Keeills and Cake; Keeill Woirrey, Maughold.

Keeills and Cake; Keeill Woirrey, Maughold.

Keeill number thirty nine.

Keeill Woirrey was the forty third and final keeill site we visited in 2016 and at keeill number thirty nine it is the final post on this blog which now documents all the remaining Manx keeills.  Some would say with Keeill Woirrey we’ve saved the best until last.

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


Keeill Woirrey in the snow, photo by Sam Hudson.


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

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

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

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

“John (the) Priest cut these runes”

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

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

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

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

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

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

An inspiring landscape to many people.


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

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

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


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


Mine photos courtesy of Sam Hudson.

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

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

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


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

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


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

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



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


Path leading down to Keeill Woirrey.


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

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

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

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


More information on the Manx keeills.

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

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



















Keeills and Cake; Lag ny Keeilley, Patrick.

Keeills and Cake; Lag ny Keeilley, Patrick.

 Keeill number thirty seven.

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

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

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

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

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

(Isle of Man Examiner, 1926,’Afoot in the Isle of Man’.


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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


Chibbyr y Vashtee.



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

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

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

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

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

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



What did Kermode find at the time of his survey? 

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


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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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


Folklore relating to Lag ny Keeilley.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Photos are mine and Sam Hudson’s.

More information on the Manx keeills.






Keeills and Cake; Maughold Churchyard Keeills.

Keeills and Cake; Maughold Churchyard Keeills.

Keeills number twenty eight, twenty nine and thirty.

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


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.

Photo taken by Alison Cowin.

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


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.

Plan of Middle Keeill, Maughold Churchyard.


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


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.

East Keeill, Maughold Churchyard.

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



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 (

 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.


Learn more about keeills.

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


Keeills and Cake; Keeill Vael, Maughold.

Keeills and Cake; Keeill Vael, Maughold.

Keeill number twenty two.

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

Keeill Vael, dedicated to St. Michael, sits right on the top of the Barony Hill in a hidden corner of Maughold with views right out to North Barrule and Keeill Woirrey in the Corony Valley on one side and the Irish Sea on the other.

We wandered up to the keeill through the Barony Farm on a slightly overcast day, still full from a delicious picnic at the Quaker Burial Ground (Rhullick ny Quakeryn) on the way.  We walked up the Barony Hill, the landscape was eerily empty and we did feel like we were away from civilisation! Arriving at the summit, we went through a gateway in to the Chapel Field.


We found Keeill Vael a very confusing site.  There was what looked like an elongated mound in the middle of the field with piles of stones, large and small, spread over quite a vast area.  To the untrained eye (us!) there didn’t appear to be an obvious structure, we couldn’t even pick out for certain which part of the mass of stones was the site of the building itself.  I have used the descriptions and experiences that other people have shared over the years, to try and understand this very interesting and historically important site.


The Barony estate has a rich history.  The possession of the estate in Medieval times entitled the owner of the property to be a Baron of the Isle with the privilege of holding a court of his tenants.  In a talk entitled ‘Saynt Maholde  and Saynt Michell’, Notes on Christian’s Barony, Maughold’ (IOMNHAS, v024 p.447) in 1924, W. Cubbon tells us that:

Christian’s Barony consisted of all the high land from Kione ny Hennyn on the south to the glen of Cornaa, and Rhenab on the north side.  It also includes the estate of Ballellin, consisting of half a quarterland to the west.

We know from certain documents that in the 12th century Christian’s Barony was in the possession of St. Bees Priory; and we find that in the 13th century the Bishop of Sodor grants this Church and that of St. Maughold to the Abbot of Furness.

Early in the 14th century it was again vested in St. Bees. In the year 1505 we know it became a part of the Bishop’s Barony.

In 1523 it is on record as again belonging to Furness; and on the dissolution of the religious houses in 1540 it became vested in the Kings of England, who farmed the leases to certain persons.

