[From Proc IoMNHAS vol 1 #3]



This Society has always taken an interest in the preservation of local antiquities. Many years ago a committee was appointed by it to wait on Governor Walpole and discuss the advisability of legislation for the purpose, which resulted in the passing of the Manx Museum and Ancient Monuments Act, 1886. The trustees under this Act last year formulated a scheme for the better preservation in their own districts of the ancient sculptured and inscribed stones scattered about the Island, and obtained from the Tynwald Court a grant, in aid, of £250, hoping to be able to raise the balance required by voluntary effort. In a connection with this scheme a building has been erected at Kirk Maughold, from designs by Mr. A. Rigby, F. R. I. B. A. , under which the Crosses of that Parish, which number about one-third of the total found in the Island, have now been set up, and can readily be seen and studied by all who are interested in them.

In October last the building was formally declared open by His Excellency the Lieut.-Goveruor, and, in inviting him to perform the ceremony, the President of our Society explained the aims and objects of the Trustees ; described the nature and origin of the monuments, and urged the duty of preserving them for posterity. Several members of the Society were present, and, for the sake of those who were unable to attend, and as a record of an event of such importance to the Island and of such special interest to us, we here give Mr. Kermode’s address :— " Our objects in providing this building here—as also the smaller structures in several other parishes, in which to collect the Crosses, to protect them from the weather, and to arrange them so that they may readily be examined ; and, in having this little ceremony to mark the occasion, may be stated as follows :—First, the honour and glory of God, that God whom we assemble here to worship even as centuries long ago He was worshipped here by our fore-fathers, the men to whom these memorials were erected. Secondly, to show our respect for those who were so commemorated, who dying in our faith were here laid to rest, as their children and their children’s children, and generations of their descendants, have since been laid—in this hallowed ground to which we still bring our dear ones to their last long homes, where we, too, some of us hope to rest, when our work accomplished we are gathered to our fathers; and, further, to mark our respect for those who, with faith, and devotion, and patience, and ever increasing artistic skill, designed and wrought these beautiful monuments. Thirdly, to impress upon all who are here assembled, upon all who may learn of our proceedings this day, and, upon all who may hereafter come and behold this building, a sense of the priceless value to us of these relics, of our privilege in their inheritance, of the need for their protection, and of the sacred duty which devolves upon us to collect and preserve them, and to hand them on for those who come after us—that they may see them with their eyes and learn from them the many important lessons which they have to teach. Upon these rude and weathered stones we are able to see and to touch the very handwork of those whose skilful fingers have crumbled into dust more than a thousand years ago. Could they 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 day. 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 vista of hills trending inland from the high peak of Barrule ; they would see the same rugged headlands, 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 noon-day 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.

Besides the great number we have in our favoured parish, there are many more of these carved and sculptured stones throughout the Island ; many have been lost, some have been destroyed, many have been abused and put to ill uses, and very many are broken and worn and sadly defaced. They cry aloud for protection and for more reverent treatment. They are links with the long-forgotten past) our only contemporary records of those dark centuries, our very precious heritage. These venerable monuments speak to us of the days far off, when the Celtic inhabitants of the Island, from whom mainly we are descended, speaking one language with their fellow Celts in Ireland and even in Wales, were being gently led from the rude superstitions and dark ignorance of Heathendom to the light of Christianity and the higher civilization following in its wake, the days when the infant church took root amongst us, when little keeills, or chapels, sprang up throughout the land—through that dismal century, when the earlier inhabitants were pillaged and plundered by the fierce pagan hosts, who descended upon our shores from a far-distant northern land, when this green churchyard was converted into a stronghold and defence, of which the traces still remain—through those more peaceful days when the Scandinavians, already half-Celticized by their long stay in the western isles of Scotland, came to settle friendlywise among them, mingling and inter-marrying with them (so that their blood also runs in our veins), adopting their customs, adopting their religion, and becoming leaders in the Church and in the State for we read of one, Roolwer, a Scandinavian bishop, who died about the year 1060, " who," says our Chronicle, "lies at the Church of Saint Maughold," his monument being, as I believe, among those in our collection—through this long eventful period, till finally, the power of the Norseman in the British Isles was broken, and, after an occupation of nearly four centuries, they returned to their own homes. After that, these peculiar monuments ceased to be erected, this special art died out, giving place to the Gothic introduced from the north of England, of which the finest remaining example is the very beautiful pillar-cross of the 14th or early 15th century, still standing at Maughold Church gates.

