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; Speke Keeill, Braddan.

Keeills and Cake; Speke Keeill, Braddan.

Keeill number thirty eight.

It may also be remarked, that besides Barrows, other reliques of antiquity of a different kind, are thickly scattered all over the Island, namely, the Kihls or small Kirks of the early Christians. These are merely small enclosed spaces, containing some mounds or rubbish, and are so numerous that it is said that every treen anciently possessed one. They appear to have been a kind of domestic chapels, and are said to have been visited occasionally by itinerating monks. To this day, tradition affixes the chaplaincy of one in Braddan named Kiel-Albin, to the proprietor of a neighbouring farm, Awhallyon. But in general, they are now entirely forgotten, and only superstitiously venerated as containing the remains of the dead, for they have all been used as burying places. As an example of one, Kiel-Vael, or Michael, which signifies Kirk Michael. situated on the top of Balladoole hill, may be pointed out as occurring on this road.  Another, near the Douglas road, may be seen on passing Bulreinny hill, Mount Murray. (Oswald, 1831, ‘Isle of Man New Guide’)

 

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1869 O.S.

 

I have put off writing this post for a while as unlike the other posts I have only one photo of the keeill site, somewhere I found myself particularly uninspired by, especially as it took us two attempts to find it.  I think we were expecting more than the solitary stone on the edge of a golf course which is all that marks the location in 2016.  The stone is thought to have been in place for many years and was possibly placed there to keep the plough away from the site, either to preserve it or to preserve the plough from large stones that may cause damage.

The purpose of this blog is to document all the ‘Keeills’ on the Isle of Man with existing remains in 2016 and under that description, ‘Speke Keeill’ does not warrant a post.  However, what was found during an investigation by Time Team and Wessex Archaeology in 2006 makes Speke Keeill very much deserving of a mention.

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The keeill site is on the land of the Mount Murray Golf Club, sitting very close to the Speke Lane boundary, the burial site continues on the other side of the lane on Speke Farm land.  Marstrander in ‘Treen og Keeill’ (1937) mentions Speke in his list of keeills on the Island but gives no measurements of the building or a known dedication.

Mount Murray is a hill just outside of Douglas, in the past it was sometimes known as ‘The Mount’ and earlier as ‘Cronk Glass’ meaning ‘Green Hill’ (Gill, 1929. ‘A Manx Scrapbook).  The earliest name for the hill seems to have been ‘Ais Hólt’ which means ‘Holt’s Hill’, Holt was a Norse surname (Kneen, 1925, ‘Place names of the Isle of Man’).

In 1717, a Dublin Merchant, Richard McGwire, applied to enclose an area of common land known as ‘being the mountain called Ash hold’ and started to build a house there.  Unfortunately, he got in to debt and the estate was sold a couple of times and rented out (at one stage to Sir Wadsworth Busk, attorney general of the Island 1774-1797′) before it was bought by Lord Henry Murray in 1793 (information taken from Manx Notebook).

‘The house is elegant: and Sir Wadsworth’s fine taste endeavoured to embellish some of the neighbouring fields; but the sterility of the soil, in a great measure, has frustrated every attempt. Yet, in this retirement Sir Wadsworth devotes himself to the pursuits of literature and the enjoyment of domestic virtues.

At a little distance from Newtown, on the top of a mountain, Sir Wadsworth erected a pillar inscribed to the Queen, in commemoration of his Majesty’s recovery in 1789; which has little to recommend it to a traveller’s attention, except the loyalty it expresses. To the fishermen on this side of the island, it however proves, from its elevation, an excellent sea-mark.’ (Robertson, 1794, ‘A Tour Round the Isle of Man’)

The mound where Sir Wadsworth erected his pillar still exists although the pillar seems to have gone.

 

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Thanks to Sam Hudson for the photo of the Wadsworth Busk mound.

 

The ‘Braaid Circle’, a stone circle site with the remains of a Norse farmstead was also on the land of the Mount Murray estate until it was divided up in the last half of the 19th Century.

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The first mention of the keeill at Speke, is on a Mount Murray Estate map (1800) which shows a small rectangular east-west aligned building in an enclosure marked as ‘old chapel’, this information comes from the Wessex Archaeology report for Time Team although I have had no luck trying to find this map myself in the MNH library.  It is thought that John Murray (1755-1830), Fourth Duke of Atholl and a keen antiquarian, may have made a double ditched enclosure around the keeill site, possibly to protect it, in the process the enclosure cut through one of the graves.  In recent times, the Mount Murray estate has become a golf club with a large housing estate in the grounds.

In the Ordnance Survey particulars on the site, it states;

‘ In a field to the immediate S.E. of Speke is pointed out the site of an ancient Chapel and Burial Ground. A number of stone lined graves are to be seen in the road running past the E. end of the field, and during the construction of the road a large quantity of human bones were found. There is no tradition regarding the spot.’ Authorities quoted are: Mr. John Corris; Mr. Hog g; Mr. Quine; Dr. Oliver, Douglas.’

At the time that Kermode was surveying the keeills, there were no visible remains at the site.  In the Fifth Report (1918, Kermode), it mentions that Mr Richard Lace had examined fourteen lintel graves at the site and found them ‘of the usual character’ although he had found two adult bodies in one grave which was unusual, he estimated from the burials that the cemetery would have been around 200 yards in diameter.  Richard Lace was headmaster at Santon school and an enthusiastic antiquarian who completed a number of surveys at Kermode’s request including the Sulbrick and Ballawoods keeill sites.  There are a number of letters between him and Kermode in Kermode’s private papers and we are reminded that many others share the credit for the wonderful work of the Manx Archaeological Survey.  Other than the mention of the lintel graves, there is no other information in the Kermode report.

In 1992 when the area was being developed there was a survey of the keeill site but unfortunately the records of this were not lodged with the MNH library so I wasn’t able to access it, the connected planning applications were unfortunately unable to be found.  So, very little was known of this seemingly long ploughed over site and the stone could have become little more than a marker in a round of golf.

Until Time Team happened!

 

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Photo used with permission from Wessex Archaeology.

 

The Speke Keeill was excavated by Time Team and Wessex Archaeology and the results were aired on television in 2007.  The following information on the Time Team dig I have used with permission from Wessex Archaeology and all quotes are taken from the full report on the dig which can be found here.  The project had three aims;

To characterise the archaeological resource at the site;

To provide a condition survey of the site;

To determine the extent of the site.