Some time in the 16th or early in the 17th century, by some unrecorded means, it came into the possession of the Christians of Milntown, to whom a small customary quit rent was payable by the tenants of Ballellin, who claimed to hold in fee under the Christians.

…In the Charter of the Bishopric of Man, dated 1505, Thomas, Earl of Derby confirmed the grant to the Bishop of Man, of certain Churches and Lands, in which this Church and its Lands were included.

The Charter confirmed the grant to the Bishop of the Lands of St. Maughold and St. Michael adjoining. St. Maughold was, of course, the Church which is now the Parish Church, and the St. Michael mentioned was the Keeill Vael on the Barony land.

In 1879, a Joseph Bradbury (I haven’t been able to find out who he was so far) visited the site and wrote a wonderful account of his visit in the Manx Sun (, it’s a long article but I’ve shared some extracts from it below as a description of this interesting and extensive site as it was almost 150 years ago:

…surmounting this we found ourselves on the open, uncultivated land of the Barony.  Directing our steps over the top of the hill, seaward, we soon espied a number of low tumuli and a few rocks which we supposed to be “the graves marked by upright stones” mentioned by Dr Oswald, and which stones I had heard were inscribed with runic characters… Surrounding the ruins and enclosing one of the tumuli we found an almost circular embankment, about 47 paces in diameter, some two feet in height and having an entrance on the west.  Another embankment within this outer work runs in a direct line eastward, and being joined at a right angle by another from the north, forms the “churchyard” proper of this old keeill, in the centre of this inner enclosure being the remains of the kheel itself, a rectangular mound about two feet high, 32 feet long and 15 feet in width, for the most part overgrown with bracken and short stunted gorse.  The southern wall appears to have fallen inwards in a mass and is now completely hidden by the overgrowth, but in what remains of the eastern wall we see the layers of thin, flat stones, of which the chapel was built, very distinctly, but there are no remains of an altar as in some of the old kheels.

Joseph Bradbury also mentioned a number of tumuli and two mounds nearby along with the ‘convenient pool of water’, Loughan Keeill Vael.  He also found a number of graves, one of which he opened, I can only hope his amateur archaeology caused no long term damage!  The account continued:

Speaking of this old chapel, Dr Oswald (Vestigia Monensis p.73) says: – “At the Cabbal Keeil Vael, on the barony of Maughold, the graves are marked by upright stones.  The bones are often found undecayed and laid longitudinally from east to west..” .. But the “upright stones” on the barony are not mere slates but rough unhewn rocks from two to three feet high and a foot or more in thickness, and I am of the opinion that they are the remains of an old Druidical circle, a portion of them being enclosed by the outer embankment mentioned previously, and which was probably connected with the circle in some manner originally.  As to the use of the combined structure it may have been devoted to one or all of nine purposes for which such structures were at one time erected, viz. – 1st as Tynwald Courts or places for the general assembly of the people; 2nd as special Courts of Law; 3rd, as places where kings were anointed; 4th, places where treaties were made; 5th, places where wars were declared; 6th, seats of judgement; 7th, places of execution; 8th, temples; and 9th, sepulchres.

As it was customary on the introduction of Christianity to erect a Christian temple on the site of a heathen one – the ground where their ancestors reposed being held sacred by the pagans – we may readily suppose that the Christians of the barony erected a chapel among the ruins of their heathen temple, but at what date the Cabbal Kheel Vael was built, we have no means of knowing, only that it was previous to 1505, in which year we find a “confirmation of churches, lands and liberties, given, granted and made by the most noble Lord Thomas, Earl of Derby, Lord Stanley, Lord of Mann and the Isles, to Huan Bishop of Sodor, and his successors,” in which charter mention is made of the lands of the church of “St Maughold and St Michael adjoining,” i.e. the Cabbal Kheel Vael. 

