With kind permission from Myra Kelly, Ballacuberagh.
‘From the station it is a quarter of a mile to Old Sulby hamlet, and half a mile to the river bank at the mouth of the Glen. Old Sulby has a woollen mill for Manx homespun, and at the mouth of the Glen a disused starch mill–once an active industry. This point is bewilderingly beautiful. A ravine comes down from the right from Carran mountain. Here is Kilculberagh, or St. Cuthbert’s Church, the site only traceable. The ascent of Carran Mountain gives a succession of magnificent mountain views, especially along Sulby Glen to Snaefell. The first reach of the Glen is eastwards. The Glen sides are inaccessible steeps of grass and gorse broken by projecting crags. At the bend the Glen turns south. On the left, beyond the river and a little nook of mountain crofts, is a high cascade, called the Cluggit, in the elbow of the Glen. It comes from a ledge several hundred feet above the tiny fields and clumps of ash trees embowering the homesteads to which a footbridge and ford invite an hour’s exploration of its hinterland.’ (Mate’s Isle of Man Illustrated, 1902).
Although the keeill at Ballacuberagh in Sulby was not on our original list of keeills (with visible remains), the site of this keeill is still obvious and we have seen less at some of the keeills on the list itself. I decided to cover it in a post as it is important to document the memory of these sacred places.
Ballacuberagh means ‘place of Cuthbert’ and the naming of this area in Sulby suggests a dedication to Saint Cuthbert. Saint Cuthbert was a monk, bishop and hermit living in Lindisfarne, Northumberland, and is thought to be one of the most important of the English saints. After he died in AD687, his body was found to be ‘incorruptible’ and it is said that pilgrimage to his shrine often led to people being healed miraculously.
Interestingly, in an article in the Mona’s Herald from 1889 reporting on a visit to Sulby by the Isle of Man Natural History and Antiquarian Society (www.imuseum.im), it is suggested that the name ‘Ballacuberagh’ is actually a corruption of ‘Balla Chibbyragh’ (the place of the wells), named after two celebrated wells in the valley opposite. For the sake of this post, I’m backing the Cuthbert reference!
The keeill is not marked on the earliest of the Ordnance Survey maps suggesting it has been some time since the keeill had substantial foundations. The site of the keeill is in the orchard behind the house which is known as ‘Magher Keeill’ (Chapel Field), the field closer to the river is known as ‘Lheannee fo Keeill’ (Maedow below the Keeill) and the field above the keeill is known as ‘Magher heose Keeill’ (Field above the Keeill), this information is from the Third Report of the Manx Archaeological Survey. Kermode doesn’t mention visiting the keeill site but reports that it is thought to lie in the orchard.
We hadn’t considered visiting Ballacuberagh until I had a conversation with Andy Raine from Lindisfarne who was on the Island for Praying the Keeills week in May 2016 (www.prayingthekeeills.org). The current owner of the property, Myra Kelly, had kindly given them permission to visit the keeill site and hold a small service there. Andy told us that the site was still an obvious imprint in the ground with a number of stones around and as this was already an improvement on what we had found at Speke and Sulby keeills, we decided to ask Miss Kelly for permission to visit ourselves. The Kelly family have lived at Ballacuberagh for many years, a Mrs Kelly was interviewed for the Manx Folk Life Survey in 1963 and mentioned that ‘there used to be a church on Ballacuberagh’, the past tense meant we didn’t expect to find much. Myra Kelly kindly gave us permission, she felt it was important that the site of the little church to St. Cuthbert was remembered.
We found the keeill site lying close to the back wall of the orchard, although it was very overgrown, it was quite easy to tell the site. There is a noticeable dip in the landscape under the shade of the trees (the keeill site lies inside the line of the ferns in the photograph above) and although there were no stones in situ, there were a number lying around including an interesting one with what looked to be hand made marks in it.
I have been able to find little else on the keeill itself as the building was obviously lost many years ago, before any antiquarian visits had been documented unfortunately! However, even without foundations, the keeill site in the orchard was still easy for us to find in 2016 and we were glad to have visited it. Ballacuberagh will be remembered.
Statues, says Cicero, perish by weather, violence or age; but the sanctity of the tomb lies in the ground, which cannot be obliterated, or moved by force; and as all else becomes extinct, so the tomb becomes more hallowed by age. (J. R. Oliver, Archaeologia Cambrensis, Isle of Man, 1866).
Ballacuberagh sits off the Tholt y Will road in Sulby, a beautiful part of the Isle of Man. I can recommend a visit to Killabrega, the remains of a large hill top farm high above Tholt y Will, one of many beautiful ruins sitting around the same height above the Sulby Valley. These farms were often deserted when families emigrated to start new lives overseas, life had become difficult when the common lands were enclosed and cultivating the more difficult upper land became uneconomic, farming practices changed and for many it was a ‘thin living’. This picturesque spot at Killabrega is owned by Manx National Heritage and is a real treasure in their crown. It can be accessed by a steep zig zag path up from Tholt y Will or a much easier route down from Druidale, it’s the perfect spot for a picnic or at the very least, some cake and a flask.
The Sulby Valley and Tholt y Will are a favourite with Nic, I thought I’d share some of her beautiful photographs taken in this area, in this post.
