Keeills and Cake; Eairy Moar Keeill, German.

Keeills and Cake; Eairy Moar Keeill, German.

Keeill number twenty six.

With kind permission from Lord Davis-Goff and tenant farmer of Eairy Moar Farm, Ray Griffin.

Spelled in various ways as Earey Mooar/Moar, Eary Mooar/Moar, Eairy Mooar/Moar, a name that translates as ‘Great Sheiling’, the Eairy Moar Keeill sits on the hillside above Glen Helen on the land of Eairy Moar Farm.

Glen Helen, previously known as ‘Rhenass’, was planted in the 1860’s and grew in to a well known tourist attraction where locals and visitors flocked to visit the ‘Swiss Cottage’ and enjoy trout fishing, skittles, swings and excellent cheese cakes amongst many other forms of entertainment (‘Jenkinson’s Practical Guide’, 1874).  Even in the 1920’s there was plenty of fun to be had with:

…an amusement park with gardens and lawns, an aviary, dancing floor and tea gardens, and a boating lake with fountains playing, but beyond, the long glen winds so far into the mountains that it is easy to get out of sight and sound of the merry-makers. The wide glen is one of the most richly and beautifully wooded on the Island, and the Rhenass Falls, about a mile from the entrance, are in an enchanting setting of woods and rocks. (Official Handbook Isle of Man, 1923)

Glen Helen in 2016 is made up of the recently closed Glen Helen Inn and Swiss House Restaurant and a child’s play park along with the glen and Rhenass Falls, it is most popular during TT and MGP week as a viewing and commentary spot but is fairly quiet the rest of the year especially now the businesses have closed.

Hiding in a field, just above the top footpath running through Glen Helen, is the Eairy Moar Keeill.  With all the visitors to the Rhenass Falls below and the keeill sitting just off the upper footpath which was popular with Victorian tourists heading for Little London, I was surprised that I couldn’t find any mention of the keeill in the tourism literature at the time, these chapels were often popular places to visit.  I did, however, find this mention of a stone circle which must have sat close by the keeill:

Paths lead down the glen, either high up the side of the hill or close to the stream, on the opposite side to that by which the tourist came. By following the higher track, a small but perfect stone circle will be found in a field at the back of the plantation, on the Eairy Moar farm, nearly half-way down the glen. It is evidently one of the many ancient burial-places met with on the island. (‘Jenkinson’s Practical Guide to the Isle of Man’, 1874)

I couldn’t find any other reference to this stone circle so I can only assume it did not survive in to the twentieth century.  To say the keeill is hidden is an understatement, you really could walk past it without knowing it was there as the undergrowth is so thick.  Our first attempt was on a very wet day in February, it was pretty grim and we got quite lost.

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The second visit was in June 2016, kindly accompanied by Ray Griffin.  Ray has looked after the 300 acres at Eairy Moar for Lord and Lady Davis Goff for over twenty years, he is now 83 and still taking care of the land and his herd of highland cattle every day.

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Ray was very pleasant company and a real character!  He didn’t know much about the keeill other than that Lord Davis-Goff was very respectful of it and intended to fence it at some stage.  Being so overgrown and hidden in the landscape, this little chapel could easily be forgotten so it was good to see that it is very much in safe hands.

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I can find no mention of the keeill being visited by the Isle of Man Natural History and Antiquarian Society which is a pity as the write up of these visits in the local press often provides valuable information on the structure and associated folklore of these places.  However, the Eairy Moar Keeill was surveyed for the ‘Second Report of the Manx Archaeological Survey’ (1910) which does provide us with an explanation of what hopefully still sits beneath the undergrowth in 2016.

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The survey team found the building to measure 14 ft. by 7 ft. with walls that were between 3 ft. 6 ins. and 4 ft. wide and standing between 2 and 3 ft. high, the foundation is deeper on one side to make up for it being built in to the hillside.  Instead of the usual earthen bank faced with stone, the chapel at Eairy Moar is built from stone throughout with a high proportion of the stone being white quartz.  This is similar to the keeill at Ballahimmin which is just up the valley from here.  The proportion of quartz stone is very high although there was no mention in the survey of it having been built on an Iron Age site which is often the case when there is a large amount of quartz in use.

The doorway was found to be in the middle of the west wall, being reached by a step about 9 inches high.  There was no paving still in position but many stones were found with the corners chipped to make them more round and they could possibly have been part of the flooring.  The base of the altar remained and was 12 inches high, 2 ft. 10 ins by 2 ft. built from large stones and earth.  The skirting of upright stones round the walls had almost all been carried away.

