Keeills and Cake; Cabbal Pherick, Kirk Michael.

Keeills and Cake; Cabbal Pherick, Kirk Michael.

Keeill number fourteen.

Cabbal Pherick is one of the better known Manx keeills, it is situated in Glen Mooar near Kirk Michael, next to the Island’s highest waterfall, ‘Spooyt Vane’ (meaning ‘White Spout’).



This early chapel is one of many dedicated to St. Patrick across the Island and is in a very lovely but lonely location in one of our Island Glens.


We visited when the sun was low in the sky and dappled sunlight made this holy place very beautiful in the early evening light.  In the background we could hear Spooyt Vane waterfall far below and it would have been very peaceful if it wasn’t for the two year old.  We had picked up some fish and chips in Peel on the way out and they were still hot when we had got to the keeill so we sat in this delightful spot and had our tea.  Keeills and Chips.


Cabbal Pherick sits in a clearing and is comparatively large, measuring 23ft by 13ft.  The walls still stand quite high in places but I think it has deteriorated slightly since it was surveyed in 1911 for the Third Report of the Manx Archaeological Survey.


When it was surveyed, the altar stone was removed and placed to the right of the gate at Kirk Michael Parish Church.  The remains of the culdee’s ‘cell’ are still to be seen at the south west corner which makes it particularly unusual.  The plan showing both is from the survey:



I came across a slightly horrifying story about the last incumbent of the keeill and cell in the the Ramsey Courier, describing a visit to the keeill from the Antiquarian society in 1954 (

spooytvane (2).jpg

This story is also mentioned with more detail in the report for the survey team in 1911:

It is told of this Keeill that the last Priest who officiated in it was guilty of mending his carranes on a Sunday, and in consequence, met with a sudden and dreadful end. The story as told by the late Mr. Cannell was as follows: “The priest of Cabbal Pherick, at the Spooyt Vane, was a cobbler to his trade. One day he was so busy mending a pair of shoes that he did not notice the people passing in the road and looking at him in surprise. His housekeeper came to him at last and said ‘Are you not ashamed to be doing work on the Sabbath and all the people waiting at the Chapel for you.’ What are thou talking of woman,’ he said, ‘Go and count the eggs and see how many are in the nest.’ For the priest had a hen which laid an egg every day and they were collected only once a week, and that is how he knew what day it would be. So the woman went, and when she came back she said-Seven eggs there are.’ Then the priest threw down his tools, and rushed away with such haste that he fell down the Spooyt Vane, and was drowned. And the people never used the Chapel any more.” Another version lays stress on the fact that he waxed his shoe-laces, and when he was crossing the stream he tripped ever them and was carried down the fall !

I’m not sure whether the story was ever based on fact but I’m sure it was a great teaching tool for the people living nearby on the importance of keeping the Sabbath!

The photo below of Cabbal Pherick being excavated was taken from the report of the Third Report of the Manx Archaeological Survey in 1911, the photo itself was taken by Mr W. Skillicorn.  As you can see from the slightly chaotic look of the pile of stones in the middle of the keeill, I don’t think the excavations were carried out quite as carefully as they would have been today! I was told that local men were brought in to do the majority of the digging and it was overseen by Mr Kermode and the other members of the team, a rough and ready way of working.


In 1911, the survey found the keeill to measure 23ft. by 13ft. and the walls stood between 28in. at the west end to the west end.


Fig. 3. Cabbal Pherick, Michael.

They found the doorway to be 25 in. wide and situated in the west wall, there was a 12in. high step leading in to the keeill from the outside.  Several pavement stones were in position at the east end and parts of the altar remained, the bed of a window on the east wall was still visible although the sill and jamb stones had gone.

The walls were the usual inner and outer face of stones, set without mortar and the space filled with soil and rubble.  P. M. C. Kermode found a small flat stone lying on its face by the doorway, on it was a very simple linear cross, a simple mark for the simple Celtic faith, this little cross is now in the ownership of the Manx Museum.  The enclosure measuring about 32 yards north to south and 25 yards east to west, was surrounded by a low embankment of earth and stones between 4 and 6ft. wide.

cabbbbb.gifFig. 6. Cross-slab from Cabbal Pherick, Michael.

Go out there, experience this peaceful place and think of over 1000 years of history at this site.  Think of the many Victorian tourists that passed on their way to visit Spooyt Vane, think of the many families that came here to share important times in their lives when it was in use as a place of God, think of the many people who have visited here over the years to reflect on their lives and enjoy the solitary beauty of this place.  Don’t think about the poor hermit with his slippery shoes, that’ll only ruin it!

And bring a picnic, or at least cake.


More about keeills.



Keeills and Cake; Keeill Vreeshey, Marown.

Keeills and Cake; Keeill Vreeshey, Marown.

Keeill number thirteen.

Keeill Vreeshey has an access agreement in place with the Manx Museum and National Trust.  Even with this in place, people should respect the farmer and use discretion: if there’s a standing crop approaching harvest, stay away.  If there’s a single path through the crop, use it and don’t beat down any more.  Sometimes it rotates to pasture, so people should respect any livestock, close gates etc.  Keeill Vreeshey is situated on the Mount Rule back road at the junction with the Eyreton Road and is marked on the map.