Keeills number twenty eight, twenty nine and thirty.
The remains of these three keeills lie in the churchyard at Maughold where there is public access. This church and the surrounding graveyard are worth a visit for so many reasons; the existing building dates from around the eleventh century but is built on the site of a Celtic monastery from the seventh century, there are about fifty Manx crosses (which is a third of the Manx crosses found on the Island) in a shelter in the churchyard, the visit is worthwhile for these alone.
Until recently, the Maughold Cross sat outside the entrance to the churchyard, it has now been moved inside of the church where it is more protected from the elements. The cross is made from St. Bees’ sandstone and has incredible detail, it is not known how old it is but it could be as early as 1250.
Behind the church is a public footpath which you can follow around the headland to the Maughold ‘brooghs’ and which passes St Maughold’s holy well on the way. As you might have been able to tell from all my Maughold keeill posts, it’s rather a favourite place.
There are the remains or sites of nineteen keeills that are known to have existed in the parish of Maughold and at least seven of these were within the enclosure of the churchyard with three still having visible foundations. The churchyard covers four acres but was originally fortified and much larger with traces of a wall and moat on the east side that were still visible seen until recent times. The Rectory of Maughold was part of the Priory of St. Bees which also owned the land of the Barony on which Keeill Vael sits. The site seems to have been similar to early Irish monasteries with several chapels, an abbot’s house, guest house, refectory and cells for the monks although the remains of these are long gone (much of this information has been taken from the Journal of the Manx Museum vol. III #49 pp144/153 – 1936). According to information from the Manx Archaeological Commission of 1877, there had been a ‘long barrow’, a prehistoric monument that usually contained a collection of cremated burials, close by to the church at Maughold. This mound had been levelled about twelve years before the survey (around 1865) so they could increase the capacity of the church yard, they found collections of black ashes which they found to consist of charcoal, carbonate of lime and human bones. Layers of history.
The church is dedicated to St. Maughold who was a convert of St. Patrick and who arrived on the Isle of Man in a coracle, he became Bishop of the Isle and is known to have been buried in the churchyard at Kirk Maughold although the knowledge of the whereabouts of the grave has long since been lost. P. M. C. Kermode, the first director of the Manx Museum and author of the Manx Archaeological Survey (amongst many other works) is also buried in the churchyard along with a memorial to his sister (who is buried in England). His sister, Josephine Kermode was the renowned poet, ‘Cushag‘, who wrote this poem about Maughold, a place that was very personal to her:
THE joyous company of mounting larks
Sing to the quiet dead,
And slumber song of thymy bees is heard
Around their bed;
While nought may vex them there on Maughold’s breast
Nor wake the summer stillness of their rest.
And on the hill their sleeping kinsfolk lie
Beneath the driving gale;
They heed not beat of sun nor whirling blast
Nor winter hail;
But rest as sweetly under storm and snow
As those who shelter with the Saint below.
Enough for One they reached their Home at last
By roads that could not meet,
Until the shining of the sunset light
Showed weary feet
That all those diverse paths that late they trod
Were byways only of the road to God.
This site is historically very important and played an important part in the growth of Celtic Christianity on the Island, the fact that the foundations of three keeills still lie in the churchyard pay testament to this. Their situations in relation to the church are shown on the plan below which was taken from the Fourth Report of the Manx Archaeological Survey where Kermode and his team surveyed the keeills in the parish of Maughold. The writing is difficult to read but the top keeill on the plan is the North Keeill, the one above the church to the right is the Middle Keeill and the one in the bottom right hand section is the Eastern Keeill.
North Keeill, Maughold Churchyard.
The North Keeill sits about 30 yards from the north wall and the same from the west wall and measures 15ft. 6ins. by 9ft. 2ins., it seems strange to come across a keeill sitting amongst graves in what looks like a standard churchyard! At one stage in time this keeill had its own burial ground and in Kermode’s report on the Maughold keeills for the Fourth Report of the Manx Archaeological Survey he writes that:
Though the fence had long been levelled we were able with the help of Mr. Harrison’s memory of it to judge that it had measured about 51 yards N. and S. by 31 yards E. and W., crossing the moat, which formed its N.E. boundary.
I can only assume that ‘Mr Harrison’ was the Rev. Harrison, a Vicar of Maughold, as he is mentioned a number of times in this section of the report. The keeill is well built of stone with a number of pieces of dressed sandstone, there were found to be traces of rough casting and lime mortar. A recess was found in the middle of the north wall about 8ins. above the footing and in it had been found earlier by Mr Harrison, a carved piece of red sand stone from a window, this had disappeared by the time of the survey.
No trace of the altar or flooring remained, the pebbled flooring that we find in 2016 must be a more recent addition. Interestingly, some broken roofing tiles of local slate with holes for a wooden peg were found which suggest the building had been used in fairly recent times although it was possible they could have been left there from the church or another site. The doorway was in the middle of the west wall and some sandstone door jambs remained, on either side of the doorway there were found to be remains of a projecting wall that was 2ft. wide and 6ft. long, forming a narrow porch way. There was a buttress on the south west corner that was the same width and projected westwards for 4ft.
Two carved stones were found in the keeill and burial ground, one was a broken cross slab from the twelfth century and was described in the survey:
Fig. 34. Cross-slab from North Keeill, Maughold Churchyard.