Underneath the layer of turf covering the site, the team found the four walls of the keeill, built in Manx slate and granite blocks which had all fallen inwards, the wall had originally been supported by a layers of turf banked up against it on the outside.  Underneath the collapsed walls, they found the original altar from the keeill, built of thin slabs of Manx slate and with the familiar white pebbles found both inside and around the altar that are often found at these sites.  No floor covering was existent which may have meant the floor of the keeill could have been hardened earth instead of the frequently found stone slabs and the door was found to have been in the south west corner of the south wall.  A roughly shaped square structure was found just outside one of the walls and was thought to be a ‘reliquary’, the inside was lined with white quartz stones;

‘This deposit was either packing for the lining (106) or positioned around whatever had been placed within the feature, perhaps a small box containing a piece of the founder’s remains. Following the abandonment of the keeill, the reliquary may have been opened and the relic removed to another location.’

It was found that after the keeill had been abandoned as a chapel, there was a period of disuse before the walls were possibly intentionally demolished or collapsed naturally.  A slate slab incised with a cross was found which may have originally been a grave marker before being reused in the structure of the keeill itself.  In one of the ditches was found an Ogham marked stone;

Ogham originated in Ireland in the 4th and 5th centuries where it continued to be used until about the 7th century.  It continued in use longer in Scotland, well in to the 10th and 11th centuries, particularly in the Northern Isles of Orkney and Shetland where there was a mixing of the Norse and native Gaelic cultures along the Atlantic west coast of Britain. Ogham is notoriously difficult to date although the development of the script is known. The earliest form of ogham was written down the arris edges of stones or timber with lines or letter strokes scribed either side (Type I ogham). Later it was written on flat surfaces with a central line or stem used to imitate the arris edge, with lines scribed above and below this stem creating bundles of letter strokes (Type II ogham).

The Ogham stone at Speke is written in a form of Gaelic particular to the Northern Isles and dates from between the 8th century and the 12th century, the inscription reads;

‘BAC OCOICAT IALL’ meaning ‘corner/angle, fifty, throng/group’

 

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Image of the Ogham inscribed stone at Speke used with permission from Wessex Archaeology.

 

It appears to have been doodling or graffiti rather than a formal inscription but was a very rare find.  A number of slate slabs with crosses on have been found at the site of the years; an incised cross was found by an Officer Cadet Training party camping at the site in 1941 and Ross Trench-Jellicoe found a slab marked with a cross at the site when conducting a study of Manx crosses on the Island in 1981.

The graves were excavated and one was found to hold a small plait of hair; an unusual find as hair is rarely preserved from that date.  Samples from three graves were sent for radiocarbon dating, these were found to all date from between the 6th and 7th centuries which made them pre-Norse and much earlier than the keeill itself.

The report suggests that the history of events at Speke Keeill is similar to that at Balladoole with a keeill being built within an earlier cemetery following the arrival of the Norse around the 9th century.  This is a situation found in several other keeill sites on the Island including Ballameanagh Keeill, Upper Sulby Keeill and Keeill Woirrey, Maughold (Lowe 1987, 78-9).  They were unable to find out the extent of the site due to time constraints but it is thought that Richard Lace’s estimate of the cemetery measuring 200 yards in diameter may have been pretty fair.

 

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An image showing the layout of the keeill and some of the finds including the ‘reliquary’, used with permission from Wessex Archaeology.

 

This excavation of the Speke Keeill by Time Team and Wessex Archaeology has brought life to this site and much has been learnt from their findings.

Modern technology and archaeological practice have advanced so much from the time of the Kermode surveys and one has to wonder what else would be learnt about early Celtic life on the Island if there was an unlimited resource of archaeologists and time to excavate the many ancient sites on the Island to this level.  Wishful thinking of course.

So, next time you’re playing a round of golf at Mount Murray, consider those graves you’re walking over; in the Isle of Man, there is history everywhere.

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More information on the Manx keeills.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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; Cronkbreck Keeill, German.

Keeills and Cake; Cronkbreck Keeill, German.

Keeill number thirty six.

With kind permission of Mr Chadwick, Cronkbreck Farm.

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‘..from the South her heath-land, fall to the marshy waters of the Awin Dhoo and the rock-sheltered fields about Greeba and St. Trinian’s of old the men of the Church and the Abbey, and the solitary followers of the religious life, made this a sacred ground. Possession by bishops and abbots is attested in history and historical documents, and in place-names. Folk-lore reaches further back, and murmurs vaguely of saints and hermits.’ (‘A Second Manx Scrapbook’, Gill, 1932)

 

The Cronkbreck Keeill is on the land of Cronkbreck Farm in Greeba (from a Scandinavian word, Gnipa, meaning ‘rocky peak’).  For many people, Greeba is just a name along the busy road between Douglas and Peel or a part of the famous TT course, somewhere to drive through.  Greeba and the surrounding area are, in fact, particularly rich in Celtic and ecclesiastical heritage.

‘…however important Greeba was from a military point of view, its chief interest lies in the Ecclesiastical side. It was the centre of the religious life in the district in Early Christian tunes-even before the community attached to St. Ninian’s Barony came into existence in the 12th Century.’  (‘The Boundary between Kirk Marown and Kirk German’, W.Cubbon, Proc IoMNH&ASc vol 3). 

There are three known sites of keeills very close together at Cronkbreck, Kerrowgarrow and Greeba Mill and of these three, only the foundations of the chapel at Cronkbreck remain in 2016; these chapels have not been precisely dated so we don’t know that they were all in use at the same time.

There have also been burials found in the surrounding area, some pre-Christian, there is a large Cairn at Kennaa close by.

St. Trinians, the impressively intact remains of a church from the 12th century sits on the other side of Greeba Mountain, The Priory of St. Bees had around 420 acres in Greeba which included a church and a ‘hospice’, St. Trinians Church has its own folklore which would be a post in itself!

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Another example of the significance of Greeba in the early Christian period on the Island is the folklore appertaining to the presence of hermits:

Nor will any one deny there can be a place more proper for a hermit, because here are no temptations to allure him from his cell, but he may pass his nights and days entirely uninterrupted; and as there are still many of those pious men in the world, it must be thro’ ignorance of this Island, that none of them made choice of it at present: I say at present, because I have been shown a hole on the side of a rock, near Kirk-Maroan mountains, which, they say, was formerly the habitation of one who had retired from the converse of mankind, and devoted himself entirely to prayer and meditation.

