[From Manx Quarterly, #11 Oct 1912]


Valuable Work by Archaeologists.

Professor Herdman, the well-known biologist and archaeologist, and Mr Philip M. C. Kermode, who is the principal authority on Manx antiquities, have of late been conducting excavations at Fairy Hill, Rushen. with a view to determining the nature of the mound, and the character of the artificial works on its summit and at its base. A very interesting communication from Prof. Herdman upon the subject of the excavations appeared the " Liverpool Daily Post and Mercury" of Monday, Feb. 5th, 1912, and we take the liberty of reproducing as follows:—

In the " Chronicon Manniae," under the year 1249 it is recorded that Reginald II., King of Man was slain on May 30th, by the Knight Ivar in a meadow near the Church of the Holy Trinity at Rushen." It is also stated that his body was taken for burial to Rushen Abbey — a very natural and probable proceeding, as Reginald was a Christian King, and Rushen Abbey was the chief ecclesiastical establishment: in the Island and the burial place of several previous kings of Man. But local tradition in the south of the Island has it that Reginald was buried in his armour, standing erect in a great tumulus-like mound near Port Erin. This is the mound known to English visitors as "The Fairy Hill." It is marked as "Cronk Mooar" on the ordinance maps, but most of the natives living around call it "Cronkey-moo." which is nearer to what is there is reason to believe is the ancient Manx viz.. Cronk-Howe-Mooar — cronk and howe the Celtic and Norse respectively for "hill" mooar being either the Celtic word for "large," or possibly that for "marsh." The early invaders have each named it "hill" in their own tongues, and the later Manx, adopting both these, have. added the final term. making the whole the " large hill, hill," or the " hill hill in the marsh." The surrounding meadows are still marshy, and were, no doubt, more so in earlier times. The old farm on a rocky ridge to the west is called Rowany, a modern form of the older Edremony, which means "between the marshes."

The great mound lying thus on the low ground behind Port Erin and in a line between Fleshwick and Port St Mary Bays — and about one mile from each — is a conspicuous object from all directions. The suddenness with which it rises from the level field and its regularity or shape, with circular base and conical form, suggests that the whole mound is artificial, and this, along with, or apart from the tradition of Reginald's burial, has caused many archaeologists visiting the place to regard it as being probably a tumulus, and to compare it with the celebrated Maes-Howe in the Orkneys. For example, Mr Arthur Moore, the late Speaker of the House of Keys, author of the "History of the Isle of Man," refers to this similarity to Maes-Howe. and urges that the Cronk-Howe-Mooar should be investigated. The view has also been pretty generally held by visiting antiquaries that the top of the mound, whether natural or artificial, had been subsequently used as a fort and shaped for that purpose; and finally, an obvious trench or moat encircles the base.

There were thus various possibilities, and two or three rival theories in connection with the mound, and for nearly thirty years my friend Mr Philip Kermode and I have been anxious to dig into the top and the base of the hill and set these doubts at rest. It has, however, been impossible, on account of the strong feeling locally against examining or interfering in any way with any pre-historic monuments, to obtain the necessary permission until late in the present winter; but that difficulty has now, happily, been overcome, and within a few hours of making final arrangements with the three persons concerned (the two separate owners and the tenant), we had our men with pick and spade on the ground and the work was started forthwith, and was carried to a finish without mishap or interruption save for the wet, the cold, and the darkness incidental to mid-winter days.

The mound is approximately 30 feet in height, and about 500 feet in circumference, and the distance from the base to the centre is about 84 feet. The moat encircling it is, on the average, 20 feet across. The irregular top of the hill measures about 40 feet by 30 feet, and has a depressed central area of 30 feet by 25 feet, surrounded by raised edges, or earthen ramparts, 7 feet or 8 feet in height,

We cut a trench from the base of the hill at the S.S.W. point, leading inwards towards the centre, and rising step by step as we came upon measured and traced definite natural bands of gravel, sand and clay. Eventually this trench reached about twenty-seven feet horizontally inwards, and the floor had risen about six feet from the base of the hill; and throughout, so far as we had seen, the sections had showed natural stratified beds of sand, gravel and clay along with layers of earth and stones, all evidently bedded and having every appearance of having been naturally deposited.

