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