What seems to prove this conjecture is not without foundation, is, that there is still to be seen a hollow, cut out on the side of the rock with a round stone at one end in the shape of a pillow, which renders it highly probable to have been the hard lodging of one of those holy persons who have forgone all the gaieties and pleasures of life, and chose to mortify the body for the sake of the soul.

Every thing, indeed, conspires to prove that religion was once in very great splendor in this Island, but there are now little remains of it, except in that blind obedience paid to the clergy, of which I have already fully treated, and the implicit faith they give to every thing delivered from a man in sacred orders.’ (‘A Description of the Isle of Man’, Waldron, 1732)

‘It is unlikely that what Waldron saw was far from the road, and the only rocks near the road are those of Greeba. His mention of a stone in the shape of a pillow suggests that the legend then attached to the spot belonged to the bed (so-called) of a hermit who lived in the contiguous ” hole ” or cell. This sort of ” bed ” (Manx lhiabbee — actually a tomb), is not uncommon in Ireland, where it is often explained by a story about its supposed occupant, particularly in the case of dolmens called “the Bed of Dermot and Grania.” (The Manx Scrapbook, Gill, 1932)

Nic and I used the 1869 OS map to find the ‘cave’ mentioned above, it is less of a ‘cave’ than a rocky outcrop with a slab of stone just big enough to lie on, these hermits must have been tough!

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Close by to the ‘cave’ is a group of stones known as ‘St Patrick’s Chair’ (not to be confused with the better known St Patrick’s Chair near Ellerslie).  It is described in ‘List of Manx Antiquities’ (Kermode, 1930) as ‘a large boulder of local slate five to six feet long  by three to four feet high, weighing some eight tons, having a flat top, and built into position with upright stones at the back of it’

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Photograph of ‘St. Patrick’s Chair’, Greeba, from http://www.imuseum.im

 

St. Patrick’s Chair is more difficult to find in 2016 as the area is very overgrown.

My personal favourite story of an ‘antiquity’ in this area is the one of ‘Lhiaght y Kinry’, a mound of stones marking the grave of a man of the name/surname of ‘Kinry’ who made an attempt to run from Douglas to Bishop’s Court and back in around 1760 whilst stark naked for a ‘trifling sum of money’ (Feltham’s Tour, 1798).  According to tradition, the poor fellow was buried on the spot where he died, the stones still mark the spot many hundreds of years later, a reminder to us all to dress for the weather and possibly not partake in alcoholic beverages.

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‘Lhiaght y Kinry’ (with thanks to Sam Hudson).

 

It would seem that this little place in the middle of our Island held a lot of importance to our Celtic forefathers and their predecessors.

Cronkbreck means ” Speckled Hill ” literally ; but breck, at any rate in its Gaelic form breac, seems to have had a secondary meaning approximating to ” sacred,” or devoted to special use in some way, and such may have been its original implication in the present case. ” (A Manx Scrapbook, Gill, 1929)

The keeill at Cronkbreck sits up a farm track behind the farm and has no known dedication, it is the largest known example of a keeill on the Island, measuring 25ft. by 14ft.  Kermode thought it to be one of the later examples, possibly on the site of an earlier chapel, and the large size (along with the suggested ‘sacred’ association with the name as suggested by Gill) could signify that this site was considered particularly important.

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P. M. C. Kermode and his team visited the keeill at Cronkbreck for the ‘Second Report of the Manx Archaeological Survey’ (1910), he found the enclosure to measure 90ft. east and west and 120ft. north and south, the ‘fence’ of the enclosure was still in place on the north and east sides which was as we found it in 2016.  The enclosure bank looks to be made of large stones covered with earth and grass, there were some thorn trees in the central section.  This reminded me of an article I had come across from the Isle of Man Examiner from 1953;

‘There is another keeill on the right, a little further on at Cronk Breck.  A legend connected with it is that an irreligious character lopped some tramman and thorn trees which stood on the holy ground of the keeill and in doing so cut his thumb.  Infection set in and he lost his whole hand.’

There is not an awful lot of information on this little chapel so finding even that bit of folklore from before the days of antibiotics was a bit of a gem.

I found a mention of the keeill at Cronkbreck in a letter in the private papers of P.M.C. Kermode from W. Lewis at Kirk German Vicarage, Peel to Kermode written in 1910 (uncatalogued but in box MS08979), an extract from it is copied below;

‘… The little service which we held in the Keeill on the Tuesday in Rogation Week was extremely simple and brief – I had intended giving a short address but the weather was so cold and stormy that we had to content ourselves with just a hymn and Rogation prayers for blessings on the crops and for missions.  It was our first halt on our perambulations.

I feel that these spread little sparks and am only too glad of an opportunity of showing my regard for them.  Last autumn we had a little service in the Keeill at CronkBreck, I hope we may visit Lag ny Keeilley one day.’

I was surprised to find the Anglican Church of 1910 holding simple services and reflection inside the foundations of old keeills.  For some reason I had assumed that they hadn’t held the ancient keeills in high regard so I found this letter rather interesting – the concept of the ‘Praying the Keeills’ event that has been held for the last eleven years was started a long time ago!

 

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The raised embankment of the enclosure surrounding the keeill, made from large stones and earth, still in situ in 2016.

Kermode described the keeill at the time of his visit as ‘unusually large’ and built from local surface stones which were ‘undressed’.  The walls were between 3ft. and 4ft. wide and stood 3ft. 6ins. on the north end to 5ft. 6ins. on the south end, similar in height to how we found it in 2016.  There was a raised platform at one end which extended for five feet and which was paved opposite the doorway, the floor pavement was complete and formed from stones laid flat.  No windows could be traced, however, the jamb stones for the doorway in the west gable end were set on edge but had slipped out of position.

The base of the altar remained at the east gable, sitting slightly off centre and measuring 4ft. 3ins. by 21in. to 24in., the altar sat about 12in. above the pavement at its highest point.  At the front of the altar was a ‘fine slab set on edge’ that measured 3ft. 11in. long by 9in. above the floor and 5in. thick.

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Quartz pebbles are frequently found at these sites and Cronkbreck was no exception with forty eight being found scattered throughout the keeill along with an upper stone of a granite quern (used for grinding corn).

Cronkbreck was our forty first keeill site visit, we had intended to visit earlier but there had been a bull in the field so we decided to wait!  We left the farm track and as we crossed the field we spotted the remains of an embankment separating the keeill from the rest of the field.  Entering the enclosure through a gap in the embankment, we came across the keeill which was very overgrown with bracken.  We were surprised at the height of the foundations and by just quite how large it was, the walls were high enough that we felt we were entering an actual building.

