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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!


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.


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!


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).


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.


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.

keeill chiggyrrr.jpg

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.

chiggyrt 7

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.


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.



*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.


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.


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:


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.


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.


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.


What are keeills?




Keeills and Cake; Keeill Vael, Maughold.

Keeills and Cake; Keeill Vael, Maughold.

Keeill number twenty two.

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

Keeill Vael, dedicated to St. Michael, sits right on the top of the Barony Hill in a hidden corner of Maughold with views right out to North Barrule and Keeill Woirrey in the Corony Valley on one side and the Irish Sea on the other.

We wandered up to the keeill through the Barony Farm on a slightly overcast day, still full from a delicious picnic at the Quaker Burial Ground (Rhullick ny Quakeryn) on the way.  We walked up the Barony Hill, the landscape was eerily empty and we did feel like we were away from civilisation! Arriving at the summit, we went through a gateway in to the Chapel Field.


We found Keeill Vael a very confusing site.  There was what looked like an elongated mound in the middle of the field with piles of stones, large and small, spread over quite a vast area.  To the untrained eye (us!) there didn’t appear to be an obvious structure, we couldn’t even pick out for certain which part of the mass of stones was the site of the building itself.  I have used the descriptions and experiences that other people have shared over the years, to try and understand this very interesting and historically important site.


The Barony estate has a rich history.  The possession of the estate in Medieval times entitled the owner of the property to be a Baron of the Isle with the privilege of holding a court of his tenants.  In a talk entitled ‘Saynt Maholde  and Saynt Michell’, Notes on Christian’s Barony, Maughold’ (IOMNHAS, v024 p.447) in 1924, W. Cubbon tells us that:

Christian’s Barony consisted of all the high land from Kione ny Hennyn on the south to the glen of Cornaa, and Rhenab on the north side.  It also includes the estate of Ballellin, consisting of half a quarterland to the west.

We know from certain documents that in the 12th century Christian’s Barony was in the possession of St. Bees Priory; and we find that in the 13th century the Bishop of Sodor grants this Church and that of St. Maughold to the Abbot of Furness.

Early in the 14th century it was again vested in St. Bees. In the year 1505 we know it became a part of the Bishop’s Barony.

In 1523 it is on record as again belonging to Furness; and on the dissolution of the religious houses in 1540 it became vested in the Kings of England, who farmed the leases to certain persons.

Some time in the 16th or early in the 17th century, by some unrecorded means, it came into the possession of the Christians of Milntown, to whom a small customary quit rent was payable by the tenants of Ballellin, who claimed to hold in fee under the Christians.

…In the Charter of the Bishopric of Man, dated 1505, Thomas, Earl of Derby confirmed the grant to the Bishop of Man, of certain Churches and Lands, in which this Church and its Lands were included.

The Charter confirmed the grant to the Bishop of the Lands of St. Maughold and St. Michael adjoining. St. Maughold was, of course, the Church which is now the Parish Church, and the St. Michael mentioned was the Keeill Vael on the Barony land.

In 1879, a Joseph Bradbury (I haven’t been able to find out who he was so far) visited the site and wrote a wonderful account of his visit in the Manx Sun (, it’s a long article but I’ve shared some extracts from it below as a description of this interesting and extensive site as it was almost 150 years ago:

…surmounting this we found ourselves on the open, uncultivated land of the Barony.  Directing our steps over the top of the hill, seaward, we soon espied a number of low tumuli and a few rocks which we supposed to be “the graves marked by upright stones” mentioned by Dr Oswald, and which stones I had heard were inscribed with runic characters… Surrounding the ruins and enclosing one of the tumuli we found an almost circular embankment, about 47 paces in diameter, some two feet in height and having an entrance on the west.  Another embankment within this outer work runs in a direct line eastward, and being joined at a right angle by another from the north, forms the “churchyard” proper of this old keeill, in the centre of this inner enclosure being the remains of the kheel itself, a rectangular mound about two feet high, 32 feet long and 15 feet in width, for the most part overgrown with bracken and short stunted gorse.  The southern wall appears to have fallen inwards in a mass and is now completely hidden by the overgrowth, but in what remains of the eastern wall we see the layers of thin, flat stones, of which the chapel was built, very distinctly, but there are no remains of an altar as in some of the old kheels.

Joseph Bradbury also mentioned a number of tumuli and two mounds nearby along with the ‘convenient pool of water’, Loughan Keeill Vael.  He also found a number of graves, one of which he opened, I can only hope his amateur archaeology caused no long term damage!  The account continued:

Speaking of this old chapel, Dr Oswald (Vestigia Monensis p.73) says: – “At the Cabbal Keeil Vael, on the barony of Maughold, the graves are marked by upright stones.  The bones are often found undecayed and laid longitudinally from east to west..” .. But the “upright stones” on the barony are not mere slates but rough unhewn rocks from two to three feet high and a foot or more in thickness, and I am of the opinion that they are the remains of an old Druidical circle, a portion of them being enclosed by the outer embankment mentioned previously, and which was probably connected with the circle in some manner originally.  As to the use of the combined structure it may have been devoted to one or all of nine purposes for which such structures were at one time erected, viz. – 1st as Tynwald Courts or places for the general assembly of the people; 2nd as special Courts of Law; 3rd, as places where kings were anointed; 4th, places where treaties were made; 5th, places where wars were declared; 6th, seats of judgement; 7th, places of execution; 8th, temples; and 9th, sepulchres.

As it was customary on the introduction of Christianity to erect a Christian temple on the site of a heathen one – the ground where their ancestors reposed being held sacred by the pagans – we may readily suppose that the Christians of the barony erected a chapel among the ruins of their heathen temple, but at what date the Cabbal Kheel Vael was built, we have no means of knowing, only that it was previous to 1505, in which year we find a “confirmation of churches, lands and liberties, given, granted and made by the most noble Lord Thomas, Earl of Derby, Lord Stanley, Lord of Mann and the Isles, to Huan Bishop of Sodor, and his successors,” in which charter mention is made of the lands of the church of “St Maughold and St Michael adjoining,” i.e. the Cabbal Kheel Vael. 

… The Rev J. G. Cumming in his “Guide to the Isle of Man” (Stanford, 1861) at p. 139, says :-“The hill called the Barony once belonged to the religious foundation of St Bee’s in Cumberland, but exchanged with the family of the Christians (to whom it now belongs) for property more convenient near to St Bee’s.  A ruinous Treen chapel, Cabbal Keeihll Vail may be seen on the Barony.”  Although this is the best antiquarians’ guide to the Island yet published, the reverend author is wrong in calling the Kheel Vael a treen chapel as it is probably of a much subsequent date. 

