Mesolithic; Bronze Age; Iron Age; Viking; Ealy Monsatic; Cathedral; Castle.
St. Patrick’s Isle is also called Sodor.
The castle encloses 2.02 hectares, with the entrance to the south of the island via a causeway. The site includes, Flanking Towers, Battery, Belfry Tower, St Patrick’s Chapel, Guard House, Govway Tower, St German Cathedral, Crypt and old Reliquary of St German, Gatehouse which housed a portcullis, Gate Pillars, Magazine, Half Moon Battery and an Armoury. (Isle of Mann Guide 2021).
Peel Castle, and St. Patrick’s Island, has a vast history – one which began in prehistory. Archaeologists have uncovered an assemblage consisting of microliths (really small stone tools), core axes and axes dating from the Mesolithic period – 9000-4300BC. A permeant late Bronze Age settlement as well as some Iron Age round houses have also been uncovered demonstrating that the island has held a significant position in the history of the Isle of Man.
Around 441 AD it has been suggested that St. Patrick first set foot on the small island, hence its name. And in the 6th to 8th centuries a small monastic settlement developed. In around 550 Irish missionaries came ashore led by St. Germain. Legend states that he stopped three plagues – venomous beasts, magicians and invisible devils (Allpress 1867). Makes you wonder exactly what was happening in the area at the time!
The Norse, under the rulership of Magnus Barefoot at around 1098, understood the significance of the site and they took the island and constructed a small timber fort. Archaeological finds include a mound believed to be the remains of the first Norse fort; on the eastern side of the island a section of rampart was investigated and found to date from the Norse period; and finds from this period have been found in a number of graves. One grave was of significance and believed to be that of a high status woman who was buried with necklace of 60 amber and glass beads and some silver coins. Also uncovered has been a hoard of Hiberno-Norse coins dating from around 1040 when it is believed they were hidden in one of the small chapel buildings.
Following are some basic details of the remains and structures on St. Patrick’s Isle –
Gatehouse – This was added in around 1377 when the Montacute family held the island. It consisted of 3 floors. The ground floor was used as a guardroom and the upper two floors were used for accommodation and include fireplaces. The top was battlemented. The gatehouse was protected further by a barbican which stood in front of it.
Curtain Wall – It has been recorded that the curtain wall was constructed in the 13-14th centuries, however archaeological investigations are saying it was added in the 15th C. It was extended and refurbished during the 15th C. I have included the early dates in the timeline as this is given by a number of sources. It still requires further investigation to find the more likely dating of its structure, so until then, I shall leave them both here!
The Round Tower – Situated on the highest point of the island it was part of the original monastic buildings and dates from between c.800-1100 AD. It measures c.50.2m high, has a base circumference of 13.56m and an internal diameter of 1.8m.
The tower was entered through a doorway placed 2.10m above ground and would have been accessed by either a ladder or external stairway. The top is battlemented and there are four small openings located near the top. It is unsure as to what these were used for, but they are aligned to the cardinal points.
It is very similar to the Round Towers of Ireland and is believed to have been used as a refuge in times of turmoil as well as being used as a lookout tower. It may also have served as a lighthouse or signaling tower.
Small Chapels – The remains of three small chapels are near the round tower and it believed that these date to the first Christian settlement on the island.
St. Germain’s Cathedral – Begun in 1152 in the usual crucifix form, the central tower measured 20.12m in height. Four periods of building and repairs have been identified archaeologically dating from the 13th to the 14th centuries.
Below the main building is a barrel vaulted crypt measuring 10.36m x 4.87m x 2.74m, which was also used as a prison. Such well-known identities such as Warwick the Kingmaker, and the Duchess of Gloucester were held there. However, some believe that the Kingmaker was kept in the Warwick Tower, hence its name.
The tomb of Bishop Rutter was located in the transept, and an old runic monument was discovered in the south side of the nave. It is not complete, and the remaining inscription is translated as stating “Asrid, Daughter of Otter”. This may be a grave marker – and could it belong to the Pagan Lady burial uncovered by archaeologists?
A cemetery in the old nave of the cathedral was used for shipwrecked mariners, those who died at sea around the island, and others who died on the island.
