[From Manx Antiquities,1863]
O many it may appear at first sight singular that the most interesting antiquities in the Island are situated around its coast line ; but this apparent peculiarity at once vanishes when we remember that these remains are nearly all of Scandinavian origin, and mostly sepulchral. A prominent idea, which pervaded the minds of the early Norsemen, was, that they should be buried in sight of the sea. Thus says Worsæ : "Sepulchral mounds or barrows are met with mostly on hills, or near the firths or sea coasts, where there is an uninterrupted view of the sea. To the ancient Northman, it was evidently an almost insufferable thought to be buried in a confined or remote corner, where nobody could see his grave, or be reminded of his deeds. The greater chief a man was, the more did he desire that his barrow should lie high and unenclosed, so that it might be visible to all who travelled by land and by sea," Before proceeding around the sea-girt border of the northern portion of this Island, where we shall find abundance of such remains, let us take a ramble across it, at the point where a line of hills terminates in a low, level surface ; in fact, let us look at and examine what the Islanders call their " Curragh." Starting from Ramsay, therefore, in a direction across the Island, we find the road good and well-kept, and, unless where the hills descend to the very edge of the roadway, beset with overshadowing trees. A rustic cottage, a neat well-kept villa, a moss-grown font of rude and primitive construction, at which the wayfarer and cattle can quench their thirst, now and again occur to vary the monotony of what might otherwise appear a well-kept avenue. Many of the villas are decorated with castellated ornamentation, which the slate of the Island enables the builder easily to accomplish, and which, when covered over with cement, has a commanding appearance. Here, again, we are struck with the luxuriance, beauty, and varieties of the fuschia. Bushes, from 12 to 15 feet high, and of large girth perfectly crimson with flowers, are by no means uncommon.
Further on, rugged cliffs overhang the wayside, and a slate quarry of considerable magnitude furnishes building material for nearly the whole neighbourhood. The (tone yielded by this quarry is found to be very durable ; and it is not improbable, from the texture and appearance of this slate, that ten or eleven centuries ago it yielded blocks for the primitive sculptors of the Island, for the manufacture of the sepulchral monuments which still exist, with but little defacement, in the neighbouring parishes of Ballaugh, St. Andreas, and Jurby. The Bridge of Sulby may be put down as a point of much interest to the tourist ; for be he geologist, antiquary, historian, or merely a lover of the picturesque, he will here find some object to interest and instruct him.
The Bridge itself is a neat structure of recent date, with a pleasing and commanding view of the vast tract of level land called the Curragh, while, behind are hills and mountain ranges, until the highest peak of the Island is attained. The River Sulby, which is crossed by the bridge, and from which it takes its name, is the largest and molt picturesque stream in the Island. It rises from the north-west side of Snaefell, and after receiving numerous tributary streams in its course, passes down Glion-Moar, and soon afterwards reaches the place where we now stand.
Its course towards the bridge of Sulby is easily discovered by the numerous shrubs and alder trees that grow by its fide, while the bed of it below the bridge characterizes it at once as a river subject to frequent and rapid floods, bringing down quantities of detritus from the mountain-fides, and depositing them in elongated mounds in its course. Starting from the bridge up the banks of the river, the lover of wild scenery will find a pleasing resort in Sulby Glen. The natural Bridge of Rock, and a pretty cascade which flows under it, will prove interesting objects to the geologist as well as the painter.
This bridge is one of the best starting points for visiting Snaefell or Snow-hill. The road leads up the beautiful glen we have just been describing, and after a wandering course, reaches the highest peak of the Island, 2000 feet above the level of the sea.
From the top of this mountain, the tourist is not only enabled to see the whole Island, but to compass in addition, and almost at a glance, the three surrounding countries of England, Scotland, and Ireland.
