Keeills and Cake; Keeill Woirrey, Maughold.

Keeills and Cake; Keeill Woirrey, Maughold.

Keeill number thirty nine.

Keeill Woirrey was the forty third and final keeill site we visited this year and at keeill number thirty nine it is the final keeill post on this blog which now documents all the remaining Manx keeills; some would say with Keeill Woirrey we’ve saved the best until last.

‘Keeill Woirrey is the most remarkable of the Maughold keeills, not only on account of the state of preservation, but also on account of the wild and lonely nature of its surroundings, reminding us how the Celtic monks prized a solitary life of prayer and meditation, ministering to only a few adherents.  Seldom visited, and rather difficult to find, the keeill lies about a quarter of a mile beyond the farmhouse of “Cornaa in the fells”. (1979, Radcliffe, ‘A History of Kirk Maughold’)

 

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1869 O.S. image showing ‘St Mary’s Chapel’.

Situated high up in the Cornaa Valley, this little chapel is on Crown land with public access via a path leading down from the public footpath running up the valley, the land is tenanted so always take care with livestock and make sure you close any gates after you, use common sense.

Both Nicola and I have been walking and exploring the Island for many years but this wonderful spot had evaded us until this summer.  The valley is vast but hidden and seems a million miles away from modern civilisation, it is also stunningly beautiful.

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Unlike the majority of the keeill sites on the Island, in this isolated and barren landscape with its rich colours of heather and bracken, it doesn’t take a vast stretch of the imagination to take yourself back to the time of the Ancient Celts and the early life of this little chapel.

‘..We must picture to ourselves the Island without houses, the clusters or small circular huts and rude cabins being hardly distinguishable from the surrounding surface of the land; without cultivation save for small patches laboriously tilled with forks and spades of wood, tipped, it may be, with iron; without hedges, roads or bridges.  There were no artificial banks to the streams, which contained a larger volume of water in these days, and, as there was no attempt at drainage, these must often have been greatly swollen, and their courses dammed by fallen trees and by fallen banks, so that floods would have been frequent and disastrous, while much land remained under bog and moss, several lakes continuing in existence even until the sixteenth century.  Undoubtedly, there were more trees than in our days, but self-planted and growing wild and unchecked… The whole Island formed a rich pasture land with climate sufficiently mild for their small and hardy breeds of cattle and sheep to remain out during the winter.

Such was the state of the land and the Celtic inhabitants must have closely resembled their fellows in Ireland, whence probably most, if not all of them, had first come to Man.’ (IOMNHAS Proc. Vol. 1, p.472)

 

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Keeill Woirrey in the snow, photo by Sam Hudson.

 

The upper part of the Cornaa valley, also known by the more recent name of ‘Corony’, sits between North Barrule and Slieu Lhean leading up to Clagh Ouyr at the top of the valley just below the Snaefell mountain road.  In 1889, the Rev. S. N. Harrison, a chaplain at Christ Church, Dhoon, found a stone lying by the stream at the upper end of the Cornaa valley which mentioned an even earlier name for this valley, the stone had been used by people coming to collect water to rest their carriers on.  It is thought to have originally come from Keeill Woirrey which sits immediately above where it was found, one edge is smooth which is thought to be from sheep rubbing against it and it is very plain except for a runic inscription of two lines;

“Christ, Malachi and Patrick (and) Adamnan! But of all the sheep is John Priest in Cornadale”

The mention of Malachi dates the stone to a little after 1190 when he was canonised, and when John the Priest must have been exercising his ministry here.  Mr Megaw comments that although the Saints invoked are Irish, Malachi and Adamnan are known for their wish to bring the Irish Church closer to Roman thought and practice, and not to keep it apart as an independent entity.  John’s inscription, then, seems to stand for authority – the authority of a centralised Church, which would enfold even the wild Cornaa valley in Rome, and the authority of the parish priest over his scattered flock. (1979, Radcliffe, ‘A History of Kirk Maughold’)

This stone is now in the Cross House at Maughold Parish Church along with a second smaller stone which was found in the walls at Maughold church during renovations in 1900, this stone has written on it in runes (in which the Norse language was written) and ogams (the earlier Celtic language);

“John (the) Priest cut these runes”

‘The slab and the stone, if the finds are correct, were found at opposite ends of the parish and in different locations, the slab in an isolated valley inland and seemingly distant from an obvious flock, and the stone from an established church site some five miles to the east, on the site of a monastery and now the parish church’ (2004, M. Fargher, ‘Brother John? … A Source and the Scholar’ MS 11529)

Who ‘John the Priest’ actually was will remain a mystery but the beauty of the landscape of the Cornaa Valley and the link with someone who once lived and preached there lends itself to the voice of a storyteller; it inspired Josephine Kermode, known as ‘Cushag’ the ‘Manx Poetess’ to write a poem on the subject.  Her brother P. M. C. Kermode (author of the Manx Archaeological Survey) was also inspired by ‘John the Priest’ to write a story for the publication ‘Mannin’ in 1913 entitled ‘In Corna Dale’;

SEVEN hundred years ago and three added on to that, and on a midsummer day Corna Dale lay bathed in the morning sun. The thunder storm of the previous night had I left the air fresh and cool and in the rarefied atmosphere every feature was sharply defined, the most distant points appearing to be within easy hail. Away on the eastern horizon as viewed from the land below, the Cumberland hills stood out as though they bounded the other side of a still blue lake, but, through the windings of the dale, no outlet could be seen, nothing but a narrow green basin, seemingly set high up in the mountains far from the noise and struggle of life.

The fair, small valley, with its grassy banks steeply rising, then more gently sloping up to the hills on either side, seemed to open out and to be carried far beyond its three mile stretch to the purple haze which half concealed the Clagh Ard at its head. A gentle breeze was wafted in from the sea lifting the soft mantle of mist which still clung to the summit of Barrule, magnifying his stature and his massive bulk. No sound disturbed the stillness but the bleating of the goats and the almost human wailing of their kids. Small flocks of sheep were scattered over the slopes, and, lower down, were herds of mountain cattle. From high in the heavens the lark, a nearly invisible speck, poured forth his morning psalm of praise. Spirals of thin blue smoke rising here and there, spoke of human dwellings, but so small were they and so intimately harmonious with their surroundings, that their presence would not otherwise be revealed; Sights and sounds all told of peace; only from far up the dale, the hoarse bark of the ravens wheeling round Mull y Kerrey served to remind. of the tragedy which had passed. (1913, Kermode, Mannin vol.1)

The story describes the invasion of Mann and life at the time of Juan the Priest along with the carving of the stone and is continued in further issues of ‘Mannin’.

The Corony Valley was also the home to the legendary ‘witch’, ‘Berrey Dhone’.  It isn’t known whether she was a real woman living in the valley over two centuries ago or whether she was a memory of a much older legend, the story is beautifully told in the song ‘Berrey Dhone’, the words were first collected in the 1830’s and it is found in ‘Manx Ballads’ (1896, Moore). This recording is of Sue Woolley telling the story of Berrey Dhone and then Chloe singing one of the two versions of the song very beautifully, shared with the kind permission of Culture Vannin.  William Kennish, the Manx poet, engineer and inventor was born at the Corony Bridge, his parents lived and farmed at Upper Cornaa Farm just below the keeill.

An inspiring landscape.