… The Rev J. G. Cumming in his “Guide to the Isle of Man” (Stanford, 1861) at p. 139, says :-“The hill called the Barony once belonged to the religious foundation of St Bee’s in Cumberland, but exchanged with the family of the Christians (to whom it now belongs) for property more convenient near to St Bee’s.  A ruinous Treen chapel, Cabbal Keeihll Vail may be seen on the Barony.”  Although this is the best antiquarians’ guide to the Island yet published, the reverend author is wrong in calling the Kheel Vael a treen chapel as it is probably of a much subsequent date. 

We are unaware of when it fell into disuse but the probability is that it would become neglected after the reformation, and if it ever belonged to St Bee’s it must have been since the dissolution of Furness Abbey, and the statement that the men of St Bee’s exchanged it for a more convenient possession seems to show that they cared so little for their insular property that they allowed it to fall into decay, and therefore, we may thank them for the present ruins of “the rectory of St Mighell,”alias the “Cabbal Kheel Vael”.

Large elements of Joseph Bradbury’s write up seem to be speculation but it makes for an interesting read, there were obviously many ways to spell ‘Keeill’ at the time!  I was particularly interested to see that he thought that Keeill Vael was a fairly ‘new’ keeill, relatively speaking, while P. M. C. Kermode when surveying the chapel for the Fourth Report of the Manx Archaeological Survey (1915) found it (in his opinion) to be one of the earlier keeills.

At the time of the Kermode survey, they found the building to measure 20 ft. by 11 ft., the East wall was 24 inches high and 4 ft. wide, made up of small surface stones faced inside and out with the middle space filled with soil and rubble.  The south wall was 3 ft. wide and remained for 13 ft. from the east end, the west end where the doorway appeared to have been was gone but they could see where it had been by the line of where the paving ended; the floor was paved with stones irregular in size and shape.  Only four to five feet of the north wall remained at that time and there was no trace of the altar, two lintel graves were found along with many white pebbles.  The plan of the keeill itself is from the survey:


In the 1915 report, they found the embankment against the walls was two ft. high and four ft. wide, the boundary line of the cemetery was visible although not so obvious on the East and South sides.  They also mentioned the surrounding tumuli, one of which they opened to find it contained a lintel grave.


These two descriptions, almost fifty years apart, describe what they found at Keeill Vael but I still found it difficult to understand that site as we found it.  It sits in a level field so I can assume that over time, the majority of the tumuli mentioned have been flattened, there are a huge number of stones scatted across the site, I don’t know where they all came from, the many large stones marking the graves seem to have gone.  I found a possible explanation for this in an interview for the Manx Folk Life Survey.

The Manx Folk Life Survey is a wonderful collection of interviews that took place in the mid twentieth century with over 800 people on the Island.  Some entries are an absolute delight to read and it has been a great way of preserving stories, history and folklore that would otherwise have been lost.  The names of interviewees and an idea of what their interview contains can be found on the iMuseum, the transcripts themselves can be accessed in the museum library by using the ID number from the iMuseum entry.  A Mr W. Robinson who lived near Cornaa and who had worked on the Barony, was interviewed for the survey in 1975 by Margaret Killip (FLS R/011-G).  In his interview he said that:

When Walker had it he would never allow this field  to be disturbed.  In about 1950 Tommy Beale went in to the farm and he set about ploughing and clearing the field although Walker had said that it must be left alone.  He ploughed it and got a lot of stones out of it, and piled them all up where they are now lying. 

Margaret Killip then said that Mr Robinson gave them impression that Tommy Beale was stopped in his work after a warning from ‘Walker’ and the work was left unfinished.  The interview continued:

…there used to be stones standing in this field ‘as big as bollards’.

Further on in the interview this was further confirmed by a Mr Lace from Thalloo Queen who recalled big stones ‘as big as himself’ standing in the field to the south of the keeill.  He said that:

Beale ploughed this field and removed a lot of stones from it – some of these he hauled out with a tractor and chains.  Harry Quayle, who farms the Barony said that Beale completed the work of ploughing the field and put crops in it afterwards and said the stones were taken out when this was done.

This Keeill Vael site today is very different to the one 150 years ago.