To the antiquary, however, the molt interesting object is to be found immediately south of the bridge, in a curious fantastically-shaped hill, called Cronk-y-Shammock, or the hill of primroses. This hill is a favourite picnic resort of the neighbourhood. Its easy ascent, its natural beauty, and the fine view of the northern part of the Island which it commands, sufficiently account for the favour bestowed upon it. Its summit, however, has a much greater interest to the antiquary than it can possibly have to the simple admirer of a beautiful panorama. In the remains on the flat surface of this twin hill, he finds conclusive evidence of its having been used as a dun, or early hill fort. The geological formation of its table top had enabled the early refugees to hollow out a centre, and leave an elevated edge for defence and protection. Its twin top had also been similarly used and protected, and between the two a connecting ridge opened up a safe and ready communication. The area enclosed by these natural walls on the largest hilltop, amounts to 72 feet long, by about 60 broad. The rocky walls are of various elevations, but on an average may be reckoned at about three feet. The smaller fort is not so distinct, but there cannot be a doubt of its having been used for similar purposes with the other. No remains of masonry are visible ; nor is there any trace of vitrification. Two entrances to this fort are still obscurely visible, one on the east side, the other towards the ridge which leads to the smaller or twin fort. This is no doubt a very early specimen of a hill fort ; for, unlike the Scottish " Burghs," which are built of rough stones without mortar, this form of Dun is in all probability of an earlier date, chosen by the natives in consequence of its elevation and natural defences, where the people sheltered themselves by erections of wood, or other vegetable productions of the country. History informs us that the inhabitants of this quarter were continually harassed with the landings accomplished by hostile nations in the bay of Ramsay. These invasions were for the sake of conquest and plunder. A pastoral people required some means of defending themselves from such repeated inroads ; and the means which proved most successful was taking refuge in the hill forts, where, protected from the weather, they could defy from their position the assault of almost any enemy. Let us, in addition, believe that they were fighting for their own lives, and that of their wives and children, when it becomes difficult to understand what amount of force could drive a determined people so situated from such a stronghold with the means of warfare they had in their possession in these times. Before descending from this coign of 'vantage, let us look northward, and survey the flat land which extends far before us, and which is called the Curragh. This large tract of level surface is studded here and there with farm-steadings, generally with their windmill [sic - such are rare ?] , and always with their clump of trees to protect them from the prevailing winds of the Island. The parish churches of Ballaugh, St. Andreas, and Jurby are to be seen in the distance, with their knot of village-huts nesting around them. The sand hills, which nearly close in this flat expanse, shut out from our view the point of Ayre lighthouse, which is a prominent and important object on the northernmost part of the Island. It appears that the river Sulby, which runs immediately below the high ground on which we stand, at one time found its exit to the sea by a tedious winding course through this flat surface, and instead of debouching at Ramsay, as it now does, at that time made its exit at the northernmost part of the Island; in fact, an irregular hollow runs in the direction to mark out the ancient bed of the Sulby. This flat surface before us is the ancient site of the lake of Mirescog or Mireshaw ; and to those acquainted with geology, it is not difficult to see how this muff have been submerged in early times. A river of some size, and subject to frequent and rapid spates, from the hilly district from which it takes its origin, after reaching this flat surface, took a slow winding course through it, till it reached the northern part of the Island. Its exit here was made continually more difficult by the sea silting-up sand at its mouth ; and thus a flow winding river became gradually a waft lake ; and it was not until, by some accidental circumstance or helping means, that the river was turned from its ancient course, and a short outlet to the sea at Ramsay effected.
So late as the sixteenth century, this lake is recorded to have had three Islands on its surface, one of which was used as an Ecclesiastical Prison. At this period it is recorded that this lake, with its fishings, was regularly let ; and that in 1505, Thomas, Earl of Derby, granted to Huan Hesketh, bishop of Man, one-half of the fishings of the lake of Mireshaw. A miracle, too, recorded in the "Chronicon Manniæ," and attributed to the blessed virgin, further attests the existence of this lake and its Islands :-" There was a certain person called Donald, a veteran chieftain, and a particular friend of Harold Olaveson. This man, flying the persecutions raised by Harold Godredson, took sanctuary with his infant child at St. Mary's Monastery at Russin. Thither Harrold Godredson followed; and as he could not offer violence in the sacred place, he, in flattering and deceitful language, addressed the aged man to this purpose :" Why dost thou thus resolve to fly from me ? I mean to do thee no harm." He then assured him of protection, adding that he might depart in peace to any part of the country he had a mind. The veteran, relying on the solemn promises and veracity of the king, followed him out of the monastery. Within a sport space, however, his Majesty manifested his sinister intentions, and he demonstrated that he paid no regard to truth, or even his oath. He ordered the old man to be apprehended, bound, and carried to an Isle on the lake at Mirescog, where he was consigned over to the charge of a strong guard. In this distress Donald still had confidence towards God. As often as he could conveniently bend his knees, he prayed the Lord to deliver him from his chains through the intervention of the Blessed Virgin, from whose monastery he had been so insidiously betrayed. The Divine interposition was not withheld. One day, as he was fitting in his chamber, and guarded only by two sentinels (for the others were absent), suddenly the fetters dropped from his ankles, and left him at full liberty to escape. He reflected, notwithstanding, that he could elope more successfully during the night, while the sentinels were asleep ; and from this consideration attempted to replace his feet in the fetters, but to his astonishment found it impossible.
