[From Manx Soc Vol 15, 1868]
BY THE REV. E. L. BARNWELL.
If the stone monuments in the Isle of Man are not remarkable for their dimensions or their state of preservation, they have at least an interest wanting in similar remains in Wales, Cornwall, or other districts where these monuments are not uncom mon. Generally speaking, such monuments are supposed to be, and probably are, the relics of a certain race, or divisions of it, whether Celtic or of an earlier unknown people. They may and seem to have been erected at different periods; but they were still erected by the same race, or by its successive waves. The case of the Isle of Man is different. Within the historic period it has been overrun by Norsemen, themselves builders of structures of a similar character, although presenting certain distinct features of their own. Had their monuments, then, as well as the earlier ones of their predecessors, been left in any moderate state of preservation, the assignment of each class to their respective builders would have been in most cases comparatively easy; but in their present condition of almost complete destruction, the attempt to distinguish one from the other with certainty is almost hopeless. To add to the difficulty, few satisfactory accounts of the contents of graves opened in later times, and no trustworthy delineations of the monuments themselves, before their destruction, have come down to us. It is true that the work of rifling and destruction, especially of the earliest examples, may have taken place centuries ago, even by the Scandinavian invaders themselves, in their search for gold and other treasure. On the Continent, as in the north-western districts of France, the Northmen appear to have ransacked every grave that promised such booty; but in many instances they have left behind them, as of little value, articles of great importance to the archaeologist of the present day. If the same spoliation was practised by the Scandinavians in Man, they carried on the work so effectually as to leave little hopes to the Manx explorer. There may, however, still remain, especially in less frequented parts of the island, graves which may have wholly or partially escaped; and if such should be the case, it is to be earnestly hoped that they will be carefully examined by gentlemen competent to superintend the operations; for the safest, if not the only reliable means of ascertaining any real information respecting the habits and uses of the earlier races, which once occupied the island, can be obtained in no other manner than by a careful examination of such relics.
There are however, certain distinctive features exhibited in the various remains throughout Man which deserve attention. The late Dr. Oswald has, indeed, in his Vestigia, chapter ii, given a full and accurate description of the most remarkable; but his deductions and observations, especially as regards Druidic theories, must be received with great caution. Besides his indiscriminate use of the term "Druidic circle," and "altar," he introduces us to a distinction between the complete circle and the semi-lunar forms, which, he says, have been supposed to have been respectively dedicated to the sun and moon. In the days of Stukely such theories may have been suggested, but would hardly be advanced in the middle of the present century, and certainly should not have been repeated without some explanatory caution by so good and zealous an archaeologist as the author of the Vestigia; for although it is now universally agreed among the most competent judges, that these various circles are simply portions of sepulchral arrangements, yet there is even at the present day a certain class who see in them nothing but Bardic and Druidic mysteries. Thus these semi-lunar forms are said to be connected with lunar worship,- the circle with that of the sun; whereas the former are but mutilated remains of the latter, whilst these latter are but the relics of a grave.
In the present notice, stone monuments will alone be touched on. The numerous early earthworks, of different forms and intended for various purposes, scattered through the island, form a class by themselves well deserving a separate examma tion, although a good account of many of them will be found in the Vestigia, and is given in the previous Memoir by Dr. Oliver.
Of the cromlech proper there does not appear to be any example in the Isle of Man,- at least none such was seen during the meeting of the Association. Whether the small chamber in the Oatland circle is one, will be best decided by the spade, as without it it is not easy to determine whether the .stones composing the sides of it were originally placed on, and not within, the ground; for this seems to be the safest test to distinguish the one class from the other. According to this view, the cromlech is always built on the ground, the kistvaen sunk within it, so as in fact to become an ordinary rude stone coffin. A large kistvaen must not, therefore, be considered a small cromlech, as is sometimes the case. Thus the latter name has been given to the stone grave near Tynwald Mount, which has been laid bare by a cutting in the road.
