The Historic Graves project has had the pleasure of working with Gerry Mullins on a number of our Graveyard recording workshops. Gerry has recently launched a new book Kilnahue Churchyard Gorey: A survey of the Iconography and Inscriptions. He is an expert on the iconography and symbols used on Irish grave memorials.Graveyards and memorial stones are rich in iconography and symbols whose meanings would have sung out to the people who commissioned and erected the stones. We have partly lost the ability to understand the symbols and what they represent. Consequently we can sometimes find the experience of walking around old graveyards as silent journeys through stories we are no longer able to read or hear. Gerry with his accumulated wealth of knowledge and experience is able to interpret the symbols and recount the stories they represent.
Gerry was on hand at our workshops in Kilmanman
, Co. Laois and Barony
, Co. Kilkenny. You can hear Gerry describing and explaining the meaning of a beautiful carved passion scene on a slab stone which possibly formed the side of a 17th century Butler chest tomb in the ruined Church in Barony here
. Most recently we spent a wonderful sunny summer’s day in the beautifully maintained Tifeaghgna graveyard
with a small group from the local graveyard committee. Gerry did some low impact headstone rubbings in order to better highlight some of the eroded iconography on the earliest memorial stone in the graveyard which was a ledger slab dating to 1722. He also recounted the background and history of graveyard iconography studies during our indoor session that afternoon.
That morning Gerry presented me with a signed copy of his new book. The book was launched
in Gorey Library on the 19th July. It is the end product of an intensive study of the graveyard undertaken by the Gorey Churchyard Heritage Group and led by Gerry. The book has a great introduction which traces the genesis and history of memorial stone inscription and iconography studies in Ireland. Sarah Tarlow’s 1999 book Bereavement and Commemoration: an archaeology of mortality
, started Gerry down the road of headstone studies and her descriptions of the memorials as being both ‘deliberately communicative and unintentionally revealing’ is invoked.
The main body of the book is composed of a catalogue of all the 126 memorial stones recorded in the graveyard. Each individual memorial is described. The full inscription is given and the iconography is outlined. This is then followed by a brief discussion which reveals some fascinating information and stories. The photographs of each headstone are brilliant and clearly illustrate the important elements of each headstone. I know from talking to Gerry that this required taking multiple photographs at various times and in different light conditions. I was particularly taken by the Glossary of the decorative motifs at Kilnahue in the back of the book which lists and describes the decorative motifs found at Kilnahue but will be useful to anybody with an interest in graveyard studies. The publication of the book was funded by Wexford Local Development
The book is dedicated to the Irish headstone cutters of the 18th and 19th centuries. Gerry believes that the Irish headstones display scarce examples of indigenous folk art. The book is a worthy tribute to these artists. I would encourage anyone with an interest in graveyard studies to get a copy. It contains a wealth of knowledge which allows us all to appreciate and read the stories calling out from the symbols and iconography found within every historic graveyard.
The book is available for sale from John Wyse Jackson's Zozimus Books at the Indoor Market on Gorey Main Street.