This keeill and burial ground, dedicated to St Bridget, sit fenced off in the middle of a vast field overlooking Crosby.  The keeill has a good structure still with walls that are over four feet high in places.  Judging from the number of times that it is referred to in the Manx press over the years, Keeill Vreeshey seems to have been one of the most frequently visited keeills by antiquarian societies and similar, probably because it is also one of the most visible and easily accessible.  There was mention of a well, Chibbyr Vreeshey, in the field below, that had an association with the keeill and until the twentieth century used to draw people from all over the Island on account of its healing properties.  I found this information from a newspaper article in the Isle of Man Times from 1937 about a visit to the keeill by an antiquarian society ( but I haven’t been able to find any further information on it and it seems doubtful that it still exists.

The chapel was surveyed in 1908 in the First Report of the Manx Archaeological Survey, they found it in a comparatively good state of preservation and that is the same today.


FIG. 3. — Plan of Keeill Vreeshey, Marown.

In the survey by Kermode and his team, they mention that the keeill is in ‘The Chapel Field’ which, according to Paul Bridson (Yn Lioar Manninagh,” VOL III, p. 433), as in 1861 known as Garey Keeill Vreeshey.  The name was forgotten by the time of the survey but they found one man who knew the fied as ‘the Breesh’.  They found the keeill to measure 16ft. by between 9 and 10ft., the wall was as high as 5ft. in places and the doorway was between 18 and 24in. wide, situated in the south wall.  The sides of the doorway were found to be of large stones with a stone on edge at the threshold of the doorway from which the pavement sloped outwards.  The position of the altar at the east end is marked by some small stones, the sill of a window 18in. wide remained in the east wall.  Directly behind the altar was a stone set on edge to cover a recess in the wall that was 18in. deep, 16in. high and 12in. wide, this is thought to have been perhaps a reliquary that may have contained the remains of the priest responsible for creating the site or perhaps as a safe place for holy items during Viking raids, this feature was also found at the nearby Cabbal Druiacht, Glen Lough.

On the outside of the walls, there was the familiar bank of earth and large stones up to the height of about 2ft. and about 3ft. wide at the base.  The irregular stones that paved the floor were still in existence.

The keeill sat in the north west of an oval shaped enclosure that measured around 58ft. by 40ft., the embankment was of earth and stones and was between 4 and 6ft. wide with an absence of stones opposite the doorway of the keeill and the remains of a pavement leading half way down to it which would suggest that it was the entrance of the enclosure.

The surrounding wall of the enclosure has long been ploughed over in 2016 but the keeill remains in excellent condition.  Keeill Vreeshey may not be as much of a ‘hidden place’ as many of these sites are, but it is an interesting place to visit and a good example of a well looked after keeill, the views across Marown are also lovely on a good day.

There are many good walks from here over the Millennium Way or along the Mount Rule back road to Baldwin, it would make a good spot for some tea and cake (of course) as part of a longer walk.


More information on keeills.

Keeills and Cake; Ballacarnane Keeill, Kirk Michael.

Keeills and Cake; Ballacarnane Keeill, Kirk Michael.

Keeill number twelve.

With kind permission of Mr John Cannell, Ballacarnane.


On yet another wet Manx morning, we made our way out to Ballacarnane Farm, a site sitting high above the Peel to Kirk Michael Road with a magnificent view down the coast to Peel.  We were there to visit the remains of the Ballacarnane keeill but we were in for a very pleasant surprise, being fortunate enough to have a guided tour from Mr John Cannell, the landowner himself.

Mr Cannell’s family have farmed Ballacarnane for over 500 years (one of only three families in the Island who have farmed the same land for that length of time).  He was a wealth of knowledge and an anthology of stories, spoken in a guttural Manx dialect that is so rare these days, his use of dialect words in conversation was worth the visit alone!  We were a willing audience and could happily have stayed all day.

Mr Cannell told us of a relative, also a Mr John Cannell, who had been the focus of a press gang attempt in Peel in the early part of the 19th century.  Mr Cannell was stronger than the men from the press gang and threw one of them in the harbour, he ran back to Ballacarnane and spent a month living in the scrub in a field with views across to Peel, waiting for the boat of the press gang anchored in the harbour to leave.  The injured party from the press gang found of his whereabouts and came to Ballacarnane to give Mr Cannell his comeuppance, however, it didn’t pan out the way he had wanted to and it is said that this poor gentleman came off worse and is buried under the foundations of the ‘new’ farmhouse!  The murder weapon is still in the possession of the Cannell family, carved with the initials and the date.  You can imagine, it was easy to forget why we had come to visit in the first place.

The farm itself is full of history; there are carvings of ‘Nickeys’ (Manx slang for a fishing boat) in the door of one of the outbuildings, etched by the fishermen generations ago who came to work on the farm in exchange for their board and lodging when the fishing wasn’t in season.  Mr Cannell was kind enough to take us to see the second ‘chapel’ on his private land, Kerrowglass Wesleyan Methodist Church which was built by John Cannell (an ancestor of the current Mr John Cannell), in 1833 on Ballacarnane land.  Although it appears very isolated in 2016, it originally served quite a large community with many more families living on the uplands: in 1851 it had an average attendance of 60.  When the chapel closed in 1963, the family locked the doors, leaving it as it was at the last service.  We really did enjoy visiting this little chapel as much as we did visiting the keeill itself.


So, let’s get back on track, there are too many wonderful diversions at Ballacarnane.

