Old headstones a treasure trove of information

John Nangle likes headstones – a lot! That makes him a taphophile, ie. someone who takes an interest in cemeteries, tombstones, or memory of past lives.

John Nangle, genealogist and taphophile

“My father would have talked about family history and, after I had a heart attack nine years ago, I did a genealogy course in UCD. Now, I do family historiesfor people and am a member of North Wexford Historical Society. And I grow fuschias – I’ve had a stand in Bloom for the last nine years!

We don’t realise what we have here in Wexford in terms of the quality of the work in our old headstones. There are scenes of the Passion on the headstones, especially those carved by Denis Cullen, James Byrne, Martin Kenny, J Butler. These date back to the 1700s.

James Byrne-sculpted sandstone headstone for Edward Byrne, buried in Kilninor graveyard, Co Wexford in May 1779.

The symbols used were the hammer, pincers, three nails, crown of thorns, two dice, box for the dice, and 30 pieces of silver. Some also have a ladder, spear, the moon and sun, and four different trees to show the different timbers used in the Cross.

The oldest headstone in Gorey dates back to 1709 for a Bulger – it’s unsigned so the sculptor is unknown. The oldest graveyard in Gorey is in Clonattin – the graveyard wall dates from pre-Norman times. Bear in mind people have only been buried in consecrated ground since 800-900AD.

Denis Cullen-sculpted sandstone for Mary Kavanaugh, buried in Kilninor cemetery, Co Wexford, and who died in March 1741.

Interestingly, all the old headstones face east. That came from Roman times when people were buried facing the rising sun. For us recording headstones, we go in the morning to catch the best light because of the way the headstones are facing – churches in graveyards were built so that people could be buried west, east, and south of the church, never north.

The most interesting building in Gorey? The Market House on Main Street which dates to 1716.”

John will deliver a Family History course in the Loch Garman Arms for nine weeks, starting on Tues 27 Sep.

This piece was featured on LoveGorey.ie.

Pics courtesy of John Nangle and North Wexford Historical Society

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