[From Isle of Man, Cumming 1848]

CHAPTER VIII

The port of Derbyhaven-Its great natural advantages.-Singularly embraces in its circuit every rock and soil in the island.-The battle-field of Ronaldsway.-Great events of the thirteenth century.-The Scottish conquest.-Richard Mandeville, the Irish freebooter.-The lower limestone fossils of Ronaldsway.-Skillicore bosses.-Great disturbance at Coshnahawin.-Valley of Santonburn.-M'Culloch in error.

The port of Derbyhaven, which appears to have been anciently called Rognalwath, Ronaldswath, Ramsway and Rannesway, and so Ronaldsway, was formerly of considerable importance, and with the northern harbours of Ramsö, now Ramsey, shared a large portion of the traffic of the eastern side of the island.

But times have indeed changed since the commencement of the eighteenth century, and there has been from that day forward a gradual increase of the tonnage entering the harbour of Douglas, and a proportionate decrease in that entering the other ports of the island. The contraband trade, then the erection of the pier at Douglas, and the restriction of import of all licensed goods to that harbour1, have latterly hastened the consummation. The circumstance also of the great owners of property in the immediate neighbourhood of Derbyhaven having a larger interest at Douglas operates disadvantageously to the former place.

The Castletown people are content with their own harbour for general purposes, and seem perfectly satisfied to be at the expense and risk of land-carriage from Douglas for articles of less urgent and more uncertain demand, and even some of the larger shops are but branches from head houses of business there.

There are certainly very great capabilities in this harbour of Derbyhaven, and it seems a great pity that they are not called into play. A breakwater was erected a few years ago on a ridge of limestone running out southwards from Ronaldsway-house; but though a great protection to small vessels lying in the inner harbour during a storm from the east, yet it can assist little towards the traffic of the place, as there is no pier for landing goods.

A strong jetty thrown out for 100 or 150 yards, in a north-easterly direction into the bay from a point near the fort, would afford perfect security at all times to vessels of considerable burden; whilst a landing-pier, as a continuation of the high road at Derbyhaven into the inner harbour, would afford a great convenience to the neighbourhood, and supersede the frequent necessity for going round to the Castletown-pier for the purpose of unlading vessels:. It would not require any very great outlay to effect this. The very best materials, the limestone both for building and burning, are on the spot, and, when finished, the harbour would be not only the best in a commercial point of view in the island, but probably the best as. a harbour of refuge in the north-eastern portion of the Irish sea. At the same time it would be highly desirable to cut through the narrow isthmus of about 150 yards, separating Castletown-bay from Derbyhaven, and which consists only of sand, gravel, and boulder clay: by this means Derbyhaven would be rendered an immediately available port for Castletown, and whichever way the wind lay, vessels might find ingress or egress into either harbour.

Should this ever be effected, the result upon the exports of this part of the island must be highly advantageous. The great agricultural produce of the Isle of Man is from the northern area, in the neighbourhood of Ramsey, and the southern round about Castletown ; the neighbourhood of Peel furnishes also a considerable portion. The great mining district on South Barrule, as well as the great granitic boss there, is nearer to Derbyhaven than to Douglas the present chief port of shipment of the lead and the granite. Then we have the umber works at Ballasalla, and the lime from the several kilns in that neighbourhood, as well as in Derbyhaven itself. We have again the black marble of Poolvash, which is wrought in Castletown, of which the steps of St. Paul's Cathedral are made, and for which there has lately been a renewed demand for purposes of ecclesiastical architecture, both on the island and in England. And, though last, not least, there is the fine mass of porphyry which has hitherto been untouched at the northern end of Langness, a rock harder and more durable than the granite; and if, on account of the difficulty of working, not generally available for building, yet an excellent material for roads, and one to which attention ought to be directed as a subject for export and for use on the island, in the neighbourhood of Douglas and the sandy districts of the north.

A simple reference to the geological map of the southern limestone basin of the Isle of Man2 will show that, with the exception of granite and Poolvash marble, every rock and soil in the island is contained within the limits of this fine bay. There is the clay schist in several varieties, forming St. Michael's Islet and the eastern boundary of the bay. This is intersected with trap dykes and masses of porphyry, which protrude through them at several points along shore, as well as at the northern point of Langness. It is singular to observe how the schist mantles round these bosses of porphyry, and how much they have been altered where in contact. In the southern corner of the bay we have the old red conglomerate resting unconformably on the schist, which here dips S. 80░ E. at an angle of 20°; whilst the dip of the old red is N.W. magnetic. Presently the limestone sets on; but proceeding westward we again for a few yards fall in with the old red conglomerate, which is brought up by one of those singular bosses which we shall have such frequent occasion to notice in this locality; the limestone from the crown of the boss having been denuded shows the nucleus of old red. We have then forming the bed of the bay, on its eastern side, the carboniferous limestone, on which reposes the boulder clay in the northern angle, and which also forms the holding ground at the entrance to the bay off St. Michael's Isle, and then all round the bay above high water we have the drift-gravel and the sand of the more recent-raised beach.