We are unaware of when it fell into disuse but the probability is that it would become neglected after the reformation, and if it ever belonged to St Bee’s it must have been since the dissolution of Furness Abbey, and the statement that the men of St Bee’s exchanged it for a more convenient possession seems to show that they cared so little for their insular property that they allowed it to fall into decay, and therefore, we may thank them for the present ruins of “the rectory of St Mighell,”alias the “Cabbal Kheel Vael”.

Large elements of Joseph Bradbury’s write up seem to be speculation but it makes for an interesting read, there were obviously many ways to spell ‘Keeill’ at the time!  I was particularly interested to see that he thought that Keeill Vael was a fairly ‘new’ keeill, relatively speaking, while P. M. C. Kermode when surveying the chapel for the Fourth Report of the Manx Archaeological Survey (1915) found it (in his opinion) to be one of the earlier keeills.

At the time of the Kermode survey, they found the building to measure 20 ft. by 11 ft., the East wall was 24 inches high and 4 ft. wide, made up of small surface stones faced inside and out with the middle space filled with soil and rubble.  The south wall was 3 ft. wide and remained for 13 ft. from the east end, the west end where the doorway appeared to have been was gone but they could see where it had been by the line of where the paving ended; the floor was paved with stones irregular in size and shape.  Only four to five feet of the north wall remained at that time and there was no trace of the altar, two lintel graves were found along with many white pebbles.  The plan of the keeill itself is from the survey:


In the 1915 report, they found the embankment against the walls was two ft. high and four ft. wide, the boundary line of the cemetery was visible although not so obvious on the East and South sides.  They also mentioned the surrounding tumuli, one of which they opened to find it contained a lintel grave.


These two descriptions, almost fifty years apart, describe what they found at Keeill Vael but I still found it difficult to understand that site as we found it.  It sits in a level field so I can assume that over time, the majority of the tumuli mentioned have been flattened, there are a huge number of stones scatted across the site, I don’t know where they all came from, the many large stones marking the graves seem to have gone.  I found a possible explanation for this in an interview for the Manx Folk Life Survey.

The Manx Folk Life Survey is a wonderful collection of interviews that took place in the mid twentieth century with over 800 people on the Island.  Some entries are an absolute delight to read and it has been a great way of preserving stories, history and folklore that would otherwise have been lost.  The names of interviewees and an idea of what their interview contains can be found on the iMuseum, the transcripts themselves can be accessed in the museum library by using the ID number from the iMuseum entry.  A Mr W. Robinson who lived near Cornaa and who had worked on the Barony, was interviewed for the survey in 1975 by Margaret Killip (FLS R/011-G).  In his interview he said that:

When Walker had it he would never allow this field  to be disturbed.  In about 1950 Tommy Beale went in to the farm and he set about ploughing and clearing the field although Walker had said that it must be left alone.  He ploughed it and got a lot of stones out of it, and piled them all up where they are now lying. 

Margaret Killip then said that Mr Robinson gave them impression that Tommy Beale was stopped in his work after a warning from ‘Walker’ and the work was left unfinished.  The interview continued:

…there used to be stones standing in this field ‘as big as bollards’.

Further on in the interview this was further confirmed by a Mr Lace from Thalloo Queen who recalled big stones ‘as big as himself’ standing in the field to the south of the keeill.  He said that:

Beale ploughed this field and removed a lot of stones from it – some of these he hauled out with a tractor and chains.  Harry Quayle, who farms the Barony said that Beale completed the work of ploughing the field and put crops in it afterwards and said the stones were taken out when this was done.

This Keeill Vael site today is very different to the one 150 years ago.

On the way up Barony Hill, we walked past the ‘holy well’, Chibbyr y Vashtee, at the side of the path, the well is said to be;

‘unfailing in its supply of water.  Presumably it was the baptizing well for the keeill above it, although there is a spring fed pool, called Loughan Keeill Vael, adajacent to the keeill site.  It is still called the “Christening Well’. (A Manx Scrapbook, W. Gill).


When we arrived at the Chapel Field (as Mr Whipp called it) at the top of Barony Hill we could see what we thought was the previously mentioned Loughan Keeill Vael or ‘Pool of Michael’, to the side of the keeill.  The pool was was dried up as there hadn’t been any rain for a while but a perfect round patch of mud was very visible:


However, on a second visit, we saw a much larger pool on the other side of the hedge in the next field to Keeill Vael, I looked at the 1869 ordnance survey map and the much larger one is ‘Loughan Keeill Vael’, it really is a very large pool and the top of Barony Hill was a very surprising place to find it!:


We sat on top of the stones at this desolate spot and appreciated the beauty and solitary stillness of the place, it was surprisingly sheltered from the cold wind that had plagued us all morning.

This is a place steeped in history and long forgotten stories.

A small Island with a rich history; sometimes I think this blog could be called ‘Hidden Places of Mann’!


What are keeills?


Keeills and Cake; Sulby Keeill, Onchan.

Keeills and Cake; Sulby Keeill, Onchan.

Keeill number twenty.

With kind permission from Claire and Brian McKendry, Upper Sulby Farm.

On a bright but windy morning we headed out to Onchan to visit the keeill at Upper Sulby, one of two keeills with foundations still remaining in the Parish of Onchan.  In 1892 the IOMNHAS visited this site and found this;

’The chapel lay almost East and West, and measured inside about 24ft by 12ft.; the walls, about 3ft thick, 3.5ft high inside.  Traces of a mound surrounding the chapel could be detected.  The extent of the ruins had been reduced by a former proprietor when ploughing the “flat” or “Big Meadow”; several “old stones or portions of a sepulchre” had been removed and utilised in building.’ (Y.L.M, 2, p.4)

I had seen a photo of the keeill from the Fifth Report of the Manx Archaeological Survey taken in 1935 so we were expecting visible remains:


The landowners had explained how to get to the remains so we made it to the field and started to search, we could see where the boundary hedge was recessed and knew it must be in the vicinity as it had mentioned in the survey that the boundary hedge followed the ancient line of the enclosure or cemetery.  The only thing was, we couldn’t see anything resembling a keeill, just one large stone on its own sitting suspiciously near to where my map reference placed the keeill site.  So we kept looking.


After fruitlessly searching through the long grass, I gave Brian McKendry a call to see if he could point us in the right direction.  Brian has owned the farm for four years and told us of his excitement when he saw he had ‘remains of chapel and burial ground’ on his property, followed by his disappointment when he realised all that remained was a recessed hedge and a large solitary slate stone, he seemed like someone who would really look after an ancient monument so it was a real pity.  We had noticed this stone and thought it probably had something to do with the burial ground but in fact it was all that remained of the Sulby Keeill.


The keeill was surveyed by P. M. C. Kermode for the fifth survey around 1918 and although they found a turf mound, they were disappointed to find very little left of the walling that remained:

Scarcely more than two courses being in position anywhere inside, while, of the north wall, even the foundations had been carried away.  Outside was rather better, the south wall reaching a height of four feet.

