Grave musings in an Irish churchyard
To get to the “old” church and graveyard of Dungourney, in County Cork, Ireland, was reminiscent of Robert Frost’s “the road … less travelled by”. It was distinctly “grassy and wanted wear’’, its narrowness accentuated by the ubiquitous ivy and fuchsia-covered stone walls of some long-forgotten demesne. The branches of ancient oak and beech trees formed a tunnel of cool, dappled light. We drove at a leisurely pace as the combination of hedgerows, walls and lush-green vegetation meant our destination was well camouflaged.
Eventually we passed great iron gates, cunningly set into a blind curve of the demesne wall. Further investigation revealed a church with a towering, square Normanesque belfry and firmly bolted entrance. A quick reconnoitre revealed a single, iron gate, which yielded eventually to cajoling, cursing and sheer brawn. We were standing in a very old precinct of a church and graveyard. The church had long ago been abandoned and boarded up, stout doors barring any notion of access.
On the right-hand side of the church, set in orderly fashion in a peaceful grassy sward, were the Protestant graves. The Catholic left-hand side was more exuberant, a higgledy-piggledy, chaotic jumble of gravestones covered in lichen and moss, punctuated by disintegrating sarcophagi and small unidentified mounds.
We found what we were looking for nestled in the midst of slightly tipsy, but still upright flagstones in a family plot: my paternal grandmother’s gravestone. It was a small rectangular stone plaque, the name on it still decipherable. I stood and stared.
I had been named after my long-dead grandmother, and the name on the small plaque, Elizabeth Buckmaster, was the one I had borne for almost a quarter of my life. It was as if my long-ago childhood came spiralling out of the grave to claim me. I began to weep silently, but whether it was for the grandmother I never knew or my own lost youth, I couldn’t tell.
The sun lost its battle with the protective trees sheltering the graveyard and the air was growing chill. In the village, a pub, a pint and the land of the living awaited us. But I mull over the possibility that one day my own ashes will be scattered over my grandmother’s grave, ensuring an ongoing connection.