[From Leech's Guide, 1861]



"how sweet
To roam in fancy in each cherished scene,
The village churchyard, and the village green,
The woodland walk remote, the greenwood glade,
The mossy seat beneath Use hawthorn shade,
The whitewashed cottage, where the woodbine grew,
And all thee favourite haunts my childhood knew."


THE entrance to Kirk Michael by the high road from Peel is exceedingly picturesque. The road descends a steep declivity, and then crosses the beautiful glade named Glen Whillin. On the left the glen suddenly opens to the ocean, the blue waters of which are seen between two bold eminences about half a mile off. To the right is a little nest of rustic cottages, the blue smoke from their rural hearths ascending with a pretty pictorial effect among the clustering trees. A sparkling rivulet pursues its miusical path through the green sinuosities of the sweet little glen ; whose intricacies, as you are tempted on and still onward, cast a species of pleasing glamour over the senses of a lover of the beauties of nature, which alone would amply repay the active pedestrian,

Having thus paused at the entrance, we have now to continue our road through the village, where the first noticeable building is the neat castellated Court-house. Here are held the Episcopal and Archidiaconal courts, a circumstance which confers no little importance upon this clean and pleasant village. Close to the Court-house is the respectable-looking hotel, appropriately named the "Mitre," conveniently placed for the refreshment of the suitors on court days. This old-fashioned country inn strongly recalls the memory of similar establishments in the rural nooks and corners of England, much frequented in the good old coaching days, when mine host" was always a portly and jolly soul, and "mine hostess" invariably a comely and buxom dame, who laid her guests to rest between dainty sheets redolent of lavender. The visitor blessed with plenty of leisure could not do better than take up his abode for a week at the "Mitre," and explore at his convenience the numerous beautiful walks in the neighbourhood,

" Feasting his soul on Nature’s loveliness."

Further on, upon. the same side of the road, is a Wesleyan chapel.

The Church of Kirk Michael is probably the prettiest church in the Isle of Man, and requires a separate description. It is built in the cathedral style, and stained of a very singular colour, a species of rich brown, or burnt umber, which render this edifice a conspicuous object; but a far higher interest attaches to the sacred building.

In the shadow of the eastern wall lie interred the remains of the venerated Bishop Wilson.

The tomb of this devoted servant of his Lord and Master is plain in form, and is surrounded by a neat iron railing. rrhe simple and touching inscription on the tombstone runs as follows :— "Sleeping in Jesus; here lyeth the body of Thomas WILSON, D.D. Lord Bishop of this Isle; who dyed March the 7th, 1755, aged 93, and in the fifty-eighth year of his consecration. This monument was erected by his son Thomas Wilson, D.D. a native of this parish:who in obedience to the express command of his father, declines giving him the character he so justly deserved. Let the Island speak the rest !"

"His soul to him who gave it rose;
God led it to its long repose,
Its glorious rest;
And though the sufferer’s* sun has set,
Its light shall linger round us yet,
Bright, radiant, blest !"

* Bishop Wilson was incarcerated for some time in Castle Rushen, for administering the sacrament contrary to the Governor’s orders.

Near the tomb of Bishop Wilson are those of Bishop Hildesley, his immediate successor, and no unworthy follower in his footsteps, who completed the translation of the scriptures into the Manx language,—and of three other bishops, Phillips, Mason, and Cregan.

At the entrance of the churchyard stand the three Runic crosses. The central one is perhaps the most remarkable in the Island, and the inscription round the edge is very perfect. Curious devices of horses and their riders, and of stags limited by dogs, embellish one side. The other is somewhat defaced, but is similarly sculptured. The whole is surmounted by the effigy of a warrior, astride upon a battle-axe, bearing a spear and shield. The inscription has been interpreted thus : "Voalfir, son of Tiurruif the Red, raised this cross for Frithier, his mother." The two smaller crosses appear over the churchyard wall, and can only be inspected by a visit to the consecrated inclosure. They are of the same character with the larger one, and all three date from about the eleventh century. These curious relies are believed to have been the work of a Norwegian artist, one Gaut Björnsön.

