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Unusual Gravestone Inscriptions (by ordinary people)



  • Registered Users Posts: 465 ✭✭ Mick Tator

    Peregrinus wrote: »
    I wouldn't read too much into renting; practically everybody who farmed land in Ireland at the time rented it. If she rented as much as 50 acres she was definitely at the upper end of the social scale among the farming classes.

    And this is corroborated by the fact that she was prosperous enough to commission a headstone.

    The fact that she could appreciate verse doesn't mean that she could read. Verse forms exist, if you think about it, partly because they lend themselves to being memorised and recited. There are plenty of examples of societies in which literacy is limited but verses thrive.

    But, in fact, it wouldn't be surprising or unusual if she could read. Because . . .

    It comes down to utility. A farm of 50 acres is an enterprise large enough to require some management, and basic literacy and numeracy is definitely useful. Somebody has to be able to keep the farm accounts, read and understand invoices, etc.

    So, if she came from a background where she might aspire to marry into such a farm, it would make sense for her to be educated to at least that level. Her parents might well have arranged for this, and she likewise might do the same for her daughters (and sons, naturally). There was widespread demand for basic literacy and numeracy, and hedge schools (mostly conducted, in fact, in chapels) existed to meet this demand, and were attended by both boys and girls. Formal Catholic church schools were also legal from 1780 onwards though in fact the church had very little resources to provide them; it wasn't until well into the nineteenth century that the teaching religious orders began to make much of an impact.

    I disagree with some of that post. There was no widespread demand for literacy and numeracy. Cottiers and labourer families saw no need for it. Schools both RC and CoI were available but the ordinary people had other needs and also were too poor to pay. Several government reports highlight low school attendance and widespread illiteracy. This was not resolved until the passing of the Irish Education Act of 1892, which made education free and mandatory for students between the ages of 6 - 14yrs.

    I’ve heard the ‘chapel’ assertion before but never have seen proof that hedge schools were mostly conducted in chapels, the official designation for a RC place of worship. . Most hedge schools were rural and in areas too poor to have a chapel, which is why several Acts make reference to ‘outdoor religious services’. It was the 1782 Irish Act that allowed Catholic schools, but subject to the teachers taking the Oath of Allegiance and obtaining a license from the local Church of Ireland Bishop. An earlier act, the Act for Catholic Relief (18 George III c. 60) was in 1778 and it repealed the ‘perpetual imprisonment for keeping a school’ but did not authorise them. The Presentation sisters opened their first school in 1775; the Christian brothers opened theirs in 1802.

    Slightly later, and more or less to replace the Charter schools and the (Protestant) Association for the Discountenancing of Vice, the non-sectarian ‘Kildare Place’ Society came into being which, since inception until 1825, had trained about 800 teachers, was operating about 1500 schools and had educated about 100,000 pupils. That was a tiny proportion of the ‘minor’ population. The census of 1821 shows that Ireland had about 1,500,000 children aged between 5 and 15 years: of that number about 1,300,000 were devoid of education. Of the 200k that had some education, it was minimal and amounted to just a few weeks in total. Basic accounting ‘casting accounts’ was taught exceptionally, but it was to the brightest and oldest pupils, invariably male.

    The RC Church was unhappy it did not have full control of the KPS schools (even though several board members were RC) and tried to scupper it. Equally, its Established Church faction was forging links with the London Hibernian Society, a proselytising body. That led to the RC Church putting the boot in, creating the opening for the National Schools Act of 1825 which was followed by a report from Lord Stanley, the Chief Secretary for Ireland in 1831. His idealistic vision was to promote peace and harmony in Ireland through a multi-denominational education system. A National Education Board was established and obtained the money to build schools, establish a system of school inspection, pay teachers and establish teacher training facilities. It too was scuppered by the RCC. However, most would regard it as the first block in the foundation of the system we have today

    As for general literacy, even as late as 1881 about 50% and in 1911 about 35% of pupils attended school for more than 100 days annually (today it’s 183 days). Before 1918 the majority of children received less than 5 years of schooling, the minimum considered necessary to be considered literate. Secondary schooling was even worse – the number of pupils in 1848 was 5,000, it doubled to 10,000 in 1878 and doubled again by 1914. Despite this apparent ‘growth’, only 10% of the 15-18 year old age group were receiving secondary education that year.

    While girls did receive some mathematical instruction, it was not widespread, and usually only in the smaller schools with a shared room and one teacher. Generally female instruction was in the ‘useful arts’ of needlework and housekeeping. A farmer’s daughter who in c1820 could read and write was a very rare bird!

  • Registered Users Posts: 209 ✭✭ Rmulvany

    Just to follow up from the last piece of my message regarding the engraved symbol.

