GRAVESTONE INSCRIPTIONS

Carlow County - Ireland Genealogical Projects (IGP TM)


Newgarden Cemetery, Carlow, Ireland

By Bryce Petersen Jr.


Newgarden Cemetery, Carlow, Ireland

"To clean up the old man's bed, it's good to first get your name in the paper"

By Bryce Petersen Jr.

Newgarden Cemetery, Carlow, Ireland, a Quaker cemetery where the author's great-great-great-great-grandfather was buried in 1849. Four years later, the old man's daughter left for Utah, and that's how people end up being born where they're born. / Photo by Kenna Dyches

My money was disappearing fast. I stopped staying in hostels. I started sleeping on beaches. In fields. In old buildings. A little lonely, perhaps, but the ocean was peaceful. And the drivers each day were friendly.

I stopped at a music festival and listened as raucous fiddle bands and laughter-filled pubs fell immediately and deadly silent for the piercing voice of a lone woman. The rowdy crowd did not even shuffle from her first chime to her last breath. A moment's gap left room for an inhale, an exhale, an inhale . . . before the next foot-stomping, hoarse-yelling chantey boiled forth out of the stillness.

But now I was hungry. My money was gone. And I was back in Carlow with my grandfather. Actually, my great-great-great-great-grandfather. He died in 1849. I wanted to clean up his bed. The old graveyard was neglected, overgrown with stinging nettle and briars, drenched with dew. When I walked through, I came out scratched, wet and red. I didn't think my grandfather wanted to sleep in a place like that.

I wanted to clean up his bed. But first I wanted to eat. I wanted to get rid of this cold I had contracted from too much booze, too little sleep and too much rain. The one I'd gotten from too little rest and too little food. Too much travel.

My sister and I had stayed at a bed and breakfast on Dublin Street in Carlow, the street where Elizabeth Anderson, my great-great-great-grandmother had lived the first years of her life before leaving for Utah in 1853, four years after her father had died and been buried in Newgarden Cemetery, I'd heard. No one knew anything about Newgarden Cemetery. Hmmm, was all anyone said. The man at the corner market had never heard of it. The host at the B&B had never heard of it. But he said Mr. Purcell, the town historian, would know. He was very hard to reach.

Or very easy, as it turned out.

The next morning, breakfast was over. I yawned and went for my sho---

"Mr. Petersen, Mr. Petersen, Michael Purcell is here!" shouted the host.

So he made time for us that day. He dropped us off at Newgarden. Said he wasn't allowed on the farmer's land. We walked in. It was dark, and wet, and thick. The rusty gate creaked. The nettles were armpit-high. Kenna didn't go in very far.

Two months later, I wanted to clean up my grandfather's bed. But first I wanted to eat.

I asked Mick. First: Can I clean up that graveyard? No. The plants are too wet. The farmer is protective. The caretaker is old. The situation requires delicacy. He would handle it. I should just help him with a few other projects while we wait.

Second: Can I have some food and a place to rest? He would give me bread and find someone to put me up. I should show up the next morning. Early. To help him mow a church's lawn.

I worked all day the next day. I wanted to call the caretaker. Mick relented. He gave me a list of things I should not say. I called the caretaker, asked if I could help.

"No, no," he said, "the farmer who owns the land won't let anyone on," he said, "I'd like to have it cleaned up but he doesn't want anyone on his land."

"Can I talk to him?" I asked. "My grandfather is buried there."

"No, no," he said, "I need to talk to him myself, besides, he's in the hospital, and besides, your grandfather is not buried there."

"That's what the record said," I said. "I admit it wasn't very authoritative, just a pedigree chart, I don't know where they got the information, but that's what it said. Are you sure there are no Andersons there?"

"No, no," he said, "only Quakers are buried there. Besides, I don't remember the name Anderson, and besides, you've never had your picture in the paper."

Mick found me a place to stay. A friend of his, Nicky, was tending his mother's house while she was in America. He wouldn't mind letting someone tend his house while he was tending her house. I could mow his lawn occasionally. Maybe help out at his restaurant or his pub occasionally.

