A dying cemetery.

4 Jun

I have been staying in county Galway for a month while at the National University of Ireland – Galway, on a visiting fellowship. Very close to the cottage I have rented on the coast of Galway, there is what appears to an overgrown cemetery. From the road, all that is visible are two headstones amid a tangle of briars and rushes.

There is a pub about half a kilometer away and I asked a man there what the story of the cemetery was. He said that it was a Protestant cemetery and that there used to be a Protestant church there too but that a Catholic priest ordered that the church be taken down stone by stone once it was abandoned. I have no idea if this is true and my internet searches can find no archival evidence of a Protestant cemetery or church in this locality. There is a new ‘mixed’ cemetery nearby. The Protestant cemetery I ‘discoverer ‘s abandoned. There has been no attempt to cut the grass or reclaim the site from nature for at least five years – if not more.

So, I jumped over the wall and waded through the bracken to try to see if I could read the headstones. On a low gravestone I could make out the name Fenman who died in 1886; a child I think, but the writing on the stone was quite worn. The other gravestone, a Celtic cross, did not seem to have any visible inscription although there could have been script beneath the ivy. Poking out of the undergrowth nearby was some ironmongery – a grave surround suggesting at least one other grave. And on a low hill (that looked a bit unnatural given the boggy surroundings) there was evidence of cut stone and mortar between the stones.

All of this got me thinking about the impermanence of our time on the planet. The area of west Galway where I am staying is full of Neolithic and ancient archeology suggesting human habitation going back thousands of years BC. And here was a cemetery from the last few hundred years that has been forgotten. It has been more or less reclaimed by nature and forgotten by the community. Two new bungalows have sprouted up nearby as though the cemetery did not exist. I did think of knocking on their doors and asking about the cemetery but thought that they would think I was completely mad.

Certainly Ireland was a ‘cold house’ for Protestants after independence. The War of Independence saw many attacks on Protestants (some of it part of military operations and some of it sectarian), and the post independence state was less than inclusive of non-Catholics. Maybe this Protestant community ‘got the message’. Sons and daughters emigrated (perhaps to Canada or the UK) and families failed to regenerate. The flock worshipping at the church diminished until it finally closed, and then fell into disrepair. If I am reading the headstone correctly (1886) then that it is not terribly long ago – yet this cemetery seems to be in the process of disappearing.

So amid all the beauty I have enjoyed while in Galway, there seems to be a story of ethnic cleansing (albeit of the gentle sort), and the retreat of one culture in the face of another. IMG_4193IMG_4190IMG_4194IMG_4184IMG_4196IMG_4192It is sobering stuff. We are just passing through.


2 Responses to “A dying cemetery.”

  1. alternativepeacebuilding 04/06/2014 at 10:29 pm #

    Here for just ‘a tiny slice of infinity’.

  2. Paige Wilkins 27/06/2022 at 8:14 am #

    Thank youu for writing this

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