A Blessing of Graves with an Ecumenical Service will be conducted at St Stephen’s Cemetery, Castleisland on the coming Tuesday, August 20th at 8pm.
It will be celebrated by Fr. Mossie Brick P.P. Castleisland and Rev Joe Hardy, Church of Ireland.
Restoration committee members, Sheila Crowley and Sheila Hannon provided the background to the site which dates back to the 14th century at least.
Oldest Grave from 1641
“St. Stephen’s graveyard which is owned by the Church of Ireland community is located in the centre of the town.
“It is also the site of both a Famine grave and a Poorhouse grave. The oldest grave dates back to 1641.
“Members of both the Church of Ireland and Roman Catholic community are buried here. It is still being used as a graveyard for those families who have established burial rights here.
Two Church Sites
The site is listed in County Kerry Sites and Monuments Records as KWO40 027, Church site. It contains St. Stephen’s Church and St.Nicholas’s Church.
The remains of St. Nicholas’s Church abut onto the western gable of St. Stephen’s Church. This earlier church was thought to have been built by Geoffrey De Mariscoe, a nephew of Strongbow,in the 13th century. There are numerous documentary references to this church in Castleisland going back to 1302. One of these documents refers to the valuation of the church being 20 shillings.
The Church of St. Stephen is deconsecrated and is now utilised as a theatre.
Restoration Work in 1999
This church was built in late 18th century or the early 19th century.
In 1997 members of the Church of Ireland community and Roman Catholic community came together to form the St. Stephen’s Graveyard Restoration Committee.
Following permission from the National Monuments Committee and the Church of Ireland the graveyard restoration work began in January 1999 under the aegis of the local tidy towns committee and FÁS.
Great Community Day
I covered the restoration ceremony in 1999 for The Kerryman and the following is an account of what happened on a great day for the entire community.
“A fine and commendable achievement was celebrated in Castleisland on the Sunday afternoon of October 31-1999 when representatives of church, state agencies and the local community attended the rededication ceremony after the restoration of the same St. Stephen’s Graveyard.
There was much to celebrate and many to praise as local Roman Catholic Curate, Fr. Willie Stack was joined by his Church of Ireland colleagues Canon Robert Warren and Captain Joe Hardy.
Immaculately Restored Grounds
Hymns and prayers were offered indoors at the old St. Stephen’s Church – now the Ivy Leaf Art Centre – before the celebrants invited the congregation outside to the east-facing wall for the joint blessing of the immaculately restored grounds.
The occasion brought back memories to the older people in the gathering of the services there by the Church of Ireland community over a generation ago.
The weekly service discontinued soon after the departure of their last resident parson Rev. Henry Packham in the fall of 1947.
Restoration of Dignity
It was a day to celebrate, firstly the restoration of dignity to the old burial ground and to remember the many buried there.
It is a story of co-operation right through as Canon Warren and Fr. Stack clearly pointed out.
While FÁS covered itself in glory in this project its local foreman for the duration of the scheme, David Enright came in for outright praise from the two clergymen.
Mr. Enright’s dedication to the task throughout was evident and notable progress could be reported at the end of every working day there.
Worst Possible Weather
The work began in the teeth of the worst possible weather in January of that year and continued under near impossible conditions for the best part of the following two months.
FAS was represented at the ceremony by Paddy Carleton, Manager of the South West area and he deputised for Jerry Leyden whose encouragement and co-operation was appreciated and well documented by the organising committee over the duration of the project.
Request for Help
Kerry County Council Chairman Ted Fitzgerald attended the ceremony and Fr. Stack put his old school pal on the spot with a request for help with the maintenance of the site.
The local council office was represented by area supervisor, Billy Collins. The two Sheilas, Hannon and Crowley, treasurer and secretary respectively were also invited to take bows for their huge contributions to the appearance of the cemetery on that afternoon.
While Fr. Stack somewhat understated his role in the whole affair by stamping himself as ‘merely a figurehead’ his involvement was crucial in setting and maintaining the momentum.
He was particularly impressed with the behind-the-scenes work of engineer. Tadhg McGillicuddy whose constant help could always be relied upon when problems arose.
Several people stayed back after the ceremony and had a look at the pages of the town’s history through the headstones and the inscriptions thereon.
Information to Impart
Several expressed the opinion that there could be a very worthwhile project there for some enterprising student as many of the stones have a story to tell.
Most people of middle age and more are natural historians and have an awful lot of information to impart.
Back to the Future
In this age of information technology the stories beneath the stones in our local graveyards would be well worth preserving and they weave a historical picture of the town and district down through the years.”
Back to the future: Fr. Brick and Reverend Hardy would love to see members of the community and and people with any connection to the cemetery or the building coming along to join them on the evening of Tuesday, August 20th at 8pm.
Tea will be served afterwards at The Good Table.