To judge from some scribblings and scratchings on it, this must have been at the surface within a hundred years, but was lost again and unremembered over 50 years ago when Cumming described these monuments. It bears on each face a rudely-designed cross, and, in well-cut runes, the inscription, ‘ Hedin set this cross to the memory of his daughter [H] lif. Arni carved these runes ‘ It is of interest as showing for the first time on a Manx monument the figure of a Viking Ship. ,
We played ‘Find the Keeill’ (not a game you can really play anywhere other than Maughold churchyard), this was the first one William found so we had our picnic here. He managed to find a second one too, that’s my boy. Of course, being two years old, he’d lost interest by keeill number three.
Middle Keeill, Maughold Churchyard.
The middle keeill sits about 35 yards north of the east gable of the church (see plan earlier in post). It seems to have acquired an unfortunate covering of cement since the time of the Kermode survey, giving it a rather different appearance. Kermode found it to measure 19ft. by 11ft. 6ins. with walls standing between 19 and 22 inches high, the walls were well built of surface stones but with no trace of mortar. The walls measured between 24 and 30 inches wide and have a footing both outside and inside of 6 inches, the doorway in the west wall was 2ft. 9 inches wide and was found to be paved with a large slab. Two of the sandstone door jambs remained although the floor paving and altar had been removed. Thirty white pebbles were found in and around the building.
Unlike the North Keeill, no boundaries or enclosure could be traced although there was ‘an appearance inside as of disturbed lintel graves’. Just outside of the keeill they found a broken slab with the name (BLAK)GMON written in Anglian runes from the seventh century. There was no other information given on this keeill in the survey, I’m not sure where it stands chronologically in relation to the other two keeills.
Eastern Keeill, Maughold Churchyard.
The Eastern Keeill is similar in the method of building to the previous two keeills but different in character with walling from more than one time period;
At about 13 yards from the present eastern boundary of the church-yard, we came across the inner facing of stone to the strong embankment which formed the original boundary to the whole enclosure on this side. At two points about six and sixteen yards north of this, we found by excavation that it consisted of a dry stone wall, six feet wide and now reaching from the surface to a depth of two feet. Mr. Harrison remembered that it had had an earthen bank above and sloped into a fosse which came all the way from the north of the church-yard. South of the point where we struck it, it had been broken into, but we were able to trace the inner line of it for four yards to the corner where it was met by another wall running west. This was at a point about 14 yards north of the present boundary wall ; only the foundations remained, they were 3 ft. wide, strong and well-laid. From the inner stone facing of this Eastern rampart, but not actually built into it, extended the northern wall of the keeill.
They found the remains to be well built of stone, often quite large sizes, with walls 2ft. wide and between 3 and 18 inches high, which seems to describe the remains that are visible in 2016. The keeill itself measured 21ft by 11ft.
The doorway was found to be in the west gable, the north end of the west gable was well built with some of the stones being the full width of the wall but the south side was gone, the south east corner of the keeill was also damaged. There was no trace of an altar but there was some rough pavement towards the east end which may have been original, there was also some pavement outside the north wall similar to the paving found in the paths at the Skyhill Keeill. The foundations and footing of the north wall continued to the embankment (shown in the plan) and possibly the south wall would have continued in this way but there was no evidence of that by the early twentieth century. There was other walling without proper foundations, formed by stones that had possibly been taken from the ruined keeill, this seemed to have been a building about 15 by 13ft. extending westwards from the embankment and accounts for the confusing plan of the keeill taken from the survey.
At a later date, a well had been sunk in the south east corner of the keeill, breaking through the walling of the second building also. The walls of the well were most likely made from stone taken from the buildings, it makes for a very interesting feature!
After the survey, the walls of the Eastern Keeill were raised to a level and turfed over, giving the neat and tidy appearance of the keeill in 2016.
Kermode also talks about a fourth keeill in the churchyard, about 10 yards north west of the porch of the current church, he calls it the Western Keeill. The area was covered by graves so they did not excavate, it is mentioned that Mr Harrison remembered remains of sod fences that may have been on the boundary of the old cemetery, it was known as ‘Church Croft’. It seems that the 19th century must have been a real time of change in Maughold churchyard. This again highlights the importance of the Manx Archaeological Survey, not only for its excavation findings but for recording important local knowledge and folklore that might otherwise have been lost.
Apologies for the ‘busy’ post, there was so much information to fit in.
I finish the post with an extract I liked from a speech in ‘The Manx Sun’ by P.M.C. Kermode in 1906 at the dedication of the shelter erected in Maughold churchyard for the protection of Manx crosses (www.imuseum.im):
Upon these rude and weathered stones we are able to see and to touch the very hand-work of those whose skilful fingers have crumbled into dust more than a thousand years ago.
Could they be to return – picture to yourselves, they would be as much astonished at the altered aspect of the land as we should be were we able to see it as it was in their days. No roads, no hedges, no cultivated fields, no towns – woods and heather and gorse.