"Concluding, therefore, that this was wrought by the might of Heaven, he wrapped himself in his mantle, and, taking to his heels, made the belt of his way. One of the sentinels, a baker by trade, observing him, immediately started up, and pursued. Having run a good way, eager to watch the fugitive, he hit his shin a severe blow against a log ; and thus, while posting full speed, he was so arrested by the power of the Lord, that he could not stand. Hence the good man, by the help of Heaven, got clear ; and on the third day he reached St. Mary's Abbey, at Russin, where he put up thanksgivings to God and the most merciful mother for the deliverance. This declaration we have recorded from the man's own mouth. Date, 1249."
So late as the end of the 16th and beginning of the 17th centuries, this flat surface had not been altogether drained ; for we find in an old map of the Island ' performed by Thomas Durham,' and given by Speed, Chaloner, and in Bleau's Atlas, that three loughs were then in existence ; and Sacheverell, towards the close of the seventeenth century, announces the completion of this work, when he says some curious discoveries were made. The discoveries mentioned by Sacheverell are not detailed ; but certain it is, that important data bearing on geology and antiquities are involved in these words. When this flat surface was drained completely, and made available for culture, about the end of the last or beginning of the present century, it was found that the peat had overspread it to the thickness of from four or five inches to ten or fifteen feet ; and in some parts of this peat were found oaks and firs in situ, while others with roots attached lay horizontally, as if they had fallen or been blown over. Some were 40 feet long, by 2 1/2 feet in diameter, while others of lesser size were few and scanty. No human implement or manufactured article was found in this extensive layer ; but at its lower surface, and in contact with some sandy clay, stone Celts, arrow and spear heads, and even some remains of coracles, were discovered.
Mr W. Farrel informed me that on his farm in this district, the Celts and arrow heads were found just at the junction of the peat with the substratum. Under the peat generally, throughout this portion of the Island, is found a layer of bluish white earthy sand, varying from 1 to 3 feet in thickness. In some parts under this layer is to be found one of white marl, which contains delineations of shells. This marl is of a fibrous, laminated structure, and when dry is white as chalk. " In this marl," says Mr Oswald of Douglas, " a great quantity of the bones of the Elk (Megaceros Hibernicus) were found ; and the deeper we proceeded in the pits, the more perfect they became--complete heads with horns were found, and latterly the perfect skeletons, presented by the Duke of Athol (then Lord of the Island) to the University of Edinburgh, and which still exist in the Museum." " These bones," says Mr Cumming, "were all found below the great turf bogs, in which were found the remains of trees both upright and prostrate."
Some important geological and archaeological questions arise from these data, which we shall simply place in order. First, the Irish Elk occupied these districts before the peat was formed. Did it visit these forests only occasionally, or did it live there, and at death become enclosed in ponds or lakes, which existed there at the same time ?
If human beings existed coeval with the Elk, how comes it that their weapons and articles of manufacture are only found immediately beneath the peat, while the remains of the Elk lie far below ?
This country and its Islands have been occupied historically since the Christian era and Roman Invasion. Is the age of the Elk anterior to this period ? These and many others naturally arise from the consideration of such facts ; but we fear our musings from this hillside have become too lengthy. Let us now descend. We shall find in doing so, much refreshment in a draught of Manx beer, which can be procured in perfection at a hostelrie at the bridge of Sulby. Turning to the left we now pursue the road to Ballaugh, and soon reach the village of New Ballaugh, scattered round the new church of that name. The older one, much dilapidated, we shall refer to afterward From this point we start for the adjoining marl pits, from which the Elk's bones were taken. In retracing our steps somewhat circuitously towards Ramsay, we come upon a curious old fort, a little to the eastward of St. Jude's church. It is called Balla Curry, an obvious change from the Balla, or Castle of the Curragh, which this was in the days of the Commonwealth, having been erected by the troops of Cromwell in 1654-5 [sic - actually by Earl James!] It is thus described by Colonel Townley :-" It is more complete than any I have seen in England of that time ; the situation of it is most eligible, being formed on a small natural eminence in a very level district. The internal square on which the troops encamped, is a level piece of ground, sunk so much below the bastions and curtains as effectually to secure the troops within from any attack of firearms without; this space is one hundred and fifty feet long, and one hundred and twenty feet broad ; the fosse is twenty feet wide, and the outer rampart is twelve feet high. There are four noble bastions, one at each corner, sixty feet in diameter. There is no breach in any part of the works, which favours the supposition that the troops retained peaceable possession of their fortified camp."
(1) The roots of those which remained showed evidence of their having grown in the hardy substratum.