The Keeill, what do we know about it?

The keeill at Ballacarnane is one of just six that are known to have existed in the parish of Kirk Michael, only two of these have visible remains in 2016, the other is Cabbal Pherick at Spooyt Vane.  The remains sit very close to the current farm house on an outcrop of rocks 200ft. above sea level, known as Cronk ny Killey (Hill of the Keeill).



The keeill is one of many that have no known dedication and it is surrounded by a burial ground.  In 2016, little stonework is visible except for one large stone at the entrance to the ruin which had at one stage been removed and put in a hedge but was replaced by the current owner’s father in as close a position as he could get to where it was originally.


Mr Cannell told us that many years ago, the owner of Ballacarnane, a distant relative, decided to destroy the burial ground surrounding the keeill by pulling up the large stones and his seven sons assisted him in this, his one daughter and her mother were very against the idea.  Within a year, all seven sons and the father had died.

The farm was left to the remaining child, the daughter, who married a Cannell from the adjoining farm and continued the family line at Ballacarnane.  There are many stories of similar happenings in connection with these ancient holy sites; exactly the same story was said of Keeill Coonlagh at Ballachonley Farm, in the parish of Jurby, it is told that the seven sons died after completely destroying the keeill and the daughter was left the farm (Third Report of the Manx Archaeological Survey, Kermode), it’s always the women with the common sense!

Alan Radcliffe from Ballayockey Farm, Regaby, told me recently that after the Ardonan Keeill was destroyed in the 1950’s, the gentleman who had taken the structure apart was badly injured by his own tractor.  Even in the mid twentieth century it was blamed on his part in the destruction of the keeill.

It seems that superstitions such as these were a real problem for the survey team.  In the Third Report of the Manx Archaeological Survey it is written:

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.

The Cannell family are determined that the keeill should not be disturbed (and can you blame them?).  I was surprised to find that it had been archaeologically surveyed for the Third Report of the Manx Archaeological Survey around 1911.  Many thanks to Ean Cannell who kindly shared with me a photo showing the survey team alongside Mr John Quirk Cannell who farmed there at the time:

ballacarnane ean cannell

What did they find?

P.M.C. Kermode and his team found the foundations in a ‘ruinous state’, most likely not helped by the attempts to destroy the site made by the ‘doomed’ sons and father a couple of centuries earlier!  Only the south east original corner remained although the dimensions were ascertained through following the lines of the walls which were still traceable, the inside measurements were around 12-12ft. 9in. by 9-10ft.  The walls were between 30in. and 48in. high and built of undressed shore boulders without mortar, the lower course internally were faced with slabs set on edge, some of which remained in situ.  The doorway was in the west wall and there was a step down to the paved floor, of which only two or three stones remained, a sill stone of a window in the east wall was found at 3ft. 6ins. from the floor height.  Hundreds of white shore pebbles were also found.

Mr John Quirk Cannell had no recollection of the enclosure which was gone before his time.

Plan of keeill at Ballacarnane-Beg with figure of stone pillar at the door and probable position of corresponding pillar at the other side (taken from the Third Report of the Manx Archeological Survey).

Ballacarnane was visited by the Isle of Man Natural History and Antiquarian Society in 1956 and more recently as part of an excursion for the Praying the Keeills event.  We should be glad that Mr John Quirk Cannell was able to put his superstitions behind him to allow Kermode and his team to excavate for the benefit of recording the keeill for the nation.

Nicola and I really enjoyed our visit to Ballacarnane, Mr Cannell’s stories told us of an area of land rich in history and his connection to it was felt by both of us.  Culture Vannin filmed Mr Cannell talking to myself in the summer of 2018 at Ballacarnane, telling his stories in the way that only he can, it was a wonderful day and one I won’t forget!  Characters like Mr John Cannell are few and far between and it was pleasing to be part of preserving something well worth preserving, thank you Culture Vannin (




Whatever happened to the poor seven sons at Ballacarnane; epidemic? bad luck? or the consequence of destroying a sacred site?! We will never know..

but just in case, if you have a keeill on your land – take good care of it!




Find out more about our visits to Manx keeills in 2016.

Please be aware that these sites are, unless noted as being otherwise, on private land and can only be accessed with permission from the landowner.


Keeills and Cake; Keeill Bow, Lezayre.

Keeills and Cake; Keeill Bow, Lezayre.

Keeill number eleven.

With kind permission from Mr Julian Edwards, Ballakillingan.

Skyhill is the modern spelling of Scacafel which is Norse for wooded hill.  This hill near Ramsey was the scene of one of the most famous battles in Manx history where Godred Croven fought the Manx men and took a victory in 1079 that made him Ruler of Man and the Western Isles.  It is hard to be exactly sure of when the keeills date from but it is thought that they were built between 600AD and 1200 AD,  I couldn’t help but wonder if there was a hermit living in the keeill at the time of the battle.

If only the stones could tell stories.

Skyhill and the surrounding areas have played an important part in the history of the Island, in George Quayle’s wonderful book, ‘Legends of a Lifetime’, he talks of the people who lived in the hills around there as if they were a different, much hardier breed, he thought they were:

‘For the most part, a deeply religious people.  To quote the Ettrick shepherd, “a people who saw God in the clouds.”… they were a people of fine physique, their environment saw to this address it required fully developed lungs and stout hearts to wrest a living from these steep and rugged slopes.’

