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)

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