Sunday, August 23, 2009

A grave matter

Soon after I arrived in Northern Ireland, I managed to find my grandparents’ grave in Belfast City Cemetery, and I tidy it up from time to time. I’d been told there were some others, and had wandered around a few times trying to find them, with no luck. I’d never quite got around to making inquiries about them, so when I saw that the City Council was holding a Visitor’s Day at the cemetery today, including a tracing service, I rang them.

They discovered three other graves: my great great grandfather and his wife, who lived in Sydenham; my great grandfather, his wife and a daughter who never married, who lived in Ballyhackamore; and a brother of my great grandfather, and his wife, who lived in Belmont.

The staff were extremely helpful and seemed genuinely interested in what they were doing. The day was well organised, with each inquirer being given a map with the location of the graves marked, and the names and dates of death written on the back. Staff were also available to take people to the graves.

I gather this is the second Visitors’ Day, and from what I saw it was proving very popular, despite the rain. The initiative hopes to send out a message that the cemetery is safe for all to visit. Sinn Féin councillor Tom Hartley, who has written a book about the cemetery, said:

We hope particularly that anyone who, because of political or other circumstances, has not visited for some years will come along.

To me, that’s real 'community relations'. Unfortunately I did find that ‘my’ three graves had been damaged, hard to say whether due to vandalism or lack of upkeep. Otherwise, they were not too overgrown and I’m sure that over the years I can continue to keep an eye on them and perhaps repair them at some point.

9 comments:

Timothy Belmont said...

I've never been to the City Cemetery. Would it have been a communal graveyard, for the citizens of Belfast? I imagine it must be a fair size; and that you'd require a bit of guidance as to where to search.

Tim

Jenny Muir said...

It was historically for Protestants (and there's a Jewish burial ground too) although for both communities today.

http://www.belfastcity.gov.uk/citycemetery/history.asp

I gather the tours Tom Hartley does are very good although I've never been on one; I expect it's possible to walk around guided by his book.

But yes, finding an individual grave requires help, although I did come across my grandparents' grave by accident.

Niall Ó Donnghaile said...

Tom's tours of both the City and Milltown are really worth taking. Particularly during the Féile the crowds really increase and the history of both sites strikingly resemble the history of our city!

If you haven't gone before you should really consider it!

Jenny Muir said...

I see he's doing a tour of the City Cemetery as part of the Belfast Festival, so will book up now! And would like to do Milltown too, perhaps in next year's Féile. I noticed the two tours have been separated and I think that's right, the two at once would tire me out

Garibaldy said...

Don't forget the bishops insisted that there be a wall between the protestant and catholic dead underneath to prevent any postmortem heresy.

Jenny Muir said...

A rest in peace wall....

Garibaldy said...

:)

Wisewebwoman said...

I love old graveyards, Jenny, great that you found your ancestors!
XO
WWW

Jenny Muir said...

Thank you www! Nick and I used to visit graveyards when on holiday, they are often fascinating. But now I think the graves need some tidying up, one weekend when it's not raining!