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.
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.’
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!
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 (www.imuseum.im) 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.
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.