Grave mus­ings in an Ir­ish church­yard

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - EL­IZ­A­BETH McKEN­ZIE MT EL­IZA, VIC­TO­RIA

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.

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