… the measurements were shown to be about 21 ft. by 8 ft.  The eastern end of the north wall remained in parts from 2 ft. to 2 ft. 6 ins. high; the east wall, 3 ft. to 3 ft. 6 ins., the south about 18 ins. (inside), and the west at its north end up to 2 ft.  They varied in width from 4 ft. to 4 ft. 6ins. on the south, and were built with an inner and an outer facing of stones with a core of earth and rubble.

There was definitely much more at the site 100 years ago!  The survey then talks about some very large stones:

Some of the foundation stones remaining inside were of good size.  On the south was on 44 inches (of which 8 ins. projected into the east gable) by 6 to 7 ins. wide and 10 ins. high; another 38 ins. by 2.5 to 5 ins. and 10 ins. high.  Between these two a smaller one had fallen forwards which was of the same height, so that we may regard 10 ins. as the level of the skirting on the south.

I’m assuming the remaining stone standing in the field is one of those that are mentioned above or one of the large stones he mentions later in the survey that marked the entrance to the enclosure.   There are no visible remains of a mound so it looks like some time over the last 80 years, the keeill has been completely ploughed in to the ground.  As the other stones from the site seem to have been removed (perhaps they were also built in to some nearby outbuildings), I can only assume that this stone has been placed on end to mark the site.

Thanks to a plan from the archaeological survey, we can see what the Sulby Keeill would have looked like:


The survey tells us that the doorway was in the south end of the west wall and that a small flagstone remained across the entrance outside, and there had been a step down in to the interior.  The altar had the lowest course still in position and was 32 ins. long by 18 ins. wide, it might have been a few inches larger if it had a facing of flags.  Further visible groundworks are also mentioned:

Outside were traces of the customary bank against the walls 4 ft. wide and on the south 6 ft. wide… From the eastern corner of this northern fence (of the enclosure), a line of about 37 yards would reach a low ridge which looks like that of the south fence of the enclosure extending to a point about 26 yards from its west boundary.  Some large stones may even mark the position of the original entrance.  The area enclosed does not appear to be definitely marked, the Keeill being set rather nearer to its south east end.

There was a lintel grave found 2 ft. from the outer face of the keeill and 75 white stone pebbles were found above the graces, some were also found near the altar.

In what appears to be a summary of the Fifth Report of the Manx Archaeological Survey (uncatalogued but in MS08979 box 2 of 2) there is an interesting write up of the Sulby Keeill from around 1918.  The author writes about the time of the excavation giving interesting insight:

‘I well remember it, on account of the distance I had to walk in the evenings, three miles out from my office at the library.  Mr Kermode did this frequently: there were then no friendly motor cars.  A lintel grave was found and several white pebbles were met with near to where the altar stood.  The face of the north wall was stripped to its foundations.  Taken altogether, it was, considering the facilities, a good examination.

I visited the site a few weeks ago, and found the keeill to be in much the same state as when Mr. Kermode finished his examination.  Sulby Farm is owned by the Rev. W. J. Karran.  He is proud, as  was his father before him, to possess this interesting relic of past. The keeill is the best preserved in the parish of Onchan.’

What a pity the future owners of Upper Sulby didn’t feel the same way!

So, the keeill at Upper Sulby no longer has any visible remains in 2016 but it still has a stone to mark the site and a recessed hedge to show us where the burial site ended.  If anyone knows any stories, history or folklore about this keeill or any of the others then please let us know by contacting us at

It is an important part of our Celtic past and although it is gone, it shouldn’t be forgotten.


What’s a keeill?



Keeills and Cake; Ballawoods Keeill, Santon.

Keeills and Cake; Ballawoods Keeill, Santon.

Keeill number nineteen.

Ballawoods Keeill sits just off the Raad ny Foillan public footpath at Santon Gorge.

Santon Gorge is where the Santon Burn enters the Irish Sea, its steep sides mean that the rather lovely beach is visited mainly by kayakers but it is possible to climb down (not with young children) and is a great place to spend a summer afternoon.  Sitting at the entrance to Santon Gorge looking out to sea is a promontory hill fort at Cass-ny-Hawin (Foot of the River) thought to date from Viking times, sitting inland just a five minute walk from the hill fort is the Ballawoods Keeill.

As you can see, the area has a lot to offer.


You can get to Santon Gorge and the keeill either by following the Raad ny foillan (Way of the Gull) footpath from Douglas in the direction of Castletown or by following the public footpath on the left hand side between The Blackboards and Ballasalla and crossing a couple of fields past Ballawoods Farm.  When you arrive at the very picturesque river, if you follow the footpath to the right, you will find the keeill just over a wall sitting on the west bank of the Santon Burn. Those early Christians knew how to pick a good location – easy access, a water supply with good fishing nearby, a site with great visibility and a lovely view.


We visited on a day when the sun shone high in the sky, the sea was aquamarine and the gorse a golden yellow, the area felt vibrant.  I have to say that not every day is like that on the Isle of Man, it made a pleasant change.



The Ballawoods Keeill (called ‘Ronaldsway’ in the Sixth Report of the Manx Archaeological Survey), sits in the Treen of Kyrke Mychell which suggests a possible dedication to St. Michael (Place Names of the Isle of Man, J. J. Kneen, 1925).

The chapel is a large example at about 28ft by 12ft, although the remaining walls are only about 2ft high at most, the footprint of the structure is still visible as is the entrance in the west gable facing what would have been the altar.  Unfortunately, someone has been enjoying a BBQ in the corner of the keeill, I’m hoping the stones used to make this were taken from the wall alongside and not from the structure itself!


The Sixth Report tells us that there is no early mention of the keeill and its burial ground with the earliest record being its inclusion in the 1870 O.S. map when it was marked ‘chapel and Burial Ground (remains of)’.  Having read and re-read the account of the visit to the Arbory and Malew ancient monuments by the Archeological Commission in 1877, they seem to have completely missed the Ballawoods Keeill even though they walked out to visit the nearby fort at Cass-ny-Hawin which seemed quite an oversight.  It gets even more strange when you start reading the section on ‘Ronaldsway Keeill’ in the Sixth Report published in 1966:

An excursion of N.H.A.S. visited the site in September 1917 (Proc. N.H.A.S. II, No. 2. p. 97) when the leader, P. M. C. Kermode, pointed out the ‘keeill on the Treen of Kyrke Mychell, which had just been excavated… it contained an almost perfect altar built of limestone ashlars’.  No other mention or account of this excavation has been traced, though a photograph of the work in progress is in the files of the Manx Museum Library.  It is surely an oversight that Kermode in his next reference to the keeill (List, 1930, p.74) speaks of it as a buried ruin.