It may be a question whether cromlechs are always of much older dates than the kistvaen, although the latter continued in use to a period when even the very nature and object of the cromlech had become a mystery. In the island especially it is difficult to say when the practice of burying in kistvaens ceased, as those opened at Cronk ny Keeillane and elsewhere are apparently Christian. The form, however, of such a grave is so simple and natural, that it is difficult to conceive that it is merely a kind of copy of the cromlech, or even much later. The two kinds of chambers were probably contemporaneous; the larger and more costly cromlech, with its covering tumulus, being only adopted for persons of distinction; for when we consider the enormous amount of labour that must have been spent in raising the covering stones, sometimes thirty feet long, and almost always of enormous thickness, on the top of supporters projecting six or more feet from the surface of the ground, and the additional labour of covering the whole with a huge mound of earth or stones, and how much of this toil might have been saved by merely sinking the slabs within the ground, it is evident that such a costly practice owes its origin to some tradition of the remotest antiquity, which may, perhaps, be traced in the rock-caves of the East, or even the Pyramids themselves, which look very much like simple tumuli over the remains of the dead.
At Autun, in France, is the well-known mass of masonry, now robbed indeed of its ashlar, but which is simply a solid stone tumulus (if such a phrase is admissible). These considerations point to the extreme antiquity of such monuments, usually ascribed to Celtic races, but which may, and probably have been erected by some anterior people. But even allowing the great antiquity of the cromlech proper, it by no means follows that the kistvaen was unknown at the same early period.
Of the existing remains, however, in the island, which are connected with sepulture, the large stone circles, more or less perfect, may be placed among the earliest; although, in some cases, it seems impossible to distinguish those which were erected in later times by the Scandinavians. The large masses of white quartz, mostly isolated or not arranged in any order, seem to belong to the earlier class. A faithful representation is given of one of them at p. 95. It lies on the land of Ballamona. Other similar masses in the same spot have been either removed or completely destroyed, so that it is not possible to ascertain in what order they were once grouped, for although some may think that they have been brought to their present situation by natural agency, yet the finding of several near one another in a particular spot, where they do not naturally occur, seems to indicate that they have been brought thither, and that too at no little cost of labour. The hill above Malew church, still retains two or three similar masses of white quartz, which the author of the Vestigia seems to describe as having formed a circle of about ten yards in dianieter, although no traces of it are now to be detected. He speaks of two of the stones as portal stones, and of a third within the area, which of course must be the altar stone in the eyes of those, who still consider these circles connected with Druidic or Bardic mysteries, but which is more likely to be merely one of the stones of the circle out of place.
PLAN OF OATLANDS CIRCLE, ISLE OF
A. Chamber B.
B. Stone with cup markings.
C. Stone, five feet high.
D. Stone, four feet six inches high.
E. Fallen stone- perhaps portion of the covering stone.
F,O,H. Detached stones of outer circle.
Average height of other stones of inner circle, three feet.
As, however, the late Dr. Oswald seemed satisfied that such a circle of quartz rocks did exist at Malew, it renders the conjecture probable that those at Ballamona also were portions of a similar circle. It is also remarkable that the ground, which this circle may have occupied, has been an extensive cemetery-. In addition to the neighbouring tum alas marking a grave, numerous kistvaens have from time to time been discovered in ploughing, the fragments of one of which, destroyed a short time ago, consisted of thin, slaty stones. A Treen chapel also is said to have stood on this spot, so that if it be a fact that a primitive stone circle of quartz masses also ex isted here, we have a remarkable instance of the same burial- ground having been used by various races down to Christian times.
The earth was excavated to a slight extent under the Ballamona block, but nothing was discovered except the two small stones given in the cut, which appear at first sight to have been supporters to the mass, but which, from their diminutive size and their position, are suspiciously natural. A small fragment of vegetable charcoal was also found, but its presence, unsupported by other indications of fire, is not of much importance. If any traces of interment exist, they are likely to be found near, not under the quartz mass, as Mr. John Stuart has frequently found to be the case in Scotland during his numerous diggings in and about circles.
An important group of circles, known as the Mount Murray Circles, may be of a later period than those formed of quartz blocks. These circles are so imbedded in the heath that they are somewhat difficult to trace, although they are unusually perfect. If the ground could be cleared, it is not unlikely that traces of the once existing chambers might be made out. An upright stone in one of them has certain marks, which at first sight might be taken for artificial, but which do not appear to be so. This grouping of circles, almost, if not quite, in contact with each other, is not unusual, and seems to indicate an early character. In many instances, such groups have been included in one large circle, which sometimes remains when the enclosed circles and graves have vanished. Hence may be explained the mystery of circles like that near Penrith, known as Long Meg and her daughters, which is evidently too large to have been intended to surround a single grave.
