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Irish Gravestone Inscriptions, Tracing your Irish Ancestors: The epitaphs
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Donaghadee Churchyard

The epitaphs on the stones


As one might expect in an area so predominantly of Anglo-Scots origin, virtually every word inscribed in its churchyard is in English, although a very few men of learning have displayed their knowledge by causing a Latin inscription to be used on their headstones. What is conspicuous by its total absence is any sign of the Ulster-Scots tongue. Perhaps this is because it was just that – a spoken tongue, rather than a written language, and considered inappropriate to the serious commemoration of loved ones. There is some misspelling of names and other words, but these can be excused in the absence of universal literacy. The only cases of what appears to be a deliberate use of vernacular vocabulary are Andrew McGaw’s stone, the only one which claims, “3 fut south”, and Andrew Cristy’s, uniquely inscribed for two of his “childer”, and of course both fut and childer are examples of extended use of Elizabethan English rather than Scots.


Almost sixty of the stones recorded carry a few lines in rhyme displaying a simple unquestioning faith and telling the world that the deceased has gone to Glory. Many are fairly obviously taken from some publication of suitable laudatory verses. A good example would be the tribute to his wife left by John Johnson. Unfortunately he neglected to give any other information about her. We may assume that her passing was shortly before her husband’s, which the stone says was in 1827:


Within her bed of rest Eliza lies
Who left terrene and earthly things
And chose a mansion in the skies
The palace of the King of Kings.


The Memorials of the Dead 8 tells us about a stone that is now lost. It had an anchor and a heart inscribed on it, and a message telling us that when James Davison died in Donaghadee in 1707 at the age of 51 years his last earthly thoughts were of his life spent battling against the North Wind and the God of the Sea:


Tho’ Boreas’ blasts and Neptune’s waves
Have tost me to and fro,
But now at length by God’s decree
I harbour here below.


Altho’ at anchor here I lie
With many of our Fleet,
Yet once again I must set sail
My Saviour Christ to meet.


This thought must have carried some resonance for Annie McQuoid almost two centuries later. When she departed this life in 1894 in her 88th year, and clearly as a tribute to her Master Mariner husband, George, who had died thirty years earlier, she copied the verse almost word for word.

Three years before his own death John Brown had this simple verse cut into a new family stone. It is in remembrance of his son who died, only 29 years of age, in “1830 of the Christian aera”:


Let sculptor’d monumental piles proclaim
The fam’d achievements of the learn’d and great.
On this plain stone ’tis ours to etch Brown’s name
To laud his virtues and to mourn his fate.


Another headstone with a maritime connection is the one owned by the Saul family. Francis Saul was the owner of Donaghadee’s Rope Walk on the stretch of foreshore immediately south of Shore Street Church in the early years of the nineteenth century.9 We must assume that it was he who composed this wonderfully nautical poem as a tribute to his father:


Beneath this stone lies Daniel Saul
Who round the world’s terraqueous ball
Has sailed to every land was known
Now under hatches lies at home.


Anchor’d among his kindred mould
Dreads neither storms nor seas that roll
Brought to by death’s correcting rod
Sets sail again to meet his God.


The stone most usually recognized as the churchyard’s oldest now stands proudly on the immediate north side of the church after many years on its face. It commemorates a Jean Mackgwear who was the wife of Alexander Milling. According to the inscription she, “lived wel and died wel,” something any reader might wish, until her death in 1660. Her father-in-law, Archibald Milling died some eight years after Jean. There is little known of this man but he was clearly one of Donaghadee’s first entrepreneurs, with a number of his own houses and ships. His stone is completed with what might be termed a witty carving of a millstone and a bird. Once again it was probably the son who composed the tribute, since it certainly could not have come from a book of verses. It seems a sentiment and an aspiration for a degree of immortality which many less articulate would have shared about their own dear departed, and one most suitable to end this description of Donaghadee churchyard:


Here Archibald Miling buried [lyes]

In hopes that at last he shall joyfully rise.

Blest in his children and welth heretofor

But he lately ceased happie . . .[any?] more.


By land and by sea well trusted and known

But Heaven was the haven he [aimed] at alone.

Both elements cary the effects of his panes

Proclaiming his industry great as his [gains].


His houses and barkes as well as his grave

Shows to win credit he nothing would save.

The [fruits] of his hand provided this st[one]

His good works will speak long after he’s gone.


Let his memory live tho’ his body be dead

And may his name flourish whilst this can be read.

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