…On the new O.S., 6in., 1957, it is unfortunate that some details of the site have been omitted in order to accommodate lettering, but the relative archaeological field card reports the site as a grass covered mound, with gorse on its eastern (sic) part; some walls forming the remains of the chapel, are 3 ft. high.  In addition, there are stated to be signs of ‘some industrial activity’, but these are not further described and cannot now be identified.

Mr J. R. Bruce visited when preparing the Sixth Report of the Manx Archaeological Survey(1966) and describes the condition he found it in.  He found the burial ground to be about 150 ft. by 80 ft., much of the groundwork, if any remained, was hidden under the thick cover of gorse but he did find a low ridge of earth 30 ft. to 40 ft. in length running north to south and marking a boundary of the burial ground.


He found the keeill to be ‘constructed in the usual way’ with walls of earth and stones faced on the inside with roughly dressed blocks.  The interior of the keeill was 28 ft. by 12 ft. although he thought that a number of lengths of stone had been ‘robbed’ over time.  Bruce thought that the excavations in 1917 by Kermode had been responsible for the levelling of the floor of the keeill, the walls stood to around 2 ft. in places.  The altar, built of limestone blocks, stood around 10 inches high by 4 ft. 3 ins. wide and sat ‘off centre’ towards the south.  The entrance was found in the west gable.

It was mentioned that many stones had slipped down the steep slope towards the river and that although there was an obvious marked burial ground, there were no records of burials having been found on the site.  There was a well shown on the old OS map but this had become only a ‘wet place at the head of a little tributary stream’ by the time of the visits by J. R. Bruce.

Two photographs taken from the Sixth Report show the site looking very similar to how you find it in 2016:


I wonder where the information from the Kermode survey from 1917 went to and if it will ever come to light.  I could find very little information on this well visited site.

Update, 30th August 2016.

I have had a real bee in my bonnet over where the Ballawoods survey by Kermode had vanished to so when I was offered the chance by Wendy at MNH to look through the private papers of P. M. C. Kermode (currently catalogued) for that survey and a couple of other bits of information, I was very excited.  I am pleased to say that I found the excavation report, hand written in a booklet (uncatalogued but in box MS08979) and it has shed a bit more light on the keeill.  There is one part of the report that I found the handwriting particularly difficult to read and so I have left a couple of words out, apologies if there are any errors in the transcription.

The ruins of this keeill, the dedication of which is commemorated in the name of the Treen on which is stands, are to be seen in a sheltered hollow by the Santon River and clse to the old Douglas road which here descends abruptly with an easterly turning.  It is 300 yards south of Ballawoods House and 20 yards west of the stream which forms the boundary between the parishes as well as between the sheadings.

The keeill measures 29ft. by 13ft. The foundations of all the walls are in position.. built with undressed stones with kneaded red clay for mortar and outer face of rather small stones (limestone of the district).  The west and north are 3ft. wide, east and south 4ft.  About a half of the north wall from the east end is on the rock and the foundations go deeper towards the south.

The doorway is in the west gable, about 4ft. from the south corner, measures 4ft.6ins… internally.  It is splayed for a depth of 21ins. where there is a rebate of 6ins. from which it extends outwards square with the wall.  The angle of the splay on the north side is was less; unfortunately, the building here is so ruined that the precise line is not shown, but it looks as though the external opening had been reduced to 2ft. 6ins.  The embankment against the wall is here 4ft. wide but continues sloping to the boundary for another 8ins. and this has been resetted with stones and crossed so as to … cobbled path of entrance with a step of 4 to 6ins. down into the keeill.  Many of the floor paving stones were in position.  25 white shore pebbles were found at the east end and also 8 or 10 roofing slates which seem to show that the keeill has been in actual use until comparatively recent times.

The most interesting feature was the altar at 3ft 6ins. from south wall and 3ft. 7ins. from north wall, which was almost perfect and built of large blocks of limestone carefully fitted; it measured 5ft. 9ins. long by 2ft. 6ins. to 3ft. wide and stood above the floor; it must have been covered by one or more large slabs of which no trace remained.  On the south side the foundations went deeper, to the rock which sloped rapidly in this direction.  The white pebbles found here rather suggest a burial at the south side but if so, no other evidence of it was found.  Above the altar, a stone set across the wall looked like a part of the jamb of the east window but the sill stones had been removed; there had apparently been a splay inwards; the north jamb being about 5ft. from the north wall – there had been a fall inwards as shown by the bedding for the sill stones rising for a height of 3ft. 6ins. above the floor.

Outside, at a distance of 10ft. from the outer face of the south wall taking a line from a point 9ft. from the east end, was found a grave, the top of which (was) at a level of about 12ins. below the floor of the keeill.  It was not coursed by flags or lined with lintels but seemed to have been marked out by small stones, the two largest of which measure 10 by (?) by 2ins., and 12 by 7 by 3ins., over 50 white shore pebbles came from this. 

The little cemetery, like the floor of the keeill, had as regards the southern area had been raised artificially to a level and in a line 15ft. from the outer face of the south wall, taken from a point 18ft. from the east corner, we found a retaining, the foundations extending to a depth of 6ft. below the level of the keeill floor.  This was built of surface stones, the largest being about  10 by 6 by 7ins.; 16 by 7 by 12ins. and 18 by 8 by 12ins.  Eighteen small white pebbles met with in this digging suggested that there had been another burial close to the boundary.  The boundary of the cemetery could be traced round the east, south and west walls, where it was artificially raised to points respectively to 14ft., 15ft. and 9ft.with retaining walls.

Although Bruce writes that burials had not been known on this site, the Kermode survey is important for documenting that some tombs had been found.  I also found it interesting that Kermode thought that the building had been used until relatively recent times.  More information is given in a letter from P. Ralfe (from the IOMNHAS) to Kermode (uncatalogued but in box MS8979 2 of 2), the letter mentions that P. Ralfe had been speaking to a Mrs Kennaugh from Ballasalla who lived when young in the house (perhaps Ballawoods Farm?).  Mrs Kennaugh told him that the ground where bones had been found at the time of the excavation was used as a garden by her father.  Mrs Kennaugh also told Ralfe that the condition of the enclosure on the northern mound, was in ‘just the same condition as now all her life’ and that people considered it to have some connection with the church.

The walls have reduced substantially in height from the time of the Kermode survey and it’s hard to tell if the altar is still in place under some of the loose stones or whether the floor paving is under the grass.

A keeill without much structure left to look at but sitting in an area where there really is so much to see.

Bring some cake and don’t have a BBQ!


What is a keeill?



Keeills and Cake; Cabbal Dreem Ruy, Arbory.

Keeills and Cake; Cabbal Dreem Ruy, Arbory.

Keeill number eighteen.

