An ancient site?

As a keen amateur antiquarian, James Irving had researched the history of Doarlish Cashen farm, going back to the early nineteenth century; all its occupants, save Pierre Baume (the mysterious ‘Old French Miser’), had been Manx farmers.

Despite Irving’s belief that the building was no more than 130 years old, there are some indications that it was far older. Its dry-stone construction method and comparatively large size, together with its having been sited on the ancient Sound Road that ran from Peel to the south, all led genealogist and historian Maryellen Hinrichs to posit a medieval origin for Doarlish Cashen, and its having been the home of a person of some importance.  “It is interesting to note,” writes Hinrichs, in Cashin of Patrick (1975), a genealogical and historical survey of her ancestors:

that the construction of this dwelling was of the very earliest type. The stones were not held together by mortar, but by earth. A similar type of construction is to be found in the first two floors of the Friary in Kirk Arbory…believed to be built around 1350. Either Doarlish Cashen was built at a very early time, or, its builders reverted to the ancient practice […]  (Hinrichs p.24)

Photo copyright Jennifer Smith 2010
Photo copyright Jennifer Smith 2010

There is some evidence to suggest that an older house once stood on or near the site. Amongst seven field-names belonging to the Doarlish Cashen property, listed in local folklorist W. Walter Gill’s 1929 A Manx Scrapbook, is Shen Thalloo, meaning ‘Old Land,’ “near the mountaingate. [i.e. Dalby Mountain] A house once stood here, which fact may explain the name.”

The other field-names are: Thalloo Noa, (‘New Land’); Lag y Loghan (‘Hollow of the Little Lake’); Slot Eairy (‘Shealing Cleft’) – which adjoins the Sound road, as does Phund Dan. Gill says that Phund is the equivalent of the English ‘Pound’ (as in dog pound), and Dan is sometimes used to denote a steep track. Fodor, during his February 1927 visit, took a photograph which he captioned Dan’s Pound, perhaps thinking that Dan was a former occupant or legendary creature!

Then there is Cronk y Vate (Cronk means ‘hill’ and Vate is thought to be a loan word from the English ‘mate,’ either in its nautical use or simply as a friend, chum or pal). Lastly, there is Tur Veg, where Tur, like ‘tor,’ refers to something that stands up above the surrounding landscape, although since veg means ‘small,’ we should think of Tur Veg as denoting a small mound, a clump of bushes, or a heap of stones.

Hinrichs argues that Doarlish Cashen, having been a two-story building rather than the more typical two-room cottage, indicates that its original occupants would have been persons of some importance, its height making it an ideal vantage point for a steward of the surrounding land. However, this is all speculation, as she freely admits. But it is certainly the case that other historical artefacts in the immediate vicinity suggest that the site was inhabited from a very early age. The well, which can still be seen just beside the ruins of the house, appears to be of ancient construction.

 

Photo copyright Christopher Josiffe 2010
Photo copyright Christopher Josiffe 2010

Its walls are lined with smoothed stones, and is said by local farmers to be one of the deepest hand-dug wells on the Island, which, if true, would suggest great importance was placed on having a supply of water at this site. Less than three hundred yards southeast of the house is a mound, presumed to be prehistoric; about five hundred yards northwest are the remains of a cairn circle and a cairn grave, dated to the Bronze Age. Just over half a mile southwest is a tumulus, near to the Sound Road, there being other tumuli and cairns situated along this ancient path. And in the fields of a nearby farm is a tumulus, thought – when excavated around 1850 – to be a Norse burial mound. It was found to contain an inhumation, together with an axe:

Mr Evan Gell, of Ballelby, Dalby, informs me that on digging into a mound of earth on his farm, about eight or ten years ago, a complete human skeleton, with a halbert or battle-axe by its side, was found, and distinct traces of its haft visible, which he forbore to disturb. (Oswald p.77-78)