He wasn’t the only one, the Manx poet, T. E. Brown describes them in a similar way in his poem ‘Kitty of the Sherragh Vane’:

 “…for the air is thin
And fine up there, and they sucks it in
Very strong,
Very long,
And mixes it with the mould
Of all their body and all their sowl.”

Kitty of the Sherragh Vane, T. E. Brown.

For a hermit over 1000 years ago, the lifestyle was probably a lonely and uncomfortable one, the Keeill Bow site is very exposed with little shelter as you can see from the windswept trees.  If the intention was to isolate yourself so that your life could be concentrated on a simple existence and feeling closer to God then Skyhill was a pretty good choice of location.  A ‘thin’ place, a ‘thin’ living.

The keeill and surrounding burial ground sits in a field known as ‘Magher ny Hoarn’ meaning ‘field of the graves’ and has been newly fenced by the Manx Museum and National Trust as it is in their guardianship, I found a mention of it in a letter from C. Radcliffe, published in the ‘Manks Advertiser’ in 1826, lamenting the state of the Island’s ecclesiastical antiquities.  In the letter, Radcliffe says;

On the top of Sky-Hill are the remains of Keeill Bow.  From the formation of the word, I should suppose Bow to be the name of some saint Manksified, – but whether St. Buan, or some other, it is impossible to say.

I have found no other mention of this name associated with the keeill but we can assume that was its common name at the start of the nineteenth century so I have decided to use it in this post.

The keeill is quite small measuring only 15ft x 7ft and not so much is visible above ground except for the large stones at the entrance way.  We could see the remains of the lintel grave that was mentioned in the archaeological survey.


The Keeill and burial ground were surveyed as part of the Fourth Report of the Manx Archaeological Survey in around 1915.  A read of the survey really helps with understanding the site as it is visually quite confusing.  They found the keeill sitting inside a pear shaped cemetery measuring 23 by 16 yards to the outside embankment which was 6ft. wide at the base.  An entrance at the south is marked by upright stone and a step between them, a path leads from here to the keeill entrance.  There is a similar entrance at the north end of the enclosure also paved with large slabs, another pave leads diagonally from the east side to the centre of the cemetery.  There was a grave found in the centre but nothing was found inside, the grave is marked on the map below and we were able to see it in 2016 (see earlier photo).


At the time of the Kermode survey, the lines of the walls of the keeill were visible although with only two or three courses remaining, it measured 15 by 7ft. and the door was in the south wall.  The original jamb stones in the doorway remained and the base of the altar had survived as two heavy slabs lying on the ground at the east end.  The usual bank of stone and earth against the wall was still visible in places.

skyhilllllllA enjoyable walk up Skyhill in the sunshine, a couple of homemade scones and the wonderful views made this visit a very pleasant one.



What are keeills? 

Keeills and Cake; Ballaquinnea Keeill, Marown.

Keeills and Cake; Ballaquinnea Keeill, Marown.

Keeill number ten.

With kind permission of Mr Geoffrey Kinvig, Ballaquinnea.

The keeill at Ballaquinnea is dedicated to St. Fingan and sits in a little enclosure of Larch trees known as the ‘Faerie Orchard’, a name which suits it perfectly.  The keeill is entered through a number of large stones standing on end, they make for a rather impressive entranceway to this well preserved and interesting site.

The site is just off the Glen Darragh Road and very close to Keeill Lingan just further up the hill.  It has been fenced off since the then owner of Ballaquinnea, Mr Cowin, offered it to the Manx Museum and National Trust as an Ancient Monument in 1930 and they have cared for it ever since.  I have no idea who planted the daffodils but it was a lovely gesture which added to the peace and beauty of this place.


The Ballaquinnea Keeill was surveyed as part of the First Report of the Manx Archaeological Survey around 1908.  They found the keeill to measure 16 by 10ft. with walls around 4ft. thick, the remains of an embankment was still visible against certain areas of the walls.  The doorway was found in the west end along with three upright jambs on each side, it looks the same as it was when a drawing was made for the ‘Archaeologia Cambrensis’ (1866):


There were traces of the window in the south wall but without the sill although the sill stone from the window in the east wall still remained 30in. off the floor, the window would have measured around 18in.wide on the inside.  The base of the altar was in situ at the east end of the building, it sat 7 or 8in. above the pavement and had two upright pillars still in place which are visible on the photo below from 2016.


The outline of the altar was marked by small stones along the edge (see on plan below) instead of the usual long slab often found in this position and the floor was paved with small stones, the remains of two broken cross slabs were built in to the altar.


Hand coloured 1894 copy of the 1873 Lukis and Dryden plan of the Ballaquinnea Keeill (P.2878 (XA.MR.1.M)


The enclosure measured 43 yards north by 53 east and west, it was artificially raised and had an embankment of earth and stones measuring 5 to 6ft. high at the east end with an outer ditch.  A stream which Kermode thought had been diverted in recent times, would have originally come down to the centre of the western embankment where it divided to flow all around it.  They found ‘semi circular hollows’ marked by stone against the inner face of the embankment which are thought to mark the position of small cells, the site was thought to be similar in appearance to a ‘small fortified position’ which seemed unusual and very different from the nearby Keeill Lingan.  They found some graves and many of the usual white quartz pebbles.


