Anti-Bodysnatching device still on Kilkenny grave

Sean Keane


Sean Keane


Anti-Bodysnatching device still on Kilkenny grave

The mortsafe in Tullaroan graveyard

The practice of body snatching was widespread in the 19th century. And those people with the means, attached devices to the graves of their loved one, to deter the unscrupulous thieves.

A rare example of what became known as, mortsafes is to be found at Tullaroan graveyard.

They are scattered in cemeteries around the country and many younger people will have no idea of their use.

These wrought iron contraptions were placed over graves in the 18-19th centuries to protect against the theft of the corpse.

At the time there was a booming trade in newly deceased bodies for sale to medical colleges as anatomical specimens.

Coilin O'Drisceoil of Kilkenny Archaeology said that no one has ever looked at the phenomenon in Kilkenny or the rest of the country.

“There must be graveyard watch houses and mortsafes around the county,” he said.

“The increased use of burial vaults inside churches - like at St Mary's Church and graveyard in the centre of Kilkenny city, during the 18th-19th century can also be attributed to the widespread fear of the body snatchers,” he added.

There has long been a demand for human corpses for dissection by anatomists and medical students as well as more sinister uses involving the occult.

For many years, the bodies of convicted criminals, who had died in prison or who had been hanged were used. Grave robbing was to remain a major problem until 1832 when a new Anatomy Bill was introduced and passed.