[from Proc IoMNH&ASoc vol2 #3 1924]


29 AUGUST, 1918.

A most enjoyable Excursion took place on the above date, when the ancient camp and the ruins of Keeill Vael, at Balladoole, Arbory, were visited, under the leadership of Mr. P. M. C. Kermode. There were present 45 members and 27 visitors.

The Leader, in the course of his remarks, stated that the place is known as Keeill Vael, the Keeill or Church of Michael. The name is borne by eight keeills besides a parish and sheading, distributed generally throughout the Island, excepting only in Glenfaba. Of the thirty saints known to have been commemorated in our district, no other is so honoured excepting Patrick, who has two parish churches and eight keeills; and the Blessed Virgin, who has a parish church and eleven keeills. These latter, however, are late, and for the most part re-dedications ousting early Celtic saints whose names are now lost. The others occur but once or twice, and a few three times. Michael, therefore, was a very popular saint in the Island; the period of such popularity is to be gathered from the history of dedications. When Christianity became the State religion of the Roman Empire, and churches were erected over the tombs of martyrs, these came to be distinguished by the names of those whose relics they enshrined. The rule that all churches should be so dedicated is illustrated. by the instance of one built about the middle of the 4th Century over the tomb of S. Martin, which was dedicated to S. Stephen because, we are told by contemporary writers, churches are dedicated to martyrs only. In Scotland, as we know, S. Niman had called his church after Martin, and there was another at Canterbury, but this was the Celtic church of Britain, and in the Celtic church, during the whole course of its existence, dedications were unknown. Even on the continent there were a few exceptions. Towards the close of the 5th Century, a church was built in Rome which bore the name of Michael, and its Feast of consecration was observed on the 29 September. Two or three other instances are recorded, all of which were in commemoration of a manifestation of the Archangel at some particular time and place, but the first festival became very popular and its observance spread to other churches, so that by the 9th Century it was formally constituted one of the greatest festivals of the church. Through the influence of the Normans, with whom Michael was the favourite saint, it reached England, and special prominence was given to the Feast of 29 September in the Ecclesiastical laws of Ethelred the Unready. Eventually it spread throughout the universal church.

Early in the 8th Century there was such a manifestation in Monte Tumba, near Avranches, in the south of Normandy; a church was built on the rock, dedicated to S. Michael, and later a Benedictine monastery; since then the place has been known as Mont S. Michael. In the 11th Century, Norman monks from this monastery came to Dinsul, in Cornwall, and to Scealig, south-west of Ireland, and erected churches. The former has since been known as Mont S. Michael, the latter as Scealig Michael.

In the Isle of Man, the cult of Michael was certainly introduced by our Scandinavian forefathers, who in becoming Christians had adopted the Anglo-Catholic system of the Normans, with whom they were akin. Our dedications to Michael, therefore, must date from the end of the 11th and the beginning of the 12th Century.

As regards the date of this building, however, it is much earlier. The walls are of great thickness for so small a structure and are built of local stone in irregular courses, forming a facing outside and inside with a core of small rubble and earth. Not a single stone is either dressed or quarried; they are all gathered from the surface or brought up from the shore. As regards proportions, the measurements, which are never quite exact, fit more nearly with our oldest group than with the next; it is probably a late example in that group, and may be 7th Century. At this period the church i.n Man was a branch of the Columban church, and the saint whose name it originally bore would be a disciple of Columba, if not, indeed, that great missionary himself. We know from record that Columba was at one time patron of this parish, having ousted the earlier but less known S. Cairbre. The latter, however, has come into his own again, the parish now bearing his name — Kirk Cairbre.

Some five centuries after its foundation, when the Island was settled by a foreign race — half Celtic, half Scandinavian — when our ancient Celtic church had merged into the Catholic system introduced by them, this place was still of such importance that the little church was renovated, the doorway enlarged, probably new windows inserted, the outside rough-cast, and — a feature hitherto not met with in any other of our keeills — the inside was plastered. Some small portions of the plaster still remaining show a red colouring with which it was washed. It is possible that there were fresco drawings, now absolutely lost to us. This must have been the time when it was formally dedicated to S. Michael. At this time the very small cemetery immediately surrounding the keeill was paved all over with Pooilvaaish flags, now decayed away but leaving clear traces which may be seen in the sections of the excavations now made : the whole area of the camp at the west end of which the keeill is built was now taken in as the cemetery, as proved by the many lintel-graves found by us at various parts of it. The period of this pre-historic camp may perhaps be indicated by the discovery at the south-west corner of the foundations of the keeill itself of urn burial of the Bronze Age.

The Leader then walked round this area, which measured about 300 ft. from east to west by 200 ft. from north to south. A little east of the keeill was a circular hollow, in which he showed remains of another urn burial. East of this another large ring was found to have contained a Christian lintel-grave; many little ridges and hillocks and hollows, though irregular and insignificant in appearance, were proved to have been formed for some definite purpose. Though very low and of rubble only, they suggested the irregular stone divisions met with in Irish duns and Scottish brochs, and small earthworks, and nearly all the hollows contained great accumulations of food-shells, viz., Patella and Littorina, the refuse of generations of occupiers of the camp. White shore pebbles were plentiful, a little charcoal (of large branches). was met with, and one or two lumps of hæmatite. Sections right across the area showed the limestone rock within a few inches of the surface, with some two feet of soil between the ridges.

On the slope of the hill at Keeill Vael, Mr. H. H. Dickson, found a number of specimens of the small orchis Sptranthes autumnalis a new record for Man.

The following were elected members: — Mr. J. C. Dickson, Port St. Mary; Mr. W. A. Kelly, Peel; Mrs. Marshall, Ballasalla; Miss Mildred Royston, Douglas; Mrs. Mercer, Ballasalla; Miss A. D. Watterson, Douglas; Mr. T. Jones, Douglas; Miss Beryl Bridson, Harcroft.

Mr. Kermode reported that a letter had been received from Dr. Keith, of the Royal College of Surgeons, in reference to the skull and bones which had been forwarded to him, and belonging to a lintel grave, discovered in the sandhill near the shore at Ballagawne, in the Treen of Kyrke Sansan, Rushen.

Dr. Keith's report was as follows : —



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