The first of the Historic Graves graveyard recording workshops in Co. Laois took place in Aghaboe Graveyard on Saturday the 26th May. John Tierney, Maurizio Toscano and myself Finn Delaney were joined by Tori McMorran. Tori has been working in graveyards in Co. Offaly and it was great to catch up as we have all worked together with Eachtra on some of the large road projects excavations over the last few years.
After disturbing the rooks in the nearby trees we got a base set up with a small gazebo and a trestle table which had also put in good service in various site huts on excavations all over the country. People from the Aghaboe area and from farther afield started to arrive around 9.30 and to kick things off John gave a brief outline of the day’s activities and everybody was signed up and given an information pack.
For the morning session the group was split into three and they then rotated around the three activities which we had prepared for the day. John took one group to learn the basics of producing a graveyard plan using traditional baseline and off set techniques. They were armed with measuring tapes, survey stakes, drawing boards and pencils and were soon happily marking the locations of the graveyard memorials on to a prepared base map of the graveyard.
Maurizio took another group and showed them the basics of photography, geared specifically for graveyard memorials, such as camera settings, framing and brightness control. Maurizio also outlined the fundamentals of Global Navigation Satellite Systems such as GPS, discussed the accuracy levels of various systems and demonstrated the use of our new GPS enabled Sony camera. The group then used the fancy new camera mounted on a monopod to start a photographic, geo-tagged survey of the graveyard memorials.
I took the third group and ran through the graveyard memorial recording form which is the basis of a system for recording the details on the memorials such as the inscriptions, symbols and iconography and dimensions. The form is based on one from the Heritage Council’s excellent Guidelines for the Care, Conservation and Recording of Historic Graveyards written by Camin O’Brien. The group then used the forms to start recording some of the memorials. We also tried out a recommended rubbing technique on some of the illegible table tombs in the graveyard. Rolls of paper were secured to the inscribed face with masking tape and a sponge covered in carbon paper was then rubbed across the surface. This technique worked really well and we were able to decipher some of the inscriptions and recognize some of the symbols and ornamentation.
We had around twenty participants on the workshop and everybody got some hands on recording experience and was introduced to a systematic method for recording a graveyard. At around 1 O’Clock we all headed down the road to the Ballycolla parish hall for a much needed bowl of soup and a cup of tea.
We then got our trusty trestle table set up again and John gave a talk on the principles of conservation applicable to historic graveyards. He also outlined the techniques the Historic Graves project is using to record some of the graveyard stories which adhere to these community focal points. Smartphones, video cameras, digital dictaphones and ipod touches can be used to record short video and audio clips outlining the local stories. As the tagline to the Historic Graves website goes; Local Voices, Local Stories, Local Places.
Maurizio meanwhile had been uploading some of the geo-tagged photographs recorded earlier in the day and he then demonstrated the process live on screen. We also used some of the completed graveyard memorial recording forms to fill in the details for some of the memorials into the database. By the end of the day some of the information collected that day was published live on the Historic Graves website and was also searchable on line.
We had a great day in Aghaboe and hope that the participants in the workshop also enjoyed the day and more importantly were inspired to go back to their communities and record the graveyard memorials and also the stories. We would also like to thank Orla O’Meara from Laois Leader Partnership for providing funds and organisation and also to Catherine Casey, The Laois Heritage officer for facilitating the day.