Kilcruttin Cemetery, Tullamore, no 1 in a cemetery series Michael Byrne

 plaque at Kilcruttin Cemetery eredted by Town CouncilKilcruttin cemetery is located off Cormac Street and close to the boundaries of what is now Scoil Mhuire. Indeed, the original access lane and entrance to this cemetery is still to be seen. It’s the oldest cemetery in Tullamore town and dates back to the 1700s. At one time it was on the outskirts of the town and in soft poor ground close to the Tullamore river. It was not the cemetery of choice for the upper ten in Tullamore, but nonetheless has some very good monuments including that to the Methodist merchant Burgess and the German baron Oldershausen of the King’s German Legion, the heroes of Waterloo.

Out of Kilcruttin came no less than three new cemeteries, that for ‘paupers’ on Ardan Road in 1852 and ‘ the Sleeping Ground’  for Protestants at Clonminch  in the same year. Forty years later the new Catholic cemetery at Clonminch (in Spollanstown townland beside Collier’s Stream) was opened and first in was M.F. Gorry of the well-known news agency.

Kilcruttin park before renovation
Kilcruttin and the Burgess mausoleum in the early 1980s
IMG_0231
The Burgess Mausoleum c. 2000

How old is Kilcruttin?

Was there a church at Kilcruttin and is it an early Christian or medieval site? There is little or no evidence of any remains there at the time of the first ordnance survey in 1838. Yet curiously Canon O’Hanlon included the place in his Lives of the Saints even providing an illustration. Was it conjectural or actual?  It is surprising that it is not mentioned in the ordnance survey letters if any such historical traditions or remains survived. It is not known when people first began to be buried here but the earliest known gravestone dates from 1770 and the latest in the late 1860s.  Most of the people buried here were members of the Church of Ireland or Methodists. Catholics were generally buried at the older Catholic sites at Kilbride, Durrow or Lynally and only in Tullamore town when the Clonminch graveyard was opened in 1893.  However the better off Protestants were also buried at the old graveyards near the town because these graveyards became the property of the Established Church after the Reformation.

Kilcruttin was also used for the burial of the poor of whatever religion and as the burial place of those who died in the public institutions (except by execution) and is particularly associated with the victims of the Famine who were brought from the workhouse through the town for burial at Kilcruttin. As for the Moore family, the owners of Tullamore prior to the Burys and who lived in Tullamore from the 1700s to the 1760s it may be that their burial place was beside the church erected  in Church Street in the 1720s and in use until St Catherine’s was completed in 1815. The first earl of Charlevillle’s memorial was in the old church in Church St. and is now in St Catherine’s, Hop HIll.

1,000 paupers buried there, 1848-52

Kilcruttin cemetery was officially closed in 1892. However an attempt was made to close the place in the 1850s.  In 1852 the then rector of Tullamore, the Rev. E. F. Berry, wrote to the responsible local authority, the board of guardians of the Tullamore union advising of the difficulties with Kilcruttin: and the second letter was written to the Board by Francis Berry, the agent for the earl of Charleville (the local landlord)..

The Rev. E. F. Berry to the Board of Guardians:-

I beg leave to inform you that within the last few days I have been inspecting the graveyard of Kilcruttin where the greater number of persons who die in the Tullamore Poorhouse are buried and I find that it is now so full that no more bodies can be interred without greatly endangering the healthfulness of the neighbourhood.  In one corner more than a thousand paupers have been buried within the last four years, and according to Patrick Gorman’s return to me two hundred have been laid there within the past year. Under those circumstances I trust that the Board of Guardians will, as soon as possible, obtain a burial ground for interment of all paupers who die in the Poorhouse, as I trust as I must very soon, close Kilcruttin churchyard and prevent any more interments.”  E. F. Berry, Glebe House, Tullamore.  30th January, 1852.

 

It seems clear from the letter that by this time no well-off Catholics or Protestants were using the cemetery for burial.  The new cemetery at Durrow, beside the Catholic church, was opened in 1832 but no exclusively Protestant cemetery was available near the town. The large number of interments from the workhouse during the Famine years had made Kilcruttin unacceptable but there was the additional difficulty that no clear title was available to a new plot of ground until 1851 when the third earl of Charleville succeeded his father, who from the mid-1840s had lived largely in Berlin and had both mental and financial problems. The agent, Francis Berry, sent good news to the board of guardians in 1852. Berry advised the board that:

After one corpse gets Christian burial in this land you would not get a man for the fee simple of the whole townland to till it for agricultural purposes

Lord Charleville had been informed that the churchyard at Kilcruttin cannot without great danger to the inhabitants of Tullamore, receive any more. Under these circumstances his Lordship has been looking out for proper places where the dead can be buried decently.  He has fixed on one for the parish generally about a mile from the town on the Killeigh road and given it to the minister and church wardens at a nominal rent.

Kilcruttin cemetery Tullamore 2 150603 oldershausen momument
The 1808 to Baron Oldershausen of the King’s German Legion. Restored by Sennheiser in the 1990s.

But this will not at all answer for the Poorhouse in consequence of its distance, and that the bodies should be brought through the town he thinks objectionable. He understands that the Board of Guardians were in treaty with the tenant in possession of land on the Kilbeggan road and only a short distance from the Poorhouse , for a small plot of land for a burial ground for the exclusive use of the Poorhouse.  There is a lease of this land in existence of one old life; with his tenant’s right he cannot interfere but his lordship has directed me to inform the Board of Guardians that after the expiration of the present lease he will give this bit of land (he understands about one acre) to the Board for 6d. a year and make them the longest lease he can of this acre of land.  He cannot make a lease longer than three lives but you will, I am sure, be of opinion that this is of no consequence for after one corpse gets Christian burial in this land you would not get a man for the fee simple of the whole townland to till it for agricultural purposes.  Francis Berry, agent to the Earl of Charleville, 30th January 1852.

Land was let by the Charleville landlord for three lives and when the three persons named in the lease died the lease had to be renewed and perhaps a higher rent paid by the tenant.  The Poorhouse graveyard on Ardan Road is not now in use but the Church of Ireland cemetery at Clonminch is still used for burials.

Yellow George Gorman is said to have replied to the protests of a man he was trying to bury in Kilcuttin that the doctor knew best.

About one million people died in the Famine or Great Hunger of 1845-9.  During the famine years as many as 2,000 persons were housed in the Tullamore workhouse or in temporary workhouses in the town.  It is difficult to be exact concerning the local death-rate but at the height of the famine and fever it was probably ten to fifteen persons per week.  The Patrick Gorman referred to in the Rev. E. F. Berry’s letter may have some connection with ‘Yellow George” who carried corpses from Tullamore Workhouse on a dray. The latter is said to have replied to the protests of a man he was trying to bury that the doctor knew best.

So when next visiting the Tullamore Town Park why not drop in to Kilcruttin and stay awhile with the poor of 150 years ago and reflect on the monuments, great and small, to Tullamore people of times past.

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