I still had a cold, but I had a bed. And Mick was giving me bread to eat. I couldn't help my grandfather, so I looked for him. I went to the library in my spare time. The librarian gave short, sharp answers to my questions. She answered because it was her job. She hated her job. She would disappear for hours after each question. She'd never seen my picture in the paper.

But I managed to find his obituary. It didn't name a burial place. I also found his address on the tax rolls. It was now a shop on Dublin Street. His brother lived where a mall of sorts -- with three or four stores -- was now.

I walked around town, asked if anyone needed help.

"I'd like to stay here for a while, but I have no money." I felt very small when they said no, no, no, over and over. If they didn't say no, I would return day after day, until finally, they said, "No, we're full, and besides, you've never had your picture in the paper."

If I mowed his lawn or hauled kegs into his pub, Nicky would pay me more than it was worth and I would buy spaghetti and vegetables. Many nights he gave me money so I could take a French visitor, friend of the family, out on the town. Nicky didn't like to drink. He'd been in a pub too much in his life.

Living on charity, drinking Nicky's money away, eating someone else's bread, getting nowhere in the job market or even the volunteer market, I gave up. I called my poor mother and asked her to send me my last $100. I had hoped I could use it to change my plane ticket. But I couldn't find any work. And I hated charity.

Each morning, I would wake up feeling worse than ever, lungs full of smoke, head full of beer, cough and headache worse than ever. But I had no money. No sense. And nothing better to do. The graveyard was still too wet, the farmer still didn't want me on his land, the caretaker didn't believe my grandfather was there. So I drank again. I woke up groggy, lungs full of mucus and smoke, head full of beer. Feeling worse than ever.

Nicky gave me 10 pounds for mowing his lawn. It wasn't worth that, but he felt sorry for me. With that I bought a return ticket to Dublin to go to the Quaker library. There were five cute old women working at the library and two researchers. The old women carried big books up and down the stairs all day when we'd ask. The big books had births, deaths and marriages dating to 1605.

And there he was. Robert Anderson, buried May 1, 1849, in Newgarden Cemetery. His mother was a Quaker. His sister married a Quaker. And he found himself a plot in the Quaker cemetery. I couldn't wait to get back.

Peter Thomas, the last remaining Quaker in Carlow, the caretaker of Newgarden and probably its last addition someday, softened a little when I told him about my find. But he'd still have to get permission from the farmer. I was closer, but it wasn't like I had my picture in the newspaper.

The money hadn't come. It had been two weeks. It should have arrived by now. I wondered if it would ever come. I still had nothing but charity and Nicky was getting sick of me. I didn't blame him. I was a wino. With the sniffles.

Until Mick Purcell talked his newspaper friend into writing about me. Weeks before he'd had me write a statement. I thanked the pastor of the Carlow Presbyterian Church, otherwise known as Scot's Church. I told them where I was staying and why I was there. The newspaperman liked the story about the American boy who came all this way just to clean up his grandfather's bed. He added and subtracted, adjusted the story to fit his needs. And I became a big story two days before I had to leave.

I was no longer a small, inoffensive creature to be brushed aside. I had my picture in the paper. The librarian greeted me warmly the next day. She gave me suggestions, showed me books. She helped a lot. She must have mistaken me for the big story.

The caretaker invited the big story over for tea. I went in his home, The Hermitage, and saw maps, pictures, records, just what I had been looking for, for the last three weeks. The caretaker must not have recognized me as the boy who had phoned. He encouraged me to clean up the graveyard, make it nice.

"I'll be buried there someday, you know, I may be the last one," he said.

Another friend, leaving for a trip to Germany offered to let me stay in his little flat while he was away. The caretaker loved me. The librarian loved me. Surely an employer would recognize me if I'd go and ask now. Everything was finally going my way.

And the next day, I left. After three and a half weeks in the town, I did the one thing I regret from my trip. I quit. I hopped on a bus to Dublin. From there I caught a bus to London. From there I caught my plane. The graveyard looked the same. It was overgrown with stinging nettles and briars; drenched with dew.

And all I have to show for it is an old, yellow picture in the newspaper.

Source: Mr. Mick Purcell c2006 & Utah State University

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