We were not able to see if the altar still remains in place due to the thickness of the undergrowth unfortunately, hopefully its secluded position will have protected it.

Although there is now nowhere to buy cake in the vicinity, Glen Helen is still well worth a visit.  The Rhenass Falls are just as spectacular as they were when the Victorian tourists posed in front for their photographs and they have probably changed very little from when our Celtic ancestors climbed up the hill from Rhenass with the sound of the waterfall in the background to worship at the Eairy Moar Keeill over 1000 years ago.

You can almost picture the keeill as it was then, with the sun setting in the west and reflecting off the walls full of glistening white quartz; making the chapel so visible on the open hillside that it would be a landmark of the Celtic faith for miles around.

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What’s a keeill?

Please be aware that these sites are on private land unless noted as being otherwise and are visited with permission of the landowner.

Keeills and Cake; Sulbrick Keeill, Santon.

Keeills and Cake; Sulbrick Keeill, Santon.

Keeill number twenty five.

With kind permission from Mr and Mrs Skillen, Sulbrick Farm.

There are six keeills that are known to have existed in the parish of Santon, of these, Sulbrick Keeill is the only one that has any visible remains in 2016.

Sulbrick Farm sits in the valley just below the Clannagh Road and is accessed by a long lane from Ballahowin, there are no footpaths nearby and the farm is isolated in a very pleasant way; the views over the rolling fields towards South Barrule are lovely.

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Sulbrick is mentioned as early as the 1511 Manorial Roll, the name ‘Sulbrick’ originating from the Scandinavian for ‘Sandy Slope’ which is ‘Sandbrekka’ (‘Manx Place Names’, J. J. Kneen, 1925).   The Moore family lived at Sulbrick from the early 1600’s, long enough to be known as ‘The Moores of Sulbrick’ and were still there at the end of the 19th Century according to the business directories of the time.  The farm is very much off the beaten track in the 21st century but it would seem that this hasn’t always been the case.  According to Mrs Quine who lived at Sulbrick and who was interviewed for the Manx Folklife Survey in 1973 (FLS S/051), Sulbrick Farm sits on the old track to Santon Church, and that the track goes through where the current house stands, she believed that people occasionally used it in recent memory and cut around the outside of the house.  It can’t have been a coincidence that the track passed by the old keeill site.  The distance to the nearest road from Sulbrick is what makes it appear so isolated, it must have been a busy little thoroughfare when it sat on the track to the old church in the days before motor vehicles were invented.  You can see from the aerial photograph of Sulbrick below that the keeill walls are very visible in the field on the left.

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Sulbrick has been farmed by Mr and Mrs Skillen for the past 21 years and they were good enough to take us down to show us the keeill which sits a couple of fields away from the house.  In 21 years, we were only the second set of people (other than MNH) to visit the keeill (in their knowledge), the Praying the Keeills event visited in 2010.  As always, being accompanied by the ‘Keepers of the Keeill’ made the visit much more interesting, they were able to point out old mine trials in the same field as the keeill and tell us a bit more about the area.  We’ve met some lovely people on these visits and Mr and Mrs Skillen were no exception.

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The keeill is under the guardianship of MNH and was fenced off by them in 1938.  They are also responsible for cutting the grass and keeping the keeill tidy, this job is actually done by Mr and Mrs Skillen’s son who works for Manx National Heritage!  When we visited, the site was due its annual trim which was a pity as the detailing in the structure would have been more visible without the grass, however, Mrs Skillen was able to point out some paving stones and the remains of what is thought to be the altar, in the undergrowth.

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The structure of the keeill was probably one of the best we had seen, with walls that must have been 3 to 4 ft. high, the only others that we found to be so intact were Keeill Vreeshey at Eyerton and Keeill Kickle, Jurby.  The walls were very thick and it was great to visit a keeill where wallking in through the doorway actually felt like walking in to a building, it gave a much better idea of what these ancient chapels would have looked and felt like.

 

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Image taken from ‘A History of the Isle of Man’ by R. Kinvig (1950).

 

Mr Skillen told us that the site surrounding the keeill was surveyed by archaeological students from a university a few years ago but unfortunately Mr and Mrs Skillen were never told of the findings so the field around the keeill remains a mystery, to us at least.

