Defining a mass grave

Do a google search for "mass grave Ireland" and Tuam comes up, top of the list.

The phrase mass grave is used descriptively and emotionally. There's a chamber with multiple bodies in it. There are serious questions about the numbers of bodies and the decency with which the children & babies were treated in life and death. Our society prizes decent treatment of our dead, regardless of status - at least we say we do.


But when you read the most recent technical report (December 2017) from the Tuam research team they say

"The site here cannot be considered a mass grave in terms of what is typically associated with violence or conflict; however, any further physical investigation here would necessitate the use of the skillset designed to forensically investigate mass graves. " (emphasis mine).(Executive Summary, pii) Read more »

A decent burial - common V mass graves

Public discussion of burial practices can become very emotional. 

Mass and grave are the two most emotive words used in recent times. Both in public & academic discourse.


When I first started studying these things I thought mass grave would be easy to understand. But. Not so!

Over the next few months i'm going to explore the use of mass grave in an attempt to better understand our funerary practices through time.

A key part of the exploration will be comparing mass grave with common grave. Best place to start this exploration will be with a few definitions.


Let's start with the easy one.

What is a common grave? Read more »

The healing grave of Fr. John O'Mullane; Old Kilcorney graveyard, Duhallow, Cork

This post starts and finishes with two different stories by two different women.

One woman was having trouble getting pregnant - she already had a few children - it just wasn't taking this time, until she went to her doctor for a chat. Talking to the doctor, who was a caring, kind, experienced woman, she came away more relaxed about the process. A month later it took. 


We're a very suggestible species. We are social creatures who need to fit in with our families and neighbours. We're expert at reading facial expressions and working out what other people think about us. Our reputation is important to us and without it we lose social status. Some people are bad at the social status game and others are excellent. Some people are good at taking social direction and others will bend the rules if they think they won't be caught. Mix in religion and a hotline to heaven and the situation of social influence can become more complex and interesting. Read more »

Healing Stones - Rev. Florence McCarthy d 1805

If you've ever flown into or out of Cork airport you may have flown over Killingley graveyard. This is one of those Cork graveyards situated on the side of a slope. It is rural but with strong links to the city and pride of place within the graveyard falls to the headstone for the Rev. Florence McCarthy (d 1805).

This is a healing headstone - a pattern of prayer links the headstone with an adjacent holy well, pray on your knee's before the headstone, score a cross onto the stone and then, still on your knees, crawl to the holy well 150m to the west. This lovely holy well site has done the research on Fr. McCarthy and details the strength of devotion to him and the many cures attributed to him. If any readers know any more about this Florence McCarthy please email john@historicgraves.com. Read more »

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 »

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 »

Reviving Mill & Churchquarter graveyard, Grange, Co. Waterford



How do you revive a graveyard?




  Read more »

How much did a funeral cost in the 1880s? Thompsons of Waterford.

A question often asked during graveyard surveys is ‘how much did a funeral cost in the past?’ - to which I’d often reply that we need to see a undertaker’s account books to get an answer. The first undertaker’s accounts I have seen were shown to me by C J Destelle-Roe of North Tipperary and that account book contained a lot of important clues to understanding early 20th century Templemore.

Now, Waterford County Council have combined with Thompson Funeral Directors (opened in Waterford in 1786) to put their historic registers online. This is an excellent resource and a quick examination gives immediate reward.

Reading the registers it strikes me that literacy was just as much an issue for undertakers clerks as it was for stonecutters. The 19th century register is written with phonetic spellings - elm is ellim, car is care, hers for hearse so that lesson we have learned in graveyards is repeated here- the actual spelling doesn’t overly matter once you convey the intended meaning.  Read more »

Where to look for burials in the Tuam Union Workhouse?

There could be human burials anywhere within the site of the Tuam Union Workhouse -  especially dating to the mid-nineteenth century before the formal burial ground was established in the nearby townland of Carrowpeter. Delaney (2012) refers to information in Claffey (2009) that the Poor Law Commissioners were unhappy with the Workhouse burial ground being located within 90 feet of the fever sheds and the formal burial ground subsequently being established in Carrowpeter. Read more »

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