St John’s

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Date of travel

August, 2019

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This was the site of one of the original Viking “Tynwald sites”: which became the main site in 1471, with its central location. This was where laws were passed and read out to the people.

Gradually a small settlement grew up around the artificial four tiered mound and site of an early keeil and later church. The two are connected by a long processional way, lined with flag poles.

The church originally doubled up as a court house. The present building, or to give it its official title, “The Royal Chapel of St John the Baptist”: dates from the mid C19th. It is now the parish church although the members of the House of Keys and Legislative Council still meet in the church on Tynwald Day.

St John’s had an important location at the west end of the central valley at the crossroads of the A1 Douglas Peel road and the A3 Castletown Ramsay Road. The arrival of the Douglas to Peel railway line and later branch to Ramsay, both now closed, at the end of the C19th lead to rapid growth of the settlement.

As an integral part of its historiacal significance, St John’s also has the only Manx speaking primary school, Bunscoill Ghaelgagh, on the island.

On the northern edge of the village on Glen Mooar loop Road is “Tynwald Mill”: which was a traditional woollen mill. Now long closed, this is been developed into a craft centre, with shops, cafes and children’s playground. It is a popular with the shopaholics and described as the Island’s only department store.

Next to the St John’s Church is “Tynwald National Park and Arboretum”: which opened in 1979 to commemorate the millennium of Tynwald. Each of the seventeen parishes donated trees and shrubs which over the years have grown into large specimen trees. It is an attractive area with a lake with ducks.

Across the road is the old pinpound which was a small fenced enclosure where straying animals were impounded until claimed by their owner after paying a fine. The term ‘animal’ included chickens, ducks and even swarms of bees.

Now it displays four stones, all that are left of “Ballaharra Chambered Cairn”: dating from around 2500BC. These were discovered when Ballaharra sandpits were being extended in 1971 and donated to the German parish Commissioners. They were erected here as part of the 2000 Millennium Project.

Also part of the 2000 Millennium project is “Cooil y Ree”: signed off the A1 opposite the pub or the unclassified road opposite Tynwald. This small area was developed as a parkland area to celebrate the history of the Island and its culture and looking to its future. This started out as a good idea but somehow just doesn’t succeed. There is an information sign by the wheelchair friendly path opposite Tynwald which drops down through an overgrown glen to a large open area at the bottom.

A long tree lined avenue is described as the “Avenue of TIme’ and intended to form an extension of the processional avenue between Tynwald and St John’s Church. Vegetation on either side was intended to represent the thickets gradually cleared during the Celtic and Viking eras. They are now reverting to natural scrubland. The splendid wallaby is part of the ‘Wallabies Gone Wild Trail, designed to raise awareness and funds for the Isle of Man Hospice.

In the side of the bank just down from the wheelchair friendly entrance on the unclassified road is all that is left of a “Bronze Age Burial Cist”: , sometimes referred to as Follagh y Vannin. It would originally have been covered by a circular mound. All that can be seen are the surrounding stone slabs revealed when the roadway was made.

Most people drive through St John’s on their way between Douglas and Peel and have a quick glance at Tynwald Hill as they pass. Some stop to visit Tynwald Hill and a few actually go into the church. There’s a lot more to St John’s than this and it really does deserve a slightly longer visit.


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