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The public footpath that leads to Keeill Woirrey follows the old mountain road which runs along the side of North Barrule past ‘Park Llewelyn’, one of the most striking and well known tholtans (a Manx term for a ruin without a roof).  ‘Park Llewelyn’ was a piece of land, enclosed from the ‘Commons’ in the late 1700’s by John Lewhellin, who, in a letter to the Duke of Atholl (then Lord of Mann) in 1768, spoke about his plans for the land;

‘I have some thoughts of building a small lodge in some commodious place on the top of the mountain, where I shall yearly invite some of the principle people of this Island to meet me, & have the pleasure to drink your Graces, my Lady Dutchess’s & your noble familys health, & propserity’

Park Llewellyn was lived in until fairly recent times and stands impressive as a ruin against the rugged skyline.

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There are many clues in the landscape to the interesting history of the Corony valley;  Almost opposite Keeill Woirrey on the south side of the valley is Cronk Aeradh (Hill of Sheilings), remains that are thought to be part of an early settlement.  Towards the head of the valley is a large earthwork known as Lieh Eayst (Half Moon) whilst in the bottom of the valley just below the keeill are the remains the North Laxey and Glen Cherry mines which were worked until the end of the nineteenth century.

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Mine photos courtesy of Sam Hudson.

Keeill Woirrey is one of eight keeills on the Island that are thought to have been dedicated to the Virgin Mary; the most popular dedication.  It is also one of nineteen keeills that are known to have existed in the parish of Maughold, six of these have some form of remains in 2016.

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Plan of Keeill Woirrey taken from the Fourth Report of the Manx Archaeological Survey (1915, Kermode).

The keeill was excavated by Kermode’s team for the Fourth Report of the Manx Archaeological Survey (1915) and from their measurements it seemed to be in a similar state of preservation at the time of our visit one century later.

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At the time of Kermode’s visit, the building measured 13ft. 6in. by 9ft. 6ins., it sits on land sloping to the south which has been built up to make a level platform.  The structure is made of dry stone walls capped with turf that measure around 3ft. wide by 3ft. high which is around the same height that Kermode found them at the time of the survey, the walls were protected by banks of earth and stones up to the height of the windows, this is frequently found in the construction of Manx keeills.  Kermode found some floor paving but it is impossible to see if this is still in place in 2016 under the layer of grass.  There was a window in the east wall and there were found to be two doorways, one each in the south and the east walls, one of which had a drainage system under the flagged stones below it.  Kermode thought that rather than a ‘door’ the opening may have been closed by a:

‘ scraa’ or bundle of sallies, such as was in use for houses in remote country districts until quite recent times. This was made the full width of the doorway which narrowed inwards so that it should fit tightly. The sallies were held together by bands with a stouter band round the middle, made of heather. A stick twisted in this band would catch the wall at either side and so hold it fast. The top would be cut off straight at the height of the door lintel.’ (1915, Kermode)

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Kermode found signs of an altar and gives the measurements as 48ins. by 44ins but we could see no sign of this.  The chapel is surrounded by a burial ground and enclosed by a bank made from sods strengthened with stones, the northern half of the enclosure bank remains although the southern side is on boggy ground and no longer defined, the enclosure was thought by Kermode to measure 42 yards by 30  yards.  Inside the enclosure are many stones set on edge that are thought to be grave markers;

‘Only seven white pebbles were met with in the Keeill ; outside are many graves almost all with headstones venerable in their extreme simplicity, consisting merely of large unhewn stones from the mountain side set on end. Some had stones at the foot also and some at each corner. None of these stones showed carving or dressing of any description’. (1915, Kermode)

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An excavation between the altar and the north wall revealed a much earlier pavement with a heavy stone which passed under the keeill wall, between the stone and the pavement were found charcoal, pottery and a chip of red flint, it was thought to be the remains of a Bronze Age burial (1915, Kermode).  A number of cross slabs have been found in and around the keeill; Kermode’s team found a rough stone inside the keeill with a plain cross inside an oval ring incised on to it, this is thought to date from the sixth or seventh century.  It would seem that this keeill was another example of the re-use by the Celtic Christians of a much older sacred site.

 

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Path leading down to Keeill Woirrey.

 

Often, these little chapels had fairs associated with them and their feast days and Keeill Woirrey is no exception.  J. J. Kneen in his wonderful book ‘Manx Place Names’ (1925) tells us that a fair was anciently held at the keeill site on March 25th, the day of the ‘Annunciation of the Virgin Mary’.  This was transferred to ‘Cornah Bridge’ in 1826 and then to Ramsey in 1835, it’s hard to imagine a popular fair being held in recent times in such a remote spot.

Our visit to Keeill Woirrey was a memorable day; it was our final keeill visit which we were a bit sad about but the sun came out, the landscape was stunning, the place was packed with history and we had Nic’s homemade cake and a flask of tea.  We were at the end of a ‘keeill adventure’ which has been great fun and has brought us to many rarely visited and isolated spots on our Island.

I was with my best friend in a beautiful place with cake, life does not get any better than that.

‘The sun went down, the evening breeze came softly off the land driving loose clouds before it, and curling and twisting in fantastic shapes the grey mist creeping to the tops of the hills on either side of the narrow dale,- and when the moon-beams silvered the thatch of the little Keeill, and sparkled in the dancing stream, it could not well be said which was land and which was mist and which was the sky above. Corna Dale was severed from the human world and given over to the night and the wind, to the Faeries and the Buggane.’ (1913, Kermode, ‘Mannin vol.1’)

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More information on the Manx keeills.

At the end of this final blog post, Nicola and I would like to say a big thank you to people that have helped us complete ‘Keeills and Cake’.  The majority of keeills are on private land and we have had to find the land owners and ask their permission which has been quite a task, many people have helped us with this information and Nic and I are grateful to both them and to the landowners for allowing us to enjoy the monuments in their care.  We would like to thank Frank Cowin, Dr Andrew Foxon, Dave Martin and Andrew Johnson for their help and advice and I am grateful to the patient staff at the Manx Museum Library for all their help over many hours of research, it was invaluable.  I would also like to thank Bernadette Wyde (www.asmanxasthehills.com) and Sam Hudson for passing on any references and information on keeills that they have come across.  Along with many wonderful Manx books, there are a number of excellent websites that have been useful; www.manxnotebook.com, www.imuseum.im and www.manxliterature.com, the description of keeill visits from over the past 130 years in the Isle of Man Natural History and Antiquarian Society Proceedings has also been invaluable.  The IOMNHAS is still relevant today with visits and talks on Manx history and the landscape, their programme of events can be found here.

The Manx keeills are now all documented as they are found in 2016, ‘Keeills and Cake’ are signing out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Keeills and Cake; Lag ny Keeilley, Patrick.

Keeills and Cake; Lag ny Keeilley, Patrick.

 Keeill number thirty seven.

Lag ny Keeilley (meaning ‘Hollow of the Chapel’) is a remote keeill sitting at the foot of Cronk ny Irree Laa (Hill of Daybreak) and is accessed by public footpath past the house at Eary Cushlin on the west coast of the Isle of Man.  The footpath is over a mile long and is very narrow in places, I would suggest that it’s probably not a good idea to take children or anyone unsteady on their feet as there is a steep drop down to the sea. 

 But perhaps the best byway of all is the coast way to Lag-ny-Keeilley in the west.  You must follow the road south from Glen Meay and Dalby, both attractive places, but not to be lingered in if you desire even better things.  Down into the great Dalby Lag dips our track, and then climbs steeply along the high savage cliffs to a deserted farm on the seaward side of Cronk-ny-Irree-Lhaa.  Thence we follow a narrow path for almost two miles along the bare seaward face of the mountain, which drops almost sheer to the sea from the height of some 1,500 feet. 

