Sex and death
Figure 8. Pie chart showing groups responsible for erecting monuments.
The inscriptions of some 165 memorials (67.35% of the total corpus) include details of family relationships between the deceased and the commissioner of the monument (Fig. 8). Overall, the largest single group of commissioners are sons for parents (29.70%), followed by wives for husbands (20.60%), husbands for wives (9.70%), fathers for children (8.48%), daughters for parents (8.48%) and families as a group for parents (6.06%). In 17 examples, (10.30%) the exact relationship between the deceased and the commissioner was not stated or was illegible (two cases, 1.21%). In a further 11 instances (6.67%) the relationship is categorised as ‘other’, including the erection of monuments by nieces, nephews and grandparents.
As is to be expected, these figures are not static through time, but display marked changes. For example, the detailing of family relationships is absent before the 1780s, at which point sons begin to be included in the inscriptions commemorating parents (Fig. 9a & b). As a fashion, this practice reached its height during the following decade, and although it remained a significant tradition until the 1880s, it was largely in decline throughout this period. Conversely, the first instance of a daughter commemorating her parents did not occur until the 1830s, increasing until the 1910s, where it reached a level comparable with the numbers of sons commissioning monuments.
Figure 9a. Histogram showing percentages of stones erected by sons vs. daughters commemorating parents.
Figure 9b. Histogram showing percentages of stones erected by husbands commemorating wives (husband), vs. wives commemorating husbands (wife), by decade.
Since this time, it has become an increasingly infrequent element of local commemorative practice, with only three occurrences between the 1930s and the 1980s. With regard to the commemoration of wives by husbands, there are intermittent dedications from the 1780s to the 1980s, with a major hiatus in the period from the 1800s to the 1850s. However, the frequency of wives commemorating husbands, though not starting until the first decade of the 19th century, is much higher, peaking in the 1890s.
One would expect that the chief group responsible for the erection of stones should be a close second generation relative, such as a son or daughter. Certainly, this is true in the case of sons commissioning monuments for parents. However, daughters comprise only the fourth largest named group. These results are strongly at variance with what should be expected if we are to presume a roughly 50:50 male to female split in the population. I suggest that we should interpret these figures as evidence of the perceived demands of graveyard propriety where the eldest surviving son (or sons) was expected to shoulder the financial, or at least the organisational, burden of commemoration.
The advantages of this situation for the commissioner were, perhaps, manifold as the individual not only had a certain degree of power in the choice of sculptor and the type and variety of the symbols used, they also had the opportunity to have their own names included on the inscription. Other perceived benefits of this situation included the public display of family continuity and its continued wealth and prestige on the parochial stage. In economic terms, it would also make sense for the eldest son, as the individual most likely to inherit the bulk of the family property, to be the one charged with the commemoration of the deceased. In this way, the act of commemoration of one’s parents (in particular one’s father) becomes a very public statement that the role of head of the family had passed to the next generation.
Obviously, this form of evidence is subject to many caveats, and although there is an undoubted ‘stylistic’ element regarding the periods when such inclusions within gravestone inscriptions were considered appropriate; other factors undoubtedly skew our perception of them. Although not examined here, such factors may include the relative ages of husbands to wives, where older males would be expected to predecease their spouses; mothers dying in childbirth; families which produced no issue, or only female children.
An approach, perhaps, more amenable to this form of analysis is the way in which the names of the deceased are ordered within the inscriptions. A total of 109 gravestones (44.49% of the total) list a husband and a wife. Of these, 81 cases (74.31%) list the deceased in the order in which they died, be it the husband predeceasing the wife (67 cases, 61.47%), or the wife predeceasing the husband (13 cases, 12.84%). 9 Interestingly, a minor component in this corpus is the occasional instance where a female who predeceased her husband is listed after him (13 cases)(Fig. 10). This practice occurred sporadically from the 1860s to the 1980s and reflect gaps between the deaths of the two spouses of anywhere between four days and 36 years.
Figure 10. Histogram showing occurrences of predeceased females listed in secondary positions on gravestones, by decade.
While the graph shows an upsurge in this form of ‘non-chronological ordering’ from the 1950s to the 1980s, this should not be taken at face value. One of the gravestones from the 1950s, both of the 1970s stones, and all three of the 1980s examples were erected at some considerable time after both parties had deceased, ranging from the 1900s to the 1960s. I suggest that this anomaly has a two-fold origin, the first being the buoyant economic conditions of the 1970s and early 1980s which allowed some families to contemplate the erection of stones over previously unmarked grave plots.
This is coupled with a deeper, more traditional, view of the family structure, where the husband takes precedence over his wife. In the cases where a wife predeceased her husband, but is listed after him, it is arguable that no property was available to be inherited by the next generation (or that any private property went to the surviving husband), and thus there was no change in the fiscal power within the family structure. Following from this, it would make greatest financial and social sense to wait until the head of the family died before commissioning a memorial to them both. In the 13 cases where wives predeceased their husbands and are listed chronologically within the inscription, all but one post-date the 1900s (Fig. 11a & b). It may be, perhaps, significant that the single example from the 1830s was erected by the daughter of the family.
Figure 11a. Histogram showing occurrences of predeceased females listed ahead of their husbands, by decade.
Figure 11b. Histogram showing primary individuals commemorated on gravestones: males vs. females.
The theme of family power and precedence are also reflected in the non-chronological ordering of children in relation to their parents. Within the Craughwell series, there are 21 instances (8.57% of the entire corpus) where children who predeceased one or both parents are placed lower on the inscription than would be expected from a wholly chronological ordering of the interments (Fig. 12). These are considered as ‘internal relatives’, such as sons, daughters and grandchildren – part of the lineal descent of the family. There are a further four instances (1.63%) where ‘external relatives’ (i.e. uncles, aunts, brothers- and sisters-in-law etc. of the commissioners) predeceased the primary individual, but are listed in a secondary position. This form of commemoration begins in the 1830s and continues sporadically until the 1980s.
It should be noted that this is the only position in which predeceased children are commemorated, there being no instance where a predeceased child is listed before its parents. 10 It is also worth mentioning that with the exception of the three individuals who died in the 1970s along with one grandchild from the 1940s, all the predeceased children juveniles to mature adults, whose ages range from eight to 32, the average being 20.42 years. Thus it is obvious that a, probably, significant portion of the local dead – from post-baptismal infants to young juveniles – are wholly unrepresented within the Craughwell series until the 1940s at the very earliest; and those who are, are relegated to a secondary position within the inscriptions.
Figure 12. Histogram showing predeceased children/juveniles listed in secondary positions within the inscriptions, by decade.