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.


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.

‘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.’

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.


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).


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!

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 ( 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.


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.


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!


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!


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.


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; Keeill Vael, Arbory.

Keeills and Cake; Keeill Vael, Arbory.

Keeill number twenty seven.

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.

Viking ship burial, Balladoole.


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.

Plan taken from Sixth Report of the Manx Archaeological Survey (1966).


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!

We didn’t have gingerbread, we had bonnag.



What are keeills?





Keeills and Cake; Sulbrick Keeill, Santon.

Keeills and Cake; Sulbrick Keeill, Santon.

Keeill number twenty five.

With kind permission from Mr and Mrs Skillen, Sulbrick Farm.

There are six keeills that are known to have existed in the parish of Santon, of these, Sulbrick Keeill is the only one that has any visible remains in 2016.

Sulbrick Farm sits in the valley just below the Clannagh Road and is accessed by a long lane from Ballahowin, there are no footpaths nearby and the farm is isolated in a very pleasant way; the views over the rolling fields towards South Barrule are lovely.


Sulbrick is mentioned as early as the 1511 Manorial Roll, the name ‘Sulbrick’ originating from the Scandinavian for ‘Sandy Slope’ which is ‘Sandbrekka’ (‘Manx Place Names’, J. J. Kneen, 1925).   The Moore family lived at Sulbrick from the early 1600’s, long enough to be known as ‘The Moores of Sulbrick’ and were still there at the end of the 19th Century according to the business directories of the time.  The farm is very much off the beaten track in the 21st century but it would seem that this hasn’t always been the case.  According to Mrs Quine who lived at Sulbrick and who was interviewed for the Manx Folklife Survey in 1973 (FLS S/051), Sulbrick Farm sits on the old track to Santon Church, and that the track goes through where the current house stands, she believed that people occasionally used it in recent memory and cut around the outside of the house.  It can’t have been a coincidence that the track passed by the old keeill site.  The distance to the nearest road from Sulbrick is what makes it appear so isolated, it must have been a busy little thoroughfare when it sat on the track to the old church in the days before motor vehicles were invented.  You can see from the aerial photograph of Sulbrick below that the keeill walls are very visible in the field on the left.


Sulbrick has been farmed by Mr and Mrs Skillen for the past 21 years and they were good enough to take us down to show us the keeill which sits a couple of fields away from the house.  In 21 years, we were only the second set of people (other than MNH) to visit the keeill (in their knowledge), the Praying the Keeills event visited in 2010.  As always, being accompanied by the ‘Keepers of the Keeill’ made the visit much more interesting, they were able to point out old mine trials in the same field as the keeill and tell us a bit more about the area.  We’ve met some lovely people on these visits and Mr and Mrs Skillen were no exception.


The keeill is under the guardianship of MNH and was fenced off by them in 1938.  They are also responsible for cutting the grass and keeping the keeill tidy, this job is actually done by Mr and Mrs Skillen’s son who works for Manx National Heritage!  When we visited, the site was due its annual trim which was a pity as the detailing in the structure would have been more visible without the grass, however, Mrs Skillen was able to point out some paving stones and the remains of what is thought to be the altar, in the undergrowth.


The structure of the keeill was probably one of the best we had seen, with walls that must have been 3 to 4 ft. high, the only others that we found to be so intact were Keeill Vreeshey at Eyerton and Keeill Kickle, Jurby.  The walls were very thick and it was great to visit a keeill where wallking in through the doorway actually felt like walking in to a building, it gave a much better idea of what these ancient chapels would have looked and felt like.


Image taken from ‘A History of the Isle of Man’ by R. Kinvig (1950).


Mr Skillen told us that the site surrounding the keeill was surveyed by archaeological students from a university a few years ago but unfortunately Mr and Mrs Skillen were never told of the findings so the field around the keeill remains a mystery, to us at least.


The site wasn’t visited by the 1877 Archaeological Commission and I can find no records of any visits by the Isle of Man Natural History and Antiquarian Society, however, it was surveyed for the 5th Report of the Manx Archaeological Survey (1918).  They found the keeill to measure 17 ft. by 8 ft. 6ins. with walls between 2 and 4 ft. in height and between 3 and 4.5 ft. in width, we found it in a similar condition 100 years later.  Here is a photo of the Sulbrick Keeill from the survey, taken in 1935, it looks very different without the grass and fence!


