10 Aug 2022

Putting historic graveyards on the map

A PROJECT is due to begin in Co Kilkenny this summer which will see local communities helping to take stock of historic graveyards. In addition to preserving the information for local interest, it will also have the potential to bring in “genealogical tourism”.

A PROJECT is due to begin in Co Kilkenny this summer which will see local communities helping to take stock of historic graveyards. In addition to preserving the information for local interest, it will also have the potential to bring in “genealogical tourism”.

Known as the Kilkenny Historic Graveyard Recording Project, it has been initiated by Kilkenny Leader Partnership in co-operation with the county’s heritage officer, Dearbhala Ledwidge.

A pilot project involving three historic graveyards in the county is due to be carried out this year, and to start the process an information meeting will take place on May 11 at 7.30pm in the Heritage Council headquarters (Áras Na hOidhreachta) on the grounds of St Canice’s Cathedral. The meeting will be a chance for representatives from local groups associated with historic graveyards – historic graveyard committees or Tidy Towns committees, for example – to learn about what the project will entail. (Limited space will be available on the night but places can be booked by contacting Madeleine in Kilkenny Leader Partnership on 056 7752111.)

Once the three graveyards are selected for the pilot project, the community groups will be trained by archaeological services company Eachtra, which has been contracted to deliver the project under Leader’s supervision. Similar projects have been carried out in Laois, Waterford and Cork, and at the information meeting, Eachtra representative John Tierney will outline the project and his experience in other counties, and Ms Ledwidge will talk about historic graveyards in Co Kilkenny.

The recording work locally will then see groups creating maps of their respective graveyards, including the location of structures such as churches or headstones. They will also record any inscriptions, symbols or iconography found on each headstone.

“There were different symbols used at different times,” Ms Ledwidge pointed out. “They reflect the time when they were done or the job that the person had. There was a trend where, for example if somebody was a carpenter, they would carve out the tools that they would have used.”

Different families of engravers, such as the O’Tunneys, also had their own styles, she noted.


In addition to recording such information, the groups will be trained in how to utilise technology, such as taking digital photographs and uploading them onto a website. The GPS location of the headstones will also be recorded and uploaded along with the information, all of which will be searchable by people interested in local history or in their own family roots.

It is also intended to have an oral-history element to the project, with online links to recordings of stories about the graves or graveyards, or ghosts, or famous people buried there.

The goal is that it will become a resource for the community and will also contribute to “genealogical tourism”, said Kilkenny Leader Partnership rural development manager Martin Rafter. “It will draw visitors into the rural community and enhance the local economy.”

Over the years, there has been various graveyard recording in Kilkenny, including significant work by the Kilkenny Archaeological Society in the 1960s and 1970s (which is now located in Rothe House), and work by community groups in places such as Ballyragget, Kilmacow and Slieverue.

“This is bringing it a step further,” Ms Ledwidge said.

An audit of historic graveyards a few years ago included records for 403 graveyards, and of those over 200 have up-standing remains, Ms Ledwidge pointed out. Once the pilot project has been completed, it is hoped to roll it out to other graveyards eventually. Groups from all traditions and locations in the county are welcome, even those who have done some form of recording already.

It has the potential to be a rich resource, capturing the nuances and styles of monuments in graveyards from various historical periods and locations, where a glance around can show countless details reflecting the life and times of those buried there.

As Mr Rafter said: “We want to take that detail and make it more accessible.”

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