FIG. 6. — Keeill at Ballaquinney, Marown.

 As you can see from the number of photos that were taken, we enjoyed our time in this tranquil little spot.  The keeill is really very well preserved, it’s a good ‘un and we liked it a lot.


What is a keeill?


Keeills and Cake; Knock Rule Keeill, Braddan.

Keeills and Cake; Knock Rule Keeill, Braddan.

Keeill number nine.

With kind permission from Mr Cain.

There are ten known keeill sites in the Parish of Braddan and Knock Rule Keeill is one of only two with visible remains in 2016.  It was partially surveyed as part of the Fifth Report of the Manx Archaeological Survey, published in 1918.

We walked out to the Knock Rule Keeill, Mount Rule, on a wet day in March.  There were actually hail stones as we crossed the field but on the Isle of Man if you waited for a sunny day, you could be waiting a while.  Google Earth was useful as it isn’t shown on the map and no-one seemed to know much about it, the map reference showed it in a clump of trees at the top of a field and that was where we found it, hiding in the corner.

This little keeill was a pleasant surprise as it looked in good order but a little sad and unloved, it felt forgotten.  The tenant farmer didn’t even realise there was a keeill on the land.

From the cow pats inside it was obvious that animals have access to the keeill, however, the structure seems to still be intact and it doesn’t look too different to the photo of it that was taken in 1935.  The Archaeological Survey team were only able to make a partial observation of it as at the time as there were a number of trees growing up through it, these are shown in the photograph (taken from the archaeological survey).



In the Fifth Report of the Manx Archaeological Survey (1918) they applied for removal of the trees so they could make further investigation but although the trees were removed, I couldn’t find any evidence of any other excavation.  What they found in the partial survey they did is below:

KNOCK RULE. O.S. X, 13 (1304). The walls of this Keeill are still standing in the little plantation about 250 vards north north-west of the house at a height of about 390 ft. above sea-level.

Three small trees, ash and sycamore, are growing within the Keeill, which prevent a complete examination and must endanger what remains of the building. It measures about 16 ft. by 8 ft. The walls, of which the north and east have settled inwards, are built of small surface stones in irregular courses; all four corners are rounded (above the surface), and this is probably caused by attempted repairs.

The east end is 3 ft. wide, the south wall 2 ft. 6 ins., the west 3 ft., and the north from 2 ft. 6 ins. to 3 ft. A little digging at the corners proved the foundation to be about 2 ft. below the present surface, giving the heights of the walls north and east 6 ft., south 4 ft. 8 ins., and west 3 ft. 6 ins. ‘There had been a skirting of upright stones as shown by two at the north-east corner, 16 ins. high by 7 ins. wide, and 14 ins. by 8 ins. ; and at the south-east one 22 ins. by 11 ins., and another 29 ins. by 16 ins. About 12 ins. from the north corner remains of the altar were met with, 2 ft. wide and 12 ins. high. The doorway was at the west end.

Application was made for the removal of the trees, without which, further examination was impossible. The aspect is south-east and the orientation (by compass) east-north-east.

This keeill has more visible remains than many of the sites we have visited and is well worth recognising as a good example although without the results of a full survey we cannot be sure exactly what is hiding in the undergrowth.

Update, 31st August 2016:

In a summary of the Fifth Report of the Manx Archaeological Survey, found in the uncatalogued Kermode papers (MS 08979 box 2 of 2), there is more information on the Knock Rule Keeill:

The walls of this keeill are still standing in the little plantation.  It measures about 16ft. by 8ft.  The walls are built of small surface stones.  The remains of the altar are present, 2ft. wide and 12ins. high.  There are three trees growing within the keeill which endanger what remains of the buildings. Endeavours were made by Mr Kermode to have the site made an Ancient Monument, but the condition of the owners that no digging be allowed, could not be agreed to. 

A few weeks ago I examined the site; and found that it is by far the best preserved in the parish of Kirk Braddan.  Another endeavour ought to be made to make it an Ancient Monument.  The trees should be destroyed at once.

The information given that the owners were reluctant to give permission for the excavation is an explanation of why there is no further information on Kermode re-visiting the site for further exploration.  What a pity!

Further in the summary it says:

The only two keeills in the parish worth protecting by rails are this one at Camlork and the one at Knoc Rule.  No delays should come in the way of their adequate preservation.

It is sad that these two keeills are the least protected in the parish in 2016 with Camlork being almost completely destroyed and Knock Rule very neglected.  It is a great pity that the recommendation to fence them both off was not followed up.

We rather liked the Knock Rule Keeill, even in the rain.  The worry is that the keeill will remain neglected and the structure will be damaged by the grazing animals.  Hopefully this will create some awareness of it, the ideal would be that it could be fenced off finally and come under the protection of the Manx Museum but this may be a bit optimistic.

Knock Rule Keeill is not quite forgotten, it’s just waiting to be found!



More about our visits to the Manx keeills in 2016.

Please be aware that these sites are, unless noted as being otherwise, on private land and can only be accessed with permission from the landowner.

Keeills and Cake; St. Patrick’s Chapel, Jurby.

Keeills and Cake; St. Patrick’s Chapel, Jurby.

Keeill number eight.

With kind permission of Mr Cleator.

