In 1838, the graveyard was said to be the favourite place of interment for the people of the neighbourhood but it was added somewhat dismissively that no family of note was buried there. The names were mostly those of the descendants of Scottish settlers, the only two apparently worthy of mention being the Shaws of Ballytweedy House and the family of Thomas Ludford Stewart of Belfast.
The graveyard, measuring some 57 x 54 yards (52 x 49 metres), was enclosed by a “good” stone wall with an iron gate, just as it is today. Some 160 years ago, the oldest headstone bore the date 1698, another 1717. Today, a number of eighteenth century stones still survive, the oldest being the one dated 1717. In 1921 Mr. W. F. Reynolds surveyed part of Carmavy graveyard. His transcriptions of the wording on headstones were printed in the Memorials of the Dead, Vol. XI. In the 80-odd years which have elapsed since, a number of headstones seem to have disappeared entirely, there being no trace of eight of the forty he listed. This suggests that many more headstones have fallen into disrepair over the centuries. A few have toppled sideways, their lower halves long since buried deep in the earth. In one or two instances, stones have fallen flat, face downwards and resisted all attempts to raise them. Erosion of sandstone headstones in particular has been considerable.
In 1993, there were over 300 identifiable burial plots in the graveyard. A minority of these have no grave marker of any kind. The graveyard committee possesses three registers relating to the burial-ground – an alphabetical index to surnames, a list of plots and a burial book. These date, however, only from 1937 and are known to have omissions. Indeed, the headstones themselves may tell us far more that the records.
On the whole, the monuments are plain and workmanlike, not a flying angel or chubby cherub in sight. There are a number of obelisks (Harper, Molyneux, Suffern, Barron, Thompson, Robb families) and two pillars each topped by an urn (Gilmore of Ballyhenry, White of Ballykennedy). Crests are in short supply. One with a motto commemorates John Boyd Moore, F.R.C.V.S., originally from Clady who died in 1927. The other is a Royal Irish Rifles crest on the headstone of J. Kirkpatrick who died in 1915 in the First World War.
Poetry (or poetic words at least) features on some headstones. Composed perhaps by the families themselves, the words are by turns not only charming but thought- provoking or touching. Biblical texts are noticeably absent. This does not necessarily imply that Carmavy people were any less religious than their contemporaries! It would be interesting to compare this non-trend with inscriptions from other graveyards. For those of a classical turn of mind there are several lines of Latin on the Samuel Ferguson mausoleum.
“Death the leveller”, a phrase coined by the writer Shirley has decreed that in Carmavy farmers and labourers, doctors and nurses, lie alongside a Sovereign of Belfast and unidentified paupers. The stones and memorials themselves range from the mausoleums of the Stewart and Shaw families through obelisks and standard headstones of marble, granite or sandstone to simple iron markers or glass (now plastic)- domed immortelles. The paupers’ plot actually occupies a small area built out like an alcove in the main eastern wall, but little is known about it, when it first appeared or how many un-named individuals are buried there.
Carmavy graveyard is not attached to any church and consequently, all denominations have been buried there. Whilst it is true that burials in the graveyard are mostly of local folk, a surprising number had obviously moved away to conduct their lives elsewhere. Either by their own request or the wishes of their families at death, they were laid to rest back in Carmavy. Some had taken the comparatively short journey to Belfast, others travelled further afield. Descendants of a number of individuals (to judge for example by the addresses on cards inside immortelles) also found their way not only to England, but to Canada, America and Australia. One mid-nineteenth century family, somewhat exotically, lived in Peru.