With kind permission from Alan Stott.

There is a public footpath running close to the Cabbal Dreem Ruy Keeill but it is on private land.

On an overcast afternoon in May, we wandered down the public footpath in Ronague to the keeill at Ballayelse.  Imagine our delight when on entering the field, we were greeted by pygmy goats, donkeys, geese and miniature ponies.  One particular bottle fed pygmy goat, ‘Juliette’, was extremely friendly and followed us round like a little puppy, the keeill itself is rather lovely but I do think that Juliette was the highlight of this trip for us!


Cabbal Dreem Ruy (Chapel of the Red Ridge) is a name that was only connected with this keeill when it was used by P. M. C. Kermode in a list of Manx antiquities in 1894.  It is often known as the Ballayelse Keeill as it sits on Ballayelse Farm land, it has no known dedication.  In the past journals of the IOMNHAS, I found a description of a visit to the keeill by the society in 1899:

The cars were in waiting at the Round Table, and, seats being resumed, the road was followed to Ballayelse. Here stands a good example of our ancient Keeils, almost all of which have unfortunately been allowed to fall so completely into ruin. It lies N.W. and S.E., and the internal measurement is 19 feet 6 inches by 10 feet 6 inches, the walls being from two feet nine inches to three feet thick. The inside height is six feet. An uncultivated space. around of five to six yards marks the ancient burial ground. A doorway appears to have been near the east end of the south wall; there is no trace of any window, nor were any signs of carving observed.

Eight years later in 1907, P. M. C. Kermode writes an article for the IOMNHAS on ‘An Introduction to the study of church buildings in the Isle of Man earlier than the eleventh century’, he mentions the keeill at Ballayelse:

‘The walls vary from 2 ft. 6 in. to about 5 ft. in thickness at the foundation. Ballayelse, in Arbory, is the only example remaining which shows their full height, and in that instance they stand 6 ft.’

Over 100 years later at our visit, the keeill is fenced off and appears well looked after, the structure seems comparatively good but the height is more like 3-4ft so we could see that there had been considerable deterioration over the past century.  All the same, we thought it was picture perfect with its striking white stones and bluebells and very uniform appearance, we later found out why!


There are very large quartz boulders at each corner and scattered throughout the walls which gave it quite a distinctive quality, we hadn’t come across many with such a large amount of quartz.  White stones are frequently found in large numbers when these sites are surveyed and their use can often be a sign of the keeill being built on an earlier Bronze Age site.  The white stones seem to have held religious significance to these early Christians, perhaps a continuation of their importance from earlier pagan times.  In an article from the Mona’s Herald from 1937 describing a visit to the keeill, it mentions that a large number of the white stones had been taken away and re-used in the farm buildings which would account for the depletion of the structure.

This is also mentioned in an extract from an article in the Ramsey Courier in 1953 describing a visit by IOMNHAS to the keeill (

byelse (2).jpg

Ballayelse Keeill was visited briefly by the Archaeological Commissioners in 1878 where they described the remains as ‘quite extensive’, at the time the walls were 6ft high and 3ft wide at the base, in their write up they thank the owner of Ballayelse, Mr Cubbon, for his preservation of such an ‘interesting monument’.  Unfortunately, it seems like his descendant didn’t have the same respect for the structure when he used the stones from the keeill for building a barn.

Canon E.B. Savage visited the site a few years later and wrote in 1885 that the measurements were 19ft 2in. x 10ft 2in. with a 2ft wide doorway, the walls were built of slate stones and quartz ‘presenting a curiously mottled appearance’, he found the remains of an enclosure, possibly a priest’s cell, about 7ft from the chapel walls.  Canon E. B. Savage also found a graveyard marked by a circle of large stones , 30 yards from the chapel.  Unfortunately, many of the stones from the burial site had been removed for re-use as building materials in the first half of the nineteenth century, a local told him that the death of many cows and calves that followed was attributed to  this ‘sacrilege’ and no more stones were taken away.

Sadly, the site was never surveyed by P. M. C. Kermode and his team and it was left to the Sixth Report of the Manx Archaeological Survey where it was visited by Mr J. R. Bruce in 1963-64 by which time the structure was very different.  Five years after P. M. C. Kermode died, in 1937, the Sixth Report tells us that:

…the Museum and Ancient Monuments Trustees, on the advice of their Inspector, undertook ‘a certain amount of renovation’… This involved the cleaning of the fallen stones and the replacement of them on the walls to a height of several feet, as well as the erection of a post and wire fence around the building.

This accounts for the neat and tidy look of the current structure, the Survey also says that:

Seen in the light of today’s more conservative approach to such problems, the work carried out in 1937 may seem unduly restorative, but care was taken to build only upon the old foundations and to retain the ‘mottled appearance’ noted by Canon Savage – the result is an attractive reminder that here was one of the older Churches in Man.  It is unfortunate that the opportunity could not have been taken, while this work at the keeill was in progress, to re-determine and perhaps to mark out the boundary of the burial ground, which seems to have possessed a striking appearance.  As it is, what is little more than a replica is fenced and preserved for posterity while an ancient graveyard, rich in archaeological potential, is lost to the plough.

Fair point.

When the keeill was visited in 1963-64, it would be in a similar condition to how we found it at our visit, Mr J. R. Bruce writes about its condition at the time;

The number of white quartzite blocks in its construction makes the keeill a conspicuous object, as seen from the vicinity of the Awin Vitchel Bridge at Ronague.  Reference has already been made to the ‘renovations’ of 1937, to which the present appearance of the site is largely due,  Two very large quartzite boulders, almost certainly in their original positions, mark the outer corners of the west end of the building, the long axis of which is east-south-east by west-south-west.  The entrance, unaccountably placed near the east end of the south wall, is on its originally described site but its narrow passage, obliquely traversing the wall in a north-south direction, is of doubtful antiquity.  It might be a window opening subsequently cut down to ground level.  As now rebuilt, the walls are stone faced on both sides, which may recall an original feature, since the majority of such walls are stone revetted on the internal face only. 

Bruce could find no trace of the altar or the ‘internal bank’, he mentioned that the mound that was shown on the 1869 O.S. wasn’t really visible but he thought it may follow the line of the current fencing.  The banks of the burial ground had been completely ploughed over along with the ‘enclosure’ that was mentioned by Canon Savage in his 1885 visit.

It is unfortunate that it wasn’t surveyed at the start of the twentieth century with the majority of the keeill sites as this would have given us more information on a fairly intact example before a large proportion of it was destroyed.  It only takes a read of the archaeological surveys to see that this is just one of a huge number of keeills that survived over 1000 years and have been destroyed in the last 150 years.

It would seem that this very attractive chapel is not quite all that it seems.

However, a picturesque keeill in an attractive location with a friendly pygmy goat – what’s not to like?




