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.
The Lissonuffy Parish Committee first formed in 1993 and you can tell Roscommon has a mature appeciation of historic graveyards and systems for their care and conservation, under the stewardship of Nollaig Feeney, Co. Roscommon Heritage Officer. Lissonuffy is one of the best tended burial grounds in the country. Neighbours like Liam Collins have been strimming the grass here for over a decade. When I asked Liam what the secret to developing a great grass cover was he replied "Strim it and rake it! And the right grass will come".
So, regular, long term dedicated care is the magic bullet so many other communtiies wish for. We all hope for a magic wand to wave but there is no substitute for steady, quiet and patient work.
In a two day training project, funded via SECAD, this small community had 8-15 volunteers at all times working and managed to number, photo and record over 200 headstones. And that's where the names come in.
Where women brought a dowry to a marriage they mostly kept their maiden name on their headstones - the carved stone was an extension of the marriage contract. On one headstone Brigid Hanly's maiden name was Duck. We used water, torches and mirrors to check the spelling and Duck it was. We scratched our heads about this 'new' surname. We had Dolan, Nolan, Folan, Bolan and now Duck - how could it be? Which is when Seamus Croghan said,
'You can have Drakes & Crowes, so why not Duck's!"
Irish surnames are local and can be ancient. Many up to 1,000 years old. The O'Connor's buried in Lissonuffy have been a high status family in Connacht for over 2000 years. And the names help define the place.
Lissonuffy grvaeyard slopes gently westwards into a seasonal lake, a turlough measuring over 50 acres, which is a lake in the winter months. The rushes, grasses and hedgerows here are filled with birds and birdsong. The robin is the king of the graveyard - he sits on the highest cross and resists all opponents with the force of his song. The graveyard is a fascinating ecosystem which represents the health of the land - a healthy burial ground - urban or rural, reflects a healthy place.
The parish committee will continue the survey for a few more days, finsishing the record sheets for all monuments & double checking the ones that make no sense. The record sheets are being typed-up and uploaded to www.historicgraves.com where the rich genealogical history of Lissonuffy & Roscommon will be shared the world over. And Liam, and Brendan and Francis and Seamus and Chrissie & Henry, and other, will continue to look after the place, quietly.
So visit Lissonuffy to see this gem of a place. The county council have it signposted and relatively easy to find from Strokestown or Roscommon town. And if the names and scenery do not tempt you then come for the Cure. The medieval bullaun filled with water will cure warts on your feet or the O'Connor tomb 'agin' the wall will cure a bad back. Step backwards onto the base ledge and stand back erect. If you hold your place you'll be cured.
Thanks to Roscommon County Council for supporting this project, to the Windfarm Community fund for funding it and SECAD for administration.
It turns out we have a few Ducks in the system already https://goo.gl/GyWu2F