Monday, October 27, 2014

Some Can Be Read…

Walking the church ruins of Castletown in County Limerick during our recent trip to Ireland, my husband and I came upon just the right conditions to capture some century-old engravings. Just before arriving, when we drove through tiny Ballyagran, the townland and Catholic parish from which my husband’s second great-granduncle William Flanagan had once proudly proclaimed his heritage, we encountered a typical brief Irish drizzle. By the time we stopped to ask for directions and drive further up the lane to the cemetery, the rain had stopped, but the sky was still gloomily overcast. Perfect, it turned out, for taking photographs in a graveyard.

While neither of us is related to the subjects of these memorials, just as yesterday, I want to share what we found. Maybe some others will find themselves led here through a fortunate exchange on Google and see these photos as beneficial for their own family history research.

Erected by
John McCann of Caherhennessy
In memory of his father
Bartholomew McCann
Who died 15th of July 1901
Aged 84 years
And of his mother
Catherine McCann
Who died 2nd of December 1885
Aged 74 years
May they rest in peace
Mary Bridget Biggane
Died June 9, 1949

Some of the headstones provide guidance in piecing together two or three generations of family trees. Some entries, however, introduce their own mysteries. How, for instance, is Mary Bridget Biggane connected to the McCann family? By the different appearance of the engraving of her name in comparison to the previous entries, it seems as if this addition is an afterthought. Could it be a married daughter? Almost an entire lifetime removed from her predecessors, perhaps it is more realistic to suppose she was a grandchild.

And yet, others here in Ireland go so far beyond the kind of expectations I’ve learned to have, coming from the perspective of someone used to wandering the cemeteries of my own country. Complete with dates and place names, some stones are an abbreviated family history in engraved format, preserved in one public place for all to read and know.

Erected by
John Chawke and his children
In sad and loving memory
Of his wife and their mother
Who departed this life
At Kilmeedy
April 16th 1913
Aged 72 years
John died Oct 19 1920
James Fitzgerald died March 3 1948
Bridget Fitzgerald (nee Chawke) died Feb 17 1962
Catherine Fitzgerald died Aug 1 1972
John Fitzgerald died July 5 1995

Photographs courtesy Chris Stevens.


  1. Such handsome tombstones - so much more alluring than the basic rectangles of today. Now I'm starting to wonder about things I don't have time to wonder about, like what tools they used for engraving, how they plotted out the spacing, the cost of a fine tombstone.

    1. One thing we noticed about those "fine tombstones" was that many of them were memorials erected by a son who had left the country for a better life in the New World. Apparently, these sons were able to share some of their good fortune by erecting monuments to their parents and extended family. Judging by the dates and list of those included, the stone was erected much after the initiating death.

      Another thing we noticed was that, though such stones as these we've shared here look very well preserved, the choice of material combined with the inevitable continual washings of the local weather made the great majority of the headstones completely illegible. I'd like to think those were the oldest stones--say, several centuries old--but it may be the case that though they looked that old, they weren't anywhere near such dates.

  2. It is amazing they cram so much stuff on a stone!!

    I would suppose the later engravers (stone chippers?) might "refresh" the older writing - but wouldn't know for sure.

    1. might interest you.

    2. Thanks for sharing that link, Iggy. I wish genforum hadn't been turned into a "read only" site now! It would be interesting to connect with the person who made that post.

      Interesting to think the engravers could go back and re-do the older headstones. I'm not sure what treatment was done to some of those stones, but the lettering just seemed to "pop" with clarity. On some of the stones above, though, the depth of the engraving seemed so shallow as to make me wonder if the stone would be readable at all in a very short time...

  3. Just to walk there must have been awesome! :)


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