At last the track descends, ending in a tiny green plateau some 300 feet above sea level, where are the remains of an ancient keeil chapel and hermit’s cell.  Here, centuries ago, lived a holy anchorite, and to his tiny church came thee folk from far Dalby and scattered communities along the wild cliffs.  A pleasant place it is wherein to spend a summer’s afternoon, with the blue, clear water sounding below and the faint forms of the Irish mountains lifting across the channel, and the tall Cronk brooding above; a place worthy of pilgrimage and full of deep peace.

It is no great distance round the coast to Port Erin, but there is no track, so when you leave the Lag you must either retrace your steps or climb the face of the mountain, a fairly difficult feat, but not unduly dangerous.  From the summit there is a fine view of the whole south of the Island, and behind the dark peak of South Barrule in the north are seen the far off middle mountains.

Here at last you may perhaps glimpse the true spirit of the Isle, a spirit at once remote and intimate; springing from a vast antiquity yet warmly living and magical to-day.  Far below the grey hill-road winds away to the towns and highways and railways, and we may follow it contentedly, for we have trodden our byways into quieter paces, and penetrated, if only for a moment, the secret of the brooding hills.’

(Isle of Man Examiner, 1926,’Afoot in the Isle of Man’.  www.imuseum.im)

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Lag ny Keeilley represents a true example of the monastic solitude that was an important feature of the early Celtic Christian church.

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I first walked out to Lag ny Keeilley as a child in the Girl Guides when staying in the nearby house at Eary Cushlin.  Eary Cushlin, which means ‘Cosnahan’s Shieling’, (Cushlin being the Manx pronunciation of ‘Cosnahan’) is named after the Cosnahan family who were well known in the area.  Eary Cushlin was occupied in the early to mid twentieth century by an eccentric gentleman named Colby Cubbin who lived there with his mother.  He originally moved there out of fear of being hit by bombs at the family home on Strathallan Road in Onchan during the Second World War.  Ironically, while he was living there, a German bomber dropped its load and set fire to the top of Cronk ny Irree Laa, just missing Eary Cushlin! 

After Colby Cubbin’s death, followed shortly after by his mother in the 1950s, the house at Eary Cushlin and 320 acres of land surrounding it was bought by Manx National Heritage.  The house has been let out by Manx National Heritage over the years and is currently in the process of being renovated.

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Lag ny Keeilley is a stunningly beautiful and emotive spot and the keeill there is one of the most well-known of the Manx keeills.  The earliest keeills are thought to have been built entirely from sods (Moore, 1900, ‘History of the Isle of Man’) so the current foundations may be from a slightly later building.  Early carved stone grave markers have been found at the site that are thought to predate the existing keeill.  P. M. C. Kermode introduces the keeill in the First Report of the Manx Archaeological Survey (1909):

This most interesting of our ancient keeills, set on a ledge forming a small natural platform near the foot of a lag or hollow torn out of the almost perpendicular western face of Cronk- ny-Irree-laa, can be reached by boat, but the landing — a mile and three-quarters south of Dalby beach — can only be effected within about an hour of high water on a calm day, and the upward climb of about 200 ft. is steep and not easy. The proper mode of access is by the old pack-horse road through Eary Cushlin, which passes onto the Sloc by foot tracks, and so to the south of the Island. This roadway in itself is of great interest as the best existing survival of our pack-horse ways before the modern system of highroads, and a walk along it, — about three-quarters of a mile from the farmstead, — calls up a picture of the condition of our Island in the centuries long ago. The latest funeral to pass this way appears to have been little over a century ago, as it was remembered by an aged parishioner born and brought up at Eary Cushlin, who went to her rest some forty years ago at the venerable age of ninety. The body, wrapped in a winding-sheet, was strapped on the back of the old mare, supported by the ” burliagh” or bundle of straw which served for a saddle, and the horse was led down the long track to the little Burial ground surrounding the ruined keeill.

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Lag ny Keeilley is said by some to be the traditional burial place of King Orry and the Danish kings although Kermode did not think this to be the case.  In ‘A Manx Scrapbook’ (1929), Gill suggests that this place may be even more ancient as a burial place than a chapel; certainly the burial ground has always been an important feature, and he also talks of a connection with Ireland:

It is also linked therein, in various ways, with Ireland towards which it looks, and which it sees across the waters in clear weather. “The Irish used to come over to be buried there, thinking they’d get to heaven quicker.” ” A monk came there from Ireland, and he was preaching and reading prayers to the people, and converting them.” ” A persecuted monk used to live there and take offerings from the people.” ” People used to worship there because it was safe and out of sight.” (Do these beliefs, volunteered by separate individuals, refer to the dissolution of the Irish monasteries?  There was no religious persecution in Man at the time of the Reformation and such traditions, however perverted from the truth they may be, can hardly reach back to the influx of Scandinavian paganism.) Interments have been made at Lag ny Keeilley without prejudice on the score of race or sex.  A mermaid which was found dead on the shore below was buried here. An unchristened baby buried here haunted the spot with a light in its hand until the ghost was sprinkled with sea-water and given a name. (According to Miss Sophia Morrison the ceremony was performed near Gob yn Ushtey a mile away, and not, as would have been more convenient had fresh water sufficed, at Chibber y Vashtee, the Well of Baptism, close to the keeill.) A woman who died at Eairy Cushlin (the nearest dwelling-place) was buried at Lag ny Keeilley half a century ago or more ; the bier was carried by the bearers along the narrow and difficult path, and was rested according to custom on a certain rock which those who know the path will recall as almost barring the way at one point. I have not been fortunate enough to hear the name of this rock, but trust someone will rescue it in time. When the brig Wilhelmina was wrecked on the Calf, some of the bodies, which had drifted Northward, were buried here ; a place was levelled outside the keeill, and they were ” put under without any stones at them.” And so on. Strange lights which are seen from the sea to be moving about the cliffs of this part of the coast, especially in bad weather, are vaguely connected with its interments.

Unfortunately, Gill doesn’t often give his sources so I’m not sure where all his information came from but what a wonderful picture he paints of a site rich in history and folklore.  In an article about the Quirk family from the wonderful Manx Notebook, mention is again made of a more recent burial at the keeill:

An old lady, over eighty years of age, named Quirk, and who lived in Dalby, was visited by some folks who made enquiries as to her origin. The old lady replied: “I am one of the proud race of MaeQuyrkes which at one time held sway over half the parish of Patrick.” She pronounced the name “MacKurrik.” Before her death she expressed a wish to be buried in the Rullick of the old Keill -Lhag-ny-Keilley.

When she died, her wish was granted, and the funeral procession went along the narrow road by Eary Cushlin, through the stream at Gob-yn-Ushtey, over sheep tracks and rough stones, the old grey mare carrying the body wrapped in a white sheet, until it reached the ancient graveyard where her fathers for centuries before her had been buried. She was the last to be buried in that old graveyard.

Gill describes the burial ground having been excavated by Sir William Boyd Dawkins the geologist, around 1880, Dawkins dug trenches through the keeill and burial ground and found nothing to suggest burials.  In one of the many contradictions I came across in the information on this keeill, at the time of the Kermode excavation (1909), lintel graves were found inside the walls of the keeill along with a number of graves outside of it.  Nearby to the keeill can be found the associated holy well, Chibbyr-y-Vashtee, used for baptisms and for the consumption of the incumbent hermit.

 

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Chibbyr y Vashtee.

 

 

In an article by Dr. Oliver in ‘Antiquitates Manniae’ (Cumming, 1868), Oliver suggests that Lag ny Keeilley is dedicated to St. Luke (St. Leoc) but Kermode in his much later report on the keeill, considers this name as a misapplication.  Oliver describes it as a mortuary chapel and says that only a portion of its walls remained at the time, however, he calls the cemetery ‘very picturesque’ and describes it as being bisected by a pathway fringed with ‘boulder quartz of dazzling whiteness’ which terminated at the outer enclosure of the chapel.  Kermode is rather scathing of Oliver’s findings, in the First Report of the Manx Archaeological Survey he describes the burial site:

It was in fact a carefully formed, drained, and protected area ; it certainly was not bi-sected “by a pathway fringed with boulder-quartz,” as described by him and figured in his fanciful plan.