In the 15th century the ruins of the cathedral were requisitioned for military purposes and the turret staircase used as a lookout point. The floor of the chancel was raised.
There is an interesting story relating to pilgrims coming to the cathedral which I thought would be of interest to you
“William Cashen, late Custodian of Peel, ‘At Easter they used to come with their offerings to Peel. They used to come to Peel from Ireland and the Scottish Isles, and it was said: ‘The wind was always at the north east at Easter for the pilgrims, and that if it would be dark there would be a supernatural light from the cathedral to guide them’. I can find nothing in tradition or in history to support this account of pilgrims or priests visiting the cathedral in Peel Castle.’ (Paton 1940).
What I find interesting is that Paton makes no mention of the ‘supernatural light’!
St. Patrick’s Church – These are regarded as some of the oldest remains on the island and date to the early monastic site of the 8th century. It included a bell tower and a ditch encircled it. It was rebuilt around the 10th/11th century and later rebuilt again. By the mid-19th century, it was in ruins. Burials have been discovered relating to the church.
Warwick Tower – This tower is the largest tower and was constructed in the 14th century and included fireplaces. During the 16th century three of its doors were blocked in.
Believed to be the tower in which the Earl of Warwick was held prisoner. He was also thought to have been held in the crypt of the cathedral.
Hall – Built in the early 15th century it was a place for meals, meetings and everyday business that was conducted at the castle. Initially it included three rooms, but these were then divided again. There was an external staircase to the building.
The halls use changed throughout time and eventually became ruinous in the 18th century.
Fenella’s Tower – This tower was named after Fenella in Sir Walter Scott’s Peveril of the Peak. Constructed in the 15th/16th century it may have been used as a watch tower and is situated to protect the island from a mainland attack.
The Western Battery – Built in the 15th/16th century it defended the harbour.
The Bowling Green – Dating from the 16/17th century, this flat area was used for target practice and arms training. There are banks around the perimeter whose purpose was to catch any stray arrows/musket balls. Later the area was used as a bowling green, hence its name, and nowadays hosts concerts and events.
Half-Moon Battery – The battery was installed in the 16th century to accommodate cannon whose fire covered Peel beach. It was built over the Medieval cemetery.
The Armoury – Added in the late 16th century and used for the storage of weapons, gunpowder, and ammunition.
The Garrison Hall – Built at the end of the 16th century for accommodation for the garrison. The ground floor was used for working and living activities, and the first floor was for sleep and rest.
Garrison Workshops – Dating from the 16th/17th century they also included kitchens, toilets, stores and offices.
Loopholed Wall – Situated behind the gatehouse was constructed in the mid-17th century it is located between the cathedral and the half-moon battery and connecting both, situated behind the gatehouse, its main role was as the next line of defence if the gatehouse was breached. A section of the cemetery wall was removed for its construction. It gave cover for the garrison and enabled them to effectively continue to defend the site with their muskets.
These are only a few of the structures within the castle. For a more complete description and a plan of the site, with images, go to http://www.qualtrough.org/history/Peel-Castle.pdf.
The archaeology of the site is fascinating! The earliest evidence uncovered dates to c.8,000 years ago in the form of worked flint discovered under the Half-Moon Battery.
The outline of several Iron Age round houses have been identified within the site.
The Norse fort of Magnus Barefoot was located as well as part of the eastern rampart dating to the same period. This rampart was later backed by a turf wall in the Medieval period.
The most exciting find to date is that of a woman and called the ‘Pagan Lady Burial’. It contained a necklace of 60 amber and glass beads, also within this burial were silver coins, a comb, shears, a knife with a silver inlay, an iron cooking spit and a sewing kit. This is regarded as being a high status burial.
Other grave types discovered on St. Patrick’s Isle include stone lintels, clinker style, shroud burials and coffins.
Other archaeological finds include,
The diet of the inhabitants has also shown they had a variety of animal and marine foodstuffs including,
A few stones with crosses carved into them have been uncovered on the island and you can get a great 3D view of one by clicking the following link – Peel Castle Cross Slabs – https://sketchfab.com/3d-models/peel-castle-cross-slab-manx-cross-30-550624521d884703bc35f6536d6d3244.