The keeill was built from boulders and stones of quartz, trap and slate, the east wall had a facing only on the inside whilst outside it was roughly built against the sustaining bank, they thought that above the bank it would most likely have had an external facing.  They found the south wall to have settled inwards at the west end and they found in this wall at a height of 4 ft. a projecting stone that they thought may have been a bracket on which to place a small lamp, it’s these small things that make these ancient buildings easier to relate to, we will have to go back later in the year and see if it is still in place.


The doorway in the west wall had been filled in but they found a lower jamb stone of white quartz and a sill stone, they also found the remains of what appeared to be a sill stone marking a window in the south wall at a height of 3 ft. 6 ins. from the floor.  There were small stones of irregular size and shape mostly near the entrance that marked the remains of the floor pavement, the base of the altar was 4 ft. 3 ins. by 2 – 2 ft. 6 ins and still in place.  They also found a support and possibly a covering stone for the altar .

The survey team found thirteen lintel graves inside and around the keeill, five passed under the walls suggesting that the current building may be an enlargement of the original structure, one grave had no lintels but was covered in white shore pebbles.

Outside, they found the usual bank of earth and large stones against the walls, between 3 and 6 ft. wide, this was possibly to support the weight of a thatched roof.  There was little left of the enclosure other tha a slightly raised area that seems to have gone completely in 2016.

An early cross slab was found by the side of a stream at the nearby Ballacorris Mill and it is assumed that it came from Sulbrick Keeill originally, it now sits in Santon Church.

There is known to have been a ‘healing well’ about 250 yards north east of the keeill, in the Kermode Survey it is told how, in recent times, the well was discovered by a man who had killed his dog with a stone, he threw it in to the well and the dog then recovered.  I asked Mr and Mrs Skillen about the well but they didn’t know of it so I don’t think it has survived. Great story though.

Unusually, we hadn’t brought cake with us, thankfully Mrs Skillen is a member of the WI and makes excellent cake.  We finished our visit with tea, delicious cake and a good chat in Sulbrick Farmhouse, that’s what it’s all about!


An Introduction to Keeills.






Keeills and Cake; Keeill Chiggyrt, Maughold.

Keeills and Cake; Keeill Chiggyrt, Maughold.

Keeill number twenty four.

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

Keeill Chiggyrt on the land of Ballafayle y Cannell, is one of six surviving keeills of the nineteen known keeill sites in the parish of Maughold.  The local tradition is that this was the burial place for ‘priests’ while the ‘locals’ were buried at Ballajora, the name of the nearby holy well ‘Chibbyr y Woirrey’ suggests the possible dedication of the keeill to St. Mary (information taken from the ‘Fourth Report of the Manx Archaeological Survey'(1915).


Ballafayle y Cannell was once the home of William Cannell, probably the most well known of the Manx Quakers and the target of terrible hardship and persecution because of his faith.  In 1665, after spells in prison and years of maltreatment by the Bishop and particularly Illiam Dhone, he was banished from the Island, leaving his wife and young children behind.  In 1672, Charles II allowed William Callow and other banished Quakers to return to the Island and he was able to live his last short years at Ballafayle y Callow and was buried in a lonely sectioned off area of the farm, finally finding rest.  This tiny burial ground, ‘Rullick ny Quakeryn’ is thought to be on the site of an old keeill.  Opposite the Quaker burial ground is the Ballafayle Cairn and past that, the wonderful memorial to Sir Charles Kerruish with stunning views across Maughold.  This peaceful place is well worth a visit and a moment to reflect that religious persecution and intolerance is sadly nothing new.


From Rullic ny Quakeryn, Cashtal yn Ard isn’t far away, Gob ny Garvain, the remains of an earthen fort is on the coast to the east of Keeill Chiggyrt.  Also nearby is Maughold Church with its three, yes THREE keeills in the churchyard along with many Celtic crosses and Ballaglass Glen, above Cornaa, is (in my opinion) the finest glen on the Island.  For all its lack of public footpaths, Maughold is a veritable smorgasbord of heritage delights.