This rarely visited keeill sitting on the land of West Nappin, Jurby, is thought to be dedicated to St. Patrick.  Kermode in the archaeological survey calls it St. Patrick’s Chapel.  Around 1900, a Father Gillow of Ramsey wrote:

‘At the Nappin, Jurby, we find in the middle of a large field, the remains of what was once a Catholic Church. The northeast gable has a three-light window, embedded in the orthodox red sandstone. In the southeast wall, in the corner, are the two niches for the wine and water cruets, and underneath, the Sacrarium. I was informed that some 200 years ago, the building was cut through the middle in order to make a school. This church was dedicated to St. Patrick, and the east and southeast gables, which are still standing, afford ample evidence of its former uses as a Catholic place of worship. In the south west corner of this field there is a charming green spot, under which is a heap of stones filling up what was once known as St. Patrick’s well, the water from which still flows down to the sea’ (Cain, 2004)

J. J. Kneen (Manx Placenames, 1925) described the chapel at West Nappin as having  a dedication to St. Cecilia ‘St. Keyl’s Chapel’

‘This chapel was dedicated to the Roman Saint Cecilia whose dedication date was November 22nd, but in Mann she was venerated on November 9th (O.S.). This day was called in Manx Laa’l Kickle, ‘Cecilia’s feast-day,’ and a fair was held annually in the parish of Jurby, which in early times must have been held in close proximity to the Chapel of St. Cecilia. The fair is mentioned by Feltham in 1797, and it did not disappear until after 1834.
It may be noted that Cecilia was pronounced Kikilia in Latin and Irish, and as is usually the case in Manx, the final unstressed vowel dropped away.
The ruins of St. Cecilia’s Chapel, now under the care of the Ancient Monuments Trustees, may be seen on the estate of W. Nappin, a little south of the parish church.
The usage of this chapel as a school house in the 18th century has probably been instrumental in saving it from destruction.’ (Kneen, 1925)

The dedication to St. Cecilia is generally thought to be unsubstantiated, however, because of this, the building is also known as Keeill Kickle (a derivation of Cecilia), Keeill Kickle or St. Patrick’s Chapel.

The chapel is under the care of the Manx Museum and National Trust although it is on private land.

The Clarke family farmed at the Nappin for centuries and when there was a desperate need for a school in the area in the mid 18th century, Thomas Clarke used his own money to restore and extend the old chapel which was then used as a school for a time.  This served to protect the earlier parts of the keeill but has also given it a unique character of its own.  The annual fair to celebrate ‘St. Cecilia’s feast day’ was held close to the chapel on November 9th until the early 19th century.


An extract from the Isle of Man Times ( of 1959 gives a good introduction in a description of a visit to the keeill by the Antiquarian Society:

‘This tiny keeill, Church of St. Cecilia, has a remarkable history.  Originally a Bronze Age tumulus, it became a Christian ‘cell’ probably falling into decay in the Middle Ages until in 1749 Thomas Clarke, of The Nappin, restored and enlarge it to make a day school for the children of the neighbourhood,  Now it stands, a bleak little ruin, probably unique. 

Where else would one find in so tiny a building traces of an early Christian Piscina, a window of the Middle Ages and an eighteenth century schoolroom fireplace?’

Where else indeed.


 This photograph taken from the iMuseum ( shows the building in 1911 at the time of the survey in a similar condition to that in which you find it now.  The keeill in 2016 is in need of conservation work with one gable pulling away from the wall, however, it has survived in surprisingly good order which is probably down to it not being easily accessible and therefore rarely disturbed.

The visit to this fascinating little chapel one early evening in March has definitely been a high point. When you think of how simple most of the remaining keeills are, finding the carved windows and a Celtic cross standing inside the building itself really was wonderful.  Keeil Kickle was surveyed as part of the Third Report of the Manx Archaeological Survey, in the survey they call it ‘St. Patrick’s Chapel’ but I’ll call it ‘Kickle’ as that seems to be the accepted name now.  This interesting survey shows the level of architectural detail that has survived over the years.

The survey team found the keeill to measure 20ft. by 11ft. and consists of two distinct parts from different time periods.  The building is built using shore boulders although the jambs and carved stones are all sandstone, the east end uses cement and rough cast and dates from around the 14th or 15th century, the rest dates from around the 17th or 18th century at the time it was converted in to a school.  The keeill was roofed at this time and slates were found inside the interior, there are some projecting stones in the south wall which may have been part of a raised dais for the altar although no part of the altar itself could be found.  The upper part of a decorative window in the east wall was still intact although the sill stones were gone, Kermode suggested the window was from the 14th century and had grooves for lead and glass, a small fragment of iridescent glass was found below the window.

The inside lintel of the window was found to be a broken Scandinavian cross slab which P. M. C. Kermode removed and cast in 1891 with permission from the owner at the time, Mr Clarke.  Kermode thought they slab may have been intentionally placed in the 14th century building as the moulding on the side would have been ornamental.  A recess for a piscina (a stone basin near the altar in Catholic and pre-Reformation churches for draining water used in the Mass) was found in the south wall although the bowl was lost, it is thought this space was used as a cupboard during its use as a school.  There was knowledge of a small ‘stone cup’ which had been kept in the piscina and was possibly the original bowl but this was sadly lost.  Around this recess was a decorative stone arch:


Inside this hollow had been placed by Mr Clarke an early cross slab which he had found in the ruins, this is visible in the photograph above from 2016.  A number of graves were found, some passing under the walls and showing that the current building is not on the lines of the original, many of these graves were covered in many white pebbles.