On the way up Barony Hill, we walked past the ‘holy well’, Chibbyr y Vashtee, at the side of the path, the well is said to be;

‘unfailing in its supply of water.  Presumably it was the baptizing well for the keeill above it, although there is a spring fed pool, called Loughan Keeill Vael, adajacent to the keeill site.  It is still called the “Christening Well’. (A Manx Scrapbook, W. Gill).


When we arrived at the Chapel Field (as Mr Whipp called it) at the top of Barony Hill we could see what we thought was the previously mentioned Loughan Keeill Vael or ‘Pool of Michael’, to the side of the keeill.  The pool was was dried up as there hadn’t been any rain for a while but a perfect round patch of mud was very visible:


However, on a second visit, we saw a much larger pool on the other side of the hedge in the next field to Keeill Vael, I looked at the 1869 ordnance survey map and the much larger one is ‘Loughan Keeill Vael’, it really is a very large pool and the top of Barony Hill was a very surprising place to find it!:


We sat on top of the stones at this desolate spot and appreciated the beauty and solitary stillness of the place, it was surprisingly sheltered from the cold wind that had plagued us all morning.

This is a place steeped in history and long forgotten stories.

A small Island with a rich history; sometimes I think this blog could be called ‘Hidden Places of Mann’!


What are keeills?


Keeills and Cake; Cabbal ny Cooilley, Bride.

Keeills and Cake; Cabbal ny Cooilley, Bride.

Keeill number sixteen.

With kind permission of Mr and Mrs Teare.

Cabbal ny Cooilley (Chapel of the Nook) sits between two farms and is not easily accessible making it probably one of the least visited chapels.  We were looking forward to visiting it as it is one of the few remaining antiquities in the Parish of Bride and the only surviving keeill.

In a letter written to the ‘Manks Advertiser’ in 1826 by a Mr C. Radcliffe, he draws attention to the many keeills that still remained at the time and their plight, he described some of the sites that he remembered himself and appealed to his fellow countrymen to make a complete list of the remaining antiquities but his appeal fell on deaf ears.  He mentions that:

‘In Kirk Bride there is an estate called Ballakeeillmean, from Keeill Mean, probably St. Matthew ; in Manks : and Keeill Vael, in the same parish, if I remember right, dedicated either to Michael the Archangel, or St. Mael or Mel, one of the disciples of St. Patrick, by whom his life was written. Keeill Thraie, i.e., the Church of the Strand, from its situation near the sea-coast. Cabbal-ny-Guilcagh—whether the estate takes its name from the Chapel, or the Chapel from the estate, I cannot conjecture, and there is Keeill Thusjag, dedicated to St. Thusag from whose hands St. Patrick receieved the holy sacrament when on his dying bed…

I wish some of my countrymen, who have leisure, would be at the pains to make out an accurate list of the venerable ruins of these places where their ancestors offered unto God, through Christ, the sacrifice of prayer and praise. They are gone to their long home, and the very places where they worshipped the God that made them, and which are now so many heaps of ruins, should possess no common share of interest in the minds of that posterity.’

The Keeill Mean, dedicated to Matthew is likely to be Cabbal ny Cooilley as Ballacamaine probably comes from Ballakeeillmian (‘Place names of the Isle of Man’, J. J. Kneen).  These are extracts from the letter that can be found in the newspapers and periodicals section at  There are many keeill sites mentioned that are long gone but because of this letter their memory remains, if only more people at the time had been as forward thinking as Mr. Radcliffe!

