Workingman’s Dead: Notes on some 17th to 19th century memorials, from the graveyards of Killora and Killogilleen, Craughwell, Co. Galway, Ireland. Part II

[**If you like this post, please make a donation to the IR&DD project using the button at the end. If you like this post, please consider re-sharing this post via Facebook, Google+, Twitter etc.**]

In Part I of this post, I outlined the background to the original project run in conjunction with Craughwell Community Council and FÁS to ‘clean-up’ and document the graveyards of Killora and Killogilleen. I also described a relatively coherent group of six vocational gravestones, belonging to blacksmiths, farmers, a shepherd and a carpenter. In this post I want to look at a number of other stones from the two graveyards. To be honest, there is little that binds them together other than the fact that I think that they are interesting and deserve to be better known.

 Fig. 17. Overview of Cloonan stone.

A resurrection scene
In Killora graveyard there is a large (1.40m high x 1.85m wide), upstanding headstone with elaborate stepped and concave shoulders and a rounded head. The clear, incised text reads:

Erected by Cathne Cloonan alias Joyce and her son Jeremia / as a tribute of respect to the memory of her husband, John / Cloonan who lived respected & died regretted, the 17t,h, of / Nov. 1836 Age 60 years AND maternal affection / for her son Patrick Cloonan who departd, this life, / the 25t,h, of Mar. 1838 Age 21 Yrs MAY they & their / Po∫terity re∫t in Peace Amen {A.:D 1839}   M.L. O KELLY Fecit

Fig. 18. Detail of central roundel on Cloonan stone.

The upper portion of the stone is decorated with large roundel bordered with a moulded rope design along its inner edge (Fig. 17). The external edge has a wide border of stylised, false relief foliage. The upper half of the roundel bears two winged cherub heads in high false relief set at angles to each other (Fig. 18). Below these is a false relief ‘IHS’ monogram with a cross with arms patonce, a head pommel, fitched, springing from the lozenge shaped cross-bar of the ‘H’. The tops of the letters ‘I’ and ‘H’ are in a similar design to the terminals at the arms of the cross. To the left of this is the false relief hand, dexter (of St. Peter) holding a key.

Fig. 19. Detail of memento mori and St. Michael on Cloonan stone.

The upper left hand portion of the stone bears a skull and crossbones, or ‘memento mori’, followed by a winged and naked Archangel Michael, in profile, in the process of walking, and blowing a trumpet on “the day of judgement”, standing on a torse (Fig. 19). The upper right hand portion of the stone bears a set of scales of judgement (Psychostasis), tipping to the right, along with a false relief rosette (Fig. 20). I would argue that this series of symbols may be interpreted as a linear narrative moving from death to the ‘last day’, moving to the judgement, and finally to salvation, here symbolised by rosette. One further possibility is that the central roundel represents heaven, with Jesus (represented by the HIS monogram), the angels, and St. Peter.

Fig. 20. Detail of scales and rosette on Cloonan stone.

The temple of Solomon
In Killogilleen graveyard there is an interesting stone that, I think, represents the Temple of Solomon. It is hard to see as it has slumped forward quite a bit and is probably all but invisible to all but the most dedicated (or lucky) searchers. The stone has squared shoulders with a ‘tri-lobate’ head. The stone measures 0.81m wide x 1.21m high and is incised with weathered, legible text:

O Lord have mercy on the / soul of Mary Gaughigan / died May 1835 aged 17 yrs / Erected by her father / Michl Gaughin &  his Posterity / 1840

The main decorated area of the stone bears a representation of a ‘temple’ like structure, carved in low false relief (Fig. 21). It is formed of two vertical pillars, each with a single-stepped and moulded base and a single stepped and double-moulded head. On this rests a large lintel, the left and right edges of which are stepped diagonally upwards from the heads of the pillars. The body of the lintel is decorated with a hatched pattern, formed of crossing diagonal lines. Both the upper and lower edges bear what appears to be incised, horizontal foliage patterns, but are too lichen covered to be definite. Above the lintel a “JHS” monogram sits in a semicircle sunburst composed of contiguous semi-circles. The “JHS” has a cross patteé, fitched springing from the cross-bar of the ‘H’. Two smaller pillars support more diminutive lintels on either side. Like the main lintel, these too are decorated with very lightly incised foliage motifs. The areas below the smaller lintels each bear a small, false relief Latin cross calvary on two grieces. Layout lines are visible above and below the lower bands on both the left- and right-hand sides.

