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Irish Gravestone Inscriptions, Tracing your Irish Ancestors: Memorials
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How to Study a Graveyard



  • What is the earliest date on a gravestone?
  • Are there any gravestones with decorative carvings?
  • Are there any vaults or mausolea?

    Although gravestones with legible inscriptions tend to date from the seventeenth century onwards, there are earlier memorials in some graveyards. Norman graveslabs can be seen in a number of graveyards, particularly in east County Down. In the chancel of Dungiven priory is the monument to Cooey na Gall, believed to date from the late fourteenth century.


    Many gravestones, particularly those dating from the seventeenth and eighteenth century, have elaborate carvings on them. These can include symbols of death such as a skull, crossed bones, hourglass, bell and coffin. Other tombstone decoration includes the use of heraldry. Trade symbols and symbols associated with religious orders and secret societies also appear on gravestones. For discussions on the use of symbolism on gravestones see the articles on this website.


    Wealthier families often built mausolea. These could come in many forms. An inscribed slab, often of marble, would be affixed to the wall of the mausoleum and this would recount the deaths of those buried beneath it.

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