The streams swollen with a much larger volume of water from the undrained hills, unconfined by banks, spreading over many acres of the lowlands, large lakes and swamps in the North of the Island. Reeds and rushes and water loving plants in the plains, on the hills the purple heather and the golden gorse, everywhere waste lands with woods and an abundance of water. But, standing by their little church, of which the foundations may be seen at the upper end of this churchyard, they would view the same lovely hills trending inland from the high peak of Barrule; they would see the same rugged headland, at the sheltered foot of which their church nestled in the sunshine; they would look as we do on the tumbling waves and gaze upwards into the same skies, bright and clear in the noonday sun or darkened by hurrying clouds in the storm.
And with these men themselves, greatly as they differed from us, we have this thing in common – Christ’s religion, with a church in which to worship him, and this quiet resting place for the holy dead.
The keeill and Viking burial site at Balladoole have an access agreement in place and are under guardianship of the Manx Museum and National Trust. The location is a short walk, well signposted from the road leading to Balladoole House. The ‘Chapel Hill’ site was a perfect playground for my toddler as it’s a warren of pathways, it’s also a lovely place for a picnic on a sunny day.
Balladoole is the seat of one of the oldest landed families on the Isle of Man. The Stevenson family were first mentioned living at Balladoole in the early fourteenth century and were there until the end of the nineteenth century. Keeill Vael at Balladoole is one of eight known keeills dedicated to St. Michael and is one of the more frequently visited of the keeills, in part due to the other elements of the site; it is an array of interaction and settlement over six different time periods.
The keeill lies inside an Iron Age promontory fort, the outside banks of which can still be traced around the hill top, there are also the remains of a Viking ship burial which is said to be the most perfect example in the British Isles. The Viking burial was excavated in 1945 by Gerhard Bersu, a German archaeologist interned on the Island during WWII. Bersu was allowed by the authorities to excavate ancient sites during his time on the Isle of Man, Balladoole was the first of three Viking burial sites that he excavated on the Island.
It is interesting that the pagan Viking burial sits on top of a number of Celtic Christian graves, some of these graves were recent at the time of the burial and were disturbed when the boat was placed on them. The Norse invaders brought their own beliefs to this sacred site and had little respect at the time for the burial ground of the Christian natives.
Of course, not long afterwards the Norseman became Christians themselves.
There are no less than four known keeill sites and/or burial grounds within 100 yards of the border of the Balladoole estate (Sixth Report of the Archaeological Survey), there has also been evidence found of habitation here in the Neolithic time period. I mean, where do you start, this place has obviously been important for thousands of years.
The dedication of the keeill to St. Michael is thought to date from the 11th or 12th century but the keeill itself dates from much earlier. It is interesting that J. J. Kneen (in the proceedings of the IoMNH&ASoc vol.3) suggests that it is possible that the correct name in Gaelic was Cill Dhiorbhail, ‘ Dorothy’s church,’ with vael being a worn down form of the Gaelic, this is possible as the approximate pronunciation of the name would be Keeill Yorvael.
P. M. C. Kermode suggested that some five centuries after the chapel was built, it was of such importance that it was renovated. The doorway was enlarged, probably new windows were inserted, the outside rough cast and the inside plastered which is a feature not found in any other Manx keeills.
At the time of the Kermode survey, some small areas of plaster remained with a red colouring, Kermode suggested there may have been fresco drawings which have since been lost, the plaster is long gone in 2016 although a sample is in the Manx Museum. It would be most likely that it was at the time of this renovation that the dedication to St. Michael was formalised (IoMNHASVol 2 no.3).
Keeill Vael was visited by the Archaeological Commission in 1877, this was a group of people who were commissioned to report to the Lieutenant Governor on ancient and prehistoric monuments throughout the Island, unfortunately this survey ran out of steam early on. At Keeill Vael in 1877 they found graves surrounding the keeill and exhumed one wherein they found a body, there were so many other areas of interest on the site that the keeill building itself was only mentioned in passing. When Kermode’s team surveyed the keeill around 1918, the survey was not published at the time. However, an account of the survey was pieced together by J. R. Bruce in the Sixth Report of the Archaeological Survey (1966) along with a description of the remains which Bruce found in the 1960s’s; The keeill sits in the south west part of the Iron Age enclosure and measures 16 ft. 4 in. by 9 ft. 10 in. internally, the walls are wide for the size of the building measuring 3 ft. 6 ins. thick and dressed on both sides with limestone with infill of rubble between, no wall height was mentioned. The floor was ‘carefully paved with Poyllvaaish flags’ which are either long removed or hidden underneath the grass covering the floor in 2016. They found a boulder and some smaller stones forming what must have been the altar, this large boulder is still in situ and can be seen in our photographs. Kermode found the doorway to be blocked but he must have removed the blockage as a doorway is now evident in the south wall. The keeill sits in a flat rectangular area and Kermode found stones protruding in the turf that indicated that it was once surrounded by a wall, these remains were also mentioned in the 1877 survey by the Archaeological Commission and seem to have been more visible then.
The area surrounding the keeill has been excavated and many lintel graves have been found across the entire Iron Age enclosure, Kermode found in his excavation that the small cemetery surrounding the keeill was once paved all over by Pooillvaaish flag stones, only traces remained in the sections he excavated.
It was good to see that the remains of Keeill Vael in 2016 have changed very little since Kermode visited almost 100 years ago.