What are keeills?





Keeills and Cake; Knock-e-Dhooney, Andreas.

Keeills and Cake; Knock-e-Dhooney, Andreas.

Keeill number seventeen.

With kind permission from Dave Martin, Knock-e-Dhooney.

On a beautiful May evening, we headed up to Knock-e-Dhooney in Andreas to meet Dave Martin who had kindly agreed to show us around the Knock-e-Dhooney Keeill.  The Martin family have been at Knock-e-Dhooney since at least 1450 and it was wonderful to have a guide who knew so much about the keeill and the surrounding area.  This is the only keeill with existing visible remains in the Parish of Andreas.

 The chapel is thought to be very early, perhaps as early as 400 – 600 AD and sits in the middle of a field next to the farmhouse.  It has been well maintained and fenced and is under the guardianship of the Manx Museum and National Trust who cut the grass inside and keep the fence in good order.  The keeill walls are fairly high, internally there seems to be a fair amount of infill raising the height of the floor, perhaps it is tumble from the upper sod part of the walls or the detritus from the excavation.  We sat down in the keeill with some delicious orange cake and Dave told us a bit more about the history of this area.

Dave Martin sampling keeills and cake.
Dave pointed out that to modern eyes it is an unusual choice of site for a keeill as it is very exposed with no shelter, there’s no water nearby and it’s not very visible, there are plenty of other sites nearby that would have been more obvious choices.  Dave Martin is very interested in LiDAR which is a form of digital surveying that uses lasers to map areas in great detail.  Using this, he was able to show us how the keeill was actually only visible from very small areas of the north of the Island, unlike the site of the Viking boat burial close by that is very widely visible.  It would seem that the emphasis is on it being more important as a place of worship for the locals and not on it being seen from afar as a form of outreach.
Dr Larch Garrad said that at the time period when all the keeills were in use, there were far fewer trees and each keeill was in the sightline of another, it would be fascinating if this could be proven – digital archaeology may have the answers!
It has also been suggested that this keeill was perhaps the pilgrims’ last holy place to call at before sailing over to the Abbey at Whithorn but it is unlikely that this will ever be anything more than speculation.
The walls of the keeill in 2016 are very thick, 3-4ft wide in places and some of the stones are very large and not found locally, they must have been dropped by the ice-age glaciers.  Some of the stones appear to have been tidied up and there were also socket stones made for a door so it is a complex structure for the time and would certainly be a job for more than one person, it seems to have been a community effort.
Although Knock-e-Dhooney was surveyed by P. M. C. Kermode for the third report in 1909, the survey was restricted to the keeill itself and not the surrounding area.  This is what generally happened in the Manx Archaeolgical Survey due to time constraints and financial limitations.  In 1945/46 when digging a pipe to bring water to the farm, human remains were found quite far away from the keeill at the far side of the field, they were not examined and were reinterred under the pipe.  They would seem to have been far outside the chapel boundary although it could be that these may have been a separate burial from a different time period or one that was specifically outside of the ‘consecrated area’.  In the Sixth Report of the Manx Archaeological Survey (1968), Mr J. R. Bruce writes that:
… where the keeills had no successors, and their burial sites reverted to agricultural land, it was not unnatural for the farmer to demur at the use of his land for burial, especially as there was a belief, devoid of legal warranty, that a path once used by a funeral party became a right of way, but this did not prevent the occasional use of a field border for clandestine burial, protected by a few slabs of stone, as several instances have revealed.  In Arbory Parish, I have been credibly informed by an old farmer that, in his grandfather’s day, it was not unknown for the burial party, intent on a ‘keeill burial’, to perform their task at any available point ‘from which they could see the old place’. 
This is very interesting but possibly not relevant to the Knock-e-Dhooney field burials as these lie even closer to the farm house than the keeill itself.
To look at the wider context, Prof. Mark Noel and Dave have embarked on a geophysical survey of the area around the keeill and this is already revealing hints of now invisible long term occupation (their surveys are fuelled by Eccles Cakes rather than home baking though!).
Plan of keeill taken from Manx Archaeological Survey.

Kermode excavated the keeill at Knock-y-Dhooney for the Third Report of the Manx Archaeological Survey (1911) and found it to measure about 17ft. by 11ft. with walls that were between 3ft. 3ins. and 4ft. 6ins. in width and built of shore boulders, mainly granite, the boulders on the lower course were good size and well fitted.  The inner and outer face of stone were packed with sand and rubble.

A large stone was found, almost 38 ins. long by 27 in. high and between 10 and 14 in. thick, this stone stretched from the south corner to the doorway in the west wall which was 5ft. 2 in. wide.  The walls were between 2ft. 6in. and 3ft. in height and the familiar embankment of earth and stone was visible outside.  The survey team found rebates in the wall in which the door would have been set and two worn socket stones were also found.  There was a pavement slab from which was a drop of 3in. to a cobble pavement in the narrow part of the doorway.

They found the remains of the altar against the east wall, this was made up of a large slab, plain and undressed and measuring 2 ft. 9in. long by 15 to 20in. wide and around 3in. thick.  This was neatly fitted in to an upright slab on the south side although the front and north side slabs were gone.  This was the first altar to be found with its covering slab still in position at the top and showed that the overall height was only 24in.  Kermode suggested it was possible that a portable altar may have been brought by the priest to sit on top of this stone but even then it wouldn’t be very high.  The two photographs below show the altar as we found it in 2016 and at the time of the excavation by Kermode in the early twentieth century.


In the excavation, they also found a large number of white shore pebbles and several worked flints, the floor paving had long gone with the exception of a small area at the doorway and around the altar.

With the rough and ready way of excavating, it was lucky that Mr. Martin the landowner, noticed a boulder with a plain Latin cross carved in to it, amongst the loose stones ‘thrown out of the keeill’.

The most important discovery made by the survey was a carved stone pillar with a bi-lingual inscription, three lines in Latin on one face and a Celtic inscription in Ogam characters along the edge.  The Latin inscription reads:

(Ammecat son of Rocatus lies here).


The photographs (taken by Mr G. B. Cowen) show the two inscriptions on the stone (the Ogam inscription echoes the Latin) and were taken from the Third Report of the Archaeological Survey.  The stone which measured 5ft. 9in. by 17 to 10in. wide and between 8 to 10in. thick, is now in the care of the Manx Museum.
Dave Martin told us that P. M. C. Kermode when speaking to his grandparents, had told them that someone had told him that Ammecat was a Prince, son of an Irish King and that he had been killed when invading the Isle of Man.  This is a verbal source and to date Dave hasn’t been able to find written confirmation to back this up.  However, the stone was found facing downwards and Dave wonders whether his ancestors possibly turned the stone upside down as they didn’t want to desecrate a grave but also did not want to venerate an invader!  Having spent some time facing downwards, the inscription on the stone had been protected and was in much better condition that it would have been if it had been open to the elements.