Fig. 21. Overview of Gaughigan stone. Illustration by Damien Kavanagh.

A false relief ‘Dexter Dei’ protrudes from the centre of the bottom edge of the large ‘lintel’ and overlies he upper portion of a large heart. The heart, carved in false relief, is borne in the central area, below the large lintel and between the main pillars. It has a raised rim along all edges and an atrium, in the same style, is carved vertically from the nadir to just below the outstretched fingers of the ‘Dexter Dei’, thus dividing the heart feature in two. The left-hand side bears the low false relief Roman numerals: I, II, III, IIII and V, from top to bottom. The right-hand side bears the, similarly executed, numerals: VI, VII, VIII, VIIII and X, also from top to bottom. It seems most likely that these numerals represent the Ten Commandments (Exodus 34:28 “And he was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights; he did neither eat bread, nor drink water. And he wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments.”). The ‘temple’-like structure may represent that of Solomon (1 Kings 5:5 “And, behold, I purpose to build an house unto the name of the LORD my God, as the LORD spake unto David my father, saying, Thy son, whom I will set upon thy throne in thy room, he shall build an house unto my name.”). While I don’t want to delve too deeply into the theological implications of this scene, I would see the central message as the Ten Commandments (Old Testament) being at the heart of the Christian experience. However, the presence of the various crosses may be taken to state the primacy of Christ and the New Testament. In particular, the “JHS” monogram in the sun-burst, resting on top of the temple structure is a direct statement of this belief of the New Testament being literally and metaphorically, above the Old Testament.

Fig. 22. Overview of anonymous stone 16[5?]4. Illustration by Damien Kavanagh.

Two ‘Gaelic Revival’ slabs
The last two stones I want to look at are both from the 17th century and are, respectively, the oldest dated examples in each of their graveyards. In Killogilleen, the better preserved of the two, is a worn and weathered, recumbent limestone slab (0.54m wide x 1.79m long) (Fig. 22). There is no formal inscription, but the entire upper portion of the stone is carved with a double-banded, low relief latticework based on the intersection of lozenge, saltire cross, and Greek cross shapes with a central circle. The four sides of the panel where these features intersect are marked by semi-circles, while the corners are marked by quadrant-circles. Extending from the base of this decorated cross head is a low relief shaft, terminating on a base of three grieces. Approximately, half-way down the length of the shaft, on either side, is a small, rectangular panel carved in relief. Each is uninscribed and undecorated, though may originally have been painted. Above these, at approximately one-quarter length down the shaft, are two low relief “IHS” monograms, one placed on either side of the shaft. Each bears a cross patteé, fitched, springing from the cross-bar of the ‘H’. Below this again, to the left of the cross shaft, are what appear to be the much worn, relief numerals ‘1’ and ‘6’. To the right of the shaft is a very indistinct carving of what appears to be a relief number ‘5’, though it could be a ‘1’, followed by a much more distinct number ‘4’, also carved in relief.

At Killora, lying loose inside the church, is the broken upper portion of a similar stone. The surviving part measures 0.91m long x 0.58m wide and is carved with a relatively loose, false relief latticework based on the intersection of lozenge, saltire cross, and Greek cross shapes (Fig. 23). The four sides of the panel where these features intersect are marked by semi-circles, with a central circle. Each of the corners also bears a quadrant circle. Beneath this, on the right a small low, false-relief rectangular panel bears an ‘IHS’ monogram with a small cross with expanded terminals springing from the cross-bar of the ‘H’. Beneath this, the year 1619 is plainly visible. The date is repeated, in less easy to read low false-relief, below the left-hand portion of the decorated panel. Some aspects of the carving give the impression that the stone was left unfinished. These include a number of the triangular sections between the intersections of the circular portions and the straight bands are left uncarved, the outlines of some being only lightly incised. Similarly, the ‘6’ in the left-hand version of the date ‘1619’ is also unfinished. However, it is likely that this was originally painted, thus the outlines of the design were all that was necessary. The closest parallels to this stone are to be found at St. Nicholas Collegiate church, and at Kilcorban (Pers. Comm. Mr. J. Higgins).