    Seems that the attached image didn't survive the site update so I've added here.

    From closer inspection, there are 2 headstones in this grave.

    The first belongs to Emily Helen, the wife of William Adams Esquire, Captain of the 72nd Highlanders. This grave also has the Adams family crest and motto engraved which is interesting! Emily died on 30th Oct 1870.

    The second headstone is very small, and seems to only be engraved with

    "[unknown symbol] Obiit. 30 Oct 1870"

    Due to both stones having the same DOD, I think this smaller stone may be a marker for a child. Emily's death cert doesn't mention death in childbirth, nor have I found any other Adams deaths in Galway on this date.

    One death record on roots for Emily mentions that she was a Congregationalist, but the symbol is not related to this religious group.

  • Registered Users Posts: 23,796 ✭✭✭✭ Peregrinus

    I don't think you'd put up two separate headstones for a mother and newborn infant who died on the same occasion.

    I think it's more likely that the smaller stone was erected first, and later the larger stone was commissioned to replace it. Perhaps Captain Adams was away on service in India or wherever when his wife died? Perhaps money was tight at the time? Anyway, at a later date he commissioned a larger and better stone and had it erected, but the smaller stone was not removed (or was relocated but on the same grave).

    I think the intertwined "CHA" is actually "EHA", and it stands for "Emily Helen Adams"

  • Moderators, Society & Culture Moderators Posts: 10,865 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Hermy

    Just a general point...

    I'm currently surveying an old graveyard and have found visiting the site late in the evening and using a torch reveals legible inscriptions on even the most worn of stones.

    If you haven't done so already I'd highly recommend it.

    Genealogy Forum Mod

  • Registered Users Posts: 697 ✭✭✭ p15574

    Re Emily's death, I see she was aged 52 and died from TB ("phthisis") so childbirth definitely wouldn't have been a factor. I think the theory of the smaller stone being an early market sounds likely, especially given the ornate carving of the crest, which must have taken a while.

    Also, the informant was William Adams, so it doesn't look like he was away at the time of death.

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  • Registered Users Posts: 209 ✭✭ Rmulvany

    Thanks all for the input. I had not thought of it being an early headstone, but this makes sense when looking at the details

    The headstone states that she was the wife of William Adams, late captain... the term late typically implies they are deceased, so perhaps the larger headstone was erected to her memory when he passed away (d. 1893)

  • Registered Users Posts: 23,796 ✭✭✭✭ Peregrinus

    The late William Adams would be deceased. William Adams, the late captain, is not dead; he's just not a captain any more. This wording suggests that when the stone was erected William Adams was still alive.

  • Registered Users Posts: 658 ✭✭✭ blaris

    I saw a gravestone dated 1799 in the graveyard of St. Brendan's Church, Clondra. It predates the church.

    No name, :"Stay passenger see where I lie, as you are now, so once was I, and as I am so shall you be. Prepare for death and follow me". It is well known in the area.

    Probably a reasonably common piece of tombstone doggerel, googling gives another grave in James's St, Dublin.

    For looking at inscriptions, another trick is to rub a tuft of fresh grass across an inscription, this picks out the lettering.

  • Moderators, Society & Culture Moderators Posts: 10,865 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Hermy

    Rubbing with grass is not recommended as it will leave a stain.

    Also, any physical intervention may hasten erosion of the inscription.

    Headstones are historic records just like any other and we should treat them accordingly.

    Genealogy Forum Mod

  • Registered Users Posts: 658 ✭✭✭ blaris

    As a follow up, what is the recommended practise/process re cleaning very old gravestones? Is it recommended to leave alone or intervene (in broad terms)?

    I tend to be rather more interested in the biodiversity of graveyards, and old gravestones are often found to support some rareish lichens and bryophytes; I know there is lively debate in the UK re this aspect, in Ireland not so.

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  • Moderators, Society & Culture Moderators Posts: 10,865 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Hermy

    I think recommended best practice is generally to do as little as possible in the way of cleaning.

    If someone is going to survey a graveyard with good photos and transcripts I'd support a bit of intervention if it means the inscriptions are saved for posterity.

    But I'd always aim to leave behind as little trace as possible which is why I prefer a torch over rubbing with chalk or grass for instance.

    Genealogy Forum Mod

  • Moderators, Society & Culture Moderators Posts: 6,391 Mod ✭✭✭✭ pinkypinky

    I've heard good things about pouring water over the inscription and photographing it.

    Genealogy Forum Mod

  • Moderators, Society & Culture Moderators Posts: 10,865 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Hermy

    Yes, wetting the stone can sometimes yield great results.

    Genealogy Forum Mod