In his ‘Vestigia Insulae Manniae Antiquiora’ (1860), Oswald spoke of the keeill having been examined by ‘Dr Simpson and others’ in 1849; they found the keeill to be well constructed from stone with no cement and estimated that it must have been very small in size, they reckoned that it would not have exceeded eight feet in height to the peak of the roof.  They measured the keeill to be 11ft by 9ft, they found the walls to be 3ft wide and buttressed with sods, the floor was ‘paved with smooth round pebbles about the size of eggs’ and that there were several stones inside with rough crosses on them.  They also found no graves.  Kermode talks of Simpson’s findings;

As they only give the measurement as 12 ft., and make no mention of the altar, their examination would appear to have been superficial, and their statement that ” the floor was paved with smooth rounded pebbles,” probably merely a surmise to account for the number they saw, though, as the number is unusually large, it is possible that some may have been so used, as well as the ordinary small paving stones. (Kermode, 1909, First Report of the Manx Archaeological Survey)

The Council of the Manx Society had requested reports on the keeills from the incumbents of the parishes in the mid 19th century, unfortunately not all responded, but thankfully the Rev. Holmes, the then Vicar of Kirk Patrick, wrote a report on the keeills in Patrick and he is quoted by Oliver;

At the foot of Cronk-yn-irrey-lha, a mountain about three miles distant from Dalby, in a valley called Lhag ny Keeilley are the ruins of a chapel, the walls not more than two feet high; in the burial ground adjoining lie the ashes, it is said, of many of the nobles who fell in battle. The road leading to it is wild and romantic, but appears to have been carefully constructed. It is reported that a priest occasionally came over from Ireland, and celebrated there the ceremonies of the Roman Catholic Church at a period when that religion was proscribed. A few years ago a medical gentleman from Scotland stumbled on a venerable stone, figured over with devices, but in his anxiety to remove it, it fell over the precipice and was broken in pieces on the rocks beneath.

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What did Kermode find at the time of his survey? 

What is thought to have been a ‘culdee’s cell’, the living place of the hermit, is below the keeill closer to the edge of the cliff.  It really is very small.  It is unusual to find a priest’s cell and the only other known example on the Island is at Cabbal Pherick at Spooyt Vane.  Here is a drawing of Lag ny Keeilley taken from Kermode’s report, showing the keeill, the culdee’s cell and the enclosure:

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At the time of the Kermode survey, they measured the keeill at 13ft by 8 to 8ft 6 ins with the doorway in the middle of the west wall with an inner stone about 2ft high from the floor, standing on edge, a sandstone socket stone was also found; this was very unusual and showed the early use of a working hinged door.  The inner face of the eastern wall of the keeill had fallen in but when the debris was cleared, the outside wall remained at two feet high, the same height that Oliver had found fifty years earlier.  Under the debris they discovered the base of the altar which measured 3ft 5ins by 2ft 3ins and 12ins at its highest existing point and made up of small slabs laid length ways with a narrow stone forming a step in front, an unusual pear shaped stone was found lying outside the east gable and was thought to be one of the altar pillars. In the east end of the south wall, the sill of the window was still in position at a height from the floor of 3ft, along with two jamb stones which had slipped out.  The window was estimated to be approximately 14ins wide, a second window was found in the east wall with a sill stone bearing an engraved cross; this stone is now displayed at the Manx Museum.  Outside the wall, they found the sandstone head of the east window which interestingly had a rude and early form of moulding.  Some flat floor paving remained which was found to be a similar style to that found in other keeills.  Kermode’s team refaced the internal wall with the stones that had fallen but otherwise left it as they had found it.

The mode of building the keeill was evident ; an excavation had been made in the slope of the hill and the side walls faced with unhewn stones set in the banks, but the excavation had been carried sufficiently far to enable the builder to work at the east end from the outside as well as the inside. Most of the stones appear to have been picked off the face of the hill, but several had evidently been brought up from the beach. They were of fairly even size, built in random courses, their ends for the most part to the face of the wall, making them look smaller than what they really were ; those at the foundation were large and well fitted, the length of the north wall being occupied by four, and of the south, by three stones. A few of the paving-stones of the floor remained in position, of small size and irregular shape. (‘First Report of the Manx Archaeological Survey’, Kermode, 1909)

As you can see, there was a surprising amount of architectural detail found at Lag ny Keeilley compared to many of the keeills.

Inside the keeill and near to the altar, they found a ‘saddle shaped’ slab of slate with a cup-shaped hollow at one corner; this they thought to be a ‘cresset stone’, a stone that has been hollowed out to hold oil which when lit would have illuminated the little chapel.  A number of cross slabs were found in and close to the keeill, and are now the care of the Manx Museum.  At least one stone with a cross on it is still found at the site and is shown below (thanks to Sam Hudson for the photograph).

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At the south west corner of the enclosure they found the remains of a small building, measuring internally only 9ft by between 5ft 6ins and 6ft 6ins, four or five paving stones remained inside.  A doorway which was near the west end of the north wall formed a passage over 4ft long in to the building, this would have provided further protection from inclement weather, particularly useful when living on the edge of a cliff during a Manx winter.  The building was built in a similar manner to the keeill and was thought to date from the same time period.  It is supposed to be the living accommodation for the priest or ‘culdee’ (a person who lived a solitary life devoted to religion) who would have performed the services inside the keeill a thousand years ago.  A granite quern (a simple hand mill for grinding corn) was also found.  This may have used by the hermit to prepare food so many hundreds of years earlier, a real connection with the past and an interesting one as not much is known about the lives of these solitary Celtic Christians.

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Andrew Johnson (Archaeologist at MNH) and his brother, Nick, climbed down the cliff at Lag ny Keeilley around twenty years ago, to retrieve a large slate lintel that Andy thinks is the one Kermode thought had come from above the door of the keeill.  Unfortunately it would seem that since then, someone has once again thrown it over the edge of the cliff. 

The whole of Early Cushlin and Lag ny Keeilley is owned by the Manx Museum and National Trust, so when a small area of the east wall of the keeill collapsed in late 1993, Andrew Johnson undertook some initial investigations.  In May 1994 he then returned with a small team (the brilliant Ray Parsons and his team, plus a couple of volunteers) to rebuild most of the wall-tops, which had become infested with bracken.  In the process, they found three crosses built into the masonry, all of which were recovered and brought to the museum.  The photos of the keeill below were taken during the time of this remedial work:

The Isle of Man Natural History and Antiquarian Society have visited the keeill on a number of occasions, notably a visit led by Kermode in 1909 during his excavation for the archaeological survey: they often brought ‘lunch baskets’, something I can highly recommend.

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Folklore relating to Lag ny Keeilley.

‘The traditions and legends of a nation illuminate its time and history in a light of their own that often throws into strong relief facets of bygone life which might otherwise be forgotten or unknown.  Tradition may not always be true in literal fact, but it is true in the sense that it reveals the actual beliefs and thoughts of our ancestors, and also that poetic sense and vivid imagination of the common man which is the ultimate route of all great  works of art.  A nation which has forgotten its legendary tales is poor indeed, and it is good that we should sometimes be reminded of our own rich and varied store.  For this reason we should be grateful to our ancestors for the preservation of the wealth of traditional tales that we possess.’ (1959, Cubbon,’Island Heritage’).

