Graveyards and cemeteries are often thought of as peaceful places to visit. ANN MASSEY discovers why Ireland cemeteries and graves are anything but peaceful!
Lurgan, County Armagh
In 1705 Marjorie McCall was pronounced dead and buried in her local churchyard in Armagh. Grave robbers dug up her ‘remains ‘and were somewhat astonished when she sat upright in their cart and ran off home to survive for a few more years. Her gravestone reads “Died once, buried twice.”
Muckross Abbey, Killarney, County Kerry
In the graveyard at Muckross Abbey in Killarney, a young bride was distraught to discover her missing groom hunched over a fresh grave, coffin open and devouring the flesh of the newly deceased. A religious hermit named John Drake lived in the abandoned Abbey for more than a decade in the 18th century and slept in a coffin he found. Both tales are believed to have inspired Bram Stoker who visited the area.
Carr’s Hill Cemetery, Cork City
The worst point of the famine was in the winter of 1846/47 and it became known as ‘Black 47’. Cemeteries inside the city boundaries were overflowing so a local landowner saw an opportunity to turn a profit from misery by releasing some of his land just outside of Cork City. Known as Carr’s Hole, with at least 5000 bodies interred, the mass graves contained so many coffins the ones at the top of the plots were barely covered with earth and the putrid stench of decaying flesh filled the air.
Tragedy doesn’t finish there, as the graveyard continued to be used as a Pauper’s burial site until the nineteen fifties. Dying in poverty and disease, these victims were buried like animals in unconsecrated ground, no dignity and no grave markings.
Kilbride Graveyard, Arklow, County Wicklow
In the centuries old Kilbride Graveyard, an unusual Mausoleum casts a shadow over the town of Arklow. That tomb is a 30 feet high pyramid. Built for the Howard family the inaugural burial was the nineteen-year-old daughter of Viscount Wicklow. All caskets were slotted in through a narrow gap and there are some 18 corpses interred.
Conspiracy theorists say there is actually room for 33 bodies tying into the Scottish Rite of the Masons and the possibility the Viscount was involved in the ancient organization. Stories are told of a toddler being buried in the Egyptian style crypt and locals hearing cries after dark until the infant body was exhumed. The pyramid was then permanently closed off.
Rathkeale, County Limerick
In Rathkeale graveyard in County Limerick there was the shade of a woman who struck ice cold fear into the heart of the community. So intense and horrific was her presence, that any who laid eyes upon her would be dead within days. The vengeful spirit was only quietened by a brave, devout local who ventured into the graveyard at night and faced her with his sword. Whatever power lay within the sword, he severed her arm and then prayed. She was not sighted again.
Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin
Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin is the final resting place of some of the most important names in Irish political and cultural history. The gravediggers would throw sods of earth against the wall of adjacent Kavanagh’s Pub to scare up a pint and the grave robbers would drink away after a hard night of stealing corpses.
Errigal-Truagh Graveyard in County Monaghan
Errigal-Truagh Graveyard in County Monaghan is the location of a malevolent spirit who brings heartbreak to the locals. It is said that the femme fatale ghoul lies in wait as the deceased are laid to rest and the grievers slowly make their way from the graveside and out of the cemetery. When a young man is the last to leave, the evil spirit manifests as a beautiful young woman who encapsulates all the desires of the naïve male.
She exacts a promise to meet in exactly one month in the graveyard and seals the promise with a fiery kiss. The moment the promise has been made the spirit disappears. Dazed, the young man makes his way to the gates of the graveyard and on crossing over its boundary he realises he has sold his body and soul for a kiss and his life is now forfeit. The man goes insane and in one month he is buried in the graveyard of the Demon Bride.
Mountcollins, County Limerick
On 1st April 1978 in the small village of Brosna Con Carey was helping to dig a family grave. The following day his body was found and his funeral was expedited without going through the traditional rituals of burial. The day after his interment in Mountcollins, 12 locals went back to the grave and exhumed the body of their dead friend. They performed all the required rites and re-interred his corpse. They became known as the 12 Apostles and a criminal case was pursued. The community kept silent and the names of the twelve remain unknown to this day.
Old Church Cemetery, Cobh, County Cork
In the Old Church Cemetery just on the outskirts of Cobh, almost 200 of the victims of the Lusitania sinking are buried in mass and individual graves.
Witnessed on more than one occasion from a diverse section of the community including the White Witch of Cobh and a Graves Inspector, is the chilling sound of a mass funeral procession for the victims of the Lusitania. They refer to many low murmuring voices and the sound of footsteps approaching the cemetery wall. Some assumed a funeral was approaching and looked up to see nothing but an empty road.
In connection with the Old Cemetery in Cobh, I am that person who was inspecting graves. I was an executive in the Office of public works and the care of Commonwealth War Graves was part of my remit. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission would make visits to Ireland to satisfy themselves that all was well. Before their visits I used to make my own visit to the area they were focusing on so as to ensure that all was well in the cemeteries on their agenda. It was an interesting part of the job and I learned a lot from it.
In the Cobh cemetery, when looking for the graves I had to inspect, I saw the stone of Jack Dempsey. It has boxing gloves carved out of the marble. I also saw the mass grave of the Lusitania victims.
My experience there left me with the impression that what I sensed could have been a ghostly reenactment of the funeral of the victims of the sinking. Just a feeling – no way to be definite.
BTW, this happened in broad daylight.
I am long since retired and now do not live in Ireland any more (think Pyrenees), but I recall the event very vividly. Was I scared? Of course! But it’s a good tale to tell at table and grabs attention.