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Rules, Rubrics and Relations
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Figure 1. Total number of stones (all types) erected by decade.
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Figure 1. Total number of stones (all types) erected by decade.

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Analyses of the gravestones


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Fig. 1 graphs the rate of gravestone erection by decade for the two graveyards for which datable stones exist. From this it is obvious that there are distinct differences between cemetery usages at the two sites. In the first instance, Killora is characterised by a rising series of peaks during the 1810s, 1870s and 1970s with corresponding lulls in usage during the 1840s and 1930s. Although Killogilleen displays a similar peak during the 1970s, the primary period of grave marker erection appears in the 1790s and is relatively sustained until the 1810s, falling off sharply after this point.

 

Thus, it is in this relict framework of gravestone erection and survival that the rising and waning of individual styles and fashions in popular religion and culture must be observed. This situation is broadly similar to that observed from other parts of Ireland where the use of durable grave-markers did not begin to flourish until the 17th century, with a marked expansion during the first half of the 18th century (Longfield 1974, 4; McCormick 1983, 280; Grogan 1998, 41). The reasons for this sudden increase in grave marker production may be related to a number of factors, including the burgeoning of a relatively affluent middle-class of local merchants, craftsmen, farmers etc., keen to display their wealth and importance in long-lasting, public forms.

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Figure 2. Percentage of recumbent slabs and table tombs erected by decade.
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Figure 2. Percentage of recumbent slabs and table tombs erected by decade.

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Fig. 2 graphs the percentages of recumbent slabs and table tombs between the two graveyards.4 In general terms, a sharp increase in the use of (dated) recumbent slabs was observed in the period after 1760, culminating in the following decade. During the 1780s and 1790s their use falls off sharply, though still comprising c. 50% of all monuments erected. The 1800s saw a resurgence in popularity for the type, with a steady decline over following decades.5 Examination of the corresponding graph, (Fig. 3) illustrates the situation for upstanding headstones within the two graveyards. A radical shift in memorial practice may be noticed between the two sites after 1750 when the use of headstones declines rapidly until the 1770s when all gravestones are recumbent slabs. By the 1790s the balance between headstones and recumbent slabs appears to have reached equilibrium, before falling away in the following decade. In general, from the 1810s onward, the use of the headstone as the preferred mode of commemoration regained popularity to the point of almost complete domination that it enjoys today.

 

While the foregoing may represent the overall picture for the combined graveyards, closer examination of the data for the individual sites indicates differential periods of utilisation. In the first instance the Killogilleen headstones, though fluctuating in popularity are a constant feature of the site, while only effectively appearing during the 1820s at Killora and rapidly rising to domination. Further analysis examining the occurrence of markers surmounted by a cross indicated a sharp increase at both sites from 1860 onwards, peaking around the 1910s and declining from the 1960s onwards. This is broadly comparable with the preliminary results from Mytumís work at Clonmacnoise where such grave markers are first introduced during the 1840s, reaching the height of their popularity during the 1890s (Mytum 1996, 13).

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Figure 3. Percentage of headstones erected by decade.
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Figure 3. Percentage of headstones erected by decade.

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[4] Owing to the fact that table tombs regularly collapse and their supports become buried etc. these two categories are included together.

 

[5] The reoccurrence of recumbent slabs during the 1960s and 1970s is not a resurgence of the earlier tradition, merely the presence of a number of small tablets placed in front of older, headstones.

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