The keeill at Lag ny Keeilley seems to have been considered a place of particular significance to the Manx people.  In ‘A Manx Scrapbook’ (1929) Gill talks about there having been a ‘protective Bible’ lying in a nook of the ruined wall of the keeill until recent times and that ‘an unusual degree of reverence’ was still being accorded to it; a stone or a piece of vegetation from the keeill having a sentimental value to the possessor ‘beyond that of a mere souvenir of an arduous journey. In more than one garden in the South grow descendants of the holly-bush and the other shrubs which add a natural grace to the sacred spot.‘  What a lovely thought.  Gill mentioned a story of an unusual visit to the keeill:

A more circumstantial legend than any of these strikes me as being the queerest of them all, in its way. My informant had it from his grandfather, who often spoke of the affair. About eighty years ago, when one Phil Moore (who seems to have left his name on a small branch of Glen Rushen) lived in Eairy Cushlin, two strangers carrying knapsacks came up to him one day as he was. working in the fields ; they told him they were Irishmen, and had come a long distance to see the spot where the Irish kings were buried. He guided them along the cliff-track to Lag ny Keeilley. On the way thither they offered him their flask, telling him not to spare it, for there was plenty more where that came from. He was not a man who was teetotal. When they got to the keeill the two strangers began digging with the little shovels they had brought with them, but Phil, whether the liquor was naturally potent or had been drugged, fell into a deep sleep. When he awoke he saw they were still digging, and, so far as he could make out in his drowsy state, were putting something into their two satchels from time to time. When they noticed he was awake they gave him more drink, which sent him to sleep again for the rest of the day ; but before it quite overpowered him he saw them going away, and both their satchels were bulging full. Moore’s nephew, who saw the old man go off with the strangers and return late in the evening, added to this story the information, relevant or otherwise, that there was a stone (about two feet long by nine inches wide, according to my informant) ” with letters on the flat of it, both sides, which no person could read.” It used to lie about the fields near the house, and may be there still, overgrown with turf. The marks were shaped like letters, not like ogams or runes (which I figured for him) ; and the stone had come from Lag ny Keeilley. (‘A Manx Scrapbook’, Gill, 1929)

There are many stories about the place, Caesar Cashin wrote an article for ‘Mannin’ (vol. 5, page 180) where he spoke of ‘fairies’ at the spot:

Now Lag ny Keeilley is said to be the burial place of the Kings of Mann. Some say it was the worshipping place of the ancient monks. Strange place to bury, stranger still to worship. There are many stories about the place. I heard one quite lately. It was told to me by Robert Quayle, of Peel, who vouches for the truth of it. ‘About twenty years ago,’ he said, ‘we were at the spring fishing, and one night we went into Purt lern to spend part of the night. About two hours before day we got ready to return to Peel; I happened to be steering, and when off Bradda Head, being a fine night, I told the rest of the crew to go below and have an hour’s sleep. When abreast of Slock, being left alone, I was suddenly startled to see a light spring up in the valley of Lag ny Keeilley. I watched, thinking it was strange, another and another appeared. until I am sure there were fifty lights, about forty yards apart. Then I heard the beat of a drum and music—wonderful music. At last I called the crew from below. When they came on deck and saw it the same as I did, one said to the other, “It is the Little Chaps making merry.” And as the music played the lights moved to and fro. It continued until the day broke, and the lights disappeared one by one and the music died away in the distance. I remembered the tune they had for months afterwards.’

Caesar wasn’t the only one who wrote of fishermen seeing and hearing unusual sounds coming from the keeill, the most well-known of all the tales of Lag ny Keeilley is the story in Sophia Morrison’s book, ‘Manx Fairy Tales’.  Sophia Morrison, amongst many other things, was a collector of folklore and instrumental in preserving stories such as this for future generations. ‘The Child Without a Name’ is the tale of the heiress to Eary Cushlin who had a child that died.  No-one knew of the child’s birth and she buried it at the keeill at Lag ny Keeilley.  When boats were fishing close to land there, they would see a light and hear the crying of a child, they became so frightened that they wouldn’t fish nearby after dark.  An old man named Illiam Quirk went to see for himself, he was known to be very brave and to have ‘power in his prayer’, on the moonlit night he heard a child crying.  He made out the words in Manx Gaelic:

“Slee lhiannoo beg dyn ennym mie,” meaning  “I am a little child without a name.” Old Illiam replied “God bless me, bogh, we mus’ give thee a name!” He threw a handful of water towards the child, crying out : “If thou are a boy, I christen thee in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, Juan !  If thou are a girl, I christen thee in the name of the Father, Son . and Holy Ghost, Joanney !”

The crying was never heard again. (Morrison, 1911, ‘Manx Fairy Tales’)

I often used to sit out at Lag ny Keeilley on my own when I needed time to think and often this melancholy tale crossed my mind as I looked down the coast.  The Manx had a real belief in the fairies which seemed to happily sit alongside their religious faith.  Sophia Morrison illustrates this belief with the following story told to her by a Bill Clarke and written down in a chapter on the Isle of Man that she wrote for ‘Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries’ (Evans-Wentz, 1911):

‘Once while I was fishing from a ledge of rocks that runs out into the sea at Lag-ny-Keeilley, a dense grey mist began to approach the land, and I thought I had best make for home while the footpath above the rocks was visible. When getting my things together I heard what sounded like a lot of children coming out of school. I lifted my head, and behold ye, there was a fleet of fairy boats each side of the rock. Their riding-lights were shining like little stars, and I heard one of the Little Fellas shout, ” Hraaghyn boght as earish broigh, skeddan dy liooar ec yn mooinjer seihill shoh, cha nel veg ain ” (Poor times and dirty weather, and herring enough at the people of this world, nothing at us). Then they dropped off and went agate o’ the flitters.’

Morrison also contributes another piece of folklore on Lag ny Keeilley to the same book and one I particularly enjoy:

Sounds of Infinity.—’ On Dalby Mountain, this side of Cronk-yn-Irree-Laa the old Manx people used to put their ears to the earth to hear the Sounds of Infinity (Sheean-ny- Feaynid), which were sounds like murmurs. They thought these sounds came from beings in space; for in their belief all space is filled with invisible beings.’(Evans-Wentz, 1911).

These are wonderful insights in to how the Manx people of old explained a confusing and difficult world.  They are to me as much a part of Lag ny Keeilley as the lone hermit living a life dedicated to God on the edge of a cliff on the west coast of the Isle of Man. 

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Photos are mine and Sam Hudson’s.

More information on the Manx keeills.

 

 

 

 

 

Keeills and Cake; Raby Keeill, Patrick.

Keeills and Cake; Raby Keeill, Patrick.

Keeill number thirty four.

With kind permission from the tenant farmer and the landowners.

The name, Raby (also spelt Rhaby, Reaby and Rheaby), is said to come from the Scandinavian word ‘Rarbyr’, meaning ‘roe farm’, it is likely that at one time the King’s deer were preserved at estates bearing this name. (‘Place Names of the Isle of Man’, J. Kneen, 1925)

Raby Mooar Farm sits just outside Glen Maye on the west coast of the Island.  The house is striking and is an impressive site viewed through the trees.  Raby was in the hands of the Quirk family for many generations but the last of that line sadly passed away just a few years ago and the farm house is now up for sale although the land continues to be tenanted and farmed.

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The Quirks were found in Dalby as early as 1430 and were prominent landowners in the west, in fact, it was said that at one point they owned all the farms on the west coast ‘from Peel to Dalby point’.  The Quirks were known to be hard working and studious, in an article about ‘The Quirks’ by Mrs M.A. Watterson (nee Quirk), they are described as this:

The ancient Quirks were of a retiring disposition, cautious in friendship, dubious of strangers, industrious and hard-working. They were religiously inclined and of a studious nature. The remark has – often been made : “Where there’s a Quirk, there’s a book.”

