Reading a Graveyard; Clonfert, Duhallow, Co. Cork

Historic graveyards are compasses in the landscape.


If you're ever lost in the Irish countryside, a graveyard can help you get your bearings.

Because, historically Christian burials face the East, wherein the sun serves in persona Christi, our graves tend to run from west to east with the head at the west, feet at the east, and thus are considered to be facing east. This changed sometime in the mid 1800s, Christian burials didn't have to face E, although in Ireland we tend to do so if possible, and often, even if the headstone faces N, or S, or W, the coffin may indeed gone into the grave with a W-E orientation (gravediggers know these things).

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Desecration for Salvation; the case of John Cuming Macdona



Catholics and Protestants are often buried together in Ireland.


Or rather, buried in the same place. The same burial ground.

We sometimes use different roads to get to the graveyard.

We sometimes use difference entrances into the same graveyard.

It's even been said some burial grounds have walls under the ground to stop our bones from mixing. We're a funny old crowd.


Very often we cooperate and help and bridge the gaps within communities but sometimes things break down and there is trouble. One fascinating tale of such a troublesome incident was told to us this time last year by Brian Scanlon, caretaker, chief gravedigger and local historian par excellence in Sligo Old cemetery. I'm not sure if it is Catholic V Protestant, and this story could even have resulted in cooperation between the two different branches of Christianity, but there is definitely religious doctrine at play. Read more »

Gates of Sligo Graveyards

Graveyards are made and maintained by the living, as sacred places to the memory of the beloved dead.


And the social history of a parish is wrapped up in it's graveyards. 


By studying graveyards we can tell who the big landowners were; who had a middling farm and who had none. We can identify the trades families engaged in. And one of the most commonly encountered trades is that of blacksmith. For graveyards, blacksmith's made iron crosses, grave surrounds, and put together grave railings. But mainly blacksmiths made the iron gates that close-off the sacred space. Read more »

Ethnic cleansing and Canovee graveyard, Cork

Cork is a corrugated county, east-west valleys and ridges are key features of the landscape.


Cork people are always at the bottom of a hill or going up a hill. It has been said that our accents are forged by that fact - the Cork accent has a sing-song rythym, I'm going up and now I'm going down.

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Brambles and Fireballs in Carlow - A Visit to Pollerton Little.

On the old Carlow town to Baltinglass road is a small, overgrown graveyard. It bears the name Knockaunarelic - the small hill of the graveyard - and it is located in the townland of Pollerton Little. I thought Pollerton was going to be a local landlord's name but it is in fact related to the limestone solid geology beneath - sinkholes giving the name 'townland of the holey ground - Baile Pholaird Beag'.

We visited Pollerton Little because a local community group want to look after it - give it a cleanup and they want to do it right - taking a care and conservation approach to the place. The little graveyard was enclosed, in 1823 or thereabouts is the story locally, but it would appear they only enclosed what they could afford and burials have been found outwith the limestone wall. This is a common occurence in Irish burial grounds.  Read more »

The Survey of Old Kilcummin, Killarney, Co. Kerry.

Old KIlcummin is three graveyards in one. A core medieval churchyard has morphed into a modern cemetery (kerbs and imported polished marble), and a nineteenth century graveyard (with high, and ground, vaulted tombs) and it is more than twice the width of the average graveyard. Three in one.

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"You can have Drakes & Crowes so why not Ducks"

Names stand out in Lissonuffy graveyard in Co. Roscommon. The Duffys are here a long time and it is they who give the place it's current name. There are Brennan's here too, they and the Duffy's were the Gaelic Lords of this place. Carlos you'll see hardly anywhere else in Ireland but they are old stock under Slieve Bán in mid-Roscommon.

We're here to record the graveyard, funded by the ESB through the Windfarm Community Fund. The Sliabh Bawn Windfarm sits on the hill now covered in conifers. The hill was once farmed in commonage and covered in flocks of sheep; crisscrossed by farm tracks and medieval roadways linking places like lowland Lissonuffy with Clontuskert to the SE. Read more »

The Cure Stone of Keelogues, Sligo

Paddy Joe Gallagher is the caretaker of Keelogues graveyard in N Sligo. As a community survey team recorded the headstones in Keelogues graveyard Paddy Joe led us around saying who was buried where and when! Throughout the drizzley morning he remembered each funeral and the order of burial and in the afternoon I saw him refer to a blue notebook for some extra detail.

In this video Paddy Joe tells a story told to him by his father. Ostensibly about a McGowan man who moved a Curing Stone (a medieval stone head believed to cure that most awful of afflictions - the toothache) from the graveyard in relatively recent times it strikes me the story could be up to 1000 years old!


"A story of the stone in the pier on the left hand side coming in. If you have toothache, come after 12 o'clock at night, kiss the stone and you get rid of the toothache!

In times gone by, bt deceased Dad, who is nearly 50 years dead, told that there was a man, name of McGowan, a short distance from here, took the stone off the pier & built it ito the gable of a byre...From the day he built it...the wind started to blow and blow! And worse it got every night! Read more »

A French Cross

In archaeology we have the concept of taphonomy. Taphonomy tells us that the ruins of the past looked very different when they were lived in. A castle would have been plastered and painted. Interior walls would be lined, painted and covered in thick drapes (think of poor old Polonius getting stabbed in the arras (always got a laugh in school)). Picture a ruined church with whitewashed walls and fresh golden thatch. The skill and science of an archaeologist is to not just see the bare bones and the stones but to clothe the past with the rich organics, textures and textiles which would have abounded then.

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Walking Beneath Benbulben


We average 5 km of daily walking when surveying historic graveyards.

Yesterday the graveyard in Drucliffe was bigger than usual and we covered 7.5 km. That is 7.5km of walking beneath Benbulben -when every time you look up from the ground the beauty of Co. Sligo is there in its intriguing glory. We've done graveyard projects all over Ireland and from Dorset to Aberdeen and Benbulben is one of the most striking locations around.  Read more »

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