Local cemeteries hold not only the remains of our dearly departed but are also a treasure trove of information waiting to be gleaned from the monuments to be found there. St. Michael’s Cemetery, the old cemetery as distinct from the new cemetery of the same name, has a number of interesting inscribed tomb stones which recent good work by the new caretaker has exposed after many years of neglect.
Just over a hundred years ago the Irish Memorials of the Dead published the first volume of its intended multi volume account of Irish grave stones and grave markers. The information published in the memorials was collected by volunteers, amongst whom was Lord Walter Fitzgerald of Kilkea Castle, Fr. John Ryan, Dominican priest of Newbridge and many others. Recently going through the thirteen published volumes of the Memorial, the last two volumes of which covered the period 1926 to 1934, I was delighted to read a number of entries relating to local cemeteries in South Kildare.
In 1897 Fr. Ryan O.P. wrote of two tombstones in St. Michael’s Graveyard which had been erected to the memory of the Dominican Fathers of Athy. At that time, one tombstone was still standing while the other was lying flat on the ground. The erect stone had this inscription.
“Here lies the body of the Very REV. JOHN KENNELLY O.S.D. He took the habit of his order at Louvain in Flanders in 1787. He was elected Provincial in 1820. He reared five relatives for the church of God; a brother and four nephews; he died 25th Decr., 1842, aged 78 years. Also the revd. THOMAS M`DONNELL, S.T.P., of Limerick, died Novr. 25th, 1878. Ann. Prof. 64, aged 84 years. Dominican Priory, Athy, Requiesant in Pace.”
On the flat stone the following inscription was found 107 years ago.
“Here lies the body of the REV. FRANCIS CUMMINS, of the Order of St. Dominic, who during a residence of upwards of 40 years in the town of Athy by the exemplary and unaffected piety of his life had endeared him to all ranks of people that in compliance with the wishes of his numerous friends, select ones erected this tomb in testimony of their esteem for him and in veneration of his memory, he died October 1788 aged 88 years.
Requiescat in Pace. Sat ubi DEO vixit heu citius amicis absumitur. Also the body of the REV. JAMES DUNNE of the Order of St. Dominic being Residentor of Athy for 98 years. Department this life June the 27 1797 aged 115 years.
Requiescat in Pace. Also the body of the REV. MICHAEL M`MAHON who died April the 8th 1829 aged 29 years.”
Other tombstones in St. Michael’s recorded in 1901/03 included one then regarded as the oldest lettered tombstones which stood on the right hand side of the pathway near the main entrance. The stone which was broken at the top commemorated “JAMES GRAHAM” who died in November 1701. Nearby was also a narrow slab stuck upside down in the ground with an inscription, the only visible part of which read “and daughter of RICHARD PEARSON of Athy who departed this life on the 24 year of her age the 11 March 1716.”
Another flat broken slab recalls the faithful servant of COL. THOMAS FITZGERALD who figured prominently in the Rebellion of 1798 and its aftermath.
“This stone is erected in St. Michael’s Churchyard, Athy by COL. THOMAS FITZGERALD of Geraldine in memory of HENRY PHILLIPS of Hampshire, England who served him faithfully for twenty years and who departed this life the 30 of December 1816 aged 45 years. Lord have Mercy on his soul. Amen.”
An interesting reminder of a family whose name has been recalled by me in different articles over the years was to be found in 1901 on a flat slab under the South wall of the ruined church.
“This tomb is Erected by MR. GEORGE DAKER of Athy for the use of his Family
“Here lieth the Body of ANN DAKER deceasd. 1729 Aged one yr and MARGRET DAKER deceasd 1743 Aged 2 yrs - Also ANN MARY MANSERGH deceasd April 18th 1768 Aged 3 yrs. - And GEORGE DAKER MANSERGH deceasd Janury 1769 Aged 2 yrs
“MRS. ANN DAKER departed this Life the 9th of July 1786 aged 72 years
“Here lieth the Body of GEORGE DAKER Esqr. who was called from this Life on the 1st day of Decembr 1794 His name written in the Book of Life and held dear by mourning friendship needeth not monumental Praise. Here lieth the Body of GEORGE DAKER Esqr who departed this Life 2nd Feby. 1799 Aged 57 years.”
George Daker owned a tannery in the area where Dr. Reeves surgery is located and nearby Riversdale Home which now houses the Dominican Friary was built by George Mansergh. I was not aware of any connection between the Dakers and the Manserghs but quite obviously there was as indicated by the inscriptions on this tomb stone.
Close at hand there is a table-tomb with an inscription which could still be read at the turn of the 20th century.
“Near this spot lies the remains of GEORGE KING for many years Sovereign of this town, a justice of quorum and one of the Coroners of the Co. Kildare, he died the 4 January 1777 Aged 60 years Also MARY his wife died in 1769 aged 39, as also several of their children. Here also lie the remains of JULIANNA KING otherwise ARMSTRONG, Daughter-in-law of the above named GEORGE KING, died 25th March 1849 Aged 85 years. Her husband RICHARD KING having been buried in St. Luke’s Church Dublin Died 1st Febry. 1824 Aged 58 yrs.”
Lying near the church ruins as reported in Volume 5 of the Irish Memorials of the Dead was a small fragment of a large slab, bearing the remains of an inscription in deeply cut incised capitals with the date 1712. The only part of the inscription which could be read referred to the death in 1712 of the Parish Priest of Athy. The slab must have been placed over the grave of Fr. John Fitzsimons who died on 18th November 1712 aged 61 years after 27 years as Parish Priest of Athy.
St. Michael’s Cemetery holds a very important record of our past history and the work done by those volunteers over 100 years ago in recording some of the more interesting tombstone inscriptions was commendable. Sometime in the future perhaps something can be done to restore the old gravemarkers which have been damaged over the years and maybe even the old church ruins might receive some attention also. Most of the North, West and South walls of the 14th century church are standing but there are no cut stone work remaining in the doorway. Nevertheless the ancient ruin is worthy of conservation and the hope is the local Council would recognise the desirability of carrying out some restoration work in the not too distant future.