The Quirks were a very interesting family with a fascinating past and it would be fair to say the same about Raby Mooar Farm.

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When starting our keeill visits, we didn’t intend to visit the site at Raby as Kermode mentioned in his survey that the stones were removed from the keeill itself in 1906 and we were only visiting sites that we suspected would have ‘visible remains’.  However, after visiting all the sites on our list we started looking at the sites where we knew the keeill building was most likely gone.  After looking on Google Earth at Raby, we thought it was definitely worth a visit.  Although the keeill building itself at Raby no longer exists, the earthworks were very visible and the area so interesting that I felt it really did deserve a post of its own.

Sam was accompanying me on this visit as Nicola was off Island and we were very much looking forward to seeing what we could find as the land is not easily accessible and other than the tenant farmer, probably has few visitors.  In the first report of the Manx Archaeological Survey, Kermode describes Raby as ‘a place of great interest’ and certainly we found this to be the case, we really enjoyed our time exploring this site although we missed Nicola and you will miss her beautiful photos in this post!

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1869 Ordnance Survey.
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Embankment surrounding the keeill is very visible from the air.

The keeill sits in a field known as Magher Rhullick, Manx for ‘Graveyard Field’, along with a well that was ‘once reputed curative’ and the cemetery surrounding the keeill.  In the Patrick Parish section of the ‘Manx Scrapbook’ (1929), W. Gill says;

Cists are still being uncovered in ploughing. One I inspected struck me as not appearing very ancient. It is said that at least one person – a woman – belonging to the neighbourhood was buried here within the last half-century or thereabouts.

In ‘Manks Antiquities’ (Kermode, 1914), Kermode mentions the enclosure of the Raby Keeill;

We know that at the introduction of Christianity into other Celtic lands, when a grant of land was obtained from the chieftain–if indeed he did not present them with a Fort-it was customary for the missionary to erect a ” Lis ” or ” Caisel,” within which to place his Church as well as the dwellings of those who became Christians, and that this custom was long continued. Possibly this may be the explanation of some of the larger enclosures found in connection with a few of the early Keeills, as at Rhaby, Patrick; Ballaquinney, Marown ; and Balladoole, Arbory.

From the ‘recent’ burial mentioned above, the remains of the chapel were obviously still considered a sacred site until comparatively recent times.  Frequently these sites remained burial sites for centuries after their use as Christian chapels ended, there are many stories of unbaptised babies and sometimes suicide victims being buried outside these Celtic chapels in the dead of night, they were important places in the community and their survival for so many years reflected that.

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In Oswald’s ‘Vestigia Insulae Manniae Antiquiora’ (1860), he quotes from a report by the Rev. A. Holmes, vicar of Kirk Patrick, respecting the Keeils in the parish of Patrick;

At Rheaby-mooar there are the remains of a chapel, walls two feet high; burial ground bout quarter of an acre in extent. The ancient baptismal font — a rude granite block — lies there, about three yards distant from a well in the neighbourhood of the chapel. The proprietor of the estate, Richard Quirk, Esq., C.P., relates that about nine years ago nine stone coffins were discovered in the burial ground, and in one of them were found a few human bones, but they soon crumbled into dust on being exposed to the air.

Over fifteen years later, the Manx Archaeological Commission was set up to report back to the then Governor, Henry Loch, on the ‘Pre-historic monuments and other antiquities of the Isle of Man’.  The survey took place in the 1870’s and although it didn’t cover the whole Island, the keeill at Raby was visited by the Archaeological Commission around 1876.  At the time of their visit, ‘Mr. Quirk, the proprietor of the estate, informed the Commissioners that he had not been able to ascertain the name of this keeyll’.  The keeill had walls at the time of the visit and was described as being 17ft by 9ft. 6 inches and the enclosure was measured at 40 yards long by 26 yards wide.  Inside the keeill, they found the old square font.  We found this lying in the middle of the enclosure in 2016.rab3

The commissioners also mention the well which was said to have been used for sacred purposes, the well sat in the bottom corner of the field and although there wasn’t a stone entrance or anything familiar, we were still able to see the wet area that supplied the water for the keeill.

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The commissioners also mention a ‘large circular flat mass of granite, which has in its centre a round cup-like cavity about three inches deep’.  We had found this interesting stone ourselves, almost one metre across in width and almost as high and and we were surmising what it had been used for, we wondered whether the hollow had been filled with water and been used for baptismal purposes as it sat so close to the well.  It is marked as a ‘font’ on the 1869 O.S. although it doesn’t bear any resemblance to one.  In their visit around 1876, the members of the archaeological commission thought the stone may have been a base for a cross.  In 1886, the Antiquarians visited and in a write up for the Isle of Man Times (www.imuseum.im) mentioned that this stone had ‘excited a deal of discussion’ with the prevailing opinion being that it was the under stone of an arrangement for grinding corn. In ‘A Vocabulary of the Anglo Manx Dialect’ (1924), I found a far more interesting suggestion for the use of this stone:

CURSING STONE. Near the old Keeill at Reaby on the top of the houghs of Magher n Ruilhck (‘ field of the graveyard ‘) is a large round stone raised on an artificial mound. In the centre of the stone is a circular hollow such as those in which the old Celt, when he wished ill to an enemy, twisted his thumb round against the sun and cursed him with a ‘ prayer of cursing’.

An article on ‘Sorcery and Witchcraft in Mann’ by D. Craine for ‘The Journal of the Manx Museum’ (1939) gives more information on the folklore of ‘cursing’ on the Island.  For many years, the most potent curse was ‘Shiaght mynney mollaght’ (the seven swearings of a curse) which was in early times associated with a ritual whereby a round swear stone  was turned seven times anti clockwise in the cup shaped hole of a larger stone.  This curse survived until as late as the seventeenth century when is mentioned that Moore the miller of Pulrose reported that a neighbour had said ‘I hear badd toake of my god daughter.  If it be true my seven curses on her’.

A base for a cross, part of a device for grinding corn or a cursing stone?  We will never know!  It seems a little strange to me for there to have been a cursing stone so close to a holy site and I know it was probably something far less interesting.  I love it when you come across something like that when researching that’s so strange and a real insight in to life hundreds of years ago.  Whatever it was made for, I think it’s wonderful that it’s still sitting up there in the graveyard field all these years later.

When Kermode visited the keeill for the First Report of the Manx Archaeological Survey, he wrote very little on it:

RHABY. — O.S. IX, 13, (638), is a place of great interest, and though the walls of the keeill are now gone (some of the stones being built into a fence of the field to the south-east of it), its measurements are recorded by the Archaeological Commissioners in their Report, 1876, as 17 ft. by 9 ft. 6 in. (interior), the doorway, we were told by Mr. Quirk, was on the west.

The enclosure at a height of some 300 ft. above the sea has a westerly aspect, and rneasuras (to the outside of the embankment) about 43 yards from north to south by 18 yards from east to west, and is artificially raised to a level and protected by a strong embankment. The late Mr. Quirk found nine lintel graves in the cemetery. The keeill was at the north-east, its eastern wall against the inner foot of the embankment. Mr. Quirk has given its permission to examine these remains, an account of which we hope to to include in our next Report.

In the second report it is mentioned that they are struggling due to a shortage of funds but are hoping to make a more exhaustive examination of the enclosure of ‘Rhaby’.  I have looked through Kermode’s private papers but unfortunately I could not find any further mention of it.

