In this visit to Ardess, Breege McCusker spoke to William
Historical Foundation), Mae Glenn, Dorothy
Pendry, Mary Beard & Johny Cunningham.
William Roulston feels that Fermanagh excels in the quality
of craftsmanship of its gravestones. “There’s probably nowhere in Ireland where
you will see better” he says. Ardess has a wonderful setting for its
church and graveyard is surrounded by green fields. There’s an old
school yard and a 17th century rectory nearby. The present day church, which
has been renovated in quite recent times, stands on the site of a much earlier
church which probably dates back at least a thousand years. In the early
part of the 17thC the church was taken over by the church of Ireland and
has been used by it ever since but the graveyard has been used by all denominations.
The church of St. Mary's is known by different names by various parts of
the local community and thus reflects all traditions. This parish has also
been called by several different names. . A generation or so back it was
known locally as Black Bog Parish. it was also known years ago as the Templemahery
in the parish of Magheraculmoney in Ardess.
William believes that this churchyard has the earliest known example of sculpted
headstones in Ireland. Not surprisingly then, it is here you will find
the earliest sculpted headstone in N. Ireland Fashioned in the form of
a Celtic cross, this stone is in memoriam of John McMulchan and bears the
date 1679. There are about a dozen more headstones in this distinct style
which clearly represents a school of masonry of that era. This particular
style of stone can also be found in surrounding counties such as S Tyrone
and even Donegal.
Mae Glenn’s ancestors came to this part of the world from the English/Welsh
borders towards the end of the 1600s. Many of them are buried here. The Earliest
marked Phillips family grave dates to around 1800. May tells of how, a couple
of generations ago, people would have either walked to church or travelled
by pony and trap. She also recalls that when she was a child she and her
friends would have gone to a particularly scary vault close to where her
parents are now buried. “As children we were mesmerized by it…” she
says. “…before we went to Sunday school we would go up there
and peek in and we would see some bones”.
Many years ago when May was a teacher, the Duke of Westminster came here
as a young student, to write down the inscriptions around the graveyard.
She says that everyone else in this graveyard is buried facing towards the
east but he is buried facing west.. to keep an eye on his flock!
is one huge grave in the Ardess churchyard which is “The Famine
Grave”. Dorothy Pendry was a member of the community association which
was responsible for putting this memorial in place. It came about at a time
when the community was looking back at 150 years since the famine. It had
been known for a long time that this famine “pit” existed
but the upper part of the graveyard where it is sited had fallen into
of wilderness. She explains how a lot of hard work, along with some help
from the Fermanagh Trust returned the famine grave to a cared for state.
It now allows people to appreciate more what it means and the heritage
||Large numbers of bodies were brought to this place
from Irvinestown and the surrounding area. They were transported on funeral
biers, which basically consisted of sheets with two poles to carry them
with. The huge area of this mass grave
is a very sobering sight and gives some sense of the large number of
souls that perished. There is a vault here (which you can see in the
above picture) which has been built in the style of a
small cottage. This is to remind us of those typically small dwellings
that the people of this community would have lived in back in the time
of the famine.
Dorothy recounts a well known local story about Billy Mitchell from Ederney.
Billy had the rather odious job of collecting bodies. Whilst perhaps an unpleasant
task, this was a lucrative business. For every body he delivered, he was
paid one shilling, which was a grand sum of money then. It is said that would
sometimes have had one body on his cart and another on his back, thus doubling
his pay for the journey. You might say he was a little greedy. The story
tells how Billy had a lucky escape from what would have been a most unusual
death. During the transporting of a body he decided to stop and take a rest
at a bridge. While he was resting there, his barrow suddenly tipped up and
the coffin it was carrying slipped off and almost carried Billy over the
bridge to his death.
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