A fireplace had been built in for when the building was in use as a school.  The survey team found the enclosure to measure 38 yards from north to south by 25 yards, the chapel sits in the centre, Kermode suggests that a square hollow in the ground at the west end of the building may have been occupied by part of the 14th century building, a few foundation stones were found nearby along with cement mixed rubble similar to that used in the east gable.  A lintel grave was found in the enclosure, also covered with pebbles.

It is thought that the site must have been a Bronze Age burial site as a much earlier grave was come across and many years earlier, a cinerary urn (holding human ashes) had been found.


Plan St. Patrick's Chapel, West Nappin, Jurby

Fig. 12. St. Patrick’s Chapel, West Nappin, Jurby.

What an incredible place, I wouldn’t have known it even existed before we started this journey, it really is a building with a rich history and its survival is both surprising and wonderful.  Here’s to it surviving for many more years.

I hope Nicola’s lovely photos tell their own story.


Looking through carved windows towards the ‘new’ church at Jurby.
The fireplace from when the building was used as a school (and William hiding inside).
The carved detailing above the piscina.


Celtic carved cross remains.



On to the Mount Rule Keeill.

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Keeills and Cake; Sholghaige y Quiggin, Kirk Michael.

Keeills and Cake; Sholghaige y Quiggin, Kirk Michael.

Keeill number seven.

With kind permission of Mrs Caine.

A keeill or not a keeill? That is the question.

We set off one damp and windy child free day to find the Sholghaige y Quiggin Keeill (named from the quarterland on which it is situated) near Little London.  After an hour of hunting in the rain, we admitted defeat.  I remember saying to Nicola that if anyone had seen us with our maps out in the rain and wind, they’d have thought we were mad!

On our second attempt we were armed with the old O.S. map which we’d lined up with the current map, not so easy as you’d think down to field boundaries moving and changing, we also had Google Earth and we needed it.  A further hour of walking up and down fields and climbing over gates and we were about to give in a second time when we realised that a patch of scrub that we must have walked past a number of times was actually the site of the ‘keeill’!, there was great satisfaction in finding it at last and we celebrated with some of Nicola’s homemade fruit loaf and a cup of tea.

Although we knew this was the site that we had been looking for, there really was very little to see, a few stones only but mainly bracken, it was definitely the most disappointing site so far.

The disappointment was compounded on reading the Third Report of the Manx Archaeological Committee when we saw that in their opinion, this site was not actually one of a keeill but an early pagan burial ground!  I have shared the extract from the survey below:

The O.S., VII, 13, (2044), marks “Site of Chapel” on the Intack lands of Sholghaige y Quiggin, about 383 yds. N. N. W. of the last. When cleared, however, this showed a circle of white quartz boulders about 23 ft. 6 in. diam., the inside area packed with small stones mostly quartz. It had all the appearance of a pagan burial-place, and there was no sign of any building. As it was so close to the last, and on the same Quarterland, it is unlikely that there was a Keeill, and it seems probable that the titles of these two on the O.S. had by accident been transposed.

It sounds like the Sholghaige y Quiggin ‘Keeill’ needs to come off our list altogether!

Still, not altogether a wasted experience, we laughed a lot and there was cake of course.




Keeills and Cake; Renshent Keeill, Malew.

Keeills and Cake; Renshent Keeill, Malew.

Keeill number six.

With kind permission from Mrs A. Cain, Renshent.

This very early keeill has no known dedication although the name Renshent comes from Rheynn sheaynt, the Manx Gaelic for ‘blest division’, and was originally part of the ‘Abbey Lands’.  The Keeill sits in landscaped grounds and looks picturesque with its unusual covering of heather, the standard shape is obvious but we couldn’t see any of the stones as the plant cover was so thick.

I found this newspaper extract from the Manx Sun in 1877 describing a visit to Renshent Keeill by commissioners who had been tasked with reporting to his Excellency the Lieutenant Governor on the ancient monuments of the Island, they were a bit more floral in their descriptive language than we’re used to in 2016!  The setting and keeill are still very attractive so I assumed from this article that perhaps the structure had remained unchanged in the intervening years:

renshent1 (2).jpg

This was until I read the section on Renshent in the Sixth Report of the Manx Archaeological Survey.  The Sixth Report was a much later edition published in 1966 where Mr J.R.Bruce reported on the keeills and burial grounds in the Sheading of Rushen in relation to what P.M.C. Kermode and his team found fifty years earlier.  Many thanks to Sam Hudson for lending me his copy, it makes for fascinating reading.

The survey reported that in 1870 O.S. map, the site is marked as ‘Chapel and Burial Ground (Ruins of)’ and the building is shown along with a surrounding bank, around 50 yards in diameter.  However, in the 1957 edition, the bank is no longer shown and it is simply described as ‘Chapel’.  Bruce laments the damage suffered by the chapel over the years:

For many years no protection seems to have been afforded to this monument, nor any examination undertaken, and at a meeting of N.H.A.S, in December 1916 (Proc. N.H.A.S., II, No.2, p.95) attention was drawn to ‘grievous damage’ suffered by the keeill during the year.  The nature and extent of this damage is recorded by P.M.C. Kermode (in a personal letter to Wm. Cubbon, dated 18th August 1917) – ‘Renshent Keeill has been stripped entirely of its stones.  As often the case, the earth mound does not give the lines of the building.  The west end is entirely gone.’ He was apparently able, however, to make some examination of the mutilated remains, clearing the foundations of the E., N. and S. walls, and noted that some floor pavement and an indication of the altar remained.