The site is believed to be haunted by a large black dog known as the Mauthe Dog. He haunts the guardroom and is not one to meet on a dark night! To find out what he is guarding read this poem – Stanza – Mrs John Ballantyne.
Here is a timeline for the site,
(NOTE: A / denotes a discrepancy in the dates from the sources).
12th C Bishop Wimund was buried in St. Germaine’s cathedral. He was a pirate as well as a man of the cloth. He invaded the nearby islands, killing many of their inhabitants (Allpress 1867).
1226 Simon was Bishop of St. Germaine’s. He added the choir over the transept in the Cathedral.
1233 Edward III granted the Isle of Man to William de Montacute.
1237 The Norse King, Olave, died and was buried on the site. Harold succeeded his father as Norse King.
* Norse King Harold and his wife drowned at sea.
* Harold’s brother Reginald succeeded him.
1244 Bishop Simon died and was buried in St. Germaine’s cathedral.
1249 Reginald was killed, and his brother Magnus inherited the island.
c.1257 The Norse King, Magnus III granted St. Patrick’s Island to the Church. The two communities still lived side by side on the island.
1265 Taken by Alexander, King of Scotland.
1266 Magnus Olafsson, the last Norse king of the island, died.
13th C The centre of power for the Isle of Man moved from this castle to Castle Rushen on the mainland.
1313 Robert Bruce attacked the Isle of Man but ignored Peel Castle.
1317 Robert the Bruce took the Isle of Man.
c.1337 The island was taken by the Irish?
1344 Sir William Montacute took the Island from the Scots.
1377 The ‘Green’ Curtain wall was constructed. The gatehouse and East Tower were added, and the keep heightened.
1392 The Montacute family sold the Island to Sir William de Scrope.
1393 The ‘red’ curtain wall and flanking towers were constructed by Henry, 4th Earl of Derby under the direction of the Hon. William Stanley, Governor of the Isle of Man.
1397 Thomas, Earl of Warwick, the ‘King Maker’, was imprisoned within the crypt of the cathedral, for High Treason.
1399 The name of PEEL first mentioned in a charter. Henry IV granted the Island to the Stanley’s. Sir William de Scrope was executed, and it passed to Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland.
1399 The island was taken back by Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland, for the English.
1405 Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland had his lands confiscated due to backing a rebellion against the King, Henry IV.
1405 The island was granted to the Stanley family.
1447 Eleanor Cobham, the wife of Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, was imprisoned within the crypt under the accusation of witchcraft. “Roger Bolynbroke, a man expert in necromancye, and a woman called Margery Jourdemain, surnamed the Witch of Eye, were charged with having, at the request of the Duchess of Gloucester, devised an ymage of wax lyke unto the kynge, the which ymage theye dealt so with that, by theyr devyllish sorcery, they intended to brynge the kynge out of lyfe, for the which reason they were adjudged to die”….”About two years after, the Duchess of Gloucester was accused of treason and sorcery. The charge was that with the aid of Roger Bolingbroke, one of the Duke’s chaplains, who was said to deal with the Black Art, and Margery Jourdemain, the Witch of Eye, she had made a waxed image of the king, to whom the Duke was next heir, for according to the rules of magic, as it melted away, so the king’s health and strength would decline. She owned to having directed Bolingbroke to calculate the duration of the king’s life. The result was that Bolingbroke was found guilty of treason and executed; the witch was burnt; the Duchess after being made to walk several times through the city without a hood, and bearing a lighted taper was consigned for life to the custody of Sir John Stanley, Isle of Man.” (Allpress 1867).
c.1461 The Duchess of Gloucester died in prison. Her ghost is said to haunt the crypt steps at midnight every night.
1485 Sir Thomas Stanley was created Earl of Derby.
1523 John Howden was Bishop.
1537 St. Germaine’s Cathedral was in a bad state of repair.
C1540 The Half-Moon Battery was installed in the castle, and three gun embrasures.
1545 Robert was Bishop.
1546-1556 Henry Man was Bishop.
1556-1570 Thomas Stanley was Bishop.
1558-1603 During: A stained glass window with the Manx Arms was installed in the Choir of St. Germaine’s Cathedral.
1570-1573 John Salisbury was Bishop.
1576-1599 John Merike was Bishop.
16th C Garrison Hall. An illustration of the Round Tower shows it with a conical roof. Armoury added.