As if the keeill wasn’t fascinating enough, there is also an impressive Viking boat burial on Knock-e-Dhooney.  It is interesting to think that although the keeill would have been in use when the Viking burial took place, the Vikings who were generally pagan did not destroy this Christian site and instead made the decision to bury their dead nearby and within sight of it.  This could be seen to be a sign of the Vikings accepting the Celtic Christianity of the locals, that there was no human sacrifices in the ship burial is another sign of the gradual change in beliefs and traditions that was taking place.

Dave had a Viking cloak pin that his father had found on the land, it was lovely to look at it close up, especially when sitting on the top of the burial mound!



So much history in one small area, such a privilege to share it!


Knock e Dhooney Keeill.
The view from the Viking burial mound looking over at the keeill and the farm house.
The view from the keeill.

On Saturday 8th October 2016, Dave Martin will be leading a guided tour of Knock e Dhooney Farm for the Isle of Man Natural History and Antiquarian Society as part of the MNH Open Weekend events, for more information check out their website or book your place on the tour by contacting

What are keeills?



Keeills and Cake; Cabbal ny Cooilley, Bride.

Keeills and Cake; Cabbal ny Cooilley, Bride.

Keeill number sixteen.

With kind permission of Mr and Mrs Teare.

Cabbal ny Cooilley (Chapel of the Nook) sits between two farms and is not easily accessible making it probably one of the least visited chapels.  We were looking forward to visiting it as it is one of the few remaining antiquities in the Parish of Bride and the only surviving keeill.

In a letter written to the ‘Manks Advertiser’ in 1826 by a Mr C. Radcliffe, he draws attention to the many keeills that still remained at the time and their plight, he described some of the sites that he remembered himself and appealed to his fellow countrymen to make a complete list of the remaining antiquities but his appeal fell on deaf ears.  He mentions that:

‘In Kirk Bride there is an estate called Ballakeeillmean, from Keeill Mean, probably St. Matthew ; in Manks : and Keeill Vael, in the same parish, if I remember right, dedicated either to Michael the Archangel, or St. Mael or Mel, one of the disciples of St. Patrick, by whom his life was written. Keeill Thraie, i.e., the Church of the Strand, from its situation near the sea-coast. Cabbal-ny-Guilcagh—whether the estate takes its name from the Chapel, or the Chapel from the estate, I cannot conjecture, and there is Keeill Thusjag, dedicated to St. Thusag from whose hands St. Patrick receieved the holy sacrament when on his dying bed…

I wish some of my countrymen, who have leisure, would be at the pains to make out an accurate list of the venerable ruins of these places where their ancestors offered unto God, through Christ, the sacrifice of prayer and praise. They are gone to their long home, and the very places where they worshipped the God that made them, and which are now so many heaps of ruins, should possess no common share of interest in the minds of that posterity.’

The Keeill Mean, dedicated to Matthew is likely to be Cabbal ny Cooilley as Ballacamaine probably comes from Ballakeeillmian (‘Place names of the Isle of Man’, J. J. Kneen).  These are extracts from the letter that can be found in the newspapers and periodicals section at  There are many keeill sites mentioned that are long gone but because of this letter their memory remains, if only more people at the time had been as forward thinking as Mr. Radcliffe!

By the time of the Third Report of the Manx Archaeological Survey in 1911 there are five keeills (not the same five mentioned in the letter) noted as being in the parish of Bride:

  • Ballamooar which was long gone by the start of the twentieth century.
  • Port Cranstal, the site of which was cut through to make the road to the Ayres leaving no remains.
  • Ballawannal, which had been long since ploughed over.
  • Ballavarkish, dedicated to St. Mark, a mound remained at the time of the survey along with some stones but no structure.  When it was surveyed, some interesting items were found including an intricate carved sandstone window and a beautifully carved cross slab (images taken from Manx Archaeological Survey, 3rd Report):

The fifth keeill mentioned is Cabbal ny Cooilley, then on the land of Ballacamaine.  You can almost sense P. M. C. Kermode’s disappointment when you read that the landowner would not allow the site to be disturbed:


Ballacamain. This is marked on the O.S., III, 10, (1019). It lies about 700 yds. North-West of Ballachrink house and 700 yds. West of the highroad to Bride, at a height of too ft. or thereabouts. We regret that we were not allowed to examine it. From the appearance of the ground it seems doubtful if there is anything of the walls remaining, but we had hoped by excavating to have been able to judge the dimensions and possibly to have made a Plan. It is unfortunate that the superstition which prevents the orderly examination of some of these Keeills for the purpose of placing on record, for the information of those who come after us, such particulars as may still be gleaned of their character, structure and appearance, and of bringing to light any monuments buried in their ruins, has in no case availed to prevent their total ruin and subsequent destruction. These monuments and remains are all the evidence which has come down to us of the history of the people by whom they were erected, and of the conditions under which they lived, and even if the refusal to allow of their proper exploration were likely to preserve them, which it certainly is not, to keep them buried beneath the surface, and forbid their examination for the purpose of record, is as useless as to cart them away. We can only hope that in course of time, as the results of our work become better known, we may meet with more general support in this respect, and that a more active interest will be taken in the proper preservation of the little that does remain.

Although unfortunate for the survey team, there is a strong folklore of bad things happening to people who have interfered with the keeills and I can absolutely understand someone almost 110 years ago having second thoughts about it.

Mrs Teare, the current landowner, mentioned that her husband thought it may have been surveyed in the 1950’s and was very curious to find out more.  After looking in the museum library and speaking to Andrew Johnson (MNH), it seems there is no record of any survey having taken place and looking at the date, it is likely that it was the Ordnance Survey team mapping the site.

When we eventually found the keeill after originally searching in the wrong field (thanks to my incorrectly marking the map reference), we found a very large mound measuring around 50ft. in diameter and between 4 and 6ft. in height, there were two large stones on top, one standing up, one lying down. In the Third Manx Scrapbook (Gill, 1963), the larger stone is mentioned:

‘Cabbal ny Chooilley, “Chapel of the Rear Part,” is the local name for the ancient Keeill in the field called Creggan ny Chooilley on Ballakermeen.  “The big stone that the Ballakermeen man took away for a gatepost, but he got no sleep that night and put it back first thing next morning,” is pointed out on the mound of the chapel.’

Of course, as Gill rarely references anything, I’m not sure where he got that story from!

Although there was a little wear on the mound at one side, no other stonework was visible and we were unsure whether the keeill building had sat on top of this mound or was interred inside (similar to Keeill Pharick a Dromma).We sat on one of the stones with a cup of tea and ate some delicious banana cake that Nicola had made, we admired the view and wondered exactly what we were sitting on.