As is often the case with these Christian sites, they were associated with fairs and Balladoole was the site of the ‘Periwinkle Fair’ which was held close to Keeill Vael on 6th February each year. The fair was held as recently as 1834 and the items offered for sale were periwinkles, gingerbread and Manx ponies (information taken from the Sixth Report of the Manx Archaeological Survey), oh, to be able to go back in time just to see that!
With kind permission from Lord Davis-Goff and tenant farmer of Eairy Moar Farm, Ray Griffin.
Spelled in various ways as Earey Mooar/Moar, Eary Mooar/Moar, Eairy Mooar/Moar, a name that translates as ‘Great Sheiling’, the Eairy Moar Keeill sits on the hillside above Glen Helen on the land of Eairy Moar Farm.
Glen Helen, previously known as ‘Rhenass’, was planted in the 1860’s and grew in to a well known tourist attraction where locals and visitors flocked to visit the ‘Swiss Cottage’ and enjoy trout fishing, skittles, swings and excellent cheese cakes amongst many other forms of entertainment (‘Jenkinson’s Practical Guide’, 1874). Even in the 1920’s there was plenty of fun to be had with:
…an amusement park with gardens and lawns, an aviary, dancing floor and tea gardens, and a boating lake with fountains playing, but beyond, the long glen winds so far into the mountains that it is easy to get out of sight and sound of the merry-makers. The wide glen is one of the most richly and beautifully wooded on the Island, and the Rhenass Falls, about a mile from the entrance, are in an enchanting setting of woods and rocks. (Official Handbook Isle of Man, 1923)
Glen Helen in 2016 is made up of the recently closed Glen Helen Inn and Swiss House Restaurant and a child’s play park along with the glen and Rhenass Falls, it is most popular during TT and MGP week as a viewing and commentary spot but is fairly quiet the rest of the year especially now the businesses have closed.
Hiding in a field, just above the top footpath running through Glen Helen, is the Eairy Moar Keeill. With all the visitors to the Rhenass Falls below and the keeill sitting just off the upper footpath which was popular with Victorian tourists heading for Little London, I was surprised that I couldn’t find any mention of the keeill in the tourism literature at the time, these chapels were often popular places to visit. I did, however, find this mention of a stone circle which must have sat close by the keeill:
Paths lead down the glen, either high up the side of the hill or close to the stream, on the opposite side to that by which the tourist came. By following the higher track, a small but perfect stone circle will be found in a field at the back of the plantation, on the Eairy Moar farm, nearly half-way down the glen. It is evidently one of the many ancient burial-places met with on the island. (‘Jenkinson’s Practical Guide to the Isle of Man’, 1874)
I couldn’t find any other reference to this stone circle so I can only assume it did not survive in to the twentieth century. To say the keeill is hidden is an understatement, you really could walk past it without knowing it was there as the undergrowth is so thick. Our first attempt was on a very wet day in February, it was pretty grim and we got quite lost.
The second visit was in June 2016, kindly accompanied by Ray Griffin. Ray has looked after the 300 acres at Eairy Moar for Lord and Lady Davis Goff for over twenty years, he is now 83 and still taking care of the land and his herd of highland cattle every day.
Ray was very pleasant company and a real character! He didn’t know much about the keeill other than that Lord Davis-Goff was very respectful of it and intended to fence it at some stage. Being so overgrown and hidden in the landscape, this little chapel could easily be forgotten so it was good to see that it is very much in safe hands.
I can find no mention of the keeill being visited by the Isle of Man Natural History and Antiquarian Society which is a pity as the write up of these visits in the local press often provides valuable information on the structure and associated folklore of these places. However, the Eairy Moar Keeill was surveyed for the ‘Second Report of the Manx Archaeological Survey’ (1910) which does provide us with an explanation of what hopefully still sits beneath the undergrowth in 2016.
The survey team found the building to measure 14 ft. by 7 ft. with walls that were between 3 ft. 6 ins. and 4 ft. wide and standing between 2 and 3 ft. high, the foundation is deeper on one side to make up for it being built in to the hillside. Instead of the usual earthen bank faced with stone, the chapel at Eairy Moar is built from stone throughout with a high proportion of the stone being white quartz. This is similar to the keeill at Ballahimmin which is just up the valley from here. The proportion of quartz stone is very high although there was no mention in the survey of it having been built on an Iron Age site which is often the case when there is a large amount of quartz in use.
The doorway was found to be in the middle of the west wall, being reached by a step about 9 inches high. There was no paving still in position but many stones were found with the corners chipped to make them more round and they could possibly have been part of the flooring. The base of the altar remained and was 12 inches high, 2 ft. 10 ins by 2 ft. built from large stones and earth. The skirting of upright stones round the walls had almost all been carried away.
We were not able to see if the altar still remains in place due to the thickness of the undergrowth unfortunately, hopefully its secluded position will have protected it.
Although there is now nowhere to buy cake in the vicinity, Glen Helen is still well worth a visit. The Rhenass Falls are just as spectacular as they were when the Victorian tourists posed in front for their photographs and they have probably changed very little from when our Celtic ancestors climbed up the hill from Rhenass with the sound of the waterfall in the background to worship at the Eairy Moar Keeill over 1000 years ago.
You can almost picture the keeill as it was then, with the sun setting in the west and reflecting off the walls full of glistening white quartz; making the chapel so visible on the open hillside that it would be a landmark of the Celtic faith for miles around.