1600-1605 George Lloyd was Bishop.
1605-1633 John Phillipps was Bishop.
1610 Regulations for the soldiers at Peel castle included the following,
1634-1635 William Foster was Bishop.
1635-1643 Richard Parr was Bishop.
c.1643 Cpt. Edward Christian, Lieutenant General of the Isle of Man, was imprisoned in the Cathedral crypt for treason.
1651 Cpt. Edward Christian was released from the prison.
1653 Sir William Cashenham was the vicar.
1659 Cpt. Edward Christian was again imprisoned within the crypt of the Cathedral.
1661-1663 Samuel Rutter became Bishop.
1661 Cpt. Edward Christian died whilst imprisoned in the crypt of the cathedral.
1663 Five women were imprisoned in the crypt – Jane Christian, Ann Christian, Mary Christian, Jane Kennell and Mary Callow.
1663-1667 William Callow, Evan Christian and Evan’s 80 year old father were imprisoned within the crypt.
1663 Bishop Rutter died and was interred in the transept of the Cathedral. Issac Barrow was Bishop.
1665 Henry Nowell, Governor informed the above prisoners they were being relocated to Dublin.
1667 The prisoners relocated to Dublin were returned to Peel Castle.
1671-1682 Henry Bridgeman was Bishop.
1682-1684 John Lake was Bishop.
1685-1693 Baptist Levinz was Bishop.
1698-1755 Thomas Wilson was Bishop.
17th C Battery, barracks and a gun house added.
1710 The Clerk of the Rolls refused to pay tithes and was imprisoned in the Crypt by Bishop Wilson. He was the last prisoner to be held in the crypt.
1736 The last Earl of Derby died without an heir, and the island went to his first cousin, James Murray 2nd Duke of Atholl.
1755 Mark Hildesley was Bishop. He re-roofed the cathedral in lead.
1765 The Isle of Man was purchased by the English for £70,000.
1773-1780 Richard Richmond was Bishop.
1780-1783 George Mason was Bishop.
1784-1813 Claudius Cregan was the last Bishop was enthroned in St. Germain’s Cathedral. The Bishops then moved to the new cathedral on the Mainland.
1791 St. Germaine’s Cathedral had no doors, windows or a roof.
18th C St. Germain’s Cathedral was abandoned.
1803-1815 Napoleonic War: The site was garrisoned.
1812 A Guardroom was added to the old Bishop’s Palace. Many of the older buildings were demolished and their stone used.
1816 A Powder House, Guardhouse and a revetment for two heavy guns were added and used the existing masonry found within the site
1824 The roof timbers of the cathedral collapsed during a bad storm.
1844 The grave of Bishop Samuel Rutter was discovered.
1858 The Peel Castle Preservation Committee was established to protect the site.
1860 Defences added and a garrison installed.
1863-1883 Sir Henry Loch, Lieutenant Governor of the Isle of Man refurbished parts of the castle.
1865 The grave of Bishop Samuel Rutter was opened by the Cambrian Archaeological Association and a stone tablet with a timeline of the Bishops life was discovered within his coffin.
1871 Rubbish cleared from within a recess in the Cathedral uncovered a skeleton with a cleft skull, it was found with the skeleton of a dog, and presumed to be that of Bishop Simon, however, later believed to have been the remains of a much earlier occupant of the island which had first been interred in a tumulus near the castle and relocated into the Cathedral.
1877 Robert Anderson inspected the monastic buildings and made recommendations for their repairs, but they were never carried out.
1906 A pottery kiln was uncovered on the south side of the site.
1929 Excavated. Human remains found under the armoury.
1955 Cathedral of St. Germaine Field Investigation.
1962 The Cathedral of St. Germaine was excavated.
1967 Cathedral of St. Germaine Field Investigation.
1980 Parish transferred to the new cathedral on the mainland.
1982-1987 Excavated. Graveyard uncovered. Original Norse fort identified. A hoard of silver coins of Sittric Silkbeard were buried within one of the small chapels, which had been minted in Dublin.
2009 Field Observation.
I leave you now with some poetry – There are quite a few poems relating to the site and I have chosen my favourite three. Click on the Titles below to view the full poems.
References & Bibliography.
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