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 (www.imuseum.im), 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 (www.prayingthekeeills.org). 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!