Fig. 23. Overview of anonymous stone 1619.

I think that my criteria for selecting these stones – that I like them and feel that they deserve to be better known – are perfectly valid. As the reader it is also acceptable to ask why I think that they are special and deserve to be written (and read) about. The simple answer is that, in the grand scheme of things, they are not particularly special at all. If you take the time to walk through any old Irish graveyard you will find something of interest. Some of the stones you will encounter will be ‘better’ than these – the quality of the carving will be more impressive, or they will be of a ‘rarer’ type. Nonetheless, I feel that the ubiquity of these stones can be seen as providing tangible links to the wider issues and movements within national historical narratives. Much of the thrust of ‘local history’ has, to my mind, been focused on separating the local community from broader historical themes. While I have not attempted to make these connections explicit within the text, there are a number that may be validly exploited by other researchers. For example, the use of interlace on the early/mid 17th century ‘Gaelic Revival’ slabs is a physical link to a resurgent Catholic population, drawing on historical themes and decorative devices to create a narrative of Irish nationalism in the period before the Cromwellian wars. Both the Cloonan ‘Resurrection’ narrative and the ‘Temple of Solomon’ on the Gaughigan stone can be read in terms of interactions between popular ornamental styles and canonical theologies. As such, they go beyond the borders of this island and form part of a much larger conversation on the dynamism of pan-European ecclesiastical reform and conservatism. Elements of this story include the cultural and political ties and tensions between Catholicism and the established church. Obviously, the vocational stones discussed in Part I are of an interest beyond their carvings. They can provide mute testimony not only to the diversity of economic activities carried out in the area, but to the fact that such activities were sufficiently lucrative to allow such expensive stones to be commissioned. As I have demonstrated, some of this coarse detail provided by the archaeological evidence is backed up with historical records, but more frequently it is not. In these instances archaeology stands alone in being able to communicate the past to us and our place in the present. And yet, for all ways in which one can abstract them, I still return to this collection first and foremost as one who enjoys the beauty and simplicity of their carvings. I maintain that these are a group of fascinating gravestones that should be better known to both the people of Craughwell and to the wider world. I also believe that anyone with the time and energy can go to their local graveyard and find interesting memorials that not just link them to their own place, but are part of much wider trends and narratives in national and international history.


I would like to take this opportunity to express my thanks to the following who have given generously of their time and knowledge: Mr. P.J. Callanan, Secretary, Craughwell Parish Council; The librarians and staff of The James Hardiman Library, NUIG; Galway County Library; and Island House, Galway County Library Headquarters; Professor E. Rynne; and Mr. Jim Higgins. No amount of thanks can repay my wife, Jeanne, for the hours she has spent standing in cold, windswept graveyards; for time spent advising and proofreading and especially for her understanding when it may appear that my devotion to her is momentarily eclipsed by gravestones.

[** If you like this post, please consider making a small donation. Each donation helps keep the Irish Radiocarbon & Dendrochronological Dates project going! **]

If you’re planning to do any shopping through Amazon, please go via the portal below. It costs you nothing, but it does generate a little bit of advertising revenue for this site – please help!


  1. Excellent indepth examination Robert, really enjoyed reading it.
    Many thanks,

  2. Excellent Robert. More of this need around the country!

    Séighean Ó Draoi

  3. Enjoyable read Robert. Definitely more needs to be done to record these headstones before they become eroded and lost forever.


  4. Preservation across the "POND" is equally important as the United States preservation efforts of its' history

  5. Fascinating.thanks from Albany NY usa


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Three Billboards Outside University College London: A case of approved plagiarism by Prof Andrew Bevan et al.

The dreaded first test post!

"Always remember to draw the swastika turning to the right": Some thoughts on swastika directionality in Early Medieval Irish Art