The parish of Kirk Michael extends about five miles from north to south, and four from east to west. The annual fairs are held on June 16th and October 110th. In this parish the Tynwald, or Legislative assembly was occasionally held. It inns long since been transferred to the Tynwald Hill, near St. John’s. The interesting spot whence the insular laws were thins promulgated is named Cronk-y-Urleigh, or "the hill of the eagle ;" and lies on the right, partly concealed by trees, approaching the entrance to Kirk Michael from St. John’s.

Leaving Kirk Michael on the way to Bishop’s Court, the tourist passes White house, the residence of Evan Gell, Esq. H.K., and a little further, on the opposite side, the neat modern residence of the vicar of the parish, the Rev. Joseph Brown, AM. A mile of road has now to be traversed before reaching Bishop’s Court, the horizon being bounded on each side respectively by a low range of hills and the sea, the blue waters of which are distinctly visible in the distance. The open landscape is pleasingly marked by farmsteads, with their rural wealth of stored barns anìd well thatched ricks. As the tourist approaches the ancient home of the Island Episcopacy, a kind of Sabbath "hush" steals over the spirits, causing tIne voice to lower its tone involuntarily, and the foot to tread more softly. There is a record still existing that tells of " Simon, Bishop of Mann, who died at his palace of Kirk Michael in 1249 ;" and how long it was inhabited before that period no antiquarian can inform us. The modern name of Bishop’s Court was bestowed upon it in the 17th century.

Very few traces now exist of the original structure; successive occupants having altered and modernised it to suit the requirements of successive ages. The most ancient portion is the square castellated tower, said to have been founded by King Orry in the tenth century, and still retaining the name of " King Orry’s Tower." A. deep moat which formerly surrounded it, is now filled up.

On the accession of Bishop Wilson to the see in 1698, this insular palace was much dilapidated, and the good prelate was obliged to rebuild the greater portion of it. Many of the venerable trees now growing there were planted under his superintemlence. The ancient chapel was not pulled down until the episcopate of Bishop Murrey, who was elevated to the see in 1813. The chapel built by that prelate is now replaced by a more ecclesiastical structure, erected by the present Bishop as a cathedral church for the diocese, while it will also form a worthy memorial of the labours of the ever memorable Bishop Wilson.

A small but beautifully designed school-house stands near the entrance, and receives a certain number of children from the adjoining parishes. The present Bishop intends this to be the restoration of a school founded by Bishop Hildesley, who formed a small choir of twenty poor children, ten boys and ten girls, whom he educated and clothed at his own expence.

After freely rambling about the shady grounds in immediate contiguity with Bishop’s Court, the visitor, by crossing the high road, and opening a gate almost immediately opposite, enters a beautiful and extensive glen, where the wild luxuriant charms of nature have been aided, not superseded, by the cultivated appliances of art. The first striking object in this domain is an ivy-wreathed mound rising some ten or twelve feet high, and surmounted by a cluster of trees. The summit is attained by a gently winding path, where through the boils of the trees glimpses are obtained of the surrounding hills, the sunny meadows, and all the peaceful scenery of the district.

On leaving this mound, and taking the most direct path among several that present themselves, the visitor passes through a pleasant shrubbery, where the burr of a mill wheel situated on the eastern boundaries of the glen attracts isis attention; he then wends his way, sometimes over a rustic bridge, then beneath the solemn shade of gigantic laurels, until he reaches the first of three large irregular reservoirs for water, separated by floodgates. On the bosom of the first and largest of the three dwell a couple of noble swans. Tincsc handsome birds have apparently been well cared for, aS they are tame to a degree that is seldom witnessed, running up to the pedestrian stranger with the utmost familiarity, and even pursuing him sportively over the grass for the expected benefaction of cake or biscuit. Having passed the second and third reservoir, the sides of the glen become more precipitous, and the rivulet rushes with greater rapidity along its rocky bed. The path divides in several directions, but the lowest track must still be pursued, if the visitor desires to inspect one or two pretty and picturesque additions to the natural beauties of the place. The first of these is a small gothic well, constructed midway up the bank, and crowned with moss and pendulous creepers. This tasteful object has an exceedingly pr~tty effect. The second is a hermit’s grotto a little further on, in the darkest recess of the glen. Tue growing gloom and obscurity are a fit preparation for the first view of this sequestered retreat, reached by an abrupt asceint from the hurrying stream below. The grotto is hewn out of the natural rock, the greenish striped hue of which decorates the recess in a singular manner, giving almost the idea of stalactites. A narrow ledge just within the cell affords a seat for two, from which there is a pretty view of the trees and water, and rural stone bridge below.