With kind permission from Mr and Mrs Skillen, Sulbrick Farm.
There are six keeills that are known to have existed in the parish of Santon, of these, Sulbrick Keeill is the only one that has any visible remains in 2016.
Sulbrick Farm sits in the valley just below the Clannagh Road and is accessed by a long lane from Ballahowin, there are no footpaths nearby and the farm is isolated in a very pleasant way; the views over the rolling fields towards South Barrule are lovely.
Sulbrick is mentioned as early as the 1511 Manorial Roll, the name ‘Sulbrick’ originating from the Scandinavian for ‘Sandy Slope’ which is ‘Sandbrekka’ (‘Manx Place Names’, J. J. Kneen, 1925). The Moore family lived at Sulbrick from the early 1600’s, long enough to be known as ‘The Moores of Sulbrick’ and were still there at the end of the 19th Century according to the business directories of the time. The farm is very much off the beaten track in the 21st century but it would seem that this hasn’t always been the case. According to Mrs Quine who lived at Sulbrick and who was interviewed for the Manx Folklife Survey in 1973 (FLS S/051), Sulbrick Farm sits on the old track to Santon Church, and that the track goes through where the current house stands, she believed that people occasionally used it in recent memory and cut around the outside of the house. It can’t have been a coincidence that the track passed by the old keeill site. The distance to the nearest road from Sulbrick is what makes it appear so isolated, it must have been a busy little thoroughfare when it sat on the track to the old church in the days before motor vehicles were invented. You can see from the aerial photograph of Sulbrick below that the keeill walls are very visible in the field on the left.
Sulbrick has been farmed by Mr and Mrs Skillen for the past 21 years and they were good enough to take us down to show us the keeill which sits a couple of fields away from the house. In 21 years, we were only the second set of people (other than MNH) to visit the keeill (in their knowledge), the Praying the Keeills event visited in 2010. As always, being accompanied by the ‘Keepers of the Keeill’ made the visit much more interesting, they were able to point out old mine trials in the same field as the keeill and tell us a bit more about the area. We’ve met some lovely people on these visits and Mr and Mrs Skillen were no exception.
The keeill is under the guardianship of MNH and was fenced off by them in 1938. They are also responsible for cutting the grass and keeping the keeill tidy, this job is actually done by Mr and Mrs Skillen’s son who works for Manx National Heritage! When we visited, the site was due its annual trim which was a pity as the detailing in the structure would have been more visible without the grass, however, Mrs Skillen was able to point out some paving stones and the remains of what is thought to be the altar, in the undergrowth.
The structure of the keeill was probably one of the best we had seen, with walls that must have been 3 to 4 ft. high, the only others that we found to be so intact were Keeill Vreeshey at Eyerton and Keeill Kickle, Jurby. The walls were very thick and it was great to visit a keeill where wallking in through the doorway actually felt like walking in to a building, it gave a much better idea of what these ancient chapels would have looked and felt like.
Mr Skillen told us that the site surrounding the keeill was surveyed by archaeological students from a university a few years ago but unfortunately Mr and Mrs Skillen were never told of the findings so the field around the keeill remains a mystery, to us at least.
The site wasn’t visited by the 1877 Archaeological Commission and I can find no records of any visits by the Isle of Man Natural History and Antiquarian Society, however, it was surveyed for the 5th Report of the Manx Archaeological Survey (1918). They found the keeill to measure 17 ft. by 8 ft. 6ins. with walls between 2 and 4 ft. in height and between 3 and 4.5 ft. in width, we found it in a similar condition 100 years later. Here is a photo of the Sulbrick Keeill from the survey, taken in 1935, it looks very different without the grass and fence!
The keeill was built from boulders and stones of quartz, trap and slate, the east wall had a facing only on the inside whilst outside it was roughly built against the sustaining bank, they thought that above the bank it would most likely have had an external facing. They found the south wall to have settled inwards at the west end and they found in this wall at a height of 4 ft. a projecting stone that they thought may have been a bracket on which to place a small lamp, it’s these small things that make these ancient buildings easier to relate to, we will have to go back later in the year and see if it is still in place.
The doorway in the west wall had been filled in but they found a lower jamb stone of white quartz and a sill stone, they also found the remains of what appeared to be a sill stone marking a window in the south wall at a height of 3 ft. 6 ins. from the floor. There were small stones of irregular size and shape mostly near the entrance that marked the remains of the floor pavement, the base of the altar was 4 ft. 3 ins. by 2 – 2 ft. 6 ins and still in place. They also found a support and possibly a covering stone for the altar .
The survey team found thirteen lintel graves inside and around the keeill, five passed under the walls suggesting that the current building may be an enlargement of the original structure, one grave had no lintels but was covered in white shore pebbles.
Outside, they found the usual bank of earth and large stones against the walls, between 3 and 6 ft. wide, this was possibly to support the weight of a thatched roof. There was little left of the enclosure other tha a slightly raised area that seems to have gone completely in 2016.
An early cross slab was found by the side of a stream at the nearby Ballacorris Mill and it is assumed that it came from Sulbrick Keeill originally, it now sits in Santon Church.
