Search by Stonecutter

As we work with community groups around the country one of our main aims to track the different stonecutters who have worked in Ireland. We record the carved grave memorials by geotagged photo and database record sheets always taking care to record the stonemason/cutter if they have signed their work.

We can now search the Historic Graves database for stonecutter/stonemason in the Family Search view Read more »

Stonecutters, stone masons and stone carvers - some Irish sources

As we record grave memorials throughout the country we come across the names of the stonecarvers and cutters who made them. Sometimes a signature (in full or initials) is found below the upper carvings and sometimes at the base of the stone. We have come across Bolster, Beary, Keane and Dack, amongst many others, and as the project develops we will pursue other historic sources to research these tradesmen. Read more »

How to draw a sketch plan of an historic graveyard

Grave plots are generally three feet wide and six feet long. Most grave plots are arranged in rows. The very first thing when recording an historic graveyard is to identify the row arrangements. Be patient and let the patterns reveal themselves - we prefer to find the straightest row (often along a boundary wall) and start there. Then we number the memorials (using strips of masking tape with numbers stuck to the back of the memorials) and sketch the relative location of the memorials. With practice, surprisingly accurate plans can be drawn. We have been using A4 ruled pages for the drawings but Robin Turk has just designed a new template sheet for the plans. Read more »

Sunlight on a headstone


The key tools we use in reading headstones are the sun and the human eye. Oblique sunlight casts shadows on incised inscriptions allowing patterns to be recognised and words to be read. Patience is rewarded in graveyard recording when that perfect moment arrives and a previously undecipherable inscription is lit up by the sun emerging from behind the clouds. Using a mirror to bounce the sunlight during afternoon recording sessions onto the headstone face gives surprisingly good results. 
Rubbing grass, soil, chalk and other foreigh substances onto a stone are all less effective than the use of a torch and mirror and are strongly discouraged. They do not work and they may damage the memorial stone. Read more »

Brambles, nests and gravestones in Prospecthall

The Piltown/Kinsalebeg Community Alert Group called a graveyard meitheal ( last weekend and a group of gloved volunteers armed with clippers and hedge cutters assembled to improve the accessibility of the historic graveyard. Following the guidance of the Care and Conservation booklet ( Terry O'Callaghan, Chairman, consulted with the county heritage officer and also got in touch with us in Historic Graves.

In little over three hours an area measuring 400 sq m was shorn of brambles and grass clumps while a railed memorial at the eastern end of the ruined church was cleared of some invasive elder plants. Read more »

Low impact headstone rubbings

This technique involves using sheets of newsprint, an ordinary kitchen sponge and sheets of carbon paper. Our friend Gerry Mullens taught us this technique and he got it from Dr Elizabeth Shee Twohig, a specialist in prehistoric rock art. The beauty of the technique is that it has minimal impact on the headstone while ensuring a 1:1 copy is made, either of the complete face or of particular details. Read more »

Photography for Graveyard Recording


Making a good photographic record of the memorial stones in an historic graveyard is an important first step in any graveyard survey. The photographs provide a record of the memorial stones at the time the photograph is taken and in and of themselves form an important element of the baseline record. Photographs can also play an important part in recording the memorial stone inscriptions which is the ultimate conservation tool available to any community group. In the Historic Graves methodology geo-located photographs are a crucial element in the systematic approach to graveyard survey.
As archaeologists, photography forms an important part of our day-to-day work.

A Little Bit Every Year

Camin O’Brien in his Guidelines for the Care, Conservation and Recording of Historic Graveyards emphasises the need for an annual maintenance regime and he recommends that the motto to adopt when it comes to graveyard maintenance is a ‘little bit every year’.  Read more »

GPS - Talking to the satellites

I first encountered a GPS receiver on Professor William O’Brien’s excavations at Ross Island in Killarney, Co. Kerry sometime in the early 1990s. Kevin Barton then of the UCG Applied Geophysics unit and now with Landscape Geophysical Services used a hand held receiver in order to map a surveying traverse through the fantastic Killarney woodland surrounding the excavation area. He described the technique to a befuddled group of sweaty luddite archaeology students, as establishing your position within the Irish National Grid by talking to satellites. I just didn’t believe him and as it turned out it was not so easy to talk to the satellites in a woodland environment. Read more »

Recording a Graveyard Memorial

The number one conservation technique which a community group can employ in their local historic graveyard is to record the memorial inscriptions. The relentless action of the elements is slowly eroding all the stone memorials. It is a fact that modern inscription surveys in graveyards previously surveyed in the early twentieth century show that the memorials have a marked deterioration in legibility. The recording of the graveyard memorial inscriptions is also key to unlocking the rich family and social histories contained within historic graveyards. Read more »

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