Descending from the grotto and still pursuing the original path, the visitor emerges at the bead of the glen; where the streamlet disappears, and the trees growing more scantily, the pleasant sunshine once more enlivens the scene. Turning now to the left, lie again threads the glen, but this time by a path high on the eastern bank, between fir and larch trees, whose dark foliage renders the narrow avenue a veritable lover’s walk. Again the reservoirs, the mill, and the mossied mound are passed, and re-opening the gate the pedestrian finds himself on the leigh road. A few yards further, and he is fairly on his way to Ballaugh.

A sketch of the most noted prelates that have dignified Bishop’s Court with their lordly presence, may not be unacceptable to the reader, nor inapplicable to our present subject. Far off in the dim ages of the past appears the name of Bishop Simon, already mentioned as having died at the episcopal residence in 1249. He was a man of great piety and learning. The fourth bishop after him, Markus Galvadiensis, was banished the Isle in 1275, "for disgraceful conduct during the contentions of Baliol, Bruce, and Edward First," and afterwards imprisoned by the latter monarch. As a penance for his banishment, this prelate imposed upon the Manx people a "smoke-penny," or chimney tax upon every house, which is said to be still collected as a perquisite by each parish clerk. This far from respectable dignitary died in the year 1298, and was buried in St. Germain’s.—John Dunkan, a native of the Isle, was elevated to the see in 1374. Being confirmed by Pope Gregory XI., at Avignon, he set out on his return home, but was taken prisoner and confined in irons for two years at Bolonia, in Picardy, and was at last compelled to ransom himself for the sum of 500 marks.—Robert Ferriar, who was Bishop of Man in 1546, was afterwards burnt as a heretic at the Market Cross of Caermarthen, March 30th, 1555.—John Merrick, 1576, drew up the account of the Island in " Camden’s Britannia."—John Philips, who translated the most essential portions of the scriptures into the Manx language, died in 1633.—Samuel Rutter, 1601, was the friend and companion of James, the great Earl of Derby ; he is said to have governed the church with exemplary prudence and piety until his death in 1663.

The well known Dr. Isaac Barrow was the next Bishop of Man; and during two years that he occupied the see, rendered most eminent services to religion. Dr. Barrow was appointed Governor of the Island as well as Bishop, by Charles the Eighth Earl of Derby; thus uniting the civil and ecclesiastical power in his own person. He obtained for the poor clergy an annual grant of £100 from the royal bounty—founded parochial schools—made collections in England with which to purchase the impropriated tithes of the Island—repaired the churches which were in a state of dilapidation—augmented the salaries of ministers and teachers,—and left a fund which afterwards provided for the erection of King William’s College. To the universal regret of the people this excellent prelate was speedily translated to the see of St. Asaph.

Dr. John Lake was Bishop of Man in 1682. He was translated shortly afterwards to Bristol, and then to Chester; and was one of the bishops committed to the Tower in 1688 by James II. for petitioning against the publication of his "Declaration of the Liberty of Conscience." After thee accession of the next Bishop, Dr. Baptist Leviiz, the see remained vacant for five years, and then succeeded "the most memorable episcopate perhaps in the annals of history."

