[Yn Lioar Manninagh Vol 2 pp122/126]



Although the chief points of antiquarian interest in the Parish of Michael have already been described, I think there are one or two, so far, unnoticed. For instance, in the churchyard there is a curious old grave-stone, upon which a skull and cross bones are very clearly cut, and, in spite of its having weathered the storms of many seasons, are still very perfect ; also the date 1699, and the letters C. Q. This stone is about 2 feet high by 1¼ feet across, and is made of clay schist, similar to the runic stones at the churchyard gate.* It stands at the foot of a grave in the oldest part of the churchyard, evidently on the site of an earlier burial ground, as the Parish Clerk tells us that when digging new graves about this spot he has frequently come across portions of bone and of rude lintel graves considerably below the surface. This is, course, not an uncommon feature of the Island, and members may remember a somewhat similar case described at a place in Orry’s Dale Head, now washed away by encroachments of the sea, and again, a few weeks ago, in a cutting in Lonan Parish for the Electric Railway.

There was a somewhat curious large rough stone, about three feet every way, weighing several hundredweight, in a field on the Michael Glebe, between the Vicarage. and the sea, known as "Corneil-y-Keillagh." The old people called this black fixture a "font," and it was one of their favourite walks on Sunday afternoons to go and see this "font," which, for many years, was partly built up into the hedge of the field. When the late Rev. W. Hawley was vicar, he gave some members of this Society permission to take it out for the purpose of examination, but although there was a small groove in it at one end, evidently water worn, it presented no appearance whatever of "font," and certainly could hardly have been used for that purpose. It is curious what gave rise to the name "font," but the field in which it was, being called "Corniel-y-Keillagh" (corner of the chapel), is not without significance. The stone, after lying some time in the field, and being, probably, in the way of the plough, was, by Mr. Hawley’s orders, split up into flakes, and these are now thrust back into the gap in the hedge whence it came. Such an insignificant ending to a stone once venerated cannot fail to be regretted, but "you’ll get lave!"

The discovery of the large runic cross over the dining-room door in Bishop’s Court after the fire, last May, was certainly strange. As it has already been described by Mr. P. M. C. Kermode, nothing further need be said about it, excepting that it has been handed over to the Trustees of the Ancient Monuments Act, and is now in their keeping. It is most probable, as Bishop Murray altered that part of the house, that it was in his time placed in the position in which it was found, where, at all events, it has been preserved. Bishop Murray was a very great man for brick and mortar, and improvements and alterations of various kinds. For instance, he had a lime-kiln made at Glen Trunk, on the shore below Bishop’s Court, for burning lime, and also a small jetty at the mouth of the Glen, where boats from Castletown laden with lime and stone, used to discharge their cargo. This lime was of enormous benefit to that part of the Island, as he seems to have been well aware. He also made that broad, good road leading directly from Orry’s Dale up to the Ramsey highroad, and since then known as the "Deemster’s Road," after Deemster Crellin, who was at that time living there. And again, at Sulby, it was he who suggested and had the bridge made over the daugh, by Sulby Cross, as the spot where the four roads meet was then called.

When Townley visited the Island, in 1719 [sic 1789], and wrote his "Journal," he mentions only one runic stone as standing at the entrance to the old church of Kirk Michael ; the two stones which now stand in the wall right and left of the present church gate were discovered buried in the Cronk-y-crowther (hill of hanging), (To’ hang, ‘dy Chroghey") near the Vicarage, when that hill was being lowered, some years ago, for the improvement of the highroad which cuts right through it.

A curious and interesting stained-glass window, which, for several years, had been hidden away in Bishop’s Court, has just lately been brought to light, and placed in a good position in the hall, although not where it was originally. As it is almost the only, and certainly the best, bit of old stained glass which the Island possesses, it is deserving of notice and of care ; and there seems every prospect of both being bestowed upon it now. Of its origin and history nothing is at present known. Six armorial bearings are represented upon it, including the Royal Arms ; to whom the other five coats belong has not yet been ascertained, but they are neither the Derbys’ nor the Athols’. Probably the window was put in by a former bishop, and it certainly was there in Lord Auckland’s episcopate ; but since that time it has been more or less in obscurity, until the present Bishop, Dr. Straton, brought it out, and had it carefully restored. Now it is by no means an insignificant ornament, and not of little interest in Bishop’s Court.

I should like to draw attention to some remarks made by Townley in the journal which he wrote during his visit to this Island in the year 1789.

Amongst the many places that he describes minutely is the neighborhood of Orry’s Dale (formerly spelt Oristal, and still so pronounced by the old people which he was taken round by John Frissell Crellin, Deemster, who, at t time, was living there. A long account of the day he spent is given in hock, and if all parts of the Island have, within a little better than 100 years changed so much as this part has, they must have changed indeed. He begins by describing "Cronk Koir," which he calls "a Danish barrow or berg". He then passes on to "Cronk Bane y Bill villy," which he speaks of as a "Druidical Temple" ; at the time he saw it, it must have been very much more perfect than it is is now. Speaking of the rude stones which form this "Temple" he says, "those that surround the Sanctum Sanctorum are massy pebbles of white shining spar, and those that form the portico or entrance are two most ponderous grey pebbles of a grain and substance very different from any stone visible in that country, they must have been procured from some part of the seashore, or from some very distant district." Then he comments on manner in which "such huge heavy bodies were brought to such high ground and so firmly fixed there as to "brave removal." Would that they had "braved removal," for since that time the "Temple" has been much destroyed, several of the large stones have been removed and taken away altogether and are used as gate posts, or built up in the hedges in different parts of the neighbourhood ; the circle (which is all that is left) contains now only five stones, and is almost entirely covered with gorse ; that this should have been the case is very unusual, as the Manx people, as a rule, hold in great respect in fact, are superstitious about disturbing, any relics of the dead.

