The inscriptions on the memorials
In 1976 the Ulster Historical Foundation, largely through the efforts of Professor Richard Clarke, recorded all the stones previously published in the Journal of the Association for the Preservation of the Memorials of the Dead volumes and all those stones, still visible, which show burials dated up to 1920.
In this publication there are records of 627 headstones. Ten of these have no known burials, only the names of the original purchasers. It is not known if anyone is actually buried there. Memorials have been inscribed to 2,389 men, women and children on the remainder of the stones. Not all of these are named. A few children never did have their names recorded, possibly because of very early deaths, and many names originally inscribed have been erased by the ravages of time.
When one sees the large number of stones and tablets dedicated for whatever reason to the memory of only one person it is a little surprising to discover that the average number of recordings on each stone is four names. Twenty-three stones with commendable economy have over ten names inscribed, with two having as many as twenty.
In most cases we may assume that the first inscription on the stone is the earliest, although this is certainly not always the case. Allowance must be made both for severe weathering causing such depredation to stones that they have been removed, and also for some veneration for things extremely old causing careful conservation of the very oldest headstones, but there does seem to be a very clear pattern of growth in the erection of gravestones. The numbers stay quite small from 1660 for about a century; then there is a sharp rise to a peak in the 1830s with almost a hundred new headstones in that decade. From this point there is a slow decline until about 1870 when there occurs only an occasional erection of a memorial for the remainder of the century and a flurry of new stones in the first half of the twentieth century, mostly near the north gate. This is somewhat surprising since the Donaghadee churchyard was only superseded by the town’s municipal cemetery at Ballyvester in January, 1948, and indeed as recently as November 2002 there was a burial in the churchyard.