The lack of archaeological excavation means that it would seem that this site is still intact and a mystery, who knows what lies beneath!

Hopefully, one day someone will find out, know any archaeologists with time on their hands?


More about keeills.


Keeills and Cake; Corrody Keeill, Lezayre.

Keeills and Cake; Corrody Keeill, Lezayre.

Keeill number fifteen.

With kind permission from Danny Creer, tenant farmer, Corrody.

This quiet spot high above Tholt y Will is a favourite of Nicola’s as her family, the Christians and the Mylecharaines, farmed here for generations.  The area is steeped in history and there are two very interesting tholtans (ruined buildings) on the site, ‘The Creggans’ and ‘The Corrody’.

The name ‘Corrody’ was originally from ‘Corrony’, a corruption of ‘Ciaran’ an early Christian saint, it is possible that St. Ciaran was the dedication for the keeill.  This is suggested in an article in the Mona’s Herald on a visit to the site by the Antiquarian Society in 1953 (


The name of Mylecharaine comes from the Irish Gaelic meaning ‘Mac Giolla Ciardin’ – son of Ciaran’s servant (‘The Place-Names of the Isle of Man With their Origin and History’ by J.J. Kneen, 1925), this means Nicola’s family may have a much longer association with the area than she originally thought!

At one time this area was full of hill farms and would have been a large community.  It is hard to imagine that now, as in the 21st century The Corrody seems very isolated.  If you sit at the keeill and look across the valley, you can see many ruined farmsteads all sitting at around the same height.

From the 1820’s onwards there was mass emigration from the Island, especially the north, life was hard and after the enclosure of the common land in the 1860’s there continued to be large numbers of people leaving the Island up until the early 20th century.  This article from the ‘Manx Sun’ written in 1852 ( gives a very touching description of those leaving who knew they may never see the land of their birth again:

Emigration – The natives of the northern part of the Island are again making arrangements to leave the place of their birth and seek a home in North America. On Wednesday last about fifty persons, principally young men arrived in Douglas from Andreas, Ballaugh etc. and the same night took their departure by the King Orry for Liverpool with the intention of emigrating to America where the most of them have already friends or relatives. We are informed by a person who accompanied the emigrants to Douglas that the scene when these parties were leaving their homes, was truly affecting. Their relatives followed them for a considerable way on the road, lamenting their departure whilst a long procession of carts conveying the luggage moved slowly along and also bearing the juvenile portion of the party amidst the silence of those about to leave their native soil, who would occasionally steal an expressive glance at their late homes. Our informant says that he never saw even a funeral procession move with more touching solemnity. There were also a few individuals from the South of the Island who left by the same steamship en route for Australia.

As someone who volunteers at the Isle of Man Family History Society Library helping people with their genealogy research, I am often amazed by the real affinity to the Island that people feel whose ancestors left the Island almost 200 years earlier.  I think often about how much these economic migrants must have loved and missed their Island home, to have passed this strong feeling on to so many future generations.

The stories of mass emigration from the north of the Island and the remaining farmsteads could fill a blog on their own.


The Corrody keeill lies in a field known as ‘Cronk y Keeillee’ which translates as ‘hill of the keeill’, and seems to have been built on the remains of a Bronze Age burial site, the structure of which is still visible surrounding it.  The foundations of the keeill are still visible and in about the same condition as it was described a century ago, there is a holy well in the next field that is known as Chibbyr Karrin (Ciaran’s Well)

corrody5 (2)

The keeill was surveyed around 1915 for the Fourth Report of the Manx Archaeological Survey, they found that:

The Keeill had been set on a low and partly artificial mound, now two feet above the level of the field, roughly circular but here and there encroached upon by the plough, and having an inside diameter of about thirteen yards; surrounded by stones set on end with remains of an outer circle of stones at 3 to 6 ft. from the other. The largest of these stones was at the E. end and measured thirty two inches high above the surface of the ground by 22 to 24 inches. The general appearance suggested a pre-historic burial-place, and the cinerary urn now found proved it to have been used as such in the Bronze Age before it became a Christian Cemetery.

The plans below are taken from the survey and show the keeill in relation to the Bronze Age remains followed by a plan of the keeill itself as they found it:




Fig. 4. Keeill on Corrody, Sulby, Lezayre.

The keeill, when surveyed was 17 ft. 6 ins. by 9 ft. and ran N.W and S.E, the walls were between 24 and 40 inches high and between 3 and 4 foot thick.  The doorway was in the north wall and there were some ‘jamb stones’ remaining for openings in the walls – probably windows.  Only one or two paving slabs remained and the was no sign of an altar, there was some stone skirting along the lower courses of the walls.  There was surprisingly little information.

The photograph below is taken from the survey and shows the stone skirting in more detail:


cprrrrrr.jpgFig. 5. Walls of Keeill, Corrody, showing stone skirting.

There are some wonderful recollections of life and folklore at ‘The Corrody’ by Alfred Christian (Nicola’s great grandfather) that were collected for the Manx Folk Life Survey in the mid twentieth century.  These documents are available at the Manx Museum Library and well worth a look, they are absolutely fascinating.  This keeill is well worth a visit as a good example with a great view, I can also highly recommend the cake at Tholt y Will tea rooms just down the road!

I’ll finish this with the most lovely poem by one of my favourites, ‘Cushag’, Josephine Kermode, who was the sister of P. M .C Kermode (Manx Museum and National Trust) and who was known with fondness as the best loved poet of her generation:


LONE little tholtan, left by the wayside,
Where have they wandered that loved thee of old?
Where are the children that played by the fireside?
Poor little chiollagh, forlorn and cold!

Mutely thy gables are standing asunder,
Rafterless, ragged, the ruin between!
All that was homelike, secluded and tender,
Stripped of its sheltering thatch is seen.

Why have they left thee so drear and forsaken,
Was it misfortune, or sadder unthrift?
Was there a stone of the Church in thy building
Secretly working to send them adrift?

Was it the dream of a new Eldorado
Lured them away with its roseate hue?
Only to find the green hills of the distance
Bare as Barooil to the nearer view.

Come winds of Autumn and cover it gently,
Poor little hearth-stone deserted and bare;
Cover it softly with leaves from the woodlands,
Lap it away from the cold bleak air.

Hasten the day when those desolate gables,
Holding their secret of failure and dearth,
Gently shall sink to their grave by the wayside,
Hidden at last in the warm kind earth.


corrodykeeillcorrody1corrody2 (2)20160516_120755.jpgcorrody7corrody6corrrrrrrrrrr

You may have noticed that in many blog posts, I have used information from the Isle of Man Natural History and Antiquarian Society visits and journals, the society is still going strong with lots of interesting talks and visits, you can find out more at

More about keeills.