Over the past few months I have been finalizing a book on the memorials in Saint Rynagh’s Graveyard in Banagher. For some time now the recording of the transcriptions has been complete but the decision to add a description of each memorial has absorbed more time than intended. It has however been a most rewarding task because now when I visit other graveyards I look at memorials with a more trained eye and with greater awareness of the skills and talents of the stonecutters. This has fostered a greater appreciation of the decorative carvings and lettering styles which are abundant throughout County Offaly. It has also prompted greater recognition of unusual features such as ligatures, mirrored letters, ampersands and other hallmarks of a vernacular style. Above all it has stimulated a resolve to publicize those monuments which are unique whether it be for the occupational or funerary symbols portrayed on them or that they are fine examples of a particular stonecutter. Tombstones which have a dedication of literary merit or those which carry symbols of the Passion of Our Lord will also be a focus of attention.

The well maintained Gallen Cemetery, near Ferbane, looking south west.

Among the more unique gravestones in the county are those bearing representations or symbols of the occupation of the person commemorated. This article will look at three such memorials in detail:

Peter Connily                   blacksmith             St. Carthage’s Old Church, Rahan       1789

Thomas O’Connor           blacksmith             Gallen Cemetery, Ferbane                            1799

John Flanagan        carpenter      St. Carthage’s Old Church, Rahan          1791

Detail of Peter Connily’s headstone with carvings of a blacksmith’s implements.

In spite of being covered with lichen the ornamentation and dedication on Peter Connily’s headstone are easily deciphered. The dedications reads as follows:

                     Pray for the Soul of

                     Peter Connily Who

                     Depd. this Life ~  ~

                             March17th 1789 Agd

                     84 Years Erectd by

                     Iohn Connily his


                     Dimensions: 125 x 81 x 12

Above the inscription four symbols of the blacksmith’s trade are clearly carved in false relief. These include an anvil on a stand, a large hammer, pincers and a claw hammer. These accompanied by two graceful scrolls surround an attractive IHS monogram with a Latin cross surmounted. The letters and cross are attractively grooved and have serifed terminals.

Detail of Thomas O’ Connor’s headstone showing elegantly carved decorative panel.

Thomas O’ Connor’s headstone in Gallen Cemetery, Ferbane also bears the symbols of the blacksmith’s trade carved in relief in a relatively small but somehow uncluttered rectangle. Beneath the IHS monogram which has serifs and is surrounded by five hearts, the carved symbols include a bellows, pliers, anvil, three hammers, pincers and possibly a clamp. The dedication is clearly incised and has been read as follows:

                     O Lord have Mercy on the

                             Soul of Thoms O’Connor

                     Who Depd April the 2nd

                             1799 Aged 55 yrs Erectd

                             by his wife Matilda O

                     Connor Alias McClaffy

                     Dimensions: 159 x 100 x 12


Apart from the similarities in which the blacksmith’s tools are represented on these two memorials there are other indications especially in the treatment of the lettering which suggest they may have been fashioned by the same hands. A close look at the capital W’s in Who and scrolled f’s in of, on both memorials, reveal strikingresemblances. The form and lettering in the contractions erectd and Depd. are also identical. The overall layouts of the memorials are different but stylistically and historically they are very close.

John Flanagan’s splendid memorial with a deeply carved inscription, a panel with ornate symbols and a rectangle filled with carpenter’s tools.

The elegant headstone of John Flanagan in Saint Carthage’s churchyard in Rahan is of a really high standard. The flawless quality of both the lettering and carving still endure after almost two hundred and thirty years. The dedication is clearly legible and reads as follows :

O Heavenly Father

Have Mercy on the

Soul of John Flana

gan who depd this life

Janry the 7th 1773 Aged

61. year Erd by  his son

Bryan Flanagan.

Dimensions: 93 x 72 x 10

The inscription is deeply incised with many attractive details. The capital S in Soul has fish-tail serifs. or terminals. The ‘f’s in of and life, the ‘J’s in John and January, and the ‘g’s in Flanagan and aged are all flourished. The cross bar in the H of Have is curved in the centre in the style of omega, the last letter in the Greek alphabet and interpreted by some as a symbol of death.

The ornamentation above this is even more noteworthy. Delicately incised rays form a narrow border on the elegant shoulders. The Latin cross has serifs and also three small inscriptions: INRI on top, IHS towards the bottom and the date AD 1791 on the arms.  The slumped figure of the crucified Jesus is clearly depicted hanging beneath an arc of rays and covered only by a loin cloth At the base of the cross a skull or head is enclosed by the upper body of a snake. This may echo the belief Adam’s skull was buried at Golgotha where Jesus was crucified. The cross is flanked by images of the sun and the moon with humanoid features. These are variously seen as day and night, good and evil , life and death. Two inverted hearts sit neatly in the remaining spaces.

The highlight of this memorial is array of carpenter’s tools fitted into a narrow rectangular panel between the dedication and the decorative panel. Eighteen items can be deciphered, including the following: a spokeshave, a compass or dividers, a handsaw, a bow saw, a tack, a hatchet, a trysquare, a drawknife, a bit, an auger, a chisel, an adze and a hammer.

The Connily and Flanagan memorials in Rahan old graveyard stand just a few metres apart in heavy growth and are approximately ten metres from both the south and west boundary walls. Thomas O’Connor’s memorial in Gallen Cemeteryis a few metres north east of the gate in the west wall.

The Faithful Departed Part 2 will focus on some memorials of literary significance from Kilmachonna Graveyard, Lusmagh and Saint Brigid’s Church of Ireland Graveyard, Clara.

JamesScully’s forthcomingbook Forgotten Souls is a comprehensive study of Saint Rynagh’s Old Graveyard in Banagher, County Offaly. The survey covers 182 memorials ranging in date from the 1576 to 1918. In addition to a transcription and description of each memorial, the text includes many short essays on notables buried there. These include members of the historic landed families the MacCoghlans and Armstrongs as well as prominent members of the Banko, Harton, McIntyre, McKeon and Woods families. Military personnel are also noted, particularly the accomplished diarist and artist Captain William Bamford.

Forgotten Souls will be published in September 2020. The book which has 192 pages is richly illustrated with almost 400 photographs and historical images and will sell for €20.