Recently Dan Dooner travelled to Ardcarne in the north of the county to meet with the hard-working graveyard committee, which takes care of four graveyards in the Parish of Ardcarne, including two in Ardcarne itself and two in Kileenan. The committee has been in operation for 25 years this year having begun work restoring the four graveyards in 1992.
I pulled into the carpark at Ardcarne Church on a wet and miserable Sunday afternoon. I was met by the Ardcarne Graveyard committee who were led by PRO Tony Bambrick. Tony is very passionate when it comes to the committee’s work and it was he who had invited me to Ardcarne.
The committee took me on a tour of the stone church, which was built in 1750. The church boasts beautiful stained glass windows, the most famous of which is the first commission of the Irish artist, Evie Hone. This window was dedicated to the memory of Colonel and Mrs. Kirkwood, who lived in nearby ‘Woodbrook’. The Kirkwood family and the King Harmons of Rockingham had a close association with the church. I was even given access to the seating area which was once reserved for such noble families. Committee member Ian Gillespie, Who is also a member of the Church of Ireland Select Vestry, said: “It was warmer up here due to heating system in the church. The wealthy families would sit here for services where they would look over the rest of the congregation.”
The organ is another beautiful feature of the church. The instrument was made by Telford and Telford of Dublin and donated by Mr. Bartley Walker in memory of his mother.
Jim Reynolds and Ian Gillespie took me up into the rafters via an ancient staircase and wooden ladders. We looked out in all directions from a roof which has been rebuilt several times over the last few centuries. It’s clear that the church remains a central part of the landscape of the area.
My tour of Ardcarne was to finish in the neat graveyard where Seán Lynch, Jim and Tony proudly displayed a quarter century of hard work. This work, which started back in October 1992, has resulted in a complete transformation of the graveyard. Experts such as Dr. Kieran O’Conor from NUI Galway were brought on board to oversee the project and the clearing away of weeds and bushes was carried out between 1993 and 1999 by Fás workers.
Tony said: “The graveyard was completely inaccessible with bushes and weeds. Up until recently the ground was easily flooded also but we have alleviated this with the help of a local landowner who has allowed us to place a sump on his land.
“If it’s one regret I have it’s that we didn’t take pictures when we were starting out! My advice would be to take plenty of pictures when starting a project like this!”
Tony also said the committee learned a lot from the original chairman, Sean J. McQuaid.
“Mr. McQuaid was a great fundraiser and we honed our skills from him at the very beginning. Three members of his family remain active members on the committee: his wife Mary and daughters Anne and Margaret.
“We must also pay tribute to previous members of the Ardcarne graveyard committee and particularly the original committee, whose hard work has been continued throughout the years,” he said.
The work has been painstaking over the years and as well as vital work to the groundwork, the committee has also refurbished railings and other features throughout the graveyard.
“That’s all been repaired or replaced,” Jim Reynolds says as he points out the neat rows of black railing. Tony highlights the altar which stands near a dividing wall and describes further planned improvements: “We would like to put memorial benches in parts of the graveyard and carry out some further drainage work to affected areas and work will be carried out in the car park. None of this work is possible without the committee at grassroots and the support from the local community and Roscommon County Council,” he said.
Indeed the entire committee praised the support of members of the Parish of Ardcarne and the elected members of Roscommon County Council and both houses of the Oireachtas who have provided financial support to the many refurbishment projects over the last 25 years.
It was nearly time to leave, but before I did, Tony and Jim showed me where victims of the famine and French prisoners of war were thought to be buried.
This is a place of substantial history, which the bronze famine statue at the front of the church donated by the late Canon Henry can also attest to. The hard work of the committee has enabled this site to prosper and with the right support, the landmark church and historical graveyard will be here long into the future.