There seemed no reason to believe that any other part of the hill itself would show any different structure, so we next turned our attention to the artificial-looking earthworks on the summit, and first cut a trench six feet deep through the raised edge or rampart on the western side. The section showed a well-marked core of grey clay under the surface soil and over the undisturbed bed of stony earth forming the top of the hill. and it seems probable that this wall of clay has been brought up from the moat or some other part of the surrounding marsh to steepen and stiffen the top edge of the hill. Another small trench through the opposite rampart showed much the same structure.

The depression in the centre of the top now engaged our attention. One small conical knob of stone was seen sticking up for a few inches from the grass, and on digging down along its inner edge, it was found, as we nad expected, that this knob was the top of a large stone about 4 feet high, standing on end and forming part of a wall, which we then traced east and west for 18 feet. This wall, or rather revetment, for it was merely a stone facing to the earthen ramparts, was rudely built of unshaped stones, some of which were long slabs of the local metamorphic rock. and others were water-worn boulders of glacial origin. The largest stones were placed upright, and the smaller ones filled in between; but as a more detailed description with measurements and photographs of the wall and of the sections, is in preparation, it will suffice now to say that we excavated a rectangular area of about 18 feet by 10 feet, surrounded by the revetment and extending to about 4 feet below the present surface of the ground — evidently the inside of a small fort or primitive defensive work on the summit of this strongly-placed mound in the marsh.

From the floor-level inside the wall it is impossible to see over the surrounding earthen ramparts, so the defence of the hill top was no doubt carried on from the shelf of level ground outside and above the wall, with the rampart rising still for a few feet in front, and giving good protection. The walled area in the centre may have been roofed over with branches and turf as a shelter and store; and it is not difficult to imagine that in the days of bows and arrows, javelins and swords, a party of about twenty or thirty fighting men might hold the little hill fort indefinitely while raiding the surrounding country for their supplies. It is not large enough to be regarded as a place of refuge for the inhabitants of the countryside in time of invasion, but might well be a position seized and fortified by a small party of Norse raiders who were cut off, had lost their ships, or were otherwise prevented from returning north for the winter. We have found little in the digging that gives any definite clue to the period and the race, and further remarks on these points are postponed until we have identified some doubtful objects.

We have made, then, in all, a complete excavation of the artificial works on the top of the " Cronkey-Moo," a deep trench for 30 feet up the south side of the hill, two sections east and west through the earthen ramparts, and two trial pits in the moat. The digging occupied the first week of 1912, and now the earth and stones have been filled in again and the turf restored, and by next tourist season the favourite "Fairy Hill" of Port Erin, will, we trust, have its normal regularly-rounded green surface for the trippers to climb up and the children to roll down. But there need be no doubts in future as to the origin and use of the mound, and no superstitious dread of King Reginald's ghost. Our results, with photographic and other illustrations and details of the sections, will be published by Mr Kermode and myself in due course; but I may now give the following as a brief preliminary statement of what our investigation showed

l. — The greater part of the hill is a natural mound of sand and gravel, with thin layers of grey clay. It is probably to be regarded as a small rounded "esker" or kame of fluvio-glacial origin, piled up by the torrential floods which must have swept over the Isle of Man during the final melting, of the confluent glaciers.

2. — We found no evidence of any burials or internal chambers in that part of the mound which we examined.

3. — The base of the mound may have been shaped to some extent by those who used it as a fort, and has certainly been surrounded by a moat separating the hill on the east side from an elongated ridge of sand and gravel, which was, no doubt, originally continuous with it.

4. — The top of the hill has also been shaped artificially and converted into a small fort, surrounded by earthen ramparts strengthened by a rudely-built stone revetment, enclosing a sunken quadrangular area about 18 feet by 10 feet. This may originally have been roofed in as a shelter, and as it is too small to have served as a place of refuge for many people, the suggestion is made that it may have been a position with natural advantages seized and fortified by a small body of Norsemen wrecked storm-stayed, or otherwise isolated on the Isle of Man at the time of the Viking raids in the ninth and tenth centuries.


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