A modest, timid scholar and divine, domestic chaplain to the Earl of Derby, "was forced," to use his own recorded expression, into presenting himself for consecration to the episcopate of the Isle of Man, on January 2, 1697. With great reluctance and many misgivings, the new bishop undertook the onerous charge of his diocese. One very serious difficulty at first presented itself; with the language of the people he was utterly unacquainted. As a preliminary step to the substantial good he hoped to effect, the benevolent prelate set himself to learn the language, and was soon able to communicate with his flock in their own dialect, in which he appealed to their consciences by discourses full of life and energy. Another serious obstacle existed in the poverty of the episcopal revenue, which at this time did not exceed £300 per annum. With this income, however, this excellent bishop not only contrived to maintain a due hospitality, but to give largely to the poor, and to benefit the Island in various important ways. The parish churches were repaired by his assistance; a chapel was founded at Castletown, and another at Douglas; while parochial libraries were established throughout the Island. Bishop’s Court, as already mentioned, was repaired and enlarged, and received a number of students, who were there educated under the prelate’s own superintendence, to form a succession of competent clergy for the diocese. This good man’s benevolence was unwearied, and the indigent never turned unaided from his door. His sermons, homilies, and ecclesiastical constitutions, were so much approved of by the then Lord Chancellor of England, that he was known to declare, that "if the ancient discipline of the church were lost, it might be found in all its purity in the Isle of Man."

This excellent bishop reigned over the insular diocese for fifty-eight years. He had commenced a translation of the scriptures into the Manx language, when he was called to a better world. His remains were borne to the grave by his own tenants, the procession being followed by nearly the whole population of the Island, weeping as children for a venerated father. Need we name, as the subject of this brief notice, the apostolic Bishop Wilson?

He was succeeded by Bishop Hildesley, of whom worthy mention has already been made, and who transmitted an untarnished mitre to his successors; among whom may be specified Bishop Ward, active in obtaining subscriptions for parochial purposes; and Lord Auckland, predecessor to the present bishop, whose episcopate, as a whole, is recorded to have been "one of the brightest and best in the chequered history of the Isle."

Ballaugh is a straggling village, diverging along several lanes and roads, and situated about two miles from Kirk Michael, on the high road to Ramsey. It is noticeable as having been the birth-place of the now distinguished Canon Stowell, of Manchester, whose father was rector of the parish for many years. The present church was erected in 1832, and is capable of accommodating seven hundred persons. It is built in the early English style, and presents a pleasing appearance with its lofty embat-~ tied tower of greyish stone, its buttresses, and pinnacles. The graveyard is very secluded, and in the older portion on the south side may still be seen a Runic cross, so timeworn that the inscription is totally obliterated.

A lake once existed in this locality and gave the village its peculiar name; Balla signifying the town or estate, and Legh, a lake or pool. All, traces of this lake have long since disappeared, by reason of the gradual elevation of the land; but various curiosities are dug out of the turf bogs and marl pits. Among these was a large amber bead, of rare size and hue. The remains of the gigantic Irish elk, Cervus Megaseros, are frequent. The finest specimen ever discovered in the British Isles or elsewhere was dug up in this parish. It measured thirteen feet in height; the length of the horns was nearly six feet, the distance between their tips was eight feet. This splendid monstrosity was presented by the late Duke of Athol to the University of Edinburgh.

In the short street, properly so called, of Ballaugh, are two good inns; the "North Inn," kept by Mr. Bishop, the postmaster, and the "Four Nations." Ballaugh is situated at the distance of seven miles from Ramsey and nine from Peel; and three times per week at least a coach runs through this village between the two towns.

Diverging from the main road at the east end of the bridge, and continuing along a wide lane thinly scattered with houses, the visitor finds himself in the noble glen of Ravensdale. Less pleasing in its general character than many others of the Manx glens, Ravensdale is nevertheless striking for its gloomy grandeur, its bold and sterile heights rendering it a fitting haunt for the weird and powerful creatures which supply its name. Druidale, an enchanting vale in the parish of Michael, is reached by the road that runs through Ravensdale.

From Ballaugh to the entrance of Sulby glen the road presents few features of importance. A little way out of Ballaugh the pretty residence of Mrs. Maclean attracts the attention. The hills, at first low in their range, gradually acquire a precipitous aspect, dotted here and there by a stone quarry; and then turn off with a bold sweep by Gobavolley towards Sulby glen.


Back index next


Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received The Editor
HTML Transcription © F.Coakley , 2001