The northern corner of the bay adjoining Ronaldsway forms an interesting study for the geologist. The anticlinal ridge upon which the breakwater is built is intersected' at right angles by the two dykes which were noticed under the causeway joining St. Michael's Isle with Langness. The limestone is greatly altered and contorted, and as we proceed north-eastward the bosses on the surface become more important. We are in fact tracing along a line of disturbance, which, commencing near the eaves on Laugness, increases in intensity up to the Brough, and Coshnahawin at the mouth of the Santon river.

Very near the limekilns, which are at the northern extremity of Derbyhaven, the line of low water is the old red conglomerate coming out from under the limestone; but between the two series, or rather incorporated with the old red, appears a tabular mass of trappean conglomerate or of quartz pebbles, apparently mixed up in a trappean matrix. The limestone overlying this bed is cracked and altered in an extraordinary degree, and I cannot but regard it as confirmatory of my view as to the origin of the bosses, thus to find traces of igneous action so closely connected with them.

There is one remarkable fact which should not be overlooked, which is, that the boulder clay itself seems in some measure to have partaken of the metamorphosed character of the limestone. Patches of it here and there are hardened and cemented, and present a baked appearance, and have resisted the action of the sea. It is difficult to determine whether this has resulted from long contact with the ochreous masses of altered limestone, or from the escape of heated gases at some period of the boulder clay through cracks formed by the previous disturbances, or whether the alteration was coincident with those disturbances which we must thence class as belonging to the boulder period. The locality where this is particularly to be noted is one hundred yards north of the limekiln, and very near the stream from Ballahick, where, passing by the mill, it enters the sea in a small recess, which I have always known by the name of Ronaldsway Creek. There is a line of disturbance running from under the drift gravel which forms the battle-field of Ronaldsway, in a direction N. 80°E. magnetic, crossing the general strike of the beds for a distance of sixty yards, and then gradually disappearing. Along this axis unequivocal tokens of igneous action are afforded, and parallel to it it is worth while to observe all the way to Coshnahawin a series of cracks and disturbances with the same evidences of metamorphism about them.

The battle-field of Ronaldsway, though little noted in British history, was once the scene of a memorable struggle for the liberties and independence of the Manx nation, and determined its fate. It may be well to take a review of the history of the isle for a few years preceding that event.

When the usurper Reginald (the same who surrendered the isle to Pope Honorius-surrendered in fact that which did not belong to him,) was slain at the great battle of the Tynwald Hill, on St. Valentine's day, 1229 3, the crown settled quietly on the head of the rightful king, Olave the Black, called in the Chronicon, Olave Godredson, being the son of Godred Kleining. He died in 1237, leaving three sons, Harold, Reginald, and Magnus.

The former reigned ten years, and perished by shipwreck on the coast of Rudland, with his young bride, Cecilia, daughter of Haco, sovereign of Norway, and a numerous train of nobility, and Lawrence, then Bishop elect of Man.

On the 6th of May in the following year Reginald assumed the reins of government, but was murdered in a meadow near the west end of Trinity Church in Rushen, by the knight Ivar, brother of the usurper Reginald.

Magnus, the last surviving son of Olave, was at this time resident with his father-in-law, Ewen Konongr or John Dugalson, in one of the Hebrides, and the government was seized (A.D. 1250) by Harold, son of Godred Don, and grandson of Reginald.

Haco, hearing of this usurpation, summoned Harold to Norway, and there cast him into prison. He then deputed Ewen Konongr to hold the sovereignty of Man during the minority of Magnus Olaveson. John, arriving in Man, and disembarking at Ronaldsway (A.D. 1250), proclaimed himself king of the Isles. The Manx, provoked at this presumption, rose in a body, attacked his army, which was encamped on St. Michael's Isle, and totally defeated them.

Magnus himself was gladly received in 1252, and acknowledged king by the Manx nation at large, and received afterwards a confirmation of his right and title by the sovereign of Norway, 1254, and was knighted by Henry III. of England in 1256 4.

The battle of Largs, Oct. 3, 1263, in which Alexander III. of Scotland so completely broke up the expedition of Haco, placed the isle at the mercy of the Scottish monarch; and Magnus, despairing of help from Norway, met Alexander in a conference at Dumfries, did homage to him, and obtained a charter to hold the island from the crown of Scotland.

