Back in 2014 I was an intern in the Heritage Office in Offaly County Council. I compiled a database of all known post 1700 burial grounds in the county. Compiling the database required thorough desk and field based research. During fieldwork I visited 170 of the 187 burial grounds I recorded. While visiting these places I noted many interesting and unusual features, some of which are the basis for this blog post. The list is of course subjective. There are certainly more interesting and unique features waiting to be discovered in Offaly burial grounds.
- A grave surrounded by round towers
An easily overlooked feature of burial grounds are iron surrounds. These surrounds would have been supplied from iron mongers in nearby towns, advertisements in old newspapers often give details of what the iron mongers could supply and at what cost. While some surrounds are plain and reserved in design, some take a more elaborate and ornate design. One such example (which is almost certainly unique in the county) is in Clonoghill Cemetery, Birr. The surround takes the form of round towers. The towers are cast iron and are joined together by a beautiful interlocking pattern of shamrocks and oak leaves.
- The only pyramid
Possibly one of the most impressive and unusual graves in the entire county takes the form of a pyramid! Located in the graveyard attached to Kinnitty Church of Ireland Church, this is the burial place of the Bernard family, formerly of Bernard Castle (now Kinnity Castle). Build in 1834 the pyramid is 30 foot high, and apparently a replica of the Great Pyramid of Giza. The burial place was likely inspired during military service in Egypt by one of the Bernard family. The pyramid is made of cut limestone blocks and entrance is gained (now bolted shut) by two heavy iron doors.
- A cemetery on an extinct volcano
Croghan Hill is the remnants of an extinct volcano. It is 234 meters high and is quite a noticeable feature on the landscape. This former volcano was last active during the Carboniferous period, over 350 million years ago. In addition to the cemetery located on the hill, there is also a pre Christian burial mound.
- The only American military grave
Similar to Commonwealth War Grave Commission (CWGC) headstones, American military memorials are also quite distinct and uniform in appearance. The headstones are made of a white marble and are composed of a cross followed by the details and service of the deceased soldier. This particular military grave belongs to Sergeant John Carroll, a veteran of the Second World War. The grave is located at Killowney Beg cemetery, between Cloghan and Ferbane. This is probably the only example of an American military grave in the county.
- A graveyard surrounded by railings
Just to the north of Shinrone in the townland of Glebe is a small graveyard with the ruins of a medieval church. What’s unique about this burial ground is the fact it is completely enclosed by wrought iron railings. The graveyard is entered by two kissing gates, between which is a very impressive wrought iron coffin rest. Coffins rests are generally a feature of burials grounds in west Offaly.
- The only military cemetery
Crinkill is the location of the only military cemetery in the entire county. The cemetery was built in 1852 to facilitate nearby Birr Barracks. The cemetery was in use until 1922 and contains over 300 burials of soldiers and their family members. Of those burials only about 52 are marked. The cemetery also contains a memorial to soldiers of the 3rd Battalion, Leinster Regiment who died during the Second Boer War. The memorial was moved here after the burning of Birr Barracks in 1922. It was originally located in front of the garrison church.
- An impressive entrance
Few burial grounds in Offaly have as an impressive entrance as Kiladerry cemetery. Located to the north of Daingean the entrance to the cemetery is a distinctive stone archway containing two carved limestone plaques, one on each side. The plaques date to 1815. The one on the front bears a skull and cross bones with a winged soul effigy and Latin cross above. There is also the Latin text ‘Domus mea est Domus oblivionis’ meaning ‘my house is a house of forgetfulness’. The plaque on the back features a coffin with the same symbols as above and above isan angel sounding a trumpet. There is also the Latin text ‘Quod nos sumus eritis et vos’ meaning ‘what we are you will be’.
- The only female war grave
Located at Liss Church, Ballycumber, is the only CWGC grave to a women in the entire county. Venice Hackett was born in Scotland, she was the daughter of Edward Augustus and Emelie Ellitt Hackett. Venice enrolled in the British Red Cross Society in August 1916. She served in France. She died of pneumonia in London on 13 October 1918. Her family lived in Ballycumber at the time of her death, hence being repatriated.
- Two Victorian lodge houses
Clonoghill and Dungar cemeteries are the only cemeteries to have lodge houses. The houses were intended for the cemetery caretakers and their families. Clonoghill cemetery was opened in 1869 and Dungar cemetery in 1894. While Clonoghill is not occupied Dungar is still lived in by the caretaker.
- Society of Friends
There are three dedicated Quaker burial grounds in the county. One in Edenderry (which is normally locked), Clara and Birr. Many of the Goodbody family associated with the mills in are buried in Clara. The headstones in the Birr burial ground were moved to Rosenallis, County Laois and the cemetery is now a public garden.