and cultivating the more difficult upper land became uneconomic, farming practices changed and for many it was a ‘thin living’.  This picturesque spot at Killabrega is owned by Manx National Heritage and is a real treasure in their crown.  It can be accessed by a steep zig zag path up from Tholt y Will or a much easier route down from Druidale, it’s the perfect spot for a picnic or at the very least, some cake and a flask.


The Sulby Valley and Tholt y Will are a favourite with Nic, I thought I’d share some of her beautiful photographs taken in this area, in this post.

The Isle of Man is a beautiful place!

Find out more about keeills.