In 1265, on the 24th of November, died in Castle Rushen, Magnus, the ninth and last of the race of Godred Crovan, which for nearly 200 years had held the sceptre of the isle as viceroys to the monarch of Norway. He was buried in the church of St. Mary of Rushen, which had been finished and dedicated in the fifth year of his reign, by Richard " Sodorensis Episcopus," and left no issue.

The following year, Magnus, king of Norway, successor to Haco, ceded to the Scottish king his right and title to the Isle of Man and the Hebrides, in consideration of 4000 marks sterling, in four yearly payments of 1000 marks each, and an annual quit-rent of 100 marks for ever.

In the mean time (to use the words of Sacheverell), the widow of Magnus, a woman haughty and intriguing, and secretly in love with the knight Ivar (who by the murder of her brother-in-law Reginald, had cleared the way to the crown), thought him the fittest person to supply the vacancy.

There was no lawful successor except the daughter of Reginald, and she a child; the danger from Scotland seemed pressing, but what will not love and the temptation of a crown persuade men to? Ivar, therefore, in the vigour of his age, gay, generous and popular, the boldest, the bravest, the most licentious, and yet the best of all the natives, one who had virtues enough to save, and vices enough to undo a nation, readily embraced the offer, and Mary5 was secretly conveyed into England with all public deeds and charters by those who had the care of her, equally fearing the danger from abroad and at home. Ivar vigorously prepared for the defence of his newly-acquired government, and resolved at least to deserve, if not enjoy, the crown. But the Isle of Man could do little singly with the more potent kingdom of Scotland; for Alexander, having now reduced all the out-isles, sent a numerous army under Alexander of Paisley and John Comyne, who landed at Ronaldsway in the year 1270 6. Ivar, though much inferior in numbers (being deprived of all foreign assistance), received them with a resolution natural to the Manx nation, stoutly fought and as bravely fell with the expiring liberties of his country, and with him 537 of the flower of the people. The monks of Rushen have preserved this number in the following doggerel epic verses

L decies X ter et pente duo cecidere
Mannica gens de to damna futura cave7.

This distrih might almost be deemed prophetic, for we find not many years after that the Manx suffered most severely from foreign enemies landing at this same spot. In May 1316, on Ascension day, Richard de Mandeville, and his brothers, John and Thomas, with a company of Irish freebooters, landed at Ronaldsway, and demanded of the Manx supplies of provisions, cattle and money. Their request being rejected, they formed themselves into two divisions, which marching up the country, again united at the foot of South Barrule; then uttering the Irish war-whoop, they fell upon the Manx who had there drawn up their forces to receive them. At the first onset the Manx fled in a body. The victorious Irish, roaming through the country, plundered it of every thing on which they could lay their hands. The sanctity of the venerable Abbey of Rushen availed nothing against this lawless company; they stripped it of all its furniture, flocks and castle. Spending a month in this manner, and at their leisure digging up much silver which had been buried in various places, they stowed their vessels with the best effects of the country and returned safe home.

The estate of Ronaldsway belonged to William Dhone, and at his execution as a traitor at Hango Hill was confiscated. It was afterwards restored to the family by an order of King Charles II. in council.

The geologist will find the creek of Ronaldsway a rich dÚp˘t of fossils of the lower limestone strata. With a good heavy hammer, having one face wedge-shaped, he may go in amidst the alternating beds of shale and limestone at low water, and, raising the layers, extract some of the rarer organisms ad libitum. He will find here Heteropora a beautiful branching coral, Turbinolia fungites, Cyathophyllum megastoma, Cyathophyllum trassum, Orthis Sharpei, Productus giganteus and Productus hemispharicus, several large encrinites and remarkable fucoids.

It will be well for him to take hence a good collection, in order to contrast them with the newer limestone series, .when he comes to study it at Poolvash in the centre of this great limestone basin.

But the points of most interest for one occupied in the study more especially of the physical structure of this district, will be the examination of the cracks, disturbances, contortions, bosses and trap dykes, which lie between this creek and the mouth of the Santon river8. Here are very plain indications of two epochs of disturbance, the axes of intenser action running in distinctly different directions. We have one axis of disturbance running S. 40░ W., with cracks and faults at right angles to that direction, and this seems particularly to be connected with the bosses and trap-dykes ; the other running S. 80░ E., with cracks and faults at right angles, and this seems connected in some way with the protrusion of greenstone masses. The great difficulty is in determining which was the anterior disturbance.