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The site wasn’t visited by the 1877 Archaeological Commission and I can find no records of any visits by the Isle of Man Natural History and Antiquarian Society, however, it was surveyed for the 5th Report of the Manx Archaeological Survey (1918).  They found the keeill to measure 17 ft. by 8 ft. 6ins. with walls between 2 and 4 ft. in height and between 3 and 4.5 ft. in width, we found it in a similar condition 100 years later.  Here is a photo of the Sulbrick Keeill from the survey, taken in 1935, it looks very different without the grass and fence!

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The keeill was built from boulders and stones of quartz, trap and slate, the east wall had a facing only on the inside whilst outside it was roughly built against the sustaining bank, they thought that above the bank it would most likely have had an external facing.  They found the south wall to have settled inwards at the west end and they found in this wall at a height of 4 ft. a projecting stone that they thought may have been a bracket on which to place a small lamp, it’s these small things that make these ancient buildings easier to relate to, we will have to go back later in the year and see if it is still in place.

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The doorway in the west wall had been filled in but they found a lower jamb stone of white quartz and a sill stone, they also found the remains of what appeared to be a sill stone marking a window in the south wall at a height of 3 ft. 6 ins. from the floor.  There were small stones of irregular size and shape mostly near the entrance that marked the remains of the floor pavement, the base of the altar was 4 ft. 3 ins. by 2 – 2 ft. 6 ins and still in place.  They also found a support and possibly a covering stone for the altar .

The survey team found thirteen lintel graves inside and around the keeill, five passed under the walls suggesting that the current building may be an enlargement of the original structure, one grave had no lintels but was covered in white shore pebbles.

Outside, they found the usual bank of earth and large stones against the walls, between 3 and 6 ft. wide, this was possibly to support the weight of a thatched roof.  There was little left of the enclosure other tha a slightly raised area that seems to have gone completely in 2016.

An early cross slab was found by the side of a stream at the nearby Ballacorris Mill and it is assumed that it came from Sulbrick Keeill originally, it now sits in Santon Church.

There is known to have been a ‘healing well’ about 250 yards north east of the keeill, in the Kermode Survey it is told how, in recent times, the well was discovered by a man who had killed his dog with a stone, he threw it in to the well and the dog then recovered.  I asked Mr and Mrs Skillen about the well but they didn’t know of it so I don’t think it has survived. Great story though.

Unusually, we hadn’t brought cake with us, thankfully Mrs Skillen is a member of the WI and makes excellent cake.  We finished our visit with tea, delicious cake and a good chat in Sulbrick Farmhouse, that’s what it’s all about!

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An Introduction to Keeills.

 

 

 

 

 

Keeills and Cake; Keeill Chiggyrt, Maughold.

Keeills and Cake; Keeill Chiggyrt, Maughold.

Keeill number twenty four.

With kind permission from Mr M. Whipp, The Barony.

Keeill Chiggyrt on the land of Ballafayle y Cannell, is one of six surviving keeills of the nineteen known keeill sites in the parish of Maughold.  The local tradition is that this was the burial place for ‘priests’ while the ‘locals’ were buried at Ballajora, the name of the nearby holy well ‘Chibbyr y Woirrey’ suggests the possible dedication of the keeill to St. Mary (information taken from the ‘Fourth Report of the Manx Archaeological Survey'(1915).

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Ballafayle y Cannell was once the home of William Cannell, probably the most well known of the Manx Quakers and the target of terrible hardship and persecution because of his faith.  In 1665, after spells in prison and years of maltreatment by the Bishop and particularly Illiam Dhone, he was banished from the Island, leaving his wife and young children behind.  In 1672, Charles II allowed William Callow and other banished Quakers to return to the Island and he was able to live his last short years at Ballafayle y Callow and was buried in a lonely sectioned off area of the farm, finally finding rest.  This tiny burial ground, ‘Rullick ny Quakeryn’ is thought to be on the site of an old keeill.  Opposite the Quaker burial ground is the Ballafayle Cairn and past that, the wonderful memorial to Sir Charles Kerruish with stunning views across Maughold.  This peaceful place is well worth a visit and a moment to reflect that religious persecution and intolerance is sadly nothing new.

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From Rullic ny Quakeryn, Cashtal yn Ard isn’t far away, Gob ny Garvain, the remains of an earthen fort is on the coast to the east of Keeill Chiggyrt.  Also nearby is Maughold Church with its three, yes THREE keeills in the churchyard along with many Celtic crosses and Ballaglass Glen, above Cornaa, is (in my opinion) the finest glen on the Island.  For all its lack of public footpaths, Maughold is a veritable smorgasbord of heritage delights.

