Who is King Orry, you say, and why is he buried on a hillside on the outskirts of Laxey? King Orry was a Viking warrior who conquered the Isle of Man in 1079 and set up the Kingdom of Mann and its associated legal system, now famous worldwide. Sounds exciting doesn’t it, until you realise that the grave system where he is buried is at least 3000 years older than King Orry and therefore these graves must originally have been created for someone else and/or their families. But why let the truth get in the way of a good story!
This was a walk organised by the Archaeology section of the Isle of Man U3A –https://u3asites.org.uk/isle-of-man/page/85570. Despite living on and breathing the island for many years I had never visited this site, mostly because I falsely believed the site was in someone’s garden! Part of it is in a garden but the house and garden are now owned by the Manx Heritage Society and the footpath goes directly behind the house so that the site is accessible at all times.
Enough of who owns it. What is it, I hear you ask? There are two sites, adjacent to each other but separated by a steep road. When it was created it would have had spectacular views to Snaefell in the west and the sea to the east, assuming the area was not entirely covered with trees, in which the burials might be in a forest! It is hard to imagine either option when the area has been built up since and the views are obscured. Both sites consist of chambered cairns, with mighty stones propping up the entrances, perhaps not on the scale of Stonehenge, but still dramatic in their own right. Imagine the effort hewing and transporting each of those lofty stones from a distant quarry, over hill and down dale. Each site has a forecourt, where family members and tribes would gather around a hearth to commemorate their ancestors or add a burial to the site and these are clearly seen. It is believed they were created by farmers but surely such magnificent structures would have been made for the elite of the area? The entrances into the grave systems are low and narrow, and would always have been so, designed in this way to show the path from life to death. There may also be other unknown reasons for this design, to perhaps keep animals out or keep in nasty smells, who knows :-).
The site closest to the road (as in cover photo) is impressive, measuring 12 metres x 4 metres. It is on a slight slope north east to southwest. Imagine it as it would have been, a long barrow covered by soil and grasses, with a small stone entrance and its forecourt. You wouldn’t have been able to see the chambers unless you were inside. This one has been excavated twice, but only a few relics were discovered, including animal bones, fragments of pottery and a bowl. It is likely the tombs were raided over the 4000 years they have stood there. Unfortunately, this eastern site was damaged when a house was built in the 1800s. A large section was dug out, so it is impossible to know the full extent of this grave, or what was removed.
Across the road behind the house. Gretch Veg, and beside the fast flowing stream is the second grave system dedicated to King Orry. This is a slimmed down version of the western graves, with very large boulders laying down one side of the grave, and it has a stepped appearance. It does have quite a mystical feel to it. At the head of it a very very large 3 metre high boulder stands impressively looking over the grave, and is called King Orry’s Stone. This grave system has not been excavated, but according to Moore, in his 1891 book of “Surnames and Place Names”, an iron sword was found in this location, so maybe King Orry does lie beneath the soil, after all. Who knows?
For more information read: https://manxnationalheritage.im/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/King-Orrys-Grave-Access-Guide-2021.pdf
Following this visit, we went to Lonan church, but I will save that for a separate post as it is of interest in its own right.