The great boss at Skillicore 9 is extremely interesting, from the manner in which it is intersected by a trap-dyke or assemblage of dykes. We have here a dyke, or rather a number of small cracks, filled with trap, and then uniting to form one dyke, which runs S. 85░ E. magnetic on the line of the beds to the centre of the boss; it there separates again into two, one of which, after being a little contorted, is continued in a direction S. 80░ E., the other running S. 50'E., and throwing out small branches which soon terminate. This latter presents evidence of great force exercised in the ascent of the fluid trap, the edges of the limestone beds being very sharply turned up along the dyke to the extent of half a foot on each side.

The limestone is singularly broken up into rhomboidal blocks by cracks which cross each other in directions S. 40░ W. and S. 30░ E. But along the great line of disturbance, where the rocks are suddenly brought up andturned over on an axis, the metamorphism is most complete; and it is extremely difficult to determine to what class of rocks, limestone or old red conglomerate, the mass originally belonged. The beautiful variegated appearance of the rock has led to some attempts to work it as a marble quarry, which have been defeated by the large admixture of quartz, and the fractured character of the rock.

The mouth of the Santon burn is one of the most picturesque spots with which I am acquainted in the Isle of Man. The valley down which the river runs into the sea is one of elevation, a great crack in the earth's crust in consequence of extreme tension across a saddle when the country was being elevated. Even an ordinary observer must mark how the salient points at one side of this lovely winding valley correspond to recessÚs on the opposite side of it; so that if the earth were to sink down again, we see at once that they would lock into each other just (to compare small things with great) as the teeth in a rat-trap when the edges approximate. The earth here in opening her mouth has exhibited a set of teeth, compared with which those possessed by the most monstrous Saurian that ever paddled in the secondary seas sink into utter insignificance.

We have before alluded to the beauty of this valley in its upper portion above Ballasalla or Fairy-bridge. The angler, as he comes rambling downwards from that bridge towards the sea, will greatly be reminded of the favourite scene of his friend Isaac Walton's special enjoyment-the Derbyshire Dovedale-save that the gorge is somewhat narrower and in places hardly permits the sweep of the rod which throws the deceitful fly upon the purling water of the burn. But then the splendid opening out of the gorge into the sea, and the chances of hooking the salmon which sport about its mouth,-these well compensate for the other deficiencies, as compared with the picturesque features of the Derbyshire trout-stream.

Those water-worn caves which pierce yonder frowning crag, shattered and contorted as it has been by those masses of greenstone thrust up on either side,-how tempting the shade and retirement which they afford! and the golden gorse in spring time, and the purple heather in autumn, with all manner of wild flowers, grace the opposite slope, and drop their perfume on the gentle sea-breeze which comes swelling up the glen.

There is a romantic archway on the eastern side of the stream near its mouth10, where the claret-coloured schist is contorted upon an axis of disturbance. A little higher up, on opposite crags, as the poet sings

" immortal without mother, Which stand as if outfacing one another,--" are the remains of two forts, rude earthwork embankments, the names and reputation of which, if ever they had any, have long ago passed away, and are amongst the things which are not. Woe to the occupants of either, had their hold been forced! something worse than Hobson's choice awaited them: it was no question between fighting and running away; a full tide might give a bare chance; otherwise he who leapt that precipice would never have lived to fight another day.

The mass of limestone forming Coshnahawin Head was sometime ago a puzzle to McCulloch, as appears in his account of the Western Isles of Scotland; at least he has committed to paper two singular errors in reference to it which have since been taken on trust, and copied by Dr. Mantell in his most interesting work, ' Wonders of Geology.' He has stated, that the mountain limestone of this area rests directly upon the slate, and he has adduced the limestone of Coshnahawin11 as an instance of the crystalline action of slaty cleavage passing upwards from slate into superincumbent limestone.

It may at first sight appear singular to any one inspect. ing the sections 12 which I have given, in which the old red conglomerate is seen interposed between the limestone and the schist, how such a mistake could have been committed, and yet the error is easily explained.

In the first place, at the time Dr. McCulloch wrote, the old red sandstone was grouped as a member of the carboniferous series; it remained for his two great northern fellow-countrymen, the authors respectively of 'The Silurian System' and the 'Old Red Sandstone,' to separate it into a system of its own and to work out in detail its separate members. Dr. McCulloch too had seen the old red as a formation of thousands of feet in thickness as it is developed in Scotland, spreading out over thousands upon thousands of acres: here, in this southern area, it can never be seen more than fifty feet thick, and its tilted basset-edge may be walked.across anywhere in a couple of hundred yards.

