[Yn Lioar Manninagh Vol 2 pp47/51]
By Mr. HENRY KELLY.
The Ballaqueeny Cronk, in the parish of Rushen, within a few yards of Port St. Mary Railway Station, was cut through by the contractors for the Isle of Man Railway Company in or about the year 1873-74, to obtain ballast for the line then being formed between Douglas and Port Erin. Having been repeatedly asked to give a description of this ancient burial ground, I have at last taken pen to place on record such facts in connection with it as have come to my knowledge, regretting only that I did not note them at the time, as some small particulars may have escaped my memory.
Differing in many respects from the mounds commonly called "Cronks," which are generally artificially-formed mounds or heaps of earth in which burials have taken place in earlier ages, this is an extensive burial ground, situated on the most southern point of an elevated tract of land running from Bradda on the north-west in a south-east direction, until it abruptly terminated by sloping into what was originally "moanie" or marshy land.
This platform or table land forms the Treen of "Eldremony," alias "Rowany," and lies, as its name, "Eddyr-ny-moanie," implies, between the "moanies" or bogs. These, which have almost disappeared through draining and the better cultivation of the land, extended at one time from Port Erin around by Port St. Mary Railway Station on the south, and continued on the east and north-east side of Edremony on to Ballaglonney in Bradda.
Enclosed within these moianies at one time was the mound or earthwork known as "Cronk-How-Mooar," or more familiarly, as Fairy Hill. Many conjectures have been hazarded as to the purpose for which this had originally been formed, but a close inspection will, I think, satisfy any person that it was an old fort, formed for defensive purposes. The material of which it is composed must have been carried from the surrounding higher lands, a feat of no small difficulty at that early period. All the land around it has at one time been under water, the oniy outflow or watershed from it running down through the marshy land on the south-east, making it easy to have any depth of water around the Cronk, the high lands of Edremony on the south and west, Bradda on the north-west, and Surby on the north-east, forming it into a complete lake. Access to the fort was obtainable by an elevated earthwork roadway formed on the north-east side of the fort to the most adjacent highlands of Bailafesson. Around the fort was a moat or ditch, the outline of which is still discernible, and a bridge must have been thrown across the moat from the roadway referred to. On the top of the fort is a hollow surrounded by an earthen breastwork.
A very interesting legend or fairy tale is told in connection with this place, which I will endeavour to give as nearly as possible in the words of the old man who told it to me. "It appears," he said, "that a young man called Dunniugha was one night on his rambles as many a young fellow was, and, in passing, he saw a light in Cronk How Mooar, and made for it until he came to an entrance like a door. He went in, and there found a large company having a merrymood. From my best recollection it was said, and this tale was told me by my father (i.e., the old mans father) there was a beef killed, and there was feasting and drinking, and, as the wine cupa silver cup or chalicewent round, it was handed to Dunnagha to have a drink. As soon as he got the cup he repeated some words, and immediately the lights were all extinguished. Dunnagha, taking advantage of the darkness, at once set off n-running through the wet and boggy land. It appears that it was some little time before the fairies missed him, thus giving him a start from the place. It was used to be a terrible watery placethe moanies down there! I knew it myself to be very different from what it is now this many a year. Dunnagha took for running through the water, and, when they missed him, they ran after him, but could not follow him through the water (it is supposed that the fairies could not follow through wet) ; so they began to shout after him to induce him to run on the stepping-stones : Duniiagba, Dumiaghn, Lowey, Our dliy case er e cdagh, £\~ ra cur us e nuigliey.
i.e., Dunnagha, Dunnagha, Lowey : Put your foot on the stones and not in the wet or marsh. Another version of it runs : Dunnagha, Dunnaghia. dee,
Our dhy ems or e cliagli as na fluighey ee
endeavouring to persuade him to run in the dry places, so that he could be the more easily overtaken. Dunnagha, however, ran for his life until he came to a cowhouse, where he ran in, closed the door, and sprinkled the entrance and all round the wall with "mooin ollee," which had the effect of keeping the fairies out.
In the morning, on Dunnagha venturing to come out of his place of retreat, he found marks of blood on the ground outside of the door. He, however, brought the silver cup to the church, and it is said to be there still. It is said that afterwards Dunnagha never ventured to be out of his house of an evening after dark."
To return to Cronk Ballaqueeny, the whole of Edremony ending in the Cronk is composed of gravel, formed, no doubt, by the sea running through from Fleshwick in a southern direction, and meeting the sea from Port Erin flowing south-west, thus causing a bank to be formed under the higher lands of Bradda. When the excavations were made for the railway they showed very plainly the different layers of gravel caused by the action of the tide.
I obtained a piece of coral out of the gravel at a depth of 10 to 12 feet below the surface.
The field, the site of the chapel in which the burial ground was, has always been known as the "Cronk." The burial ground was extensive, stretching from the broogh at the highroad, where the graves were most numerous, east-ward, to a point about 150 yards off, where a grave was opened in cross-ploughing so recently as 1888, and extended northwards from the southern broogh of the Cronk into the fields called "Daa-magher-y-Clagh-ard" (i.e., the two fields of the high stone), so called from the runic cross now standing at the Four Roads, which originally stood in one of these fields.
Some time after the cutting for ballast had been made, I was in conversation with a neighbour, an old lady, who stated that she reoollected very well the site of the old chapel, having on many occasions sat on some of the stones which formed the foundations, the other portions of the Cronk having been overgrown with gorse. The runic cross, called by her "Crosh Balla-queeny," stood in the west magher-y-clagh-ard, a little above the boundary fence between it and the Cronk, and she remembered its removal to the Four Roads ; from which statement it may safely be inferred that the burial ground extended northwards beyond the boundary of the Cronk. In erecting a wire fence some eight years ago a stake or post was undoubtedly driven through a grave at a point marked "E" on the plan.
