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Irish Gravestone Inscriptions, Tracing your Irish Ancestors: Overseas Connections
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Overseas Connections

Overseas connections and Ulster gravestones


William Roulston


A significant number of the gravestone inscriptions for Ulster make reference to places outside of Ireland. Given that migration has been one of the enduring features of Irish history this is not surprising.

The places recorded on Ulster gravestones cover all continents (with the exception of Antarctica). Not surprisingly the United States of America figures most prominently. There are also many references to Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. Other places recorded on gravestones include Buenos Aires in Argentina, Santos in Brazil and Kobe in Japan.


Gravestones erected by people living overseas
Many gravestones were erected by a family member who was living overseas. The gravestone to the Kerr family in Clonfeacle Church of Ireland graveyard in County Tyrone was erected by their son James Kerr who is now in America. In the same graveyard is a memorial to Mary Dilworth who died in 1832 which was erected by her devoted son James Dilworth of Auckland, New Zealand. Usually gravestones were erected to the parents of people living overseas, although brothers, sisters and other relatives are also mentioned.

Dilworth memorial, Clonfeacle CI, Tyrone
Dilworth memorial, Clonfeacle CI, County Tyrone

One of the most poignant is in Duneane Church of Ireland graveyard, County Antrim. It reads: To the memory of John Bones, who died on the 1st of February 1799, aged 66 years, as a tribute of filial gratitude to one of the best of parents, this stone is erected by an affectionate son, who after a long absence from his native country visits the grave of his father with feelings of undiminished regret 1st September 1822, John Bones 1st February 1799.

Some of these gravestones tell us something about the individual living overseas. The memorial in Derryloran Old graveyard to John Mulligan who died in 1835 was erected by his brother James who was a Citizen of U.S. America. In the graveyard beside Carrickmore catholic church in County Tyrone one of the headstones was erected by John Terney, grocer, Weldon St, Providence, Rhode Island to his mother.

Terney memorial, Carrickmore, County Tyrone
Terney memorial, Carrickmore, County Tyrone

In Ballymageogh Catholic graveyard in County Down a memorial was erected to Thomas Quinn who died in 1891 by his son Felix Quinn of Ballymagaugh (but now of Spanish Honduras, Central America).


Gravestones recording people who died overseas

A large number of gravestones make reference to a family member who had emigrated and died overseas. In Saul graveyard, County Down, the death of John Magee on the island of Cuba in 1832 is recorded. In Knockbreda graveyard is a memorial to Robert Bateson Esq. MP eldest son of Sir Robert Bateson Bt of Belvoir Park, who died in Jerusalem in 1843 aged 27.

The gravestone to William J Tally in Galbally Roman Catholic graveyard in Co. Tyrone is interesting in that it records someone who was born overseas and also died overseas. Tally was born in Germantown, Pennsylvania, on 15 April 1899 and was killed in action at the battle of Ousco in France on 28 July 1918.

A few gravestones record people who died overseas and who were brought home to Ireland for burial. For example, in Ahoghill 1st Presbyterian graveyard there is a memorial to William Robert Clarke, ‘citizen of the United States of America’ who died at Philadelphia on 3 December 1851 aged 37 and was interred in Ahoghill on 6 March 1852.

Another example of this is the memorial to Frederick Arthur Hurley in Belfast City Cemetery. Hurley F.C.H., A.M. Inst. C.E. was assistant director of irrigation, union of South Africa. According to his gravestone, he died near Johannesburg on 30 November 1913, as ‘a result of a motor car accident’. He was interred in Belfast on 22 January 1915.

Some memorials record the actual place of burial of the person who died overseas. In Ahoghill Old graveyard the gravestone to James Moore JP who died in 1889, records that he was buried in the British cemetery in Naples, Italy.

A memorial inside Kilwarlin Church of Ireland church commemorates Mark Stanfield who was the executive engineer, Indian Government railway survey. He died at Omrapur, Berar, India on 10 March 1900.

Occasionally a gravestone will refer to the deceased’s career overseas. Many people have left Ireland to work as missionaries overseas. For example, Sarah Jane McWilliams, an Irish Presbyterian missionary to Manchuria for 39 years, died in 1954 and is commemorated on a headstone in Dundonald graveyard.


Born overseas, but died in Ireland

A few gravestones refer to people who were born overseas and who died in Ireland. Arthur Clotworthy Walkingshaw, only child of the late Clotworthy Walkingshaw esquire, Civil Engineer, was born at Odessa in Russia on 18 November 1868 died at Ballyhome on 8 March 1884 aged 15 years. He was buried in Carnmoney graveyard.

Seed memorial, America, Ballyculter CI
spacerOrr memorial, Calcutta, Ballyculter CI
spacerDoran memorial, Rio Janero, Dunsford RC
spacerMcElroy memorial, Albany, Donaghmore RC
Some more Ulster headstones with an overseas dimension from left to right. Seed memorial, America; Orr memorial, Calcutta both Ballyculter CI graveyard; Doran, Rio [de] Jane[i]ro, Dunsford; McElroy, Albany, Donaghmore. All County Down.
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