NGR: SC 30750 88760. In woodland a little to the south of Glen Móoar and close by the Monk’s Road, ½ a mile southwest of Ballaleigh village, in Kirk Michael Parish, Isle of Man, is the Spooyt Vane Keeill, an ancient ruined Chapel of St Patrick (Cabbal Pherick), which is thought to date back to between the 8th-10th Centuries AD. At the side of the chapel, inside an enclosure, are the remains of a hermit’s or priest’s cell, a boundary wall and burial ground. The foundations of this keeil, mainly boulders and turf, are now very grassed over, but it is still fairly easy to make out with an entrance at one side. 130 yards SE of the keeill can be found the spectacular ‘Spooyt Vane Waterfall’, a tourist attraction. The keeill site is 2 miles southwest of Kirk Michael. We don’t know when it was last used as a chapel but it is recorded that the last priest was found to have worked on the Sabbath Day, and for doing this he met with rather a bad end. To reach the site take the A4 Peel road SW out of Kirk Michael for 1½ miles, turning off onto Ballaleigh road, but just before the village take lane SE to Spooyt Vane carpark and Waterfall; the keeill site is in woodland to the SW. The chapel and waterfall are on private land, so it is best to get permission before you visit them.
The ruined Spooyt Vane keeill is situated on top of a hill above the river in the Glen Móoar woods. It is a very primitive ancient chapel and is rectangular-shaped in design with slightly rounded corners. It measures 23 feet x 13 feet with a narrow entrance at the W side. The walls are built rather roughly from unhewn stones, river boulders, rubble and turf, which are now very grassed-over but, in places, these walls still stand to between 30-40 inches in height (2ft 5“ to 3ft 3”). There are remains of a window at the E side. The stone altar which had stood at the E side was taken away for safety, while a thin cross-slab found recumbent on the ground in the entrance was taken to the church at Kirk Michael, again for safety reasons. At the southwest side is an enclosure with turfed bank and inside this there is a ruined Culdee cell at the corner – this being the primitive abode of a hermit or priest, and somewhat similar to a monastic cell. There is more information on the archae-ology of the site at: isle of man.com/manxnotebook website (below).
The Manx Museum And National Trust (1973) tells us: “The keeills were the small early Christian chapels built throughout the Island following the conversion of the Manx to Christianity. Over one hundred and eighty such buildings are known to have existed (though visible remains of less than a quarter of this number survive today). The sites are found in all parts of the Island, and it is thought that their distribution is probably related to the ancient Celtic land divisions known as treens, a keeill being found on almost every treen. The earliest keeills were probably built of sods, or wattle and daub, and no trace of these now remains, but ruins survive of later examples, consisting of stone-faced walls, dating from perhaps the eighth to the twelfth centuries. In a few late examples mortar has been used in their construction, but the more usual form is earth walls, faced with rough dry stone walling. The keeills were small plain rectangular structures, usually measuring inter-nally about 15 feet by 10 feet; in some examples the base of an altar remains at the eastern end. The keeill was often sur-rounded by an enclosure or burial ground, and in some cases traces of the priest’s small habitation cell may be observed. The keeills probably had thatched roofs when in use.”
Andrew Jones (2002) says: “The earliest keeils, being so small, could not have been intended for congregational worship but rather as places in which the first Christian missionaries could offer up their simple service of prayer and praise. Preaching would have been conducted out of doors, and so too would baptism, for a holy well is usually found near these old chapels. Many of the keeils that have been examined are known to have been built on sites that had been sacred for a long time previously, thus illustrating that respect for tradition which was a marked characteristic of Celtic Britain.” And The Viking Heritage (1979) adds that: “For centuries before the longships of the Vikings first appeared off our coasts, our Celtic forbears worshipped at tiny keeills or chapels, the remains of many of which are still to be seen in the countryside. The dedications of many are lost, but those which are known form an impressive monument to the founders of the Manx Church — Patrick, Brigid, and Columba among them. Greatest of all the saints of Mann were Germanus, disciple of St. Patrick, whose cathedral stands on St. Patrick’s Isle at Peel, and Maughold, a repentant brigand who was set adrift in a coracle by Patrick.”
Sources / References & Related Websites:-
Jones, Alan, Every Pilgrim’s Guide To Celtic Britain And Ireland, Canterbury Press, Norwich, 2002.
The Manx Museum And National Trust, The Ancient And Historic Monuments of the Isle of Man, The Manx Museum & National Trust, Douglas, Fourth (Revised) Edition, 1973.
The Viking Heritage — Isle Of Man — Millennium Of Tynwald, The Viking Heritage — The official pictorial souvenir to commemorate the Millennium of Tynwald, Shearwater Press, Douglas, Isle of Man, 1979.
Geograph (Creative Commons) photo (above) is by Jim Barton: https://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/4445479
Check this out: https://asmanxasthehills.com/homage-to-the-holy-well/
Copyright © Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2020.