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Rules, Rubrics and Relations



Taken together, we may observe a rural community whose conscious and unconscious actions in choosing the wording of gravestone inscriptions betrays some of their central ideas and concerns about how they perceive the workings of intra-family power and organisation, and indeed what constitutes the a family in the first place. Essentially, these ideas reflect the position of the father as head of the family, with wives and children taking up secondary roles. The concept of the family structure itself is clearly defined as a nuclear, linear unit where uncles, aunts, and various in-laws, or ‘external relations’ are accorded commemoration, but in a position inferior to that of the perceived head of the family and its core of  ‘internal relations’, as viewed by the commissioning individual. From the beginning of the 20th century, we see a slow democratisation entering, but not eclipsing, this view of the traditional family structure with predeceased wives being accorded the primary position within the inscriptions.


While the study of decorative motifs, either alone or in combination, allows us a glimpse at how individuals saw themselves within their communities, I would argue that an examination of non-chronological ordering within inscriptions presents us with a similar view into local society. Simultaneously, this approach allows us to examine something that other avenues of research are largely unable to: how individual families saw themselves and how they understood their internal organisation and power structures. While this trend towards non-chronological ordering of the inscription is a very minor element of the corpus as a whole, it still warrants further investigation to establish its wider temporal and physical distribution.




Chapple, R. M. 1995 The Church of Prayers: gravestone inscriptions from the graveyard of Killora, Craughwell, Co. Galway. Galway.


Chapple, R. M. 1997 Cillogcillín: gravestone inscriptions from the graveyard of Killogilleen, Craughwell, Co. Galway. Galway.


Chapple, R. M. 2000 ‘A statistical analysis and preliminary classification of gravestones from Craughwell, Co. Galway’ in Journal of the Galway Archaeological and Historical Society Vol. 52, pp. 155-71.


Grogan, E. 1998 ‘Eighteenth century headstones and the stonemason tradition in county Wicklow: the work of Dennis Cullen of Monaseed’ Wicklow archaeology and history 1, 41-63.


Longfield, A. K. 1974 Some Irish churchyard sculpture. Ballycotton.


McCormick, F. 1983 ‘The symbols of death and the tomb of John Forster in Tydavnet, Co. Monaghan’ Clogher Record xi, 273-286.


Mytum, H. 1996 ‘Graveyard survey: a preliminary report on Clonmacnoise’ in IAPA Newsletter. No. 22, 12 - 14.


Smith, D. A. 1993 ‘Humble stones: a study of four monumental masons’ Ulster Folklife 39, 73-80.


Walton, J. C. 1980 ‘Pictorial decoration on east Waterford tombstones’ Decies 14, 67-83.


Plate 1. Overview of Killora church

Plate 2. Overview of Killogilleen church

Plate 3. IHS monogram with cross

Plate 4. JHS monogram

Plate 5. Entwined HIS monogram

Plate 6. The omega memento mori symbol forming the cross-bar of the ‘H’ in the IHS monogram.

Plate 7. An inverted omega symbol forming the cross-bar of the ‘H’ in the IHS monogram.

Plate 8. Heart symbol with puncture wounds

Plate 9. Inverted heart symbol

Plate 10. Inverted heart symbol

Plate 11. Christ displaying heart

Plate 12a-d. Resurrection narrative showing skull and cross-bones, Archangel Gabriel with a trumpet, a set of scales and a rosette. Overview and details.


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