The Story of Galbally Graveyard, Co. Limerick

Crucifixion on Glabally headstone

This graveyard lies at the southern end of Galbally, a village in southeast County Limerick, on the border with County Tipperary, at the foot of the Galtee Mountains. The Aherlow River flows immediately south of the village and joins the Suir River near the town of Cahir.  Galbally graveyard is in the townland of Galbally, in the parish of Donaghmore (CHECK) and in the barony of Coshlea. The townland lies roughly halfway between the town of Mitchelstown to the south and the town of Tipperary to the north.  The graveyard is located south of Galbally village square. On the R663 take the first left at the crossroads. It is situated on high ground overlooking the village and the Aherlow River.
Galbally translates in Irish to An Galbhaile, baile meaning townland, town or homestead, the word Gall could mean foreigner or standing stone, the town of the foreigners or the town of the standing stone ( 
Westropp (1904-5) records that the church was referred to as the ‘Church of Natherlagh’, a version of the Irish name for Aherlow, ‘An Eatherlach’. Today, the church is sometimes referred to as the Aherlow Church.
The substantial church is in ruins and is of 13th century origin. It  lies in the centre of the graveyard and measures 46m N-S x 76m E-W. The walls of the church were originally built of sandstone, with later additions and renovations  made in limestone. The graveyard is enclosed by a post-1700 stone wall, with the entrance gate on the south side. 
A total of 375 memorials were recorded during a community based survey with Historic graves in 2022. 
Possibly the earliest recorded date on a memorial is a small stone slab located south of the south door within the ruin that possibly dates to the 17th century (Urban Survey of Limerick (Bradley et al.1989)). The memorial measures 40 cm in height and 44 cm in width and 5 cm in thickness. It reads, “Here lyeth the body of Mary….His wife’. 
In the graveyard itself, a total of 24 memorials date to the 18th century, of which three date to the first half of the century. The earliest commemorates the death of Patrick McNamara who died in 1733, (memorial no. 0218). Margaret Sampson (alias Cantwell) died in 1734 aged 57 years. Her Husband John Sampson died in 1742, aged 85 years, (memorial no. 0366). Thirdly, Richard Burke who died in 1747, (memorial no. 0228).
A lovely example of 18th century iconography is on the headstone commemorating the burial place of Rev. Thomas Hayes who died in 1753. The inscription is in relief carved below an angel’s head and wings.
Some grave markers in the graveyard are reused architectural fragments from the church, such as window jambs, mullions and a column decorated with sugar barely twist, (Urban Survey of Limerick (Bradley et al.1989)).
Surnames included were Sampson, Conway, Pickett, Ryan, Hayes, Massey, Barry, Lane, Hanley, Rice, Lysaght, Corbett, Blackburn, McGrath, Moloney, Landers, Walsh, Breen, Cummins, Kennefick, Frewen, Fruin, Moore, O’Neill, Nunan, Martin, McCann, Mansell and Quirke.
Interesting Facts
Galbally was known as Lowtown because the Lowe Family owned the town in the late 18th century. In 1906, Colonel John Low held an estate in the parishes of Athneasy, Ballingarry and Knocklong. They lived in a house called Dunville in Ardpatrick and Sunville/Sunvale. The house is no longer extant (Landed A record of Ireland’s landed estates and historic houses, c.1700-1914 are on a database, available online.
Under the eastern window of the church on the inside are two sandstone blocks inserted into the wall and carved in high relief. Though both blocks are very worn, one appears to be that of a figure seated with something on its lap. The other is of a head.
Galbally village has Anglo-Norman origins, with the De Moulton Family establishing a settlement, most likely around the castle and church. The church was established by 1291 and was overseen by a rector. There are references to a manor house, burgages, burgesses and a borough in the late 13th and 14th centuries. Likely that the settlement was deserted by the early 15th century as a result of a Gaelic Revival. The modern town of Galbally would appear to be a later development, (Bradley et al. 1989, Urban Archaeology Survey, County Limerick). By the mid 17th century, Galbally village consisted of a castle, two mills on the river and a few cabins, (
The site of a Famine Poor House is located on the south side of Galbally village square. Famine victims are said to have been buried in Galbally graveyard. According to folklore there was a hospital in the village and  Michael Kiely’s field in Galbally was used as a cemetery at the time of the famine.
At the time of Griffith's Valuation (1847-1864), Massy Lodge and Estate in Anglesborough was held by the Massy family. The estate included lands around Galbally. There are a few Massey graves in Galbally graveyard dating to the early 19th century. Memorial no. 001 is the burial place of a young girl, Catherine Massey who died in 1811. On the headstone there is an unusual carving of an eye with lines radiating downwards from it. Interestingly, memorial no. 036 marks the burial place of another Catherine Massey who also died in 1811. 
Massy family members are buried also in the Duntryleague graveyard, marked by a Charnel House or mauseoleum dating to c. 1828.
Charles Bianconi’s carriages used to drive through Galbally village and the stables they used still stand on the north side of the square.
Folklore has it that there is an underground passageway connecting Galbally graveyard to Moor Abbey, the franciscan friary located nearby on the banks of the River Aherlow. These stories of undergroudn passages connecting such sites are commonly encountered throughout Ireland but are rarely, if ever, supported by facts on the ground. ‘There is a cellar in the abbey called Gallen's Cellar because Archbishop Gallen of Cashel used to hide there during the penal raids’, ( 
Folklore recalls that Lieutenant Samson is buried inside the church where he was killed. ‘It appears that he had concealed himself behind the high altar after the retreat from Aughrim and the game given away to the soldiers’, ( 
There are several members of the Sampson family buried in the graveyard, Simon Sampson died 1861 (memorial no.370) and Robert Sampson died 1868 (memorial no.368).
18th Century Memorials in Galbally 
0038 Darby fitzgerald 1782
0097 James Dalton 1799
0109 Daniel Nunan 1780
0141 Michael Heffernan 1798
0155 James Kelley 1782
0159 Patrick Walsh 1799
0164 James Dea 1792
0176 Rob Fruin 1793
0178 Mary Kilventen 1796
0218 Patrick McNamara 1733
0227 Michael Hogan 1796
0228 Richard Bourke 1747
0232 Dinnis Daly 1767
0246 Catherine Landers (nee Gready) 1798
0280 Cathrine Pholy 1798
0286 Timothy Kilmartin 1764
0292 Patrick Commons 1791
0312 Thadee Frahir 1755
0318 Adam Landers 1773
0349 Mathhew Cranitch 1753
0351 John Blackburn 1784
0352 Mary blackburn (nee Wise) 1782
0364 Rev. Thomas Hayes 1785
0366 John Sampson 1742
This post was researched and written as part of a grassroots heritage tourism project ( in collaboration with Ballyhoura Development CLG (, Cork Co. Council ( and Limerick Co. Council ( The stories were initially gathered during a community survey of the graveyard. They form part of the Historic Graves Project Destination for Ballyhoura (