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Unfortunately although some sections of wall were visible the keeill site was very overgrown.  The ground was uneven inside the building but we were unable to tell whether this was from paving, the ‘raised area’ around the altar or just loose stone that had fallen down as the grass was so high which was a real pity.  Although the keeill was visited at least once by the Isle of Man Natural History and Antiquarian Society, unfortunately I was not able to find a write up of their visit which may have given us more information.

The keeill is under the protection of the Manx Museum and National Trust, Mr Chadwick told us they visited the keeill annually to cut the bracken down and strim the grass until around ten years ago when unfortunately they suddenly stopped coming and it has now become overgrown.

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We have learned over the course of the year that just as you can’t view all ‘modern’ churches in the same way, the keeills have to be looked at individually as there could possibly be 700 years difference in age between different examples.  We sat inside this considerable structure and we were impressed, we ate some orange and sultana cake.

William was with us and also Nicola’s puppy ‘Paaie’, it was her first keeill visit and she seemed to enjoy it.

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The keeill wasn’t the only site of interest at Cronkbreck, a field away sits an enchanting tholtan which, according to Mr Chadwick is known as ‘Tommy’s House’ after a man named ‘Tommy’ who lived and died in the house.

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The remains of a building with a fireplace sit in the trees, one gable wall has fallen down.

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The large area of grounds surrounding the tholtan are walled off and just above the tholtan on the right is a site known as ‘The Crosh’;

‘A few chains North-East of Cronkbreek Cottage the remains of a mound are still visible ; on its summit was a stone cross. The mound has been used as late as the early part of the last [18th] century for legal purposes, such as the proclamation of Chancery and other decrees, announcements of Coroners’ sales, fodder juries, and Foresters’ fines. So says Mr. C. Crellin of Cronkbreck.” — (O.S. Name Books.)’ (A Manx Scrapbook, Gill, 1929)

When the Ancient Monument team used to cut down the grass around the keeill, they also used to trim the grass at this tholtan and I can only assume that this was because the mound known as ‘The Crosh’, sited just above the tholtan, was also under the guardianship of the Manx Museum and National Trust and they had responsibility for its upkeep.  The mound is also mentioned by Kermode;

‘At a distance from the Keeill of 130 yards N.N.W., on high ground by the side of a roadway from the old farm buildings to the fields above, is a mound from ;o to 40 ft. diameter, which may at least in part be artificial. The O. S. marked this (2974) “site of stone cross,” but the proprietor, Mr. C. Crellin, who has lived all his days at Cronkbreck, says that he never heard of an actual cross having been there, though the place was always known locally as “the crosh,” and it was supposed that the people assembled there in the old days to hear proclamations and announcements. He thought that a Mr. Jackson had at one time broken and removed carved stones found at the Keeill. In the garden at Cronkbreck he has besides the upper and lower stones of two querns, a roughly rectangular granite boulder 1 Sin. long by 11 to 12 in. wide, and from 10 to 13 in. high ; it has a rectangular hollow, slightly undercut, 8½in. by 5½ and 5in. deep. This cannot have been a Font, and may in fact have been the base of a cross. If it came from the mound, it may have suggested to the O. Surveyors that there had at one time been a cross there set up, and this may have been confirmed by inquiries made by them at the time. Such a cross might have been contemporary with the present ruined Keeill, which from its unusual size and style of building seems not to have been of very early date, perhaps having taken the place of an.older one.’ (‘Second Report of the Manx Archaeological Survey’, Kermode, 1910)

We weren’t able to tell if the mound still existed as the area above the keeill was overgrown, however, the whole area around the tholtan is very interesting and was well worth the visit.

Mr Chadwick the current landowner quite obviously has a lot of respect for the antiquities in his care and has protected them by leaving these areas uncultivated, however, I do often wonder when these structures are sited where animals graze that they shouldn’t be fenced for their own protection.  Too many keeills have been damaged or lost in recent times, some would have been preserved by just the erection of a fence and it is hard not to question why this has not happened in many cases.

It was great to find a keeill that had survived in a similar condition to how Kermode found it at the time of his visit over one hundred years ago.  Next time you’re driving through Greeba, give a thought to the wonderful history in this area.

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Some large stones near ‘Tommy’s House’, possibly part of another building.
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A wonderful ‘fence’ of pieces of slate on end in the grounds of ‘Tommy’s House’.

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Rear wall, ‘Tommy’s House’.

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William picking blackberries in a gap in the wall

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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.

More information on our visits to the Manx keeills in 2016.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Keeills and Cake; Keeill Woirrey, Patrick.

Keeills and Cake; Keeill Woirrey, Patrick.

Keeill number thirty five.

With kind permission from Mr Roberts, Kerrowdhoo.

Kerrowdhoo (meaning ‘Dark Quarter’) sits high above Foxdale in an area known as Glen Needle.   Although seemingly isolated in 2016, the many tholtans (dialect for ruined dwellings) picked out on the surrounding hillsides tell of a very different time for this part of the Isle of Man.  When the Foxdale mines were open between  1723 and 1911, the census reports list many miners, often lodging, living in the numerous dwellings in the area known as ‘Kerrowdhoo’.  The upper land on the hills was still cultivated and being worked by many small farmsteads and crofts, the ruins of which you can still see dotted across the landscape today and with countless workers walking to and from their shifts at the mines, the hills really would have been alive over one hundred years ago.

In 2016, there are a scattering of dwellings around Glen Needle and it is a very beautiful and peaceful part of the Island.

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In the 1851 census, my own great great great grandfather, Daniel Teare, was lodging at ‘Kerrowdhoo’ when working in the Foxdale mines before he moved along the road where he farmed at Slieau Whallian Farm for the rest of his life.  When I was delivering post in Foxdale, I often thought of Daniel Teare when walking up the farm ‘street’ at Kerrowdhoo, I never once wondered what the raised remains in the ground were that I was walking right past every day.

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‘St Mary’s Chapel and Burial Ground’ at Kerrowdhoo, marked on 1869 Ordnance Survey.