As we arrived at the ‘Magher Rhullick’ field, we saw immediately the walls of the enclosure which remain very high in places and make for quite a feature in the landscape, the earthworks are not as impressive in the photos as it they are in ‘real life’, I should have made Sam stand next to them to give an idea of the size.  We knew approximately where the keeill had sat within the enclosure thanks to descriptions of the site by Kermode.

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All that remained was a large clump of stinging nettles in that corner, we didn’t try and see if there was anything underneath.  There must be an indent in the land there as the nettles sat in almost the shape of the keeill.

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It is thought that the stones from the wall of the keeill were removed in 1906.  It seemed strange that they were removed when the large enclosure remained which rendered the area unable to be ploughed and cultivated.  In a letter from Sophia Morrison to J.J. Kneen, she says:

‘But how much we have lost in our own day, of our national treasures… Yesterday, Prof Dawkins, Mr P.M.C Kermode and myself went to Rheaby to explore an old Keeill that the owner is pulling down to build hedges.’

I can only assume that the hedges nearby really needed improving and the keeill became a useful building material.  We looked for the stones in the field boundary and found them fairly easily as some were rounded at the edges, perhaps sill stones?  What a great pity Sophia or P.M.C Kermode didn’t think to draw a plan of the chapel at the time.

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The wall in which the stones were placed was built in a thoughtful and attractive way with the larger stones forming a row across the middle.  I’m often amazed by the pride the builders of these walls took in their work, leaving beautiful walls in often isolated areas.

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I found an interesting article by A. W. Moore in the ‘Isle of Man Examiner’ in 1898, the article was called ‘Manx Folklore’ and a section of it mentioned ‘the disasters entailed by removing the stones of the old stone circles’.  One story was ‘told to Miss Graves by an old man in Dalby’ in a wonderful Manx dialect, it talks about the removal of the stones from Raby, it doesn’t mention the keeill specifically but I think it must have been, perhaps grave markers or stones from the chapel itself.

You’ll maybe have heard tell of the people they war callin’ Druids to, in times gone by, an’ of how they would be offerin’ human sacrifices!  It was some of theer stones, they war sayin’ was on Rheaby farm.  Well, once they war for buildin’ a new wall, the masther, thinkin’ no harm, toul the men to take thee stones for to help to build the wall.  Terrible big ones they war’ an’ it tuk two horses to drag them away.  But they war no sooner in the wall tho’ till the people had no res’ of their luves for the cryin’ and screechin’ theer was roun’ the place.  Yis, an’ bad luck too, cattle dyin’ an jiel’ uncommon.  Of coorse they knew then what was there doin’ on them, an’ they tried to put the stone back again.  But behoul’ ye! back they cud’n get them, no matter how they thried, for no hores could drag them!  Then oul’ Rheaby went to a wise woman that was livin’ in the south ide, an she tul’ jim what to do, an’ when he comes home he does her biddin’ which was this:  He got seven young horses that had never been harnessed and put them agate of the stones.  Sure enough then they come away as aisy as ye plase, and the people had life after that.

Wonderful stuff although perhaps best taken with a pinch of salt!  There are a number of large stones lying inside the enclosure, maybe dragged back by seven young horses.  What I find hard to understand is that this folklore was obviously pre 1898 but the Mr Quirk that owned the site in 1877 was praised for how he had looked after it.  I have been told that it was that gentleman’s grandson that removed the keeill in 1906, a brave man indeed after what had allegedly happened last time someone tried it!

raby3Raby Farm was an absolute delight and is a great example of the layers of history, often hidden, that make up so much of our beautiful Island.  I found the visit left me with more questions than answers but isn’t that what makes life so interesting?

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Some photos from a lovely evening at Raby on an IOMNHAS (www.manxantiquarians.com) excursion in July 2018.

More information on our keeill visits in 2016.

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

(photos in this post are Sam and Katie’s)

Keeills and Cake; Maughold Churchyard Keeills.

Keeills and Cake; Maughold Churchyard Keeills.

Keeills number twenty eight, twenty nine and thirty.

The remains of these three keeills lie in the churchyard at Maughold where there is public access.  This church and the surrounding graveyard are worth a visit for so many reasons; the existing building dates from around the eleventh century but is built on the site of a Celtic monastery from the seventh century, there are about fifty Manx crosses (which is a third of the Manx crosses found on the Island) in a shelter in the churchyard, the visit is worthwhile for these alone.

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Until recently, the Maughold Cross sat outside the entrance to the churchyard, it has now been moved inside of the church where it is more protected from the elements.  The cross is made from St. Bees’ sandstone and has incredible detail, it is not known how old it is but it could be as early as 1250.

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Behind the church is a public footpath which you can follow around the headland to the Maughold ‘brooghs’ and which passes St Maughold’s holy well on the way.  As you might have been able to tell from all my Maughold keeill posts, it’s rather a favourite place.

There are the remains or sites of nineteen keeills that are known to have existed in the parish of Maughold and at least seven of these were within the enclosure of the churchyard with three still having visible foundations.  The churchyard covers four acres but was originally fortified and much larger with traces of a wall and moat on the east side that were still visible seen until recent times.  The Rectory of Maughold was part of the Priory of St. Bees which also owned the land of the Barony on which Keeill Vael sits.  The site seems to have been similar to early Irish monasteries with several chapels, an abbot’s house, guest house, refectory and cells for the monks although the remains of these are long gone (much of this information has been taken from the Journal of the Manx Museum vol. III #49 pp144/153 – 1936).  According to information from the Manx Archaeological Commission of 1877, there had been a ‘long barrow’, a prehistoric monument that usually contained a collection of cremated burials, close by to the church at Maughold.  This mound had been levelled about twelve years before the survey (around 1865) so they could increase the capacity of the church yard, they found collections of black ashes which they found to consist of charcoal, carbonate of lime and human bones. Layers of history.

The church is dedicated to St. Maughold who was a convert of St. Patrick and who arrived on the Isle of Man in a coracle, he became Bishop of the Isle and is known to have been buried in the churchyard at Kirk Maughold although the knowledge of the whereabouts of the grave has long since been lost.  P. M. C. Kermode, the first director of the Manx Museum and author of the Manx Archaeological Survey (amongst many other works) is also buried in the churchyard along with a memorial to his sister (who is buried in England).  His sister, Josephine Kermode was the renowned poet, ‘Cushag‘, who wrote this poem about Maughold, a place that was very personal to her:

AT MAUGHOLD

THE joyous company of mounting larks
Sing to the quiet dead,
And slumber song of thymy bees is heard
Around their bed;
While nought may vex them there on Maughold’s breast
Nor wake the summer stillness of their rest.

And on the hill their sleeping kinsfolk lie
Beneath the driving gale;
They heed not beat of sun nor whirling blast
Nor winter hail;
But rest as sweetly under storm and snow
As those who shelter with the Saint below.

Enough for One they reached their Home at last
By roads that could not meet,
Until the shining of the sunset light
Showed weary feet
That all those diverse paths that late they trod
Were byways only of the road to God.

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Photo taken by Alison Cowin.

This site is historically very important and played an important part in the growth of Celtic Christianity on the Island, the fact that the foundations of three keeills still lie in the churchyard pay testament to this.  Their situations in relation to the church are shown on the plan below which was taken from the Fourth Report of the Manx Archaeological Survey where Kermode and his team surveyed the keeills in the parish of Maughold.  The writing is difficult to read but the top keeill on the plan is the North Keeill, the one above the church to the right is the Middle Keeill and the one in the bottom right hand section is the Eastern Keeill.

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North Keeill, Maughold Churchyard.