By the time of the Third Report of the Manx Archaeological Survey in 1911 there are five keeills (not the same five mentioned in the letter) noted as being in the parish of Bride:

  • Ballamooar which was long gone by the start of the twentieth century.
  • Port Cranstal, the site of which was cut through to make the road to the Ayres leaving no remains.
  • Ballawannal, which had been long since ploughed over.
  • Ballavarkish, dedicated to St. Mark, a mound remained at the time of the survey along with some stones but no structure.  When it was surveyed, some interesting items were found including an intricate carved sandstone window and a beautifully carved cross slab (images taken from Manx Archaeological Survey, 3rd Report):

The fifth keeill mentioned is Cabbal ny Cooilley, then on the land of Ballacamaine.  You can almost sense P. M. C. Kermode’s disappointment when you read that the landowner would not allow the site to be disturbed:


Ballacamain. This is marked on the O.S., III, 10, (1019). It lies about 700 yds. North-West of Ballachrink house and 700 yds. West of the highroad to Bride, at a height of too ft. or thereabouts. We regret that we were not allowed to examine it. From the appearance of the ground it seems doubtful if there is anything of the walls remaining, but we had hoped by excavating to have been able to judge the dimensions and possibly to have made a Plan. It is unfortunate that the superstition which prevents the orderly examination of some of these Keeills for the purpose of placing on record, for the information of those who come after us, such particulars as may still be gleaned of their character, structure and appearance, and of bringing to light any monuments buried in their ruins, has in no case availed to prevent their total ruin and subsequent destruction. These monuments and remains are all the evidence which has come down to us of the history of the people by whom they were erected, and of the conditions under which they lived, and even if the refusal to allow of their proper exploration were likely to preserve them, which it certainly is not, to keep them buried beneath the surface, and forbid their examination for the purpose of record, is as useless as to cart them away. We can only hope that in course of time, as the results of our work become better known, we may meet with more general support in this respect, and that a more active interest will be taken in the proper preservation of the little that does remain.

Although unfortunate for the survey team, there is a strong folklore of bad things happening to people who have interfered with the keeills and I can absolutely understand someone almost 110 years ago having second thoughts about it.

Mrs Teare, the current landowner, mentioned that her husband thought it may have been surveyed in the 1950’s and was very curious to find out more.  After looking in the museum library and speaking to Andrew Johnson (MNH), it seems there is no record of any survey having taken place and looking at the date, it is likely that it was the Ordnance Survey team mapping the site.

When we eventually found the keeill after originally searching in the wrong field (thanks to my incorrectly marking the map reference), we found a very large mound measuring around 50ft. in diameter and between 4 and 6ft. in height, there were two large stones on top, one standing up, one lying down. In the Third Manx Scrapbook (Gill, 1963), the larger stone is mentioned:

‘Cabbal ny Chooilley, “Chapel of the Rear Part,” is the local name for the ancient Keeill in the field called Creggan ny Chooilley on Ballakermeen.  “The big stone that the Ballakermeen man took away for a gatepost, but he got no sleep that night and put it back first thing next morning,” is pointed out on the mound of the chapel.’

Of course, as Gill rarely references anything, I’m not sure where he got that story from!

Although there was a little wear on the mound at one side, no other stonework was visible and we were unsure whether the keeill building had sat on top of this mound or was interred inside (similar to Keeill Pharick a Dromma).We sat on one of the stones with a cup of tea and ate some delicious banana cake that Nicola had made, we admired the view and wondered exactly what we were sitting on.


The lack of archaeological excavation means that it would seem that this site is still intact and a mystery, who knows what lies beneath!

Hopefully, one day someone will find out, know any archaeologists with time on their hands?


More about keeills.


Keeills and Cake; Corrody Keeill, Lezayre.

Keeills and Cake; Corrody Keeill, Lezayre.

Keeill number fifteen.

With kind permission from Danny Creer, tenant farmer, Corrody.

This quiet spot high above Tholt y Will is a favourite of Nicola’s as her family, the Christians and the Mylecharaines, farmed here for generations.  The area is steeped in history and there are two very interesting tholtans (ruined buildings) on the site, ‘The Creggans’ and ‘The Corrody’.