In the First Report of the Manx Archaeological Survey (Kermode, 1909) it mentions that the field across the road from the keeill which was thought to have been part of the graveyard, was known as ‘Bwoal y Voirrey’.  ‘Bwoal’ is not a Manx word so I was assuming it was an incorrect spelling of ‘Boayl’, meaning ‘Place’.  However, in a hand annotated copy of the survey that I found amongst the Kermode papers in the museum library, I found Kermode had corrected it to ‘Bwoaillee’ which means ‘milking place or fold’ (thanks to the long suffering Breesha Maddrell, always on hand to help with Manx language queries).  The field is known as ‘Bwoaillee y Voirrey’- ‘Fold of Mary’, this suggests a dedication to Mary and is why the keeill is one of many on the Island that are known as ‘Keeill Woirrey’ (Church of Mary).

Keeill Woirrey, Kerrowdhoo, was not on our original list of keeills to visit but when we realised that the IOMNHAS had visited the site and found keeill remains as late as 1957, we decided that it was definitely worth a trip.

Kerrowdhoo was not visited by the archaeological commission in 1877 and the first mention of it that I could find was in ‘Vestigia Insulae Manniae Antiquiora’ (Oliver, 1860).  The keeill is mentioned in an extract from a letter by Rev. William Gill, Vicar of Malew, it was referred to by name as part of list, ‘St. Mary’s or Keeil Woirrey, at Kerroo Dhoo’ and gave no further information.  In the same book, Kerrowdhoo is found again, this time in a report to the ‘Council of the Manx Society’ on the keeills in his parish by the Rev. A. Holmes, vicar of Patrick.  This gives a little more information on the site as it was over 150 years ago:

‘At the Kerroodhoo, a farm a little to the south of Slieuwhallan, are the remains of a chapel under the invocation of St. Mary; the walls on the east end are four feet high. The burial ground is about an acre in extent, covered with stone coffins, the tops of which in several places are visible.’

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Wall at Kerrowdhoo.

In an article in the Mona’s Herald from 1903, there is the best description of all of a visit by the Antiquarian Society to Kerrowdhoo.  I’d paraphrase it but it’s just written so descriptively:

…recently had his attention drawn to a tumulus on the estate of Kerroodhoo, in Foxdale, on the Eastern slope of Slieu-Whallian mountain, and in a very wild and secluded district.  It is one which has seemed heretofore to have escaped the attentions of those with antiquarian tendencies…

The tumulus of Kerroodhoo stands picturesquely on a slope of the mountain between the Glen Needle and Kerroodhoo streams, which unite at Foxdale waterfall.  The site of the tumulus, with magnificent views of the southern mountains, is one that rightly suggests itself as a burial ground.  The ancient highroad known as “Bishop Wilson’s Road” crosses the Kerrowdhoo quarter, and skirts the margin of the tumulus…

The farm steading is built on the eastern declivity of the churchyard – the churchyard being oncircled by a wall.  Below the adjoining haggard there are a large number of graves visible on the farm street and its approach, the upper edges of the stone cists being plainly traceable.  Operations were begun – the kind permission of the landlord, Mr Kelly, Peveril Terrace, Peel, having been previously secured.  A series of measurements made by one of the more ardent members of the party resulted in a mean average length being obtained of 5ft. 6 and 1/8in, thus proving that the inhabitants of 800 years ago were not of the height commonly supposed.  An ancient stone font of granite was discovered in the possession of the proprietor, who guards it with great care…

Excavations were then commenced around the ancient keill or church.  So far as could be ascertained from inquiries, nothing is known traditionally in the neighbourhood of a name that might imply a certain dedication.  The orientation of the church, as ascertained by Mr Kelly by means of careful compass reckonings, was discovered to be due east and west.  With regard to the graves, the majority of them lie due east and west, with some peculiarly curious derivations from this arrangement.  After laying bare what was conjecturally the south wall, the foundations of which are still insitu, another excavation was made in the north-west corner, disclosing a mass of masonry with peculiar ochre0coloured mortar, which proved to be the fallen west gable.  One of the oldest members of the neighbourhood strikingly confirmed the conjectures of the party.  A very singular monolith, carefully measured, proved to have a length of twelve feet.  It appears to have formerly stood within the precincts of the keill, but  had, unfortunately, been removed to serve as a bridge on the farm.  A further monolith, about eight feet, of remarkably graceful outline, and beautiful weathering, was much admired.  On close investigation a strong presumption existed that it had been shaped as a cross, as there were clear traces of ornamentation on what appears to have been the head, now partially broken off.  Later, another grave was opened, with interesting discoveries.

An al fresco luncheon was enjoyed on the pleasant turf adjoining, served up by the ladies of the party most perfectly.  It was with regret that the company left a site palpitating with antiquarian possibilities, and wended their way homewards as the shades of evening came on.’

Sounds like a wonderful day out and a bit different to an antiquarian outing in 2016 – a little bit of amateur archaeology and digging around in the graves then sitting in the graveyard and being served ‘luncheon’, I think we’re missing out!

These antiquarian write ups are great for recording what a site was like at the time but also for their descriptive and evocative writing .  Kerrowdhoo in 1903 was a place full of history.

I was surprised that they couldn’t find local knowledge of a dedication for the keeill, when it is marked as ‘St. Mary’s Chapel’ on the 1869 O.S., it is only six years later in when Kermode writes about the name of the field opposite and the assumed dedication to Mary.  I was interested to read about the very large stones, especially the one thought to be a cross, as this is not mentioned in the Kermode survey which was only a few years later.

The keeills in the parish of Patrick are listed in the First Report of the Manx Archaeological Survey (Kermode, 1909), only six years after the antiquarians had visited.  Of Keeill Woirrey, Kerrowdhoo, Kermode writes that the north wall still remained as part of the haggard (a dialect word for an enclosure on a farm for stacking grain) and measured about 18ft. long, 5ft. 6in. high and 2ft. 6in. wide.  It is described as being built of small ‘slaty’ stones from the neighbourhood, ‘unhewn and undressed’ with some quartz boulders and earth in between, the ochre coloured mortar wasn’t mentioned.  The granite font was lying by a nearby stream, Kermode thought that perhaps this marked the only boundary line of the cemetery and needed to be preserved.

Thankfully, there was more information to be found in the Second Report of the Manx Archaeological Survey (Kermode, 1910).  By this time, the foundations of the keeill had been cleared and exposed by Mr. R. Lace who was excavating on behalf of the committee, the keeill was described as being 24ft. by 12ft. with a doorway in the west end.  There were foundations at the level of the outside surface which measured 4ft. wide and were formed of large, flat stones.  Large flat slate stones make up part of the path at Kerrowdhoo in 2016 following the line of the original ‘farm street’, we noticed one which looked to have a simple cross carved in to it, I wonder if these were the same stones that are mentioned above.