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The North Keeill sits about 30 yards from the north wall and the same from the west wall and measures 15ft. 6ins. by 9ft. 2ins., it seems strange to come across a keeill sitting amongst graves in what looks like a standard churchyard!  At one stage in time this keeill had its own burial ground and in Kermode’s report on the Maughold keeills for the Fourth Report of the Manx Archaeological Survey he writes that:

Though the fence had long been levelled we were able with the help of Mr. Harrison’s memory of it to judge that it had measured about 51 yards N. and S. by 31 yards E. and W., crossing the moat, which formed its N.E. boundary.

I can only assume that ‘Mr Harrison’ was the Rev. Harrison, a Vicar of Maughold, as he is mentioned a number of times in this section of the report. The keeill is well built of stone with a number of pieces of dressed sandstone, there were found to be traces of rough casting and lime mortar.  A recess was found in the middle of the north wall about 8ins. above the footing and in it had been found earlier by Mr Harrison, a carved piece of red sand stone from a window, this had disappeared by the time of the survey.

No trace of the altar or flooring remained, the pebbled flooring that we find in 2016 must be a more recent addition.  Interestingly, some broken roofing tiles of local slate with holes for a wooden peg were found which suggest the building had been used in fairly recent times although it was possible they could have been left there from the church or another site.  The doorway was in the middle of the west wall and some sandstone door jambs remained, on either side of the doorway there were found to be remains of a projecting wall that was 2ft. wide and 6ft. long, forming a narrow porch way.  There was a buttress on the south west corner that was the same width and projected westwards for 4ft.

Two carved stones were found in the keeill and burial ground, one was a broken cross slab from the twelfth century and was described in the survey:


Fig. 34. Cross-slab from North Keeill, Maughold Churchyard.

To judge from some scribblings and scratchings on it, this must have been at the surface within a hundred years, but was lost again and unremembered over 50 years ago when Cumming described these monuments. It bears on each face a rudely-designed cross, and, in well-cut runes, the inscription, ‘ Hedin set this cross to the memory of his daughter [H] lif. Arni carved these runes ‘ It is of interest as showing for the first time on a Manx monument the figure of a Viking Ship. ,

We played ‘Find the Keeill’ (not a game you can really play anywhere other than Maughold churchyard), this was the first one William found so we had our picnic here.  He managed to find a second one too, that’s my boy.  Of course, being two years old, he’d lost interest by keeill number three.

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Middle Keeill, Maughold Churchyard.

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The middle keeill sits about 35 yards north of the east gable of the church (see plan earlier in post).  It seems to have acquired an unfortunate covering of cement since the time of the Kermode survey, giving it a rather different appearance.  Kermode found it to measure 19ft. by 11ft. 6ins. with walls standing between 19 and 22 inches high, the walls were well built of surface stones but with no trace of mortar.  The walls measured between 24 and 30 inches wide and have a footing both outside and inside of 6 inches, the doorway in the west wall was 2ft. 9 inches wide and was found to be paved with a large slab.  Two of the sandstone door jambs remained although the floor paving and altar had been removed.  Thirty white pebbles were found in and around the building.

Plan of Middle Keeill, Maughold Churchyard.

 

Unlike the North Keeill, no boundaries or enclosure could be traced although there was ‘an appearance inside as of disturbed lintel graves’.  Just outside of the keeill they found a broken slab with the name (BLAK)GMON written in Anglian runes from the seventh century.  There was no other information given on this keeill in the survey, I’m not sure where it stands chronologically in relation to the other two keeills.

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Eastern Keeill, Maughold Churchyard.

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The Eastern Keeill is similar in the method of building to the previous two keeills but different in character with walling from more than one time period;

At about 13 yards from the present eastern boundary of the church-yard, we came across the inner facing of stone to the strong embankment which formed the original boundary to the whole enclosure on this side. At two points about six and sixteen yards north of this, we found by excavation that it consisted of a dry stone wall, six feet wide and now reaching from the surface to a depth of two feet. Mr. Harrison remembered that it had had an earthen bank above and sloped into a fosse which came all the way from the north of the church-yard. South of the point where we struck it, it had been broken into, but we were able to trace the inner line of it for four yards to the corner where it was met by another wall running west. This was at a point about 14 yards north of the present boundary wall ; only the foundations remained, they were 3 ft. wide, strong and well-laid. From the inner stone facing of this Eastern rampart, but not actually built into it, extended the northern wall of the keeill.

They found the remains to be well built of stone, often quite large sizes, with walls 2ft. wide and between 3 and 18 inches high, which seems to describe the remains that are visible in 2016.  The keeill itself measured 21ft by 11ft.

The doorway was found to be in the west gable, the north end of the west gable was well built with some of the stones being the full width of the wall but the south side was gone, the south east corner of the keeill was also damaged.  There was no trace of an altar but there was some rough pavement towards the east end which may have been original, there was also some pavement outside the north wall similar to the paving found in the paths at the Skyhill Keeill.  The foundations and footing of the north wall continued to the embankment (shown in the plan) and possibly the south wall would have continued in this way but there was no evidence of that by the early twentieth century.  There was other walling without proper foundations, formed by stones that had possibly been taken from the ruined keeill, this seemed to have been a building about 15 by 13ft. extending westwards from the embankment and accounts for the confusing plan of the keeill taken from the survey.

East Keeill, Maughold Churchyard.

At a later date, a well had been sunk in the south east corner of the keeill, breaking through the walling of the second building also.  The walls of the well were most likely made from stone taken from the buildings, it makes for a very interesting feature!

 

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After the survey, the walls of the Eastern Keeill were raised to a level and turfed over, giving the neat and tidy appearance of the keeill in 2016.

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Kermode also talks about a fourth keeill in the churchyard, about 10 yards north west of the porch of the current church, he calls it the Western Keeill.  The area was covered by graves so they did not excavate, it is mentioned that Mr Harrison remembered remains of sod fences that may have been on the boundary of the old cemetery, it was known as ‘Church Croft’.  It seems that the 19th century must have been a real time of change in Maughold churchyard.  This again highlights the importance of the Manx Archaeological Survey, not only for its excavation findings but for recording important local knowledge and folklore that might otherwise have been lost.

Apologies for the ‘busy’ post, there was so much information to fit in.

I finish the post with an extract I liked from a speech in ‘The Manx Sun’ by P.M.C. Kermode in 1906 at the dedication of the shelter erected in Maughold churchyard for the protection of Manx crosses (www.imuseum.im):

 Upon these rude and weathered stones we are able to see and to touch the very hand-work of those whose skilful fingers have crumbled into dust more than a thousand years ago.

Could they be to return – picture to yourselves, they would be as much astonished at the altered aspect of the land as we should be were we able to see it as it was in their days.  No roads, no hedges, no cultivated fields, no towns – woods and heather and gorse.

The streams swollen with a much larger volume of water from the undrained hills, unconfined by banks, spreading over many acres of the lowlands, large lakes and swamps in the North of the Island.  Reeds and rushes and water loving plants in the plains, on the hills the purple heather and the golden gorse, everywhere waste lands with woods and an abundance of water.  But, standing by their little church, of which the foundations may be seen at the upper end of this churchyard, they would view the same lovely hills trending inland from the high peak of Barrule; they would see  the same rugged headland, at the sheltered foot of which their church nestled in the sunshine; they would look as we do on the tumbling waves and gaze upwards into the same skies, bright and clear in the noonday sun or darkened by hurrying clouds in the storm.

And with these men themselves, greatly as they differed from us, we have this thing in common – Christ’s religion, with a church in which to worship him, and this quiet resting place for the holy dead.

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Learn more about keeills.

Thank you to Alison Cowin for allowing me to use her photographs of the church and churchyard taken on a much nicer day than we had on our visits!