There is known to have been a ‘healing well’ about 250 yards north east of the keeill, in the Kermode Survey it is told how, in recent times, the well was discovered by a man who had killed his dog with a stone, he threw it in to the well and the dog then recovered. I asked Mr and Mrs Skillen about the well but they didn’t know of it so I don’t think it has survived. Great story though.
Unusually, we hadn’t brought cake with us, thankfully Mrs Skillen is a member of the WI and makes excellent cake. We finished our visit with tea, delicious cake and a good chat in Sulbrick Farmhouse, that’s what it’s all about!
With kind permission from Mr M. Whipp, The Barony.
Keeill Chiggyrt on the land of Ballafayle y Cannell, is one of six surviving keeills of the nineteen known keeill sites in the parish of Maughold. The local tradition is that this was the burial place for ‘priests’ while the ‘locals’ were buried at Ballajora, the name of the nearby holy well ‘Chibbyr y Woirrey’ suggests the possible dedication of the keeill to St. Mary (information taken from the ‘Fourth Report of the Manx Archaeological Survey'(1915).
Ballafayle y Cannell was once the home of William Cannell, probably the most well known of the Manx Quakers and the target of terrible hardship and persecution because of his faith. In 1665, after spells in prison and years of maltreatment by the Bishop and particularly Illiam Dhone, he was banished from the Island, leaving his wife and young children behind. In 1672, Charles II allowed William Callow and other banished Quakers to return to the Island and he was able to live his last short years at Ballafayle y Callow and was buried in a lonely sectioned off area of the farm, finally finding rest. This tiny burial ground, ‘Rullick ny Quakeryn’ is thought to be on the site of an old keeill. Opposite the Quaker burial ground is the Ballafayle Cairn and past that, the wonderful memorial to Sir Charles Kerruish with stunning views across Maughold. This peaceful place is well worth a visit and a moment to reflect that religious persecution and intolerance is sadly nothing new.
From Rullic ny Quakeryn, Cashtal yn Ard isn’t far away, Gob ny Garvain, the remains of an earthen fort is on the coast to the east of Keeill Chiggyrt. Also nearby is Maughold Church with its three, yes THREE keeills in the churchyard along with many Celtic crosses and Ballaglass Glen, above Cornaa, is (in my opinion) the finest glen on the Island. For all its lack of public footpaths, Maughold is a veritable smorgasbord of heritage delights.
Anyway, I digress. Keeill Chiggyrt was visited by the Archaeological Commission around 1877, they found that it had recently ‘suffered at the hand of time and the ill usage of rude and irreverent visitors’ and that the walls of the keeill, once 2 to 3 ft. high, were now ‘barely traceable’. The enclosure of the graveyard remained but was in need of repair, and they suggested a ‘hedge of quicks with a few trees’ would be suitable protection. A ‘sculptured stone, or cross, of a peculiar character’ had been removed from its original position in the west gable but had thankfully been recovered and had been placed in the vicarage garden. This beautiful cross is now on display in Maughold churchyard.
By the time Keeill Chiggyrt was surveyed by P. M. C. Kermode and his team for the ‘Fourth Report of the Manx Archaeological Survey’ (1915), they found the keeill to measure 20 ft. by 11 ft. and the height of the walls to be between 1 to 2 ft.. They found the walls to be:
…well built, without lime mortar, of stone throughout and are of even thickness; the stones are unhewn and undressed but selected and well fitting, averaging from 14 to 15 ins. long by 4 ins. thick.
At the east end, they found some foundations 2 ft. below the floor along with the remains of a drain in the south east corner. The doorway was towards the centre of the west wall with some larger stones curving outwards similar to the curved entrance at Ballahimmin Keeill. The altar was gone but the remains of the platform on which it stood were partly visible, there were some paving stones and signs of digging or disturbance around the middle area. The situation of a window in the east wall was just about evident, however, the survey mentioned that:
Mr Kerruish remembers the walls standing about 5 ft. high and Mrs Callow has recollection of recesses in the walls which, as children, they thought were cupboards, but no doubt were windows.
The enclosure by this time was only able to be ‘faintly traced’ so that had disappeared since the visit by the Archaeological Commission about 35 years earlier. The Celtic cross had been replaced in the keeill after its sojourn in the vicarage garden and that was where the Survey team found it before its removal to the Maughold churchyard where it is to be found today. I felt there were some conflicting points between these two surveys; Kermode found the walls to be between 1.5 and 2 ft. high around 1915 so it was strange that the 1877 commission described them as having once been 2 to 3 ft. and now ‘barely traceable’, also that someone around 1910 remembered them as having been 5ft. high and there having been windows in existence. I have no idea of the age of the Mr Kerruish and Mrs Callow that spoke to P. M. C. Kermode but I’m assuming they were a good age to remember the Keeill Chiggyrt in that condition, it seems the majority of the deterioration must have happened some time between 1820 and 1870.
Certainly, when we visited in May 2016, we were quite pleased with what we felt to be a keeill whose structure was still fairly visible, we had just visited the single stone remaining of Sulby Keeill earlier that day so I think we were just relieved to find something recognisable, it is all relative.
The stonework of the keeill was quite distinctive and put together very neatly with the walls being around 1 ft. in height, the east wall was obscured by gorse so we weren’t able to see how much of that structure remained although some of the stones were displaced.