Anyway, I digress.  Keeill Chiggyrt was visited by the Archaeological Commission around 1877, they found that it had recently ‘suffered at the hand of time and the ill usage of rude and irreverent visitors’ and that the walls of the keeill, once 2 to 3 ft. high, were now ‘barely traceable’.  The enclosure of the graveyard remained but was in need of repair, and they suggested a ‘hedge of quicks with a few trees’ would be suitable protection.  A ‘sculptured stone, or cross, of a peculiar character’ had been removed from its original position in the west gable but had thankfully been recovered and had been placed in the vicarage garden.  This beautiful cross is now on display in Maughold churchyard.

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By the time Keeill Chiggyrt was surveyed by P. M. C. Kermode and his team for the ‘Fourth Report of the Manx Archaeological Survey’ (1915), they found the keeill to measure 20 ft. by 11 ft. and the height of the walls to be between 1 to 2 ft..  They found the walls to be:

…well built, without lime mortar, of stone throughout and are of even thickness; the stones are unhewn and undressed but selected and well fitting, averaging from 14 to 15 ins. long by 4 ins. thick.

At the east end, they found some foundations 2 ft. below the floor along with the remains of a drain in the south east corner.  The doorway was towards the centre of the west wall with some larger stones curving outwards similar to the curved entrance at Ballahimmin Keeill.  The altar was gone but the remains of the platform on which it stood were partly visible, there were some paving stones and signs of digging or disturbance around the middle area.  The situation of a window in the east wall was just about evident, however, the survey mentioned that:

Mr Kerruish remembers the walls standing about 5 ft. high and Mrs Callow has recollection of recesses in the walls which, as children, they thought were cupboards, but no doubt were windows.

The enclosure by this time was only able to be ‘faintly traced’ so that had disappeared since the visit by the Archaeological Commission about 35 years earlier.  The Celtic cross had been replaced in the keeill after its sojourn in the vicarage garden and that was where the Survey team found it before its removal to the Maughold churchyard where it is to be found today.  I felt there were some conflicting points between these two surveys; Kermode found the walls to be between 1.5 and 2 ft. high around 1915 so it was strange that the 1877 commission described them as having once been 2 to 3 ft. and now ‘barely traceable’, also that someone around 1910 remembered them as having been 5ft. high and there having been windows in existence.  I have no idea of the age of the Mr Kerruish and Mrs Callow that spoke to P. M. C. Kermode but I’m assuming they were a good age to remember the Keeill Chiggyrt in that condition, it seems the majority of the deterioration must have happened some time between 1820 and 1870.

Certainly, when we visited in May 2016, we were quite pleased with what we felt to be a keeill whose structure was still fairly visible, we had just visited the single stone remaining of Sulby Keeill earlier that day so I think we were just relieved to find something recognisable, it is all relative.

The stonework of the keeill was quite distinctive and put together very neatly with the walls being around 1 ft. in height, the east wall was obscured by gorse so we weren’t able to see how much of that structure remained although some of the stones were displaced.

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By 2016, and with no hedge put in place as suggested in 1877, the outside boundary had gone completely.  The inside of the keeill was filled with gorse so we were limited as to what we could see of the interior but we could make out a very interesting stone with a fairly deep hollow carved in to it.  It didn’t look to us like a font or like anything we had seen before and we were interested to hear (from Professor Mark Noel who led a walk there with the Isle of Man Natural History and Antiquarian Society in June 2016) that it could possibly be the base of one of the two crosses found at Keeill Chiggyrt*.  Professor Mark Noel and his students from Durham University have been carrying out geophysical surveys of a number of the Manx keeills and the areas surrounding them (the Kermode surveys only ever dealt with the keeill buildings), the findings of Prof. Noel and the “Keeills Research Project” will be published in due course and when they are, I’m sure they will greatly add to the understanding of these interesting sites.

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There was just enough room to sit and eat our cake, a delicious bara brith that Nicola (the cake maker out of the pair of us) had made.  I think the ‘cake’ element of ‘Keeills and Cake’ has been underplayed, on some visits the cake has been the highlight!  I’ve shared the bara brith recipe as it was a particularly good one, you can find it at:bara brith recipe.

Wrap a couple of slices in foil and eat in the great outdoors.