The circles in Arragon also attracted attention, from the fact that one of them had an inner circle of stones placed, not close to the base of the tumulus, but some little distance up its sides. This peculiarity was not observed in a circle in the next enclosure. This position of the stones indicates the Scandinavian character of the tumulus.
Another tolerably perfect circle, composed of quartz blocks, was pointed out by the Bishop of Sodor and Man. It is situated not far from Bishop's Court, on high ground commanding a fine sea view. It is probably one of the earlier class. The tumulus, which once existed, appears to have been formed of fine soil, if that which still covers one of the stones, as it seems to be, is a last remnant. If so, the soil must have been too valuable to the farmer to have escaped removal. In a small island like that of Man, no part of it can be called distant from the sea; but the majority of this class of antiquities seem to show that, when possible, the builders of them selected sites commanding a sea view. In no instance is this tendency more strongly exhibited than in Brittany, where, almost without exception, the great monuments are on the coast. The same may be said of Wales in a less degree. Instances, no doubt, occur where they are found more inland; but, as a general rule, the earliest vestiges of man are to be found along the coast.
All the circles mentioned have lost the interior structure. That at Oatlands is an exception, which retains its central chamber. The inner circle of stones, placed near one another, marks the limit of the earn or tumulus. Three stones of the outer circle, placed at greater intervals, still remain.
The chamber itself is composed of substantial slabs of stone, nor less substantial was the covering stone lying on the ground. At present thechamber has the appearance of a kistvaen, but it would be necessary to clear away the soil to ascertain whether the sides were originally placed on the ground, in which case it would be a small cromlech. But the most remarkable circumstance connected with it, is that one of the stones has several rows of the curious cups, to which Professor Simpson has called the attention of his brother-archaeologists, and which until first noticed by that keen observer, seem to have been unknown, or at least to have never attracted attention. Now these cups, and their developments in the form of circles, are found only in the earlier class of stone monuments, so that there can be little hesitation in assigning the Oatlands group to the earliest period. The character of this monument, the cups, and whole arrangement, will be best understood from the accurate drawings and measurements taken on the spot by Mr. Blight, which are given in the accompanying illustrations. The cups are, however, shown more distinctly than they appear in the original.
There is a singular group of upright stones at Poortown on the old Peel road, forming a gallery. This gallery, covered with flat stones, was, together with the chamber to which it led, once covered with soil. In the great majority of existing cromlechs, all traces of a gallery conducting to the chamber have long since vanished, but in this instance the chamber has been destroyed, and the gallery left. It is, however, by no means certain that galleries always formed a portion of such structures; examples might be given where it is proved they never existed. One of the best authorities on this subject has suggested that the more important chambers were built with a view to subsequent interments, so that it would be necessary to have such a means of access without disturbing the tumulus or chamber; but that where this motive did not operate, the chamber was closed up, and no gallery added. The traces of such galleries are very rare in these islands. One, or rather the remajns of one, exists in the cromlech on the Henblas estate in Anglesey, which was visited by the Cambrian Archaeological Association during the Bangor Meeting. They are, however, common enough in Brittany.
If, however, the moderate height of these stones seems to show that they could not have served as the walls of a gallery, it is not impossible but that in this group we may have an example of the stone avenue or alignment ;- an arrangement common enough in Brittany, but in these islands of the highest rarity. The stones are, however, placed much nearer to each other than is usual in an ordinary avenue, so that on the whole it seems more probable that it is the remains of a covered gallery to a grave. Under either supposition, however, it is certainly one of the most interesting, if not the most interesting, of Manx stone monuments, and deserves to be carefully protected from the destroyer.
This Manx example is composed of such small stones, that unless the ground has been raised by natural causes, access could not have been obtained in an upright position. But this question can be determined by clearing away the soil, which Mr. Harrison, the owner of the estate, has promised to do. If there has been any accumulation of soil, the floor may possibly remain, which is frequently formed of one or more of large flags. Several large stones, which seem to have belonged to this group, are now on the other side of the bank.