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The north wall in 1910 was fairly complete and was 4ft. high above the floor level, the east wall which was mentioned by Holmes as 4ft. high in 1860, was not mentioned, parts of the north west and south east corners remained.  Against the south wall were found a number of large boulders, probably forming what would have been a bank around the structure which may have possible supported the weight of a thatched roof at one time.  There was no trace of an altar to be found but 12 inches below the floor level at the east end, were found seven lintel graves side by side, most of them had two quartz boulders above the little slab at the foot and were lined at the bottom and covered in slabs. These can be seen in the plan below which was taken from the second report (not to scale).

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A further lintel grave was found in the north east corner just below floor level and this was found to be resting on top of another.  The total number of graves that were found was seventeen including three outside the keeill, one was beneath the north wall and two were just outside the north wall.  There were areas that remained unexamined so there could have been far more.  When the road alongside the farm was widened a number of similar graves had been found meaning that the burial ground was quite extensive.

Kermode writes that the late Mrs Cannell from Ballacarnane, remembered the gable standing with ‘two narrow windows’, this was thought to have been eighty years before which would make it around 1830.

When looking through the private papers of P. M. C. Kermode, I came across a letter (uncatalogued but in box MS08979) from a Mrs Cooil, dated 1908.  The letter mentioned the Kerrowdhoo keeill along with a ‘promised’ subscription to the archaeological survey.  As I have been looking through the papers, especially the correspondence, the more apparent it has become that the survey really struggled for funds and getting people to subscribe especially later on when WW1 was squeezing many pockets, proved often very difficult.  It is the generosity of many people who realised the importance of documenting and exploring these ancient buildings that were able to help fund the project and meant that Kermode was able to carry out his excavations and publish the results.  Keeill Woirrey is an example of a keeill that has declined in condition since the time of the survey and without Kermode’s survey much of the information about the site would have been lost.

Mrs Cooil writes;

‘I received your letter a few days ago enquiring whether my mother remembered anything about the keeill at Kerrowdhoo near Gleneedle, Patrick.  I asked her about it and she says it has been the same as it is all her time… My cousin, Miss Christiana Cannell, Ballacarnane, told my mother that her mother told her that she remembered a chimney standing on the keeill (this might have been a belfry).  Mrs Cannell was my mother’s oldest sister, and was five years older than my mother, she died in May 1907.  John Kennaugh who farms Brack-a-Broom, near Poortown was brought up in the farm adjoining Kerrowdhoo, and it about the same age as my aunt, Mrs Cannell.  He might be likely to remember this “chimney” standing on the keeill.  If you would see him, he might tell you something.’

Strange that Kermode mentions the ‘gable with two narrow windows’ in the report but not the ‘chimney’.

My relative lived in the area of Kerrowdhoo around the time period they’re talking about and I like to think of him wondering about this ancient chapel as he walked past on his way to a long day working in the mines.  I suppose that in those days they had little time for fanciful daydreaming about the past like we’re more inclined to do in the 21st century, or I am at least!

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Field above Kerrowdhoo.

 

So, at the start of the twentieth century this keeill had, relatively speaking, substantial remains of the foundations with a section of wall that was 4ft. high.

The next mention I came across of the keeill was in a newspaper article about a visit to the area by the Isle of Man Natural History and Antiquarian Society in the Isle of Man Times from 1939 (www.imuseum.im) unfortunately, the keeill is only mentioned in passing but it did mention something else of interest;

‘… a small Stone Age Circle at Kerrowdhoo, in close proximity to an early Christian keeill, or cell-church with its burial ground.

This ‘Stone Age Circle’ is not mentioned in any of the other antiquarian write ups and I haven’t been able to find mention of it anywhere else, in fact it’s the third ‘stone circle’ (which seems to be quite a broad description) that I’ve come across recently when doing research and that I haven’t been able to find in any list of antiquities.  Anyone know anything of this? I think it has ceased to exist in 2016.

Keeill Woirrey was once again visited by the Isle of Man Natural History and Antiquarian Society in 1957 and a report was published in the Isle of Man Examiner;

‘A halt was made at Kerrowdhoo to see the Keeill Voirrey (St. Mary’s Chapel).  The site was excavated and the keeill walls uncovered by Mr Richard Lace who was a schoolmaster in Santon.  Mr P. M. C. Kermode directed the work and reported it to the Museum.  In 1860 a Mr Holmes reported that there was a burial ground here covering an acre of ground in which were stone lintel coffins.  He also mentioned a stone font that had been used as a pigs’ trough but had later been removed.  Col. Vaughan, by whose kind permission the party visited the keeill on the Kerrowdhoo farm street, later took the members who were interested to see the font, which was a short distance away near the Glendhoo stream.  Mr Callister, whose childhood was spent in the district, gave the Manx names of the nearby field, one of which was the Margher Rhennee Killey (Ferny Field of the Church).

A halt was made for tea on the banks of the Glendhoo stream…

The day was fine and warm, a “pet day” between two storms; the country was new to most members, the walk not too strenuous (a lady of 96 years old accompanied the Ramsey party) and it was voted by all to be one of the most enjoyable excursions of the year.’

This also sounded like a good day out!

In the 1957 visit, little is mentioned of the condition they found the foundations of the keeill in, however, in the not so recent past there has been a fair amount of heavy handed redevelopment at Kerrowdhoo, an example of this being the building of a garage at the entrance to the farm which, as can be seen from the gable end still remaining behind the new structure, replaced a much older building.

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In the last century, I think it is fair to say that the condition of the keeill at Kerrowdhoo has declined greatly.

Sam and I visited Kerrowdhoo in August 2016 (Nicola was off Island), we hadn’t contacted the landowner in advance as it was an off the cuff decision to visit after an afternoon at the Raby Keeill.  I remembered that when I had delivered the post there, the landowners were very pleasant people so we decided to knock.

On walking towards the house, we could see what little remained of Keeill Woirrey in 2016, a very different picture to the one painted by Kermode over 106 years ago.

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The only remains in 2016 are a raised area along with a larger area of wall jutting out to the right of the standing stone in the photograph above, I am not sure from what part of the keeilll the area of remaining wall is from.

I’m hoping I may come across a photograph of the site as it was at the time of the survey but I haven’t found one yet.  The standing stone marks the spot where the previous owners thought the altar would have sat but the current owner is unsure of the accuracy of this.