The name ‘Corrody’ was originally from ‘Corrony’, a corruption of ‘Ciaran’ an early Christian saint, it is possible that St. Ciaran was the dedication for the keeill.  This is suggested in an article in the Mona’s Herald on a visit to the site by the Antiquarian Society in 1953 (


The name of Mylecharaine comes from the Irish Gaelic meaning ‘Mac Giolla Ciardin’ – son of Ciaran’s servant (‘The Place-Names of the Isle of Man With their Origin and History’ by J.J. Kneen, 1925), this means Nicola’s family may have a much longer association with the area than she originally thought!

At one time this area was full of hill farms and would have been a large community.  It is hard to imagine that now, as in the 21st century The Corrody seems very isolated.  If you sit at the keeill and look across the valley, you can see many ruined farmsteads all sitting at around the same height.

From the 1820’s onwards there was mass emigration from the Island, especially the north, life was hard and after the enclosure of the common land in the 1860’s there continued to be large numbers of people leaving the Island up until the early 20th century.  This article from the ‘Manx Sun’ written in 1852 ( gives a very touching description of those leaving who knew they may never see the land of their birth again:

Emigration – The natives of the northern part of the Island are again making arrangements to leave the place of their birth and seek a home in North America. On Wednesday last about fifty persons, principally young men arrived in Douglas from Andreas, Ballaugh etc. and the same night took their departure by the King Orry for Liverpool with the intention of emigrating to America where the most of them have already friends or relatives. We are informed by a person who accompanied the emigrants to Douglas that the scene when these parties were leaving their homes, was truly affecting. Their relatives followed them for a considerable way on the road, lamenting their departure whilst a long procession of carts conveying the luggage moved slowly along and also bearing the juvenile portion of the party amidst the silence of those about to leave their native soil, who would occasionally steal an expressive glance at their late homes. Our informant says that he never saw even a funeral procession move with more touching solemnity. There were also a few individuals from the South of the Island who left by the same steamship en route for Australia.

As someone who volunteers at the Isle of Man Family History Society Library helping people with their genealogy research, I am often amazed by the real affinity to the Island that people feel whose ancestors left the Island almost 200 years earlier.  I think often about how much these economic migrants must have loved and missed their Island home, to have passed this strong feeling on to so many future generations.

The stories of mass emigration from the north of the Island and the remaining farmsteads could fill a blog on their own.


The Corrody keeill lies in a field known as ‘Cronk y Keeillee’ which translates as ‘hill of the keeill’, and seems to have been built on the remains of a Bronze Age burial site, the structure of which is still visible surrounding it.  The foundations of the keeill are still visible and in about the same condition as it was described a century ago, there is a holy well in the next field that is known as Chibbyr Karrin (Ciaran’s Well)

corrody5 (2)

The keeill was surveyed around 1915 for the Fourth Report of the Manx Archaeological Survey, they found that:

The Keeill had been set on a low and partly artificial mound, now two feet above the level of the field, roughly circular but here and there encroached upon by the plough, and having an inside diameter of about thirteen yards; surrounded by stones set on end with remains of an outer circle of stones at 3 to 6 ft. from the other. The largest of these stones was at the E. end and measured thirty two inches high above the surface of the ground by 22 to 24 inches. The general appearance suggested a pre-historic burial-place, and the cinerary urn now found proved it to have been used as such in the Bronze Age before it became a Christian Cemetery.

The plans below are taken from the survey and show the keeill in relation to the Bronze Age remains followed by a plan of the keeill itself as they found it:




Fig. 4. Keeill on Corrody, Sulby, Lezayre.

The keeill, when surveyed was 17 ft. 6 ins. by 9 ft. and ran N.W and S.E, the walls were between 24 and 40 inches high and between 3 and 4 foot thick.  The doorway was in the north wall and there were some ‘jamb stones’ remaining for openings in the walls – probably windows.  Only one or two paving slabs remained and the was no sign of an altar, there was some stone skirting along the lower courses of the walls.  There was surprisingly little information.

The photograph below is taken from the survey and shows the stone skirting in more detail:


cprrrrrr.jpgFig. 5. Walls of Keeill, Corrody, showing stone skirting.