Townley then continues to describe the neighbourhood, and I think it better now to quote his own words, he says—Whilst I was surveying those remains with a kind of veneration, I observed a fine level clod at some distance from me (upon the lofty beach) which was perfectly level, smooth, and circular, elevated, too, above the surrounding surface of the ground. The novelty of the sight soon led me there, where I found it surrounded, first by a regular excavation (from which it had acquired its elevation), and then by a regular mound, entirely corresponding with the inward circles ; it reminded me of King Arthur’s Round Table, near Penrith, only it was larger in circumference, and much more elevated, for it might be distinguished at a mile’s distance upon level ground."

He then comments upon its "exact circular form," and "the elevation, excavation, and mound in particular so exactly corresponding with the interior circles," considered "that it must have been a work of art and design, and not ‘of nature or chance, though entirely at a loss to guess what the design was, or what the original use could he." "There is not," he says, " stone of any size to be observed anywhere near it, so it could not be meant as a work of defence"

At the present time it is not possible to conjecture where, or what, this circular elevation was, of which Townley speaks in 1789, for in the 100 years which have intervened every vestige of it has disappeared, and even the direction in which it lay cannot be ascertained. The 'broughs," also, at that spot, must have altered very much, as he mentions how, in Bishop Wilson's time, it was "the favourite airing ground of the worthy old gentleman in his old chariot, as many people now living can well remember." How Bishop Wilson, in his "old chariot," reached this "airing ground" it is impossible to say, for certainly in the present day it could only be done with great difficulty. Townley then continues thus-"It seems very probably that fine piece of heath ground on the lofty shore side was the common or chosen sepultural ground of the Danes in that part of the Island, as such numbers of cells have been (from time to time), all along that lofty beach, laid open to view by the continued encroachments of a furious sea upon it, by undermining and washing away its earthy foundation." he then describes finding a 'cell" which appeared to have very recently lost its contents, and which he was fortunate enough to discover among some fallen rubbish. "The urn or sepultural earthen vessel was broken, but the covering or protecting stones wore found entire ; the end stones about a foot high, the covering stones about two feet long."

In proceeding along he observed several empty cells, and met with some of their contents at the bottom of the beach. Before leaving the shore, he says, "he was so lucky to see one that was laid open to view by a fresh fall, but still retained all its furniture," and, he continues, "the distance from the surface to the sepultural range of cells is generally the same, about twenty inches from the covering stones," and then he ends by saying that he "found many afterwards, seven or eight in a regular range. I think it is probable that the part of the "broughs" he refers here to is that part known as Orrysdale Head, or Orry's Head, as marked in the maps; the late J. F. Crellin, many years ago, saw about the last of these lintel graves disappear, and pulled out from it a portion of an arm bone. But, from Townley's description, I think we may gather that all the district round Orry's Dale must have been an important Danish settlement and the oldest part of Bishops Court, the part not destroyed by the recent fire, is called in the old deeds '"Orry's Tower."

Townley then gives an account of how he visited, that same day, "the humble Church and Churchyard" of Kirk Michael (at this time, and for some 40 years after, the quaint little old church stood there), and of his finding, amongst some rubbish in the churchyard, "a venerable stone, displaying’ by rude chiselling) the figure of some mighty Danish chief, in complete steel" "I instantly," he goes on to’ say, "rescued the warrior from his ignominious concealment, bringing him into a safe place, where I could easily take him into my carriage and convey him into mere respectable quarters," and further on he says that he "received the ancient venerable hero into the chaise, and carried him in triumph to Douglas " His description of it is as follows : —"The stone has received some little injury, but it is not mutilated as to prevent the intention of the artist from being fully expressed. He has cloathed his war-like figure in complete armour, with a helmet upon his head, and a tremendous broad-sword hanging before him, suspended by two straps from a studded belt : with which he has (properly) girded his warrior to make him invulnerable at all points. He has represented him, too, with his arms up. lifted (with his fingers gripped) in a solemn, supplicating posture, as if entreating that which everyone must stand in need of at one time, mercy."

I do not know that very much can be made out of these remarks of Townley’s, still, I think they are worth drawing attention to, as he seems to have been an observant man, and much interested in antiquities. it would be most interesting to know what has become of the figure of the mighty Danish Chief which he carried away with him, and whether there was any possibility of tracing its whereabouts or of recovering it ; but I fear this is impossible after such a lapse of time.

I hope that the crudeness and roughness of these few "notes" will be excused ; they are offered for what they are worth, which is not much ; still, they may possibly be of some slight use or interest to those who are learned in, and more able to cope with the subject than I am.

* It; has since been ascertained that this had been a " runic stone " long before the skull and cross bones were carved on it. See " Lioar Manninagh," Vol. III., p. —[481]ED.


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