In the grounds of St Paul’s church, Newtownforbes, County Longford, this is believed to be the grave of Charlotte Brooke, a woman today too-little remembered or celebrated. Born around 1740, she was one of 22 children (only two of whom survived to adulthood) of Irish novelist and dramatist Henry Brooke whose Gustavus Vasa was famously the first play banned under the 1737 Licensing Act: it appears the Prime Minister Robert Walpole the villain of the piece resembled him. From an early age, Charlotte Brooke enjoyed a passionate interest in the Irish language and literature, translating many ancient texts into English so that they could reach an audience beyond these shores: her most celebrated work, Reliques of Irish Poetry, was published in 1788. By that date, she had become impoverished, her own money having been invested in a failed industrial scheme run by a cousin. As a result, she ended her days dependent on friends, dying in County Longford in 1793. Her body is thought to have been buried here, although her name is not on the stone, which instead carried the names of other members of the Brooke family.
In the graveyard of a church in Boho, County Fermanagh can be found what remains of a High Cross; just the base and shaft. The latter features Adam and Eve on one side, with a serpent curling up between them, and on the other the Virgin between two saints and, above them, the Baptism of Christ. The rest of the much-weathered sandstone is decorated with interlacing spiral patterns. This site also contains the grave of the Rev James McGirr, a local Catholic priest who during his lifetime gained a reputation as a faith healer. Before he died in 1815, McGirr seemingly declared ‘the clay that covers me will cure anything that I was able to cure when I was with you while I was alive.’ Ever since, anyone in the area who has a common ailment will take a spoonful of the grave’s soil, place it inside a pouch and then sleep with this under the pillow. Afterwards, soil must be returned to the graveyard as otherwise it is thought to bring bad luck. A notice inside the adjacent church from the present parish priest points out that a lot of soil from the McGirr grave has been removed of late and requests only a teaspoon-full be taken, and, most importantly, ‘This soil must be returned to the plot on the fourth day.’ Elsewhere in the graveyard, there are some especially handsome old gravestones to be seen (and some shockingly bad modern ones too).
If a graveyard could be described as exceptionally fine, then that at Moybologue, County Cavan would qualify. Subcircular in shape and enclosed within a stone wall, the site during the medieval period held a church and some kind of hospice. Little of either remains, but an extant two-storey transept is believed to have served as a priest’s residence. All around these ruins are gravestones going back many centuries, including the tomb shown below which carries a variety of memento mori symbols including an hour glass, a bell, a coffin and a skull and crossbones. Dedicated to members of the Smith family, it dates from the mid-17th century.
The Irish countryside is replete with old graveyards, some of them better maintained than others. But oftentimes those left to fend for themselves are more appealing than well-ordered sites. That’s the case here, an old graveyard at a spot called Stone Cross in County Meath. Surrounded by fields and contained with the remains of a dry stone wall, the place holds a modest number of tombs, almost none of them upright, but instead looking as though they have been pitched about by high winds.
After Wednesday’s post about the Denis Kelly’s round tower at Killeroran, County Galway, it is worth pointing out that at the opposite end of the graveyard stands his the former mausoleum of the family which used to occupy the now-demolished Castle Kelly. On one side of the entrance is a handsome tombstone, erected to the memory of John Kelly who was interred here in March 1813. As was ever the case, his death is recorded as being ‘universally lamented.’
A rather skinny 19th century round tower found in the graveyard at Killeroran, County Galway. It was erected in 1867, ten years before his death, by Denis Henry Kelly who lived not far away at Castle Kelly (otherwise known as Aughrane Castle). Unfortunately long before he died, Mr Kelly was obliged to sell the house and it was then entirely demolished in 1919. Rising more than 90 feet, the tower carries an commemorative inscription in Irish, but beside it stands a more modesty-scaled tombstone recalling Mr Kelly’s two wives, ‘both English women, they set themselves to the duties of their Irish home, and lived beloved by all, high and low, & died universally lamented.’ The first is described as ‘the beautiful Mary Moseley’ and the second as ‘Elizabeth Diana, the lovely daughter of John Cator.’ Their husband was also very keen to record his spouses’ aristocratic connections, so Mary Moseley was noted as being ‘the near relative of the Earl of Stamford and of the Actons, now Lord Acton.’ Meanwhile, according to her husband Elizabeth Cator had the good fortune to be ‘the near relation of the Marquis of Sligo and of Sir Ross Mahon.’ However, despite these socially prestigious links, neither wife was permitted to share Mr Kelly’s monument.
Although the church that once stood here has long since gone, the little graveyard at Clonabreany, County Meath contains a number of charming old funerary monuments, not least that seen above. A notice at the site (together with a number of references to the graveyard found online) proposes that this altar tomb commemorates the parents of St Oliver Plunkett (mentioned here last week, see Lighting up the Night « The Irish Aesthete). However, the monument carries an inscription in Latin noting that it was erected to commemorate Oliver Plunkett, who died in 1581 and his wife Elizabeth Dillon (died 1595). Since St Oliver Plunkett was only born in 1625, the likelihood of this couple being his parents seems remote. Meanwhile, close by is another handsome monument, this time dating from 1779; it commemorates brothers Edward and Patrick Kearney, their parents ‘and their posterity.’
After last week’s post about a late 17th century stone cross at Robertstown, County Meath: in the adjacent graveyard stands – just about – this tombstone, featuring an image of the crucified Christ below which are the heads of two winged angels. The tomb was erected by local man Patrick Hand to commemorate his daughter Eleanor who had died in August 1836 at the age of 24.
The entrance to God’s Acre, a small Quaker graveyard in County Carlow. On the north side of the site is a monument erected by Feilding Lecky Watson in memory of his father and all members of his faith who had settled and lived in the area since the first half of the 17th century. In 1923 Mr Lecky Watson and his family moved to Altamont, some eight miles away (see https://theirishaesthete.com/2018/07/16/altamont-2) where first he and then his daughter Corona North created a spectacular garden. Like the rest of the family, following her death in 1999 she was buried here, her resting place marked by a simple stone.
‘In my beginning is my end. In succession
Houses rise and fall, crumble, are extended,
Are removed, destroyed, restored, or in their place
Is an open field, or a factory, or a by-pass.’
So opens East Coker, the second of T.S.Eliot’s ‘Four Quartets’. Apposite lines as more of our architectural heritage has been lost or is imperiled. But this, the first day of a new year, is an occasion for optimism, to feel that 2020 will be better than its predecessor, and that circumstances can be improved. Disappointed in the past, now is a moment to embrace the future, and to remember the lines with which Eliot closes the same quartet:
‘Old men ought to be explorers
Here or there does not matter
We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity
For a further union, a deeper communion
Through the dark cold and the empty desolation,
The wave cry, the wind cry, the vast waters
Of the petrel and the porpoise. In my end is my beginning.’
The Irish Aesthete sends every good wish for 2020 to all friends and followers.