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Parish of Kirk Conchan

by Bernadette Weyde
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The patronal saint of this parish was St. Christopher, but he was better known in Ireland under his Gaelic name ‘Conchenn’, meaning ‘dog-head’ or ‘wolf-head.’

In the Greek churches St. Christopher was usually depicted with the head of a dog or wolf, like an Egyptian divinity, but no satisfactory explanation of this peculiarity has yet been advanced. It had, most probably, a symbolical meaning. Under April 28th in the Calendar of Œngus we find the following reference to St. Christopher:

• “Cyistifer. i. decim milia. cccc. iii. cum christifero [in l.. margin] i. conchend creitmech he et sub deeio pasus est.”
• “Christopher i.e. 10.403 with Christopher i.e. a pious dog-head [or wolf-head] was he and under Decius he suffered.”

It is very remarkable that there are three cross-slabs in the churchyard of Conchan on which are depicted dog-like monsters.

► Cross 61: ‘Below the cross a sunk panel contains figures of two dog-like monsters, the larger one apparently two-headed.’
► Cross 62: ‘At the sides of the shaft are dog-headed monsters on their haunches, with open jaws, from which protrude long tongues looping round their fore-paws, which are raised to their chins with long fingers attached. Their bodies are broken up into spirals and their hind limbs unfinished.’
► Cross 63: ‘At the right of the shaft is the worn figure of a dog-headed monster which was balanced by a similar one on the other side.’

A fair was held in the parish until 1834, which, although latterly held on Holy Thursday (‘Jyrdain Frastal’ in Manx), must have been formerly held within the octave of St. Christopher’s dedication date, April 28th.

It is unfortunate that the parish church has been rededicated to St. Peter instead of retaining its ancient patronal saint, Christopher. The parish still bears his Gaelic name, now in the mutilated form Onchan, although Conchan is still used in official documents.

The parish of Kirk Conchan is by far the most populous parish in the Island, for the greater part of the town of Douglas lies within its borders. It also contains the growing and important village now called Onchan, but formerly ‘Kiondroghad’. The parish stretches from Cairn Gerjoil and Groudle to the town of Douglas; and from the river Glass and the East Baldwin Valley to the sea. It is about five miles long and four miles broad; bounded on the east and south by the sea, on the west by Kirk Braddan, and on the north by Kirk Lonan. The area of the parish is 7880.001 acres.

The abbot of Rushen held extensive lands in the parish, part of which is still known locally as the Abbeylands. The parish of Kirk Conchan contains eight treen names, only one of which is of Gaelic origin, the rest being Scandinavian.


(source: The Place-Names of the Isle of Man by JJ Kneen, 1925; painting ‘St. Christopher by Thornwolf)

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