Rathkeale Online

Paupers Graveyard

Paupers Graveyard

Historical content By Patrick Coleman

I was recently asked by a member of the RTAG for any information or details I might have on the Paupers Graveyard. Unfortunately I have very little information and indeed I can't say that the information I do have is accurate.

For instance an earlier historian of Rathkeale, William (Bill) Hayes writing in the early 20th. Century wrote that a man by the name of Guinane whom he described as one of the towns older inhabitants recalled to him seeing bodies being taken "by cart over the river", when speaking about the Famine years. This along with my reading of Phillipe Aries book "The Hour of our Death" has resulted in me speculating that the graveyard associated with Holy Trinity Church had a pauper’s burial plot, into which the bodies of those too poor to afford a grave were interred. I would have to acknowledge that this is purely speculation on my part. Having said that a place of interment would have to be maintained for the poor and as the officially recognised parish church, if European (or more particularly French norms) were being followed, then having such a site at Holy Trinity makes sense.

According to the Limerick historian Kevin Hannan in a piece he had published in "the famine edition" of the Old Limerick Journal:
"The contract for Rathkeale [Workhouse] was for £6,686 and as it was a smaller workhouse [than the one for Limerick city] for 660 inmates, it was to be completed by December 1840."

It would appear that this schedule was adhered to as the original ordnance survey maps which were completed in 1841 includes the workhouse, but their is no indication that there was a graveyard at the site we now know as the Paupers burial ground.

dawn mass
dawn mass 2

It should be noted that both locally around Rathkeale town itself and more widely in the County (Glin in the Rathkeale area, Ballingarry in the Newcaste West area auxillary workhouses had to be opened to cope with the numbers at the time of the famine). Some years ago the late Walter Ruddle asked me some questions about the site and at the time I made queries. Pat O'Donovan informed me that he had come across references to the commissioning of a graveyard by the Poor Law Guardians in 1848. I have never been able to confirm this, but trawling through newspapers for a year does take rather a lot of time. I have accepted this date as being that for the establishment of the graveyard though I will need to confirm the details myself at some future date.

I did make some enquiries following RTAG contacting me. Jack O'Dwyer has provided me with two documents though unfortunately he does not recall who gave them to him. The first of these documents is dated 11th. July, though the year is not included. It contains details of a visit to the paupers graveyard when it was badly overgrown and includes both a description of the graveyard as it was at the time and also a map indicating the location of the different types of trees growing in and around the graveyard, where a number of iron crosses were located (by a wall, they had been displaced) the main cross in the graveyard and the path leading to the cross along with the dimensions of the graveyard. Commenting on the layout of the graveyard the writer says: "The graveyard itself is thought to have been bigger than it is currently, approximately 1 acre. It is thought the wall was the same length at either side of the gate ie 120 feet altogether". This would appear to support the claim by a friend of mine that he believes the graveyard was interfered with at the time of the building of the swimming pool. It would appear that the writer made a number of visits to the site, for while at one point in his account he has not been able to locate the small iron crosses that indicated where the burials took place he later comments "right hand side before gate on main wall: five crosses found numbered 14, 33, 60, 65, 71 . . . Left hand side of gate on main wall: Thirty four crosses found in this area, again all planted along by the wall. They were all found in a 60ft area".

Earlier in his account the writer indicates that the last burials in the graveyard was a Paddy Kennedy, though in brackets he adds "Tommy Finn also". I spoke to Gerald Fennell, whose father would through his job have had responsibility for the graveyard from the 1950's through to the 1970's. My recollection was that on a previous occasion that Ger had mentioned Paddy Kennedy, who has been described as a man of the road to me, but on this occasion the person he mentioned was a man whom he thought was named Casey who died on the street in Rathkeale, Ger believed in 1953 and whose funeral was he thought the first one his father had to arrange. When I speak of men of the road, I talk of impoverished men (and I have no doubt women) who walked the roads of Ireland, certainly up to the early 1970's, living from the generosity of people. They were not members of the travelling community, though I have no doubt some of the travellers were also in equally impoverished circumstances.

The writer proceeds to tell a story that they attribute to famine times (historians increasing now would argue that the Irish famine lasted from 1845 to 1851):

"it is rumoured that around the time of the famine, a woman and child were found on Liston's land by a family living there at the time. The woman was dead so the family looked after the baby. The mother was buried in the graveyard, she was not known in the area."

To be continued..

Thank you to RTAG for all their hard work in clearing up the Grave yard here are some photos of their hard work and of the end results

before before2
before3 after


Copyright of Rathkeale Community Council created by Rathkeale Image & Tourism Committee