We knocked on the door and explained our mission to Mr Roberts.  Mr Roberts has lived at Kerrowdhoo for the last few years although the family of Mrs Roberts lived at Kerrowdhoo and throughout the surrounding area for many generations.  My memory served me right and Mr Roberts was not only a very pleasant gentleman but he was also a fellow Antiquarian who was very knowledgeable and who cared deeply for the history of the Island and particularly of this site.  Mr Roberts wasn’t able to tell us much about the keeill itself but he did tell us that the ‘font’ mentioned as being down at the river, was now in the large objects store under the care of Manx National Heritage, this was good to hear as it saved us trekking down the river to try and find it which was our next mission!

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We had a good chat with Mr Roberts and left, pleased to have visited Raby and Kerrowdhoo and feeling that we had explored two very interesting places.  After our visit, I received a message from Lynn Roberts, Mr Roberts’ daughter, who had studied archaeology and was interested in the Manx keeills.  We were sorry that Lynn missed our visit as she is very knowledgable and we would have liked to meet her, however, she very kindly sent me a photograph of what is assumed to be the holy water stoop from the keeill that they found when they were renovating one of the outbuildings at Kerrowdhoo, what a find that was!

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I felt sad that the foundations of an ancient structure such as the keeill at Kerrowdhoo could survive until the twentieth century and then be destroyed at a time when the history and the value of the site were already known and documented.

Thankfully, it was quite obvious that under the ownership of Mr and Mrs Roberts, Keeill Woirrey is now in good hands.

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Ruins of dwellings above Kerrowdhoo.

 

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; 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; Keeill Ean, Lezayre.

Keeills and Cake; Keeill Ean, Lezayre.

Keeill number thirty three.

Keeill Ean sits in the Brookdale plantation in Glen Auldyn, the plantation belongs to the Forestry Board (DEFA) and is accessible to the public. 

There are three roads to Glen Auldyn. The first is towards Albert Tower Hill, past the foot of Elfin Glen, a very sweet wooded ravine west of the tower, and along the hill west of Clybane, a fine old Manx place, perfectly characteristic, half mansion, half farmhouse, shaded with giant elms.  The second route is by the Lezayre Road, past Milntown, and to the left up the flats by Glen Auldyn River. The third route is a riverside path from Ramsey Bridge through Greenland, also entering Glen Auldyn just beyond Milntown.  Skyhill is a beautifully wooded and very steep abutment upon the plain, of a ridge of heights standing out from the mountains. Glen Auldyn is the gorge winding between-a gorge with the wild and weird fascination of surprise and mystery. The first mile is seductive with all kinds of picturesque grace road and river gliding along flats, with nestling cottages and straggling fringes of trees and truant woodland, the afternoon sun scarce clear above the ridge of Skyhill.  On the left, in a side ravine, is the Alt or Cascade, in Manx, the Spooyt Vooar (great spout), which gives its name to Altdale corrupted into Altyn. Its Norse name was Braid Foss. The main glen narrows, assumes a wilder aspect, with increasing upward gradient, the summit of Snaefell topping the folding vista southwards. At a lonely spot three miles out the glen forks-a steep climb to the left leading to the Snaefell Road, and… to the right the hill path to Sulby. (Mate’s Isle of Man Illustrated, 1902).

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Glen Auldyn is one of the most fascinating areas of the Island and is renowned for its folklore and stories, many involving ‘fairies’.  I highly recommend a read of ‘Legends of a Lifetime’ by George Quayle, this wonderful book will tell you so much about this part of the Island and really breathes magic in to it.  The glen lies close to Ramsey and was a favourite spot for visitors in the heyday of the tourist trade on the Island, it was also where P. M. C Kermode (who became the first director of the Manx Museum and was instigator and author of the Manx Archaeological Survey) and his sister, Josephine (alias ‘Cushag’), the Manx poet, lived.

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There were three keeills known to have existed in Glen Auldyn.  There was Keeill Phooigyn, of which nothing remains but the memory of the name, Ballameanagh keeill (known as Keeill Ean) and Keeill Vael.  Keeill Vael, dedicated to St. Michael, is thought to have sat in a glen known as ‘Glion Keeill Vael’ but the knowledge of the site of the keeill is now lost although Kermode mentioned it as at approximately O.S., V, 14, (3243 or 3244).  Kermode in the Fourth Report of the Manx Archaeological Survey, calls the Ballameanagh Keeill ‘The Cabbal’ and he doesn’t mention the name Keeill Ean (although this is what it is known as in other publications).  There had been a custom of gathering at the keeill on St. John’s Day which suggested strongly the dedication of the keeill to St. John (Proc IoMNH&ASoc, vol3), Keeill Ean is the Manx translation.  Kermode describes the keeill site;

In a field behind Mr. Cubbon’s house in Glen Aldyn, are ruins still known to a few people as the ‘Cabbal,’ or the ‘old Chapel.’ This is in the enclosure marked V, 14 (3080) on the O.S., at a height above sea-level of 18o ft. or thereabouts. On a projecting bluff at the S. E. corner of the small field a portion of the ancient cemetery remains and part of the foundations of the keeill.

In the last half of the 19th century, a road had cut through the keeill diagonally and many stones had been removed, this is shown on a plan from the Kermode Survey:

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From the remains, Kermode estimated the size of the building to have been about 15 by 9ft., he found the bank against the south west corner to have been flagged with large stones, there were also traces of this at the north east and south east corners.  The exposed area of the west wall showed that the keeill had an inner and outer facing of stone filled with soil and rubble, the middle of the west wall showed traces of a doorway.  At the time of the survey, a few of the paving stones from the floor remained in place.  In the road way that had intersected the keeill, Kermode found a stone lined grave which must have been directly under the north wall, from the remains of it, it was thought to be a ‘heathen’ pre-historic grave, yet another example of a Christian chapel being built on a site that was historically sacred.  During the making of the road that cut through the keeill, Kermode was told that a bone needle and some rings were found that had since been lost, I wonder where those ended up!

They also found further evidence of burial in the triangular space to the east of the keeill.  There was folklore associated with this keeill which is mentioned in the Kermode report and also in other publications; in earlier times, a method of divining the future was practised at this keeill site.  The keeill was visited on St. John’s Eve at midnight and people watched for ‘lights’ in the glen, the number of lights seen would foretell the number of deaths in the locality of the following year.  Kermode mentions that one year, twenty one lights were seen ‘dancing’ up the glen.  That year was the ‘great epidemic’ and there were twenty one deaths, just as the lights had foretold.