Again, the subject of metamorphism of rocks had not at that time received the attention which has of late been bestowed upon it. The presumed slaty cleavage of the limestone is plainly due to the metamorphic action of the heated masses with which it has been connected at the period of disturbance.

Again, at this particular spot the schist is singularly brought up and placed in contact with the limestone by two faults, one running S. 40°W., which is distinctly seen on the sea-shore at the mouth of the burn near the caves, in consequence of the different colour of the schist on each side of the fault; the other caused by the upheaval of the country on an axis running S. 80░ E., of which the caves, and the natural arch on the opposite side of the stream are the immediate consequences. There are other disturbances at right angles to these directions which give a somewhat complicated character to the geology of this spot, but the general and total effect of all is plain; the limestone at the Head is on two sides- placed in contact with the schist, denudation of the upheaved portion of the country has removed the limestone and old red conglomerate to the northward, and it is only by diligent searching at lowwater that the conglomerate is discovered with a thin basset-edge coming up from under the limestone and therefore plainly separating it from the schist. If however we mount the hill (the Brough) to the westward we shall discover the conglomerate in great force forming a fine escarpment to the seaward with a very. clear sequence into the carboniferous series, and with it dipping down towards the centre of this southern basin at Poolvash.

The total lift of the bed of old red conglomerate by the two before-named faults combined is about 110 feet, the bed seen at the mouth of the river being about ten feet below high-water, and where it appears again on the Brough being 100 feet above it. Some five years ago I had the gratification of going over the ground, and pointing out the details of this my almost first discovery in the geology of this neighbourhood, with Count Keyserhug, the illustrious States Geologist of Russia and coinpanion in travel with our own Sir Roderick Murchison, and coadjutor with him and Mons. deVerneuil in the researches which have resulted in that most noble geological work, 'Russia and the Ural Mountains' His approval of this first essay was in itself a sufficient encouragement to proceed with the details of the whole area, to which it affords the key.

Before leaving this neighbourhood, the lover of the picturesque may make an attempt when the tide is out to cross the Santon burn at its mouth; and following the road which winds up the opposite bank, and tracing the edge of the low cliff for about a quarter of a mile northeastward, he will come upon another little creek called Saltric, possessing a peculiar wildness about it, and at the same time, within a very small compass, a singular admixture of softened and harsh features in the same landscape. The recess in' the coast is of a horse-shoe form, of which the horns are occupied by masses of schist and greenstone, a continuation of the same axis of disturbance which we have just noted at the mouth of the Santon burn and previously at Seafield, which is a mile to the north-eastward of this point.

In consequence of this axis of disturbance a synclinal depression has been formed a few hundred yards inland, but parallel to the coast: this depression has been filled up by the Pleistocene-clay sand and gravel during the glacial period when the sea was at a higher relative level with the land. On the elevation of the island, the sea has worked its way in at a cross fracture and largely eroded the soft Pleistocene 13 beds, whilst the harder schists and greenstone have been much more slowly acted upon.

The inner portion therefore of the little bay swells out with a softened outline and presents deep rounded gullies clothed with tender herbage and mosses or blooming with furze, broom and heath; the entrance to it from the sea presenting bluff precipices and dark water-worn caves, a favourite resort of the jackdaw in spring time. Here she builds her nest and rears her young.

 

Footnotes

1 This restriction has within the last two years been partially removed.

2 See Plate III.

3 See Chronicon ManniŠ, p. 30.

4 See Chronicon ManniŠ, p. 40.

5 This Mary in the year 1292 claimed the kingdom of the Isles, and did homage to Edward the First of England in Perth or St. John's town. Though the Norwegian royalty descended in the male line, yet we find nearly 400 years after that, on the plea of the validity of Mary's claim to the sovereignty of Man, sentence was pronounced in favour of the heirs general of Ferdinand Earl of Derby, against his brother, Earl William, though afterwards it was settled by the British Parliament in favour of the male line.-See Sacheverell's Account, p. 60, and Chaloner's History, p. 15; also p. 59, supra.

6. According to the Chronicon ManniŠ, 1275.

7 Ten Ls thrice X with five and two did fall; Ye Manx, take care, or suffer more ye shall.

8 See Plate VI.

9 Ibid.

10 See the view " Coshnahawin at the mouth of the Santonburn."

11 I believe this ought to be spelt Cas-ny-hawin, the foot of the waters.

12 See Plate VIL, sections 1, 2 and 3; and Plate VI., sections 2 and 3.

13 In this locality may be obtained, more abundantly than in any other part of this southern area, fragments of the fossils of the Pleistocene period.


  Back index next  

Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received The Editor
HTML Transcription © F.Coakley, 2011