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Lag ny Keeilley is one of the best preserved and most dramatic of all the Isle of Man's keeills.

When approaching the site along the old packhorse route, the keeill only comes into sight at the last minute, but this viewpoint provides a useful opportunity to consider the site and surrounding earthworks. The most obvious feature is the rectangular stone structure of the keeill which sits on a flat platform partly cut into, and projecting from, the hillside. This is surrounded by a circular enclosure some 40 metres in diameter, which almost certainly defines a graveyard or rhullick. To the north a terraced area, some 20m by 20m, is enclosed by a low stone wall. This may have served as a tiny field for growing food. At the south-west corner of this enclosure are the remains of a small rectangular structure which may have been a shelter for the attendant priest.

Two large modern cairns mark the entrance to the rhullick. Investigations by antiquaries revealed several lintel graves close to, and within the keeill, and the discovery of a number of cross slabs suggests further burials. very occasional use of this cemetery continued into the 1800s, when a woman from Eary Cushlin was buried here. A second, south-eastern, entrance is marked by a single upright stone. Careful examination of this stone reveals a simple Christian motif, a cross within a circle, carved into its surface.

Today the keeill is a simple dry-stone structure measuring 4m by 2.5m with a doorway in the west wall, although its current appearance owes much to clearance and consolidation. excavations during the early 1900s revealed a flat stone in the doorway with a hole cut in one corner. The door lintel was also located, with a corresponding hole, so that the post on which the door was hung could pivot. Traces of two stone window frames were discovered: the sill of the eastern window was formed from an incised cross slab which was probably a reused gravestone, and a piece of roughly moulded sandstone was recovered from the rubble within the building which would have formed an arched window-head. The sill and reveals of a window in the south wall were also discovered. Below the eastern window the base of an altar constructed from small slabs of stone was identified, and close to it a considerable number of round white quartz pebbles were uncovered, perhaps the remains of a part-cobbled, part-flagged, floor.

Little was found, however, that could conclusively date any of the structures. A number of simple cross slabs had been built into the keeill’s structure or were found strewn around the rhullick, suggesting that burials may have taken place at the site in the centuries before the viking period, and that these stones were later reused in the keeill. The total of ten cross slabs that have now been recovered from the site is a much greater concentration than from any other keeill, implying this might be a site of some special significance. The relative remoteness of the site, along with the presence of an apparently domestic building, has led to suggestions that this was an isolated hermitage providing religious solitude, but if the packhorse route on which the site lies has early origins Lag ny Keeilley may not have been so lonely as it now appears. Alternatively, it is close to both the parish, sheading and Northside/Southside boundaries, which, if any of these existed during the period the keeill was in use, were zones of potential tension. Similar situations in Ireland were sometimes cooled by the presence of a ‘neutral’ cleric.


Text from 'A Guide to the Archaeological Sites of the Isle of Man' by Andrew Johnson and Allison Fox.