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Carlow County - Ireland Genealogical Projects (IGP TM)

Carlow Old Graves

County Carlow

Source: The Nationalist 31 January 2012. p22.

A forgotten graveyard on the edge of town

Volunteers who helped clean up the Old Graves back in 1998 were Tony Hayden, Colin Mulhall,
Emmet Mulhall, Tom Mulhall, Tom Mooney, Laurence Doyle, Robina Mooney and Martin Curran

Thousands of bodies lay there, while hundreds more scatter the perimeter. No-one has been buried in the Old Graves on the Barrow Track at the edge of Carlow Town Park in more than 50 years. And many of its inhabitants are now just faded memories in the minds of old Carlovians.

The graveyard, disused and overgrown, was once the main burial place for Carlow town.

The last person buried there was in 1956 when a Mrs Ray from St Mary’s Park was laid to rest. But the oldest fragmented grave stone uncovered at the cemetery belonged to a man by the surname of Sherlo (the remaining letters in the surname were indecipherable), who passed away in 1718.

His wife and five children were also buried in the same plot before him.

Tragically, on the periphery of the graveyard lie the tiny remains of hundreds of babies, who died before they were baptised.

“They couldn’t be buried on consecrated ground because they weren’t baptised, so their parents buried them in the environs of consecrated ground in the hope that they would go to heaven,” explained local historian Michael Purcell. “It is the same with St Mary’s and all of the other graveyards around the country: babies are buried all around the periphery”.

Numerous efforts have been made over the years by locals to maintain the graveyard. In 1987, for example, the Carlow County Heritage Society spent an entire summer recording the transcripts on all of the visible gravestones, and their epic work uncovered a further eight graves.

Further clean-ups in 1998 also uncovered more graves, and parish records from Carlow Cathedral show that between 1850 and 1950 alone, 2,037 people were buried at the graveyard.

However, it is believed that thousands more lie there in unmarked graves since the cemetery was first handed over to the Roman Catholic population of Carlow town around 1630. “It was given to the people of Carlow during the reign of King James I,” said Michael. “We reckon the land was granted by the Earl of Thomond about 1630.”

Before that, Michael said people were buried around the Pollerton Road and Oak Park area.

Carlow in the 1600s was an incredibly different place to what it is today.

“Around 1650, the population of Carlow town would have been about 3,000 but it kept increasing from then on,” revealed Michael, who has studied census returns for the town from that period.

Of those buried in the graveyard, Michael says “a lot would have died from what was described as ‘a visitation from God,’ meaning someone young simply passing away.

Other common causes of death for those in Carlow town at the time would have been cholera, typhus and what was described as “destitution”, which could have meant anything from dying of the cold to starvation.

The only person of note buried there, Michael said, is Bishop James O’Keeffe, the man responsible for building Carlow College.

“He passed away in 1787 and requested that he be buried among the poor.”

Also buried at the cemetery were men executed after the 1798 Rebellion, including Cpt Pat Kelly from Castle Hill, who was hanged and beheaded. His head was placed on a spike afterwards. His friend Lt John Berne, a member of the United Irishmen, was also executed after the rising. As was another man, Paddy Hackett, the owner of a pub called the Punch and Porter House in Graiguecullen, who was killed because he bought drink for the United Irishmen. Survivors of an array of conflicts from the Boer War to the Crimean and Napoleonic Wars also lie at The Old Graves. A plaque was erected in 1998 in memory of the men.

The Old Graves, however, can’t be mentioned without uttering the name Tottie Foley.

“Tottie was an old Carlovian who passed away in 1977. A plaque is erected in his honour at the corner of John Street; he gave 20 years of his life to the graves. He went up there at 9am and stayed there until 6pm; he gave his whole retired life to maintaining that graveyard,” revealed Michael.

He was so dedicated that RTE even made a documentary about him in 1969.

“There is an old story which says that one time in 1965 Tottie’s neighbour put out a rumour that he had found gold coins up at the graves. The next week when he went up there, he had about 50 people, all armed with shovels helping him. He didn’t know the story was put out himself – it was only when someone eventually asked him where he found the coins that he realised. His neighbour had only done it to get Tottie some help at the graves.”

These days, the graveyard is maintained twice a year by the Civic Amenity Trust, with town clerk Michael Brennan describing the graveyard as “very important, historically”.

The graveyard can still be easily accessed by all and the hope is that it and its inhabitants will continue to live on in the memory of the people of Carlow town.

Corporal Patrick Mulhall of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, who was from Bridewell Lane in Carlow is buried in the Old Graves. He died
on 19 January 1918 from wounds received during World War I in Gallipoli. His gravestone is maintained, sand-blasted and the inscription
is renewed by the British War Graves Commission.
Source: The Nationalist 31 January 2012. p22.

(Thanks to Michael Purcell for providing this  material)

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