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*Of the two crosses found at Keeill Chiggyrt, the cross that is now in Maughold churchyard is numbered 79 on Kermode’s List, the second is 163 but isn’t on the list and I couldn’t find much information on it.

What are keeills?

 

 

 

 

Keeills and Cake, Ballahimmin, German.

Keeills and Cake, Ballahimmin, German.

 

Keeill number twenty three.

With kind permission from Mr J. Cannell, Ballahimmin.

To sing a song shall please my countrymen;
To unlock the treasures of the Island heart;
With loving feet to trace each hill and glen,
And find the ore that is not for the mart
Of commerce : this is all I ask.

(T. E. Brown, ‘Fo’c’sle Yarns’)

Little London is an small hamlet, quite remote and with few inhabitants in the 21st century but the many tholtans (ruined houses) in the area tell a different story of the past, this was once a thriving community with a chapel that had an average attendance of 48 (the chapel building was demolished in 2002).  Little London sits in a valley that is very dark and damp on a rainy day and as has been so often the case, that was just the kind of weather we encountered when we visited the Ballahimmin Keeill.

This keeill sits on the land of Ballahimmin Equestrian Centre, it is common to see surrounding hedges and boundaries recessed to fit around the keeill and burial ground but Ballahimmin is unusual as a hedge has been built in to it on both sides and when walking up to it, it appears as a rather conspicuous mound (measuring almost 50 ft. across in places) in the middle of a hedge.

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We didn’t visit the keeill on our own, Nicola was standing on top of the keeill mound when a large goat sprung up and gave her a friendly nudge, he was very friendly and the mound of the keeill was his playground!  There were also some lovely horses in the field which I suppose is to be expected as it is an equestrian centre, they all added to the visit.

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The field on one side of the keeill is known as “little chapel field” with the field on the other side being “the big chapel field” (Second Report of the Manx Archaeological Survey, 1910).

The existing mound is very high, between 6 to 8ft. and there is just one area of stonework visible to the rear side of the keeill:

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I could find very little out about this little chapel other than a mention of a trip by the Isle of Man Natural History and Antiquarian Society in 1959 which didn’t take place due to the weather (they obviously weren’t as hardy as us!).  The keeill has such a large mound that I assumed the structure below was quite substantial, however, when it was surveyed in the Second Report of the Manx Archaeological Survey, they found that nothing remained except for the foundations which were between 3 and 4 ft. high and made of local stones and much white quartz.  They thought the dimensions would have been about 15 ft. by 9 ft. with walls that were very wide, 5 ft. in places, with an earthen bank at the base faced with single stones, possibly to strengthen the building to support a thatched roof, this theory is likely as they found two ‘Bwhid Suggane’; items used to fasten the ropes that held down thatch from the roof, the only ones that have been found in a keeill excavation.

 

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Photograph taken at the time of the Kermode dig.  From Kermode’s private papers (MS 08979)

 

They found the doorway and outer edge to be rounded and made entirely of glittering white quartz which would have been quite effective at making this building stand out and be visible from a distance.  The doorway was in the west wall but the jamb and sill stones were gone, there were a number of paving stones still in place along with an unusual feature:

A curious thing was that at the N.W. corner there appeared to have been another doorway.  The skirting of upright stones along the North wall, ended at about 2 ft. from the corner, and, upon clearing the foundations here to ascertain the width of the wall it was found to have come to an end.  Only two courses of stones remained, but they were distinctly built to form a face ending the wall, and had every appearance of being part of the original structure.  Between this and the corner, on a level with the floor, were stones having the appearance of a pavement, and this was found to have been continued at a slope, with steps, 18 in. wide for a distance of 8 ft. the sides being marked here and there by quartz boulders.  This paved path terminated at a height of 2 ft. above the level of the field where the fence had been built up against it.

The survey is starting to paint a picture of a building that would really have stood out in this bleak landscape.

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There were a couple of large slabs that had formed part of the altar but they seemed to have been moved out of position.

The survey team, on excavating the mound, found evidence of Bronze Age burials beneath, they surmised that this was an earlier site that had been selected for a use at a much later date as a Christian church.  They found a large stone in the keeill which they think had remained in place since the earlier period and the large amount of white quartz found in the structure was probably from the Bronze Age tumulus.  A number of graves had been found in the surrounding area.

So we have another site telling stories of people living here in the Bronze Age and perhaps earlier, a sacred site protected inside a large mound and now visited mainly by livestock.

Secrets hidden in the landscape.

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What are keeills?