Anyway, I digress.  Keeill Chiggyrt was visited by the Archaeological Commission around 1877, they found that it had recently ‘suffered at the hand of time and the ill usage of rude and irreverent visitors’ and that the walls of the keeill, once 2 to 3 ft. high, were now ‘barely traceable’.  The enclosure of the graveyard remained but was in need of repair, and they suggested a ‘hedge of quicks with a few trees’ would be suitable protection.  A ‘sculptured stone, or cross, of a peculiar character’ had been removed from its original position in the west gable but had thankfully been recovered and had been placed in the vicarage garden.  This beautiful cross is now on display in Maughold churchyard.

keeill chiggyrrr.jpg

By the time Keeill Chiggyrt was surveyed by P. M. C. Kermode and his team for the ‘Fourth Report of the Manx Archaeological Survey’ (1915), they found the keeill to measure 20 ft. by 11 ft. and the height of the walls to be between 1 to 2 ft..  They found the walls to be:

…well built, without lime mortar, of stone throughout and are of even thickness; the stones are unhewn and undressed but selected and well fitting, averaging from 14 to 15 ins. long by 4 ins. thick.

At the east end, they found some foundations 2 ft. below the floor along with the remains of a drain in the south east corner.  The doorway was towards the centre of the west wall with some larger stones curving outwards similar to the curved entrance at Ballahimmin Keeill.  The altar was gone but the remains of the platform on which it stood were partly visible, there were some paving stones and signs of digging or disturbance around the middle area.  The situation of a window in the east wall was just about evident, however, the survey mentioned that:

Mr Kerruish remembers the walls standing about 5 ft. high and Mrs Callow has recollection of recesses in the walls which, as children, they thought were cupboards, but no doubt were windows.

The enclosure by this time was only able to be ‘faintly traced’ so that had disappeared since the visit by the Archaeological Commission about 35 years earlier.  The Celtic cross had been replaced in the keeill after its sojourn in the vicarage garden and that was where the Survey team found it before its removal to the Maughold churchyard where it is to be found today.  I felt there were some conflicting points between these two surveys; Kermode found the walls to be between 1.5 and 2 ft. high around 1915 so it was strange that the 1877 commission described them as having once been 2 to 3 ft. and now ‘barely traceable’, also that someone around 1910 remembered them as having been 5ft. high and there having been windows in existence.  I have no idea of the age of the Mr Kerruish and Mrs Callow that spoke to P. M. C. Kermode but I’m assuming they were a good age to remember the Keeill Chiggyrt in that condition, it seems the majority of the deterioration must have happened some time between 1820 and 1870.

Certainly, when we visited in May 2016, we were quite pleased with what we felt to be a keeill whose structure was still fairly visible, we had just visited the single stone remaining of Sulby Keeill earlier that day so I think we were just relieved to find something recognisable, it is all relative.

The stonework of the keeill was quite distinctive and put together very neatly with the walls being around 1 ft. in height, the east wall was obscured by gorse so we weren’t able to see how much of that structure remained although some of the stones were displaced.

chiggyrt 7

By 2016, and with no hedge put in place as suggested in 1877, the outside boundary had gone completely.  The inside of the keeill was filled with gorse so we were limited as to what we could see of the interior but we could make out a very interesting stone with a fairly deep hollow carved in to it.  It didn’t look to us like a font or like anything we had seen before and we were interested to hear (from Professor Mark Noel who led a walk there with the Isle of Man Natural History and Antiquarian Society in June 2016) that it could possibly be the base of one of the two crosses found at Keeill Chiggyrt*.  Professor Mark Noel and his students from Durham University have been carrying out geophysical surveys of a number of the Manx keeills and the areas surrounding them (the Kermode surveys only ever dealt with the keeill buildings), the findings of Prof. Noel and the “Keeills Research Project” will be published in due course and when they are, I’m sure they will greatly add to the understanding of these interesting sites.


There was just enough room to sit and eat our cake, a delicious bara brith that Nicola (the cake maker out of the pair of us) had made.  I think the ‘cake’ element of ‘Keeills and Cake’ has been underplayed, on some visits the cake has been the highlight!  I’ve shared the bara brith recipe as it was a particularly good one, you can find it at:bara brith recipe.

Wrap a couple of slices in foil and eat in the great outdoors.



*Of the two crosses found at Keeill Chiggyrt, the cross that is now in Maughold churchyard is numbered 79 on Kermode’s List, the second is 163 but isn’t on the list and I couldn’t find much information on it.

What are keeills?





Keeills and Cake, Ballahimmin, German.

Keeills and Cake, Ballahimmin, German.


Keeill number twenty three.