By 2016, and with no hedge put in place as suggested in 1877, the outside boundary had gone completely. The inside of the keeill was filled with gorse so we were limited as to what we could see of the interior but we could make out a very interesting stone with a fairly deep hollow carved in to it. It didn’t look to us like a font or like anything we had seen before and we were interested to hear (from Professor Mark Noel who led a walk there with the Isle of Man Natural History and Antiquarian Society in June 2016) that it could possibly be the base of one of the two crosses found at Keeill Chiggyrt*. Professor Mark Noel and his students from Durham University have been carrying out geophysical surveys of a number of the Manx keeills and the areas surrounding them (the Kermode surveys only ever dealt with the keeill buildings), the findings of Prof. Noel and the “Keeills Research Project” will be published in due course and when they are, I’m sure they will greatly add to the understanding of these interesting sites.
There was just enough room to sit and eat our cake, a delicious bara brith that Nicola (the cake maker out of the pair of us) had made. I think the ‘cake’ element of ‘Keeills and Cake’ has been underplayed, on some visits the cake has been the highlight! I’ve shared the bara brith recipe as it was a particularly good one, you can find it at:bara brith recipe.
Wrap a couple of slices in foil and eat in the great outdoors.
*Of the two crosses found at Keeill Chiggyrt, the cross that is now in Maughold churchyard is numbered 79 on Kermode’s List, the second is 163 but isn’t on the list and I couldn’t find much information on it.
With kind permission from Mr J. Cannell, Ballahimmin.
To sing a song shall please my countrymen; To unlock the treasures of the Island heart; With loving feet to trace each hill and glen, And find the ore that is not for the mart Of commerce : this is all I ask.
(T. E. Brown, ‘Fo’c’sle Yarns’)
Little London is an small hamlet, quite remote and with few inhabitants in the 21st century but the many tholtans (ruined houses) in the area tell a different story of the past, this was once a thriving community with a chapel that had an average attendance of 48 (the chapel building was demolished in 2002). Little London sits in a valley that is very dark and damp on a rainy day and as has been so often the case, that was just the kind of weather we encountered when we visited the Ballahimmin Keeill.
This keeill sits on the land of Ballahimmin Equestrian Centre, it is common to see surrounding hedges and boundaries recessed to fit around the keeill and burial ground but Ballahimmin is unusual as a hedge has been built in to it on both sides and when walking up to it, it appears as a rather conspicuous mound (measuring almost 50 ft. across in places) in the middle of a hedge.
We didn’t visit the keeill on our own, Nicola was standing on top of the keeill mound when a large goat sprung up and gave her a friendly nudge, he was very friendly and the mound of the keeill was his playground! There were also some lovely horses in the field which I suppose is to be expected as it is an equestrian centre, they all added to the visit.
The field on one side of the keeill is known as “little chapel field” with the field on the other side being “the big chapel field” (Second Report of the Manx Archaeological Survey, 1910).
The existing mound is very high, between 6 to 8ft. and there is just one area of stonework visible to the rear side of the keeill:
I could find very little out about this little chapel other than a mention of a trip by the Isle of Man Natural History and Antiquarian Society in 1959 which didn’t take place due to the weather (they obviously weren’t as hardy as us!). The keeill has such a large mound that I assumed the structure below was quite substantial, however, when it was surveyed in the Second Report of the Manx Archaeological Survey, they found that nothing remained except for the foundations which were between 3 and 4 ft. high and made of local stones and much white quartz. They thought the dimensions would have been about 15 ft. by 9 ft. with walls that were very wide, 5 ft. in places, with an earthen bank at the base faced with single stones, possibly to strengthen the building to support a thatched roof, this theory is likely as they found two ‘Bwhid Suggane’; items used to fasten the ropes that held down thatch from the roof, the only ones that have been found in a keeill excavation.
They found the doorway and outer edge to be rounded and made entirely of glittering white quartz which would have been quite effective at making this building stand out and be visible from a distance. The doorway was in the west wall but the jamb and sill stones were gone, there were a number of paving stones still in place along with an unusual feature:
A curious thing was that at the N.W. corner there appeared to have been another doorway. The skirting of upright stones along the North wall, ended at about 2 ft. from the corner, and, upon clearing the foundations here to ascertain the width of the wall it was found to have come to an end. Only two courses of stones remained, but they were distinctly built to form a face ending the wall, and had every appearance of being part of the original structure. Between this and the corner, on a level with the floor, were stones having the appearance of a pavement, and this was found to have been continued at a slope, with steps, 18 in. wide for a distance of 8 ft. the sides being marked here and there by quartz boulders. This paved path terminated at a height of 2 ft. above the level of the field where the fence had been built up against it.
The survey is starting to paint a picture of a building that would really have stood out in this bleak landscape.
There were a couple of large slabs that had formed part of the altar but they seemed to have been moved out of position.
The survey team, on excavating the mound, found evidence of Bronze Age burials beneath, they surmised that this was an earlier site that had been selected for a use at a much later date as a Christian church. They found a large stone in the keeill which they think had remained in place since the earlier period and the large amount of white quartz found in the structure was probably from the Bronze Age tumulus. A number of graves had been found in the surrounding area.
So we have another site telling stories of people living here in the Bronze Age and perhaps earlier, a sacred site protected inside a large mound and now visited mainly by livestock.