Wicklow County Council through the CMF (Community Monuments Fund) has provided funding for the development of conservation management plans for the historic south Wicklow graveyards at Mullinacuffe (Old), Whitefield (Tinahely) and Ballymachroe.
This challenging but very exciting project will be coordinated by talented archaeologist Yvonne Whitty. There will be historical input from Kevin Lee and botanical input from arborist, Dermot Nolan.
Descendants of the thousands of south Wicklow men, women and children are passionate in the study of their genealogy and also of the socio-economic conditions which forced their ancestors to leave their native land during our darkest hours. Our parochial records for births, deaths and marriages are often quite limited. They rarely extend back beyond 1800. Also, they very often have aggravating gaps.
It is hoped that the work to be carried out in these three old burial grounds will help some of our diaspora to demolish their so-called genealogical ‘brick walls’. These old sacred, spiritual and peaceful places provide us with tangible information. They provide tangible reminders of our own mortality. They are open air museums where, given the talent of local stone masons of a bygone age, they contain incredibly beautiful sculptures. These peaceful, almost spiritual places are, or will be in time, accessible historical repositories.
Pictured at the entrance to Whitefield cemetery, David Murray (SES supervisor), Kevin Lee (Historian) and Yvonne Whitty (Archaeologist)
It was here that the Killavaney parish church was located prior to 1843. The old church was burned down during the 1798 rebellion. Its rebuilding was funded by Earl Fitzwilliam. The latter also provided the parish priest with both the site and funding towards the building of the present church during the years just prior to the Great Famine. During the 1970’s Brian Cantwell managed to find, in the overgrown burial place, only seven legible headstones. We are confident that many more will be found. This is the place where the ancestors of emigrant families such as the O’Tooles of Ballyshonog, the O’Tooles of Killavaney and the Haydens of Glenphilipeen would have found their final resting place.
This wonderful old ground, with the well preserved ruins of a medieval church is a hallowed place where Christians from across all divides repose, side by side. Here lie the bodies of Protestants, French Huguenots, Roman Catholics and descendants of the first Anglo Norman invaders. In one grave lie the remains of three men from the Ireland family – their combined age was in excess of 300!. Here in the 1860s was buried yeoman Thompkins, the last survivor of the Battle of Ballyrahan. The restoration of this graveyard will be of particular interest to the returning descendants of the mainly Protestant families who sought a new life in Canada during the years which followed the 1798 rebellion.
The entrance to the ancient burial ground at Ballymaghroe
One of the old 'Keeffe' headstones in Ballymaghroe
This ancient place of interment will no doubt under the guidance of Yvonne Whitty deliver up many secrets. On our first visit I noticed some old graves that might be of particular interest to US resident, Colette O’Keeffe Payne. Gregory Keeffe’s wife Alice and their family were listed in the Fitzwilliam programme of assisted emigration. Alice, with her family, left the nearby townland of Racott. Who was Gregory Keeffe?, where was he from? Why did he not travel with his wife and family?. Maybe some of the inscriptions on the very old headstones in this place might yield us with a clue.
Exciting times ahead !!!