The stone monuments hitherto noticed are, with the exception of the Arragon circles, most probably of the earlier kind. The remarkable circle of graves on the hill above Port Erin may belong to the same class, although they are not built of the same substantial slabs, which generally characterise the earlier chambers. Their remarkable grouping, however, so as to form a perfect circle, and the fact of a small raised bank enclosing the circle, seem to indicate a very early character. There appears to have been more than one entrance into the circle, although this appearance may have arisen from the displacing of some of the stones. A reference, however, to the ground plan, made by Mr. W. Matthews of the Government Harbour works, will best show this peculiarity. There was not sufficient time on the occasion of the visit to examine with greater care these outlying stones, so as to ascertain whether they are original portions of the group. The general view is from a drawing made for the Association by Mr. Jeffcott of Castletown, who has, in a subsequent memoir, furnished some details concerning it.
It is situated in the highest parts of the mountain called "The Mull," in the parish of Rushen, close to a rocky valley which gives to the monument its name, Rhullick-y-lagg Shliggagh, or "the grave-yard of the valley of broken slates."
It was with no little difficulty that Mr. Jeffcott ascertained its Manx name, which, but for the information he obtained from two octogenarian natives, might have been entirely lost. The materials of the kists have been evidently taken from the spot, and vary much in thickness, namely from six to sixteen inches, and are entirely without any marks of tooling. The interior diameter of the circle is forty-six feet. It is very remarkable that this curious circle had not hitherto attracted any attention, or even been noticed, except by Mr. Halliwell, in his Round about Notes (1863). He thinks, however, that stone avenues existed; but this seems doubtful. There are, indeed, one or two irregularities in the exterior of the circle, which may have been caused by later kists added on the outside. He is, however, not far from right in thinking it to be "perhaps the most curious sepulchral monument in Great Britain."
From the regularity with which the graves have been arranged in pairs, and the complete similarity of the kists themselves, they appear to have been the work of the same hands, and of the same time. Other graves are said to exist on the mountain, but not arranged as these are. It is, however, certain that no careful examination has yet been made of the ground, an omission which it is to be hoped will soon be rectified. Immediate steps should at any rate be taken to surround this group with a wall to prevent its destruction, for although the kists are individually of no great importance, yet their being thus grouped together gives them a value, which it is to be hoped will be appreciated by the proprietors of the land.
The other stone remains visited during the meeting of the Cambrian Association are of the later kind, and must be referred to Scandinavian occupiers of the island.
In a field near the Tynwald Mount were three kistvaens, one of which was laid bare by a cutting through the road, and examined during one of the excursions of the week. This had evidently been buried within the ground, to some depth, as will be seen from the accompanying illustration. At the time of its discovery nothing was found within it[in my copy of this volume previously owned by Henry Cadman he notes "I saw this the day it was found when it contained a small heap of dark coloured earth or mess which was the remains of bones no doubt(?) ], so that it may have been rifled on a former occasion. Near it were the two other similar graves, close to one another,- one of which contained a battle-axe and spur, the other a collection of beads and other ornaments and an urn. What has become of the former is not ascertained; the others are in the Museum of Practical Geology in Jermyn Street. That the three kists are of the same character and age there can be little doubt; and that they were Scandinavian is shewn by the relics of two of them. A correct account of these important discoveries is given in a letter from Mr. F. Matthews to Dr. Oliver, which will be found in the Notes to the Vestigia. As it was in this and the adjoining fields that a battle took place between Olave and his brother Reginald, and in which the latter was slain, that there was some connexion between the battle and these graves is very probable. The relics are those of a person of importance; but not of Reginald himself, since his body was taken by the monks of Rushen Abbey and buried in the Abbey of Furness.
The objects in Jermyn Street, since examined and drawn by Mr. Blight, are represented in the engraving by that gentleman.
No. 1. Yellow glass bead with red markings.
No. 2. Glass bead with facets dark blue.
No. 3. Opaque white glass bead.
No. 4. Turquoise coloured blue bead, larger than the others.
No. 5. Yellow glass bead with dark blue markings.
No. 6. Bead similar in form to No. 3, resembling Samian ware.
No. 7. Blue glass bead similar in form to No. 3.
No. 8. Dark blue glass set in copper nearly converted into metal carbonate.
No. 9. Rock crystal.
No. 10. A portion of an ornament of silver, much oxydised.
No. 11. Portion of a copper ring.
No. 12. Portion of a silver ring nearly converted into chloride or horn silver.
No. 13. Fragment probably of an ornament, and which seems to be metal.
