John Tierney's blog

Meeting Christ in a Graveyard

The Romans never really came to Ireland. They didn't really sail across the Irish Sea and bonk us on the head and kill all the chieftains and build roads and walls and towns and such.


But in many ways the Romans are all around us in Ireland today. When the Emperor Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire he did it to bring the people together, to give them a common identity - a tall order given he was uniting tribal forces with origins in prehistory stretching from the Balkans, to North Africa and way up into Scotland. That Constantinian religion has proven to have had a 'number of net practical benefits' while also of course having it's 'issues'. But it can't be said it doesn't create a common identity. 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 »

Slow down in old graveyards



Graveyards are about slowing down. 


For those of us left behind when somebody dies, they are gone, but we're still here! Doing the shopping, getting the children to school, buying a niece's birthday present to post to Scotland, ringing the insurance company; working. We do a million things.


But when we go to visit the grave we slow down.



When we work in a graveyard we always keep that in mind. And if you care for an old graveyard you have to keep that in mind.

  Read more »

Finding monumental sculptors in Ireland.

The people who put up headstones have many names.

Stonemason, stonecutter, lettercarver, sculptor, and monumental sculptor are a few that come to mind.

Sometimes, about 1% of the time, we find the stonecutters name carved on the bottom of the headstone. It'll say something like Fecit D McCarthy.

Which is latin for D McCarthy made this! Read more »

Living and dying in Ireland 100 years ago. How to follow the clues!

Peter O'Connor died in Cork city, Ireland, in 1909. He was only 1.5 years old. The cause of death was natural and a woman called Margaret O'Connor paid for his burial. Presumably his mother but maybe not.

Read more »

Using the 1911 & 1901 census for tracing Irish ancestors

It's the most important digital resource for Irish family history and genealogy!


As one of the main women behind it, Dr Caitríona Crowe, said though, it's a digital copy of the census, not _the_ census.


Here's how to use it!

Step 0 - search your address/townland name in and find your place- write down some of these; town, townland name, street & electoral division.


Step 1 - Go to the homepage of the National Archives website. Read more »

Surname searches using Historic Graves Family Search Page.

When we started doing the Historic Graves Project I thought we'd get about 100-200 Irish surnames.


How wrong could one archaeologist be?


Growing up in Cork city I thought I knew most Irish surnames - O'Connell, O'Callaghan, Lyons, Sutton, Hurley, Connery, O'Mahoney, Varian, O'Keeffe, were the surnames that surrounded us - my own surname didn't quite fit in though cos I think we were the only Tierney's in a school of 1000 students. Our teachers were Daly, Olden, Lynch, Hannon.


A few years into the Historic Graves Project though, we did a surname search - we had 3,500 different surnames registered from Irish headstones! In 2017 we found we had 8314 different surnames.


Now our main tool for searching those names is the family search page. Enter your surname, forenames, dates and even pick a specific graveyard - hit enter and off you go. The results will be 100% the product of hundreds of surveys by hundreds of local Irish communities and surprisingly interesting. Read more »

Lost in Ireland - trying to avoid it.

I've been lost in every county in Ireland. 

I like it. Being lost.

Unless there's somebody waiting at the other end. Don't like that feeling as much.


As a city 'boy' rural Ireland was a strange country to me. Except for a small pocket of S Limerick, the rest of Ireland may as well have been Ontario or Florida until my early 20s. I liked geography at school and I knew the names of rivers and mountains but I couldn't tell you was Duhallow a town, village or what? 

But being a field archaeologist changed that and doing historic graveyard surveys changed it considerably.  We are now invited to small rural parishes all over Ireland & the UK. We now delight in the winding rural road, cutting deep into a hillside and being met on arrival with a handshake and a 'welcome!'. 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.

  Read more »

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 »

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