In 1935, a further clearance of the site, together with the erection of a post and wire fence around the actual keeill remains, was carried out by the Inspector of Ancient Monuments, Mr. G. J. H. Neely (30th Rept. Manx Museum Trustees, 1935, p.16).  The Inspector also reported at this time (Manx Register of Ancient Monuments) ‘that the interior of the keeill showed signs of former excavation – though no record of such has been traced’. The owner of the site was then stated to be Owen Williams, of Bala, North Wales, and the occupier, J. Shimmin.

J. R. Bruce wrote of his findings when he visited the site himself in the early 1960’s, he described the appearance of the keeill to date from the ‘clearing and partial reconstruction’ in 1935, when stones and floor material were used to rebuild the walls and to replace the stones that had been ‘robbed’.  In 2016 it is hard to see any stonewor whatseoever, but in the 1960’s, between one and three courses were visible, internally faced with rough blocks of granite and quartzite.

Above the layers of stone, earth had been piled which raised the total height of the walls to between 3 and 4.5ft. above the floor level.  No stones were visible in the west end, Bruce thought that an opening to the north of the mid point in the west wall may have been the position of the original doorway but no door jambs remained, he found the building to measure 18 by 9ft. internally.

The altar foundations that had been mentioned by Kermode in 1917 were no longer visible and no trace of the burial ground was visible, the farmer had never ploughed up any graves in the area.

So there you are, fascinating stuff.  If you visited this pretty little keeill today above the river and read the newspaper article from 1877, you would think you were looking at the same scene but actually in the intervening years an awful lot of changes have taken place.

However,  despite these, Renshent still remains ‘exceedingly beautiful and interesting’, just as the committee found it almost 140 years ago.

renshentttIMG-20160407-WA0027 (2)renshennnnt

What are keeills?

Keeills and Cake; Keeill Pharick a Dromma, German.

Keeills and Cake; Keeill Pharick a Dromma, German.

Keeill number five.

Keeill Pharick a Dromma, dedicated to St Patrick, was a pleasantly easy keeill to find.  It sits just off the Stockfield Road with beautiful views down to the sea and across to Cronk y Voddy.

Rather than the more familiar keeill we’re used to seeing made up of visible stone walls, this looks to be a very large grass covered mound with a smaller central mound surrounded by an embankment.  To the untrained eye (us!), there were very few features and we needed to do further research to understand the site.

This is where the Manx Archaeological Survey becomes invaluable.

When the keeill was surveyed around 1910, they found an almost circular mound with a diameter of about 20 yards, rising to a height of between 4ft. 6ins. and 5ft. 6ins.  The foundations of the keeill were under the mound and level with the ground outside, the building measured 18ft. by 9ft. 6ins and was built from undressed and irregularly shaped stones and pieces of quartz with a large stone in the doorway, making a rather high step in to the interior.  There may have been a step down on the inside too, as at Cabbal Druiaght and Keeill Vreeshey but this is now lost.

There was no trace of a window as the wall height was below that level, the doorway was 19 inches wide and sat in the middle of the west wall with a jamb still remaining in position, a couple of larger flag stones extended outside from the doorway.

The west wall was constructed from a facing 12 inches deep which was packed with soil and small stones and stood at a height of between 19 and 30 inches, only the inner face remained of the north wall and was 36 inches at the highest point.  The foundations of the south wall were 30 inches wide and between 18 and 27 inches high with a facing inside and out and packed out with earth.  The lower levels were faced with the usual skirting of stones set on edge and many of these still remained in place on the south and west walls.


The remains of the altar were found against the east wall, it measured 4ft. long and 23 inches wide with a projecting stone at the north end which suggested that there had been a 6 inch high step in front.  The stones still in place can be seen in the plan of the keeill above, taken from the survey.

Three lintel graves were found around 12 inches below the floor of the keeill, the damp soil had preserved a portion of the interned skeleton although nothing was found with the body that placed it from a certain time period and of course, there were none of the modern methods of testing that would have been used in the 21st century.

Interestingly, in the middle of the keeill was found layers of bright red clay and wood ashes about 2 inches thick above the level of the floor, Kermode suggested these may have been caused by the burning of the thatched roof of the building or, in a slightly less interesting scenario, from the burning of gorse and briars inside the keeill when the roadway was altered.  Across the west wall on top of the ruined surface appeared some walling showing the building may have been put to temporary use as a sheepfold over the years.

The enclosure was found to be greatly reduced in size and only extended to about 20 yards outside the foot of the embankment, a number of lintel graves were found, both in the field and under the road, suggest that the original size must have been over 70 yards in diameter.  A number of quartz pebbles were found in the keeill.

Kermode and his team set large white boulders under the sod immediately above each of the hidden corners, so as to mark the position.  And so the keeill was covered back over.

I found this description of the Keeill taken from the Mona’s Herald of 1877 in the Newspapers and Periodicals section of the iMuseum (, if only there was a photo with it!:


Once again, we have to be grateful to Kermode and his team in explaining these mysteries in the landscape.


Find out more about keeills.