St Mary's Isle

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St. Mary's Isle in Douglas Bay as seen from the Loch Promenade.

St Mary's Isle (also known as Conister Rock or, colloquially, the Tower of Refuge, Manx: Kione y Sker or Creg Voirrey) is a partially submerged reef within Douglas Bay on the Isle of Man.

The reef is situated not far from the current ferry terminal. Its eastern part, the Conister Shoals, had to be blasted away when a new harbour breakwater was built in the early 1980. The rocks are only fully submerged during the Spring high tides, in the same period, they can be accessed very briefly on foot at the corresponding low tides.


Closer view of the tower

Conister is a corruption of the Manx Kione y skeyr meaning the 'head of the reef'.

The Tower of Refuge[edit]

St Mary's Isle from the Ben-my-Chree

The structure was built upon the reef on the orders of Sir William Hillary (who helped to found the Royal National Lifeboat Institution) in 1832. After several shipwrecks upon the semi-submerged rock, he wanted a refuge for survivors until help could arrive. Sir William, who personally contributed a high proportion of the costs, secured a substantial number of public contributions for funding the building. The owner of the private islet was persuaded to give their permission for the refuge. After its construction, the building was stocked with provisions such as bread and fresh water for any shipwrecked persons. The tower originally housed a bell for summoning of help.

The refuge, which was built to look like a castle, was designed by local architect John Welch who was also responsible for the design of other landmark buildings in the Isle of Man.

Isle of Man Steam Packet Company vessel, Mona aground on St Mary's Isle, July 2nd, 1930.

The tower derives its name from a poem by Wordsworth:



"Dignum laude virum Musa vetat mori."
THE feudal Keep, the bastions of Cohorn,
Even when they rose to check or to repel
Tides of aggressive war, oft served as well
Greedy ambition, armed to treat with scorn
Just limits; but yon Tower, whose smiles adorn
This perilous bay, stands clear of all offence;
Blest work it is of love and innocence,
A Tower of refuge built for the else forlorn.
Spare it, ye waves, and lift the mariner,
Struggling for life, into its saving arms!
Spare, too, the human helpers! Do they stir
'Mid your fierce shock like men afraid to die?
No; their dread service nerves the heart it warms,
And they are led by noble HILLARY.

14 'And they are led by noble Hillary.'
The TOWER OF REFUGE, an ornament to Douglas Bay, was erected chiefly through the humanity and zeal of Sir William Hillary; and he also was the founder of the lifeboat establishment at that place; by which, under his superintendence, and often by his exertions at the imminent hazard of his own life, many seamen and passengers have been saved.

Sailing ship Progress aground by the Tower of Refuge, Conister Rock, Douglas Bay.

Other uses[edit]

Conister Trust, a local Manx financial services institution, has been named after Conister Rock since its founding in 1935.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 54°09′01″N 4°28′08″W / 54.15028°N 4.46889°W / 54.15028; -4.46889.