With kind permission from Mr J. Cannell, Ballahimmin.

To sing a song shall please my countrymen;
To unlock the treasures of the Island heart;
With loving feet to trace each hill and glen,
And find the ore that is not for the mart
Of commerce : this is all I ask.

(T. E. Brown, ‘Fo’c’sle Yarns’)

Little London is an small hamlet, quite remote and with few inhabitants in the 21st century but the many tholtans (ruined houses) in the area tell a different story of the past, this was once a thriving community with a chapel that had an average attendance of 48 (the chapel building was demolished in 2002).  Little London sits in a valley that is very dark and damp on a rainy day and as has been so often the case, that was just the kind of weather we encountered when we visited the Ballahimmin Keeill.

This keeill sits on the land of Ballahimmin Equestrian Centre, it is common to see surrounding hedges and boundaries recessed to fit around the keeill and burial ground but Ballahimmin is unusual as a hedge has been built in to it on both sides and when walking up to it, it appears as a rather conspicuous mound (measuring almost 50 ft. across in places) in the middle of a hedge.


We didn’t visit the keeill on our own, Nicola was standing on top of the keeill mound when a large goat sprung up and gave her a friendly nudge, he was very friendly and the mound of the keeill was his playground!  There were also some lovely horses in the field which I suppose is to be expected as it is an equestrian centre, they all added to the visit.


The field on one side of the keeill is known as “little chapel field” with the field on the other side being “the big chapel field” (Second Report of the Manx Archaeological Survey, 1910).

The existing mound is very high, between 6 to 8ft. and there is just one area of stonework visible to the rear side of the keeill:


I could find very little out about this little chapel other than a mention of a trip by the Isle of Man Natural History and Antiquarian Society in 1959 which didn’t take place due to the weather (they obviously weren’t as hardy as us!).  The keeill has such a large mound that I assumed the structure below was quite substantial, however, when it was surveyed in the Second Report of the Manx Archaeological Survey, they found that nothing remained except for the foundations which were between 3 and 4 ft. high and made of local stones and much white quartz.  They thought the dimensions would have been about 15 ft. by 9 ft. with walls that were very wide, 5 ft. in places, with an earthen bank at the base faced with single stones, possibly to strengthen the building to support a thatched roof, this theory is likely as they found two ‘Bwhid Suggane’; items used to fasten the ropes that held down thatch from the roof, the only ones that have been found in a keeill excavation.


Photograph taken at the time of the Kermode dig.  From Kermode’s private papers (MS 08979)


They found the doorway and outer edge to be rounded and made entirely of glittering white quartz which would have been quite effective at making this building stand out and be visible from a distance.  The doorway was in the west wall but the jamb and sill stones were gone, there were a number of paving stones still in place along with an unusual feature:

A curious thing was that at the N.W. corner there appeared to have been another doorway.  The skirting of upright stones along the North wall, ended at about 2 ft. from the corner, and, upon clearing the foundations here to ascertain the width of the wall it was found to have come to an end.  Only two courses of stones remained, but they were distinctly built to form a face ending the wall, and had every appearance of being part of the original structure.  Between this and the corner, on a level with the floor, were stones having the appearance of a pavement, and this was found to have been continued at a slope, with steps, 18 in. wide for a distance of 8 ft. the sides being marked here and there by quartz boulders.  This paved path terminated at a height of 2 ft. above the level of the field where the fence had been built up against it.

The survey is starting to paint a picture of a building that would really have stood out in this bleak landscape.


There were a couple of large slabs that had formed part of the altar but they seemed to have been moved out of position.

The survey team, on excavating the mound, found evidence of Bronze Age burials beneath, they surmised that this was an earlier site that had been selected for a use at a much later date as a Christian church.  They found a large stone in the keeill which they think had remained in place since the earlier period and the large amount of white quartz found in the structure was probably from the Bronze Age tumulus.  A number of graves had been found in the surrounding area.

So we have another site telling stories of people living here in the Bronze Age and perhaps earlier, a sacred site protected inside a large mound and now visited mainly by livestock.

Secrets hidden in the landscape.


What are keeills?




Keeills and Cake; Ballawoods Keeill, Santon.

Keeills and Cake; Ballawoods Keeill, Santon.

Keeill number nineteen.

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

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

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


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


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



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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

Update, 30th August 2016.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bring some cake and don’t have a BBQ!


What is a keeill?