I cannot now occupy your time by a description of the stones in our collection, but perhaps you will allow me to refer briefly to four or five of the most interesting. The earliest is probably the small slab with a simple linear cross and circle, of a type met with in the 6th century ; this was found some years ago by the late Mr. Looney a little below the ground by the south wall of the ancient keeil, or chapel, of which the foundations may be seen in the north of our churchyard. These little keeills with their accompanying burial grounds—our only material remains, besides the Crosses, of the early Celtic Church— were once very numerous in the Island, and it is remarkable that no fewer than ten of the Crosses in our collection came from as many keeills, viz. : from Ballakilley, the estate close by Ballaterson, Ballure, and in the other direction, Ballafayle, Ballaglass, Ballagilley, Cardle, Corna, Cooillean and the Dhoon. Of all these Ballure alone survives as a church in use. Would that it were in our power to preserve even what little still remains of these ancient buildings as we can the Crosses found beside them. Another early stone is interesting as being the only one in the Island which bears an inscription in the Anglian runes, such as we find in the 7th century. On it we read the name Blagkmon, which in varying form is a known Saxon personal name. In its first syllable we have it amongst us as a surname to this day. Here, also, are two out of the only three in the Island which are in Latin, one of them, erected to a bishop, bears in contracted form the words, " Episcopus Dei Insulis," the lettering and general character of the carving showing it to be probably of the 7th or early 8th century. The other stood for over fifty years on the hedge at Port-y-Vullen, having been brought from the little keeil, through the site of which the road to Gob Ago now passes. When the stone had fallen from the bank (the second time within my recollection), I discovered across the edge the brief inscription, " Crux Guriat." It can with some certainty be dated as early as the 9th century. Another bishop is commemorated on a broken slab, which for many years served as a lintel to the east window. No inscription remains, but we see the figure of the bishop with a closed book on his breast, beside him, his pastoral staff, The design and execution of this belong to the 10th century. Yet another is the monument of Bishop Roolwer, to whom I have. already referred. A stone of very great interest is that which I had the good fortune to obtain a few years ago from a house in the town of Ramsey. It is one of the four in the Island bearing illustrations from the great Norse hero Saga, the story of Sigurd slaying the dragon " Fafni " ; and, just as in Sweden, a great granite boulder so decorated is supposed to have been erected to a descendant of Sigurd, so, I surmise, these monuments in Man were erected to members of our Royal race, who through Olave the White, of Dublin, claimed a similar descent. Now, one of our own kings, Olave, is recorded in our Chronicle to have been treacherously slain at Ramsey about the year 1153, and this stone may have been set up to his memory at Ballure, the nearest consecrated ground. As the house where it was found was built a hundred years ago by Christian Ballure, it is easy to account for its removal there. I will refer only to two others, the latest in our collection. They are not tombstones, but small unhewn weathered slabs with inscriptions in the later runes of about the year 1200. One was found below the old keeil in Corna valley The inscription begins with an invocation to Christ and the great Irish saints, Malachi, Patrick, and Adamnan, adding the words, "Of all the sheep John is Priest in Corna dale." The other, carved by the same John, was found here during the extensive repairs in 1900—appropriately enough by a Priest of our own day, the present Vicar of Maughold, John’s official successor. It bears the words, "John the Priest carved these Runes," and this is followed by the Runic alphabet and by another in Ogams.

I trust that what I have said will serve to convince you of the interest and rare value of these remains ; much might be added of their artistic merits. They are our heritage, national monuments in the truest use of the word, and it is incumbent on us to preserve them. And now, to show that we rightly appreciate our privilege in their possession—yet not as absolute owners, but as trustees for posterity—I beg of your Excellency to declare this building opened and dedicated for their preservation. I an told that I should say a word as to its unfinished state. The reason for that is that the Trustees were anxious to meet the wishes of the parish in having the ceremony on the same day as their harvest festival and annual show. Personally I do not think it matters a bit whether it is backward or forward, our desire being to call attention to the fact that this work is being carried out, and by our ceremony today we wish to mark the good work upon which we are engaged, of preserving all such monuments throughout the small but ancient Kingdom of Man."

His Excellency, in declaring the building open, congratulated the parishioners of Maughold in having here a beautiful, but simple, building, well fitted for the purpose to which it is devoted. It will, he added, be an ornament to the parish churchyard, and it will at the same time show that those who live here now are not unmindful of the valuable relics which have come down to them from their ancestors, and are determined to do what is in their power to preserve them intact. He regretted they had not more favourable weather. It was not his first visit to the district, but Lady raglan had come for the first time, and unfortunately she could not see it, the mist was so thick. It gave him great pleasure to be there, all his life he should be much gratified if he could feel that anything he had done here had tended towards the care and preservation of these monuments of the past.


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HTML Transcription © F.Coakley , 2001