There are some wonderful recollections of life and folklore at ‘The Corrody’ by Alfred Christian (Nicola’s great grandfather) that were collected for the Manx Folk Life Survey in the mid twentieth century.  These documents are available at the Manx Museum Library and well worth a look, they are absolutely fascinating.  This keeill is well worth a visit as a good example with a great view, I can also highly recommend the cake at Tholt y Will tea rooms just down the road!

I’ll finish this with the most lovely poem by one of my favourites, ‘Cushag’, Josephine Kermode, who was the sister of P. M .C Kermode (Manx Museum and National Trust) and who was known with fondness as the best loved poet of her generation:


LONE little tholtan, left by the wayside,
Where have they wandered that loved thee of old?
Where are the children that played by the fireside?
Poor little chiollagh, forlorn and cold!

Mutely thy gables are standing asunder,
Rafterless, ragged, the ruin between!
All that was homelike, secluded and tender,
Stripped of its sheltering thatch is seen.

Why have they left thee so drear and forsaken,
Was it misfortune, or sadder unthrift?
Was there a stone of the Church in thy building
Secretly working to send them adrift?

Was it the dream of a new Eldorado
Lured them away with its roseate hue?
Only to find the green hills of the distance
Bare as Barooil to the nearer view.

Come winds of Autumn and cover it gently,
Poor little hearth-stone deserted and bare;
Cover it softly with leaves from the woodlands,
Lap it away from the cold bleak air.

Hasten the day when those desolate gables,
Holding their secret of failure and dearth,
Gently shall sink to their grave by the wayside,
Hidden at last in the warm kind earth.


corrodykeeillcorrody1corrody2 (2)20160516_120755.jpgcorrody7corrody6corrrrrrrrrrr

You may have noticed that in many blog posts, I have used information from the Isle of Man Natural History and Antiquarian Society visits and journals, the society is still going strong with lots of interesting talks and visits, you can find out more at

More about keeills.


Keeills and Cake; Cabbal Pherick, Kirk Michael.

Keeills and Cake; Cabbal Pherick, Kirk Michael.

Keeill number fourteen.

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



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


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


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


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



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

spooytvane (2).jpg

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

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

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

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


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


Fig. 3. Cabbal Pherick, Michael.

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

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

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

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

And bring a picnic, or at least cake.


More about keeills.



Keeills and Cake; Keeill Vreeshey, Marown.

Keeills and Cake; Keeill Vreeshey, Marown.

Keeill number thirteen.

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


More information on keeills.

Keeills and Cake; Ballacarnane Keeill, Kirk Michael.

Keeills and Cake; Ballacarnane Keeill, Kirk Michael.

Keeill number twelve.

With kind permission of Mr John Cannell, Ballacarnane.


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

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

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

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


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

The Keeill, what do we know about it?

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



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


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

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

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

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

It is unfortunate that the superstition which prevents the orderly examination of some of these Keeills for the purpose of placing on record, for the information of those who come after us, such particulars as may still be gleaned of their character, structure and appearance, and of bringing to light any monuments buried in their ruins, has in no case availed to prevent their total ruin and subsequent destruction. These monuments and remains are all the evidence which has come down to us of the history of the people by whom they were erected, and of the conditions under which they lived, and even if the refusal to allow of their proper exploration were likely to preserve them, which it certainly is not, to keep them buried beneath the surface, and forbid their examination for the purpose of record, is as useless as to cart them away. We can only hope that in course of time, as the results of our work become better known, we may meet with more general support in this respect, and that a more active interest will be taken in the proper preservation of the little that does remain.

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

ballacarnane ean cannell

What did they find?

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

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

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

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

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




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

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




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

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


Keeills and Cake; Keeill Bow, Lezayre.

Keeills and Cake; Keeill Bow, Lezayre.

Keeill number eleven.

With kind permission from Mr Julian Edwards, Ballakillingan.

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

If only the stones could tell stories.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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



What are keeills?