On the annexed plan is shown, 1st, the position of the chapel, (b) the Cronk being coloured red ; 2nd, the position of the burial with the graves as they were exposed by the workmen in acquiring ballast for the railway (C., C., c.) ; 3rd, the spot where the coins were found (b) ; 4th, ashes and the small stone bearing inscription in Oghams ; 5th, the position of the grave, of which the larger Ogham-inscribed stone formed a side (x) ; 6th, the spot where the stone hatchet was found (d), and also another stone something similar in shape to a round scythe-stone, but flatter.
In and around the site of the chapel the most interesting finds were made.
On the floor in one place was an accumulation of ashes, probably from the offering of sacrifioe or cremation, and over them, or nearly so, were two flags of a blue slaty nature, not remarkable but for two holes bored through them.
I have thought that possibly they might at one time have been one stone and by accident split into two. Near by were also found a number of coins of the Saxon Kings, Edmund, Edred, and Edwy, which I handed to his Excellency Sir H. B. Loch, then Lieutenant-Governor of the Isle, for the Museum, and they are now in the Government Office, Douglas. Another coin, which Mr. Kneale, of Douglas, after much research, made out to be a French one, Charles II., called the Simple, of France, 893-929, is now in my possession.
Next we have the smaller stone with an Ogham inscription ; the characters on this stone are beautifully cut and very distinct. It appears to have been at one time larger than at present, but not very much, as is apparent from its formation. It was found among the gravel by the navvies when filling or loading the trucks, and had rolled out of one of the graves above. Particular search was made at the time for any pieces which might have been broken off, but none were found. The stone is of a slaty nature, and full of small cracks or joints. After being in my possession for a long time and exposed to the action of the weather, by frost it broke up into many small fragments, but I am glad to say that I have had it cemented together again, and, in appearance, it is now as perfect as on the day on which it was found.
Naturally anxious to discover the meaning of the inscription, at the suggestion of the Rev. F. B. Grant, who then resided with us, a copy of the characters was made and forwarded to Mr W. Kneale, of Douglas, as being,. Mr. Grant thought, the best authority on "runes" on the Island, and, therefore, the most likely to decipher it.
So the matter remained for years, until Profs. Rhys and Boyd-Dawkins,. Dr. Beddoe, and the Rev. E. B. Savage, on July 24th, 1886, called here and saw the stone, when Prof. Rhys read the inscription : "Bivaiconas Maqi Mucoi Cunava."
I have since had a reading from Mr Wm. Kneale, by the Rev. Dr. Graves,. Bishop of Limerick, as follows : "Bifaidonas Maqi Mucoi Conafa," who states that similar names occur in Ogham inscriptions in Ireland.
At the time of Prof. Rhys visit the characters standing for the letter 0(F) in BIVAICONAS were wanting, having beenchipped off the stone. He supposed the character required to make the word complete to have stood for 0, or for D. The copy at the time Mr. Grant was with us having been taken directly after the stone was found, and forwarded to Mr. Kneale, who has it still mi his possession, I have been able to supply the want, which is the letter D.
The second and larger stone with Ogham inscriptions formed one of the sides of a grave, a stone of exactly similar nature and description being on the other side. These stones are quite different from the others which formed graves, they being, in all cases, from a quarry of a blue slaty nature while the stones forming this grave seemed to have been subject to the action of the sea or other force, as the edges are all worn or rounded, as though they had been lying on a beach. On this stone the inscription was on the upper side, and the end towards the head of the grave. Prof~ Rhys' reading is as follows : -"Dovaidona Maqi Droata."
" Dovaido, son of the Druid, or Charmer."
One thing very remarkable in this ~tone is that in cutting the inscription a piece of very hard quartz in the line, tool difficult to cut, has been missed, and the inscription is continued on the other side.
The graves, which were most numerous on the south and west side of the chapel, were all formed of flat stones, or flags, for the sides, with shorter pieces for tops and ends, and lay in a direction east and west. In many instances the graves were full of firm earth, in other cases hardly any earth was found, but human remains in the form of skulls, the larger bones of the arms, thigh bones, etc. In very few instances some of the skulls were found with a little hair attached, many of them had the teeth and all complete.
Some of the bones were considered to belong to men above the average size. All of them, excepting three skulls, were collected by me, and buried at the north boundary fence of the Cronk, near a position where the runic cross once stood, Sir H. B. Loch promising to get the runic cross removed and placed over them. The three skulls were, at the desire of his Excellency, given to him to be forwarded to Prof. Owen, of London, for his report as to the probable race or people buried there. No report has been received so far as I am aware.
From all the circumstances and information obtainable, I think we are justified in coming to the conclusion that the Cronk has been a burial place from the earliest ages up to probably the 14th century, when we have records of burials in our present churchyard. First, the ashes, if of any importance, point either to sacrifice or cremation. Then we have the Ogham inscriptions pointing to the 5th or 6th century. Next we have coins of the Saxon Kings about the 9th century, and lastly, the runic cross of, probably, the 12th century. Another conclusion I arrived at is, that it has been a Christian burial place from an early age. First, from the position of all the graves being east and west, and lastly, from the Ogham inscription on the larger stone forming a side stone to a grave.
In conclusion, I consider that if each Treen had its own chapel, undoubtedly this was the chapel of the Treen of Edremony, no other having been found.