A few years after the survey, the keeill at Ballameanagh was visited by the antiquarian society in 1923, the visit was led by Kermode himself (Proc IoMNH&ASoc vol2 #1), at the visit, a Mrs Cubbon remembered the site being known as the ‘Cabbal’, in fact, it was her uncle that had cut the road way through the building.  I did wonder why the whole chapel wasn’t demolished, they weren’t superstitious or they wouldn’t have destroyed it in the first place, I can only assume that to remove the rest of the keeill without the benefit of modern machinery would have been unnecessary effort.

There was a stone ‘font’ and a ‘holy water stoup’ found nearby that were thought to have come from the Ballameanagh keeill.  I found a letter (FLS Q/020-E) in the Manx Museum library from a Mrs Elizabeth Quayle to Mr Basil Megaw (the Director of the Manx Museum at the time) written in 1955 regarding a these items.  The letter notes that the owner of Ballameanagh at the time, a Mr Harry Cubbon, said that the ‘font’ had been;

…for generations in a cowhouse of a croft, to the south of the old chapel, occupied by people named Caley.  It had been used (for) holding meal and water for the cow.  The foundations of croft buildings were washed away in the 1929 flood, and tumbled in to the river from where the font was rescued by Mr. Cubbon and placed in its present position, a field to the south of the chapel.

The stoup had been used as a pig’s trough for the owners’ life time and it was noted that the property had been in the owners family for generations.  Mrs Quayle, who lived at Upper Glentrammon, had written to the museum with information and sketches of these two items, Mr Megaw’s reply was, I felt, rather patronising.  He thanked her for the sketches and notes but said that items like these were rather a problem to the museum as none had been found in the actual keeills, usually in places nearby or had been placed in the keeills by people assuming the connection.  He wasn’t sure they would have been used in the keeills as he felt that often, the ‘sacred chibbyr’ (holy well) was close by and used instead.  I’ve shared an extract from the letter below;

It doesn’t follow that these stoups are not old – some certainly are.  But their use in many cases remain uncertain, and that is what we must hope to find more about.  Meanwhile, your notes are admirable, and I hope you’ll carry on in this way now you have tried your hand at sketching!  There are lots of other good subjects too!

… The poor old museum will burst at the seams if we take in more of these troughs just at present!  We have dozens, and while I would like to accept them we just can’t cope at the moment.  We hope for more accommodation before too long, and I trust that Mr. Cubbon will be able to find a safe place for his troughs around the farm.

I wonder what happened to these interesting items and whether they ever made it to the museum, or whether they’re still holding water at Ballameanagh!

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Keeill Ean was not on our list of keeills with existing remains in 2016, it was just one we were curious about as we knew the antiquarians had visited it in the 1950’s which was recent enough for there to be a chance of us finding something.  Nicola was unable to come with me that evening and so my friend Sam came along, we didn’t really expect to find anything as it wasn’t on the list, I thought at best it would be a pleasant evening stroll.  The keeill was not shown on the 1869 O.S. map but strangely, it is on the modern leisure map which we didn’t realise until we had spent quite some time working its location out from the Kermode survey!:

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We headed up Brookdale plantation which sits on the spur of land that bisects Glen Auldyn from two other smaller glens.  We followed a footpath to the right in the direction of the keeill according to the leisure map, we knew it was behind ‘Mr Cubbon’s house’ and as the footpath runs along the edge of the plantation which then slopes steeply towards the houses, we thought we were in the right area.  The problem was, we couldn’t find anything!  So we went back to the drawing board and decided to knock at the houses below; at the first house they hadn’t heard of Keeill Ean but we had more luck at the second.  The occupiers had lived at Glen Auldyn for many years but had never visited the keeill site, they were only aware of it as when they had closed a footpath on their land, there was someone who raised an objection to it closing as they used it to visit an ancient keeill!  This was useful information as it hinted at the foundations still being there, we had even more luck with an elderly gentleman in the house next door.  This gentleman had visited the keeill himself many moons ago and said it was hard to find as it was ‘behind a wall’.  With this to work from we headed back in to the plantation, we knew it must be near the end of the closed footpath, we also knew from the occupiers of house two, the areas where the keeill definitely wasn’t!  We could see the shape of the path that had cut through the keeill (from the Kermode diagram) and we used the 1869 O.S. to place the keeill somewhere inside the triangular path marked on the left of the map below;

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Using the old map to work out the whereabouts of the track that bisects the keeill along with a bit of hedge clambering, we eventually found what we were looking for.  Behind a boundary wall, we found what looked like a large hedge built partly with stones, what stopped us climbing back over to the path was what looked like the edge of a wall protruding from the mound.  This was the pointer that we needed, we had found the remains of part of the west wall of Keeill Ean.

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We were so excited we might have jumped around a bit, sounds a bit unnecessary for a few stones but we had been looking for a few hours at this point.  Just below the wall was the remains of the lane (long unused and very overgrown) that had cut through the keeill and a few metres away, the ground dropped away just as it does in the Kermode plan.  Confirming the site was in the right field, 3080, that Kermode had said it was in (Fourth Report of the Manx Archaeological Survey), was the final triumph.

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It is hard to imagine these remains in this dark corner of the plantation as the Keeill Ean where locals gathered to look down the valley for the telling lights, in 2016 you can barely see the light through the trees.  The site in 2016 would certainly have been unrecognisable from the days before the trees were planted when it sat on a plateau in open countrysideit would have had a wonderful view.

It seems that the keeill is still visited (or certainly until recently) by at least the person that objected to the footpath closing, however, when we had researched the keeill, we couldn’t find anyone that knew of its whereabouts so we were pretty pleased to put this keeill site back on the map by giving it a post of its own.  We weren’t able to tell the extent of the remaining foundations due to it being very overgrown, I’m pretty sure that the remaining walls of Keeill Ean are still sitting safe inside that mound.

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‘Untitled’

“We are the people of the Glen,” they said,
And then, again, the Christmas darkness rang
With those old tuneful melodies they sang,
While we a welcome in their music read.
Swiftly the busy years have passed and fled,
Nor could the parting be without a pang
From all the kindliness and love which sprang
To meet us with a courtesy inbred.

O glen of roses, glen of mingling streams,
Glen of the swallows and the tender wren.
Glen of the children, glen of elfin dreams,
That lay in mystery beyond our ken;
Life all around us touched by faery gleams,
We loved with you, dear People of the Glen!

Cushag.

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I have ended the post with some of Nicola’s beautiful photographs of Glen Auldyn and the surrounding area, a wonderful place to visit.

Tell me more about keeills.