The group in Kirk Lonan parish, on the Minorca road, between Ramsey and Douglas, is popularly known as King Orry's grave. The name is associated with other places in the island, as at Bishop's Court, where the mediaeval tower is called Orry's tower. Orrisdale is in the same locality. King Orry's son and successor died in 954. There appears, however, to have been more than one grave, as the existing remains show. The group was opened some thirty years ago, when it was found to contain a dome vaulted chamber, which itself contained a kistvaen, as if especial honour had been intended by this peculiar arrangement. A mere covering of earth or stones would have been sufficient for the purpose, as was the usual practice. In this case, a vaulted chamber had been added. Professor Simpson has remarked a somewhat similar instance of this double enclosure. In the cromlech on the mountain near Harlech, associated with the name of Arthur, he noticed that a kistvaen had been placed within the cromlech itself. But such instances are very rare. When Orry's grave was opened, it contained a few human bones, the skeleton of a horse, an iron horse-shoe (now in the possession of Mr. Paul Bridson), and an iron sword, objects which indubitably point to a Scandinavian interment. How the chamber was vaulted is omitted in the account. If the vaulting, so-called, was not effected by stones overlapping one another, but in the usual manner of ordinary vaulting, the monument cannot be of very ancient character. *
The Cloven Stones of Laxey, nearer Douglas, are the re mains of another grave with its surrounding pillar-stones. In Wood's Isle of Man (1811) the author states he saw twelve stones placed in an oval form on the mount. If this account be correct, the position of the stones on the mount, as in the Arragon circle, would indicate the structure to be Scandinavian. Local tradition terms it the burial-place of a Welsh prince who reigned on the island between the seventh and eighth centuries. It is more probably the resting-place of a Norseman.
Another work is associated with Orry's name, called Castle Chorry, lying still nearer Ramsey. This was not visited; but from the representation of it given in Mr. Cumming's larger work, it appears to be a simple sepulchral circle, retaining in the interior some of the stones which once composed the interior cave or chamber.
The large and small kists in the grounds of Orrisdale, have been removed for the sake of security to their present position. Nothing was found in the larger one but a confused entangled mass of vegetable matter containing small white particles, which appear to have come from burnt bone. The smaller kist is square, and of such small dimensions that it could only have held ashes, or the doubled-up body of a small child. Numerous similar kists are said to exist on the hill from which these were brought.
Cronk ny Keeillane is on a hill cut through by the high road, near Peel, and has been well described in the appendix to Oswald's Vestigia. The mound was raised originally upon the summit of a rising ground, and has been the nucleus of an important cemetery, as graves have been frequently disturbed by the plough. The kistvaens, that have been opened, are built of thin slabs of slaty rag stones, and are of an humble and meagre character. The bodies appear to have been placed in one uniform position, nearly east and west. The skull, which had been cut through by some trenchant implement, and which was exhibited in the Museum, was taken from one of the kists. An old Treen church stood on the plateau above the graves that were opened, but all traces of its site are gone. Whether the original church preceded or was subsequent to the inter ments, is an interesting point; for if subsequent, it would shew that this spot had been chosen as a cemetery from very early times, although the character of the present graves is somewhat dubious. But whether Christian or not, they may have succeeded still earlier ones; so that, as in the case of Ballamona cemetery, we may have an instance of a cemetery dating from the earliest period to a comparatively recent one. Connected with the Treen chapel was a Runic cross, never described, which, during a murrain among the cattle of the district, acquired a bad character amongst the natives as being connected with the disease. It was accordingly buried in the ground, and no persuasion to disclose the spot has yet been effective. The man, who did the act, still lives, but keeps the secret,- all the less likely to be known at the time, when the rinderpest existed on the opposite shore. If that plague should ever find its way into the island, perhaps other Runic monuments may disappear. [FPC see Kermode List]
The other stone remains which exist throughout the island will be probably found to be similar to one or other of the classes here briefly touched upon. St. Patrick's chair, at Magher-y-Chiarn, in Marown Parish, of a somewhat different character, may, perhaps, have been the modern fabrication of a neighbouring farmer, who may have found (if he did not manufacture them) these stones in different spots, and grouped them thus together, either from some whim, or to prevent their interference with his plough. They were not, however, seen by the members of the Association during their visit to the island; so their real history must be left for Manx archaeologists.
* Mr. David Forbes states that the late Mr. Frank Matthews forwarded to his late brother, Professor Forbes, the sword found in Orry's grave; but of its subsequent fate he is ignorant.