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  • Writer's pictureJanette Frawley

'There are no strangers here, only friends you haven't yet met.'

13 January 2022

Ireland is a magical, mystical place. It has a long, diverse, and troubled history, yet the people here are like no other group of people on earth.

I don’t understand the link I have to Ireland, and in particular, Kilkee. My in-laws are perfect hosts and I feel very comfortable staying with them. I do understand why Tom never wants to leave once he arrives, but this is his family home and his roots are firmly interwoven into the land and its people. But for me, this region holds a different meaning; perhaps something more primeval. I don’t have familial or emotional ties and yet there is a sense of belonging that I have in very few other places.

I spend four busy days with my in-laws, driving along country lanes and wandering through tiny towns and villages. I don't know where I am going. I rely on the directions from my brother-in-law and it never ceases to amaze me that these apparently nameless narrow and rutted country lanes all lead somewhere - usually to a main road.

Our new next-door neighbours at home have found a connection between us. Mary (not her real name) has traced her family back to County Clare and has even connections with Tom's family. My brother-in-law has done some digging and has confirmed the way-back connection between the families. He has located houses that once belonged to the families, both of which we visit today. The first one sits on a narrow road a few kilometres out of Kilrush, whilst the other, the family ancestral home sits on land near Doonbeg overlooking the estuary. Abandoned many years ago the brown stone two-storey house has a semi-circular tower on the front. Its pointed roof conjures images of Rapunzel’s tower. The front slopes down to the estuary and it has its own ruined castle and unobstructed views of the water. If I ever decided to live in Ireland, it would be in a renovated version of this house.

We spend an afternoon visiting the family graves. By now the blue skies that welcomed the morning have disappeared, but it’s not cold and it’s not raining. I have been lucky with the weather this week in mid-winter.

We start at a brother-in-law's grave. When he died in November 2018, he requested that his ashes be returned to Ireland and that he be buried with his grandfather. Previously, he had erected a new headstone on the old grave and I'm glad to see that his details have since been added.

Irish graveyards are incredibly interesting. To the visitor, it is almost inconceivable that there are so many small graveyards, many of which are connected to the churches. When we consider the history of Ireland and that people in rural areas had no means of transport, it stands to reason that the churches and cemeteries were located close to clusters of people. Despite the nearest largest town being just three kilometres away from my in-laws, there are several substantial cemeteries in this region alone. They are now managed by the councils and the churches.

Celtic crosses, some very old, stand tall marking the graves of families, whilst local slate is used on the tops of the graves. Local slates often feature fossilised worms and other sea creatures if you look hard enough. We travel down to the Kilcarroll graveyard near Kilrush and then complete our day visiting the parents' grave near Kilkee.

Then there are the Cillini; the unconsecrated burial grounds that primarily hold the remains of stillborn and unbaptised babies, and for those who are not allowed to be buried in consecrated churchyards; the mentally ill, suicides, beggars, executed prisoners, and shipwreck victims. These are dotted around the countryside and the stories they contain are heartbreaking. On the family farm, there is one such burial ground that contains the remains of three unbaptised babies, an uncle (died 1908, aged one day), an aunt (died 1911 aged one day), and a sister (died 1954, aged one day). This Cillin is also the resting place of the unclaimed victims of the Edmond, shipwrecked in 1850. Of the 99 victims of the shipwreck, we are not sure how many are buried here. There are other graves here too, including one that may date back to neolithic times; the local slate top is balanced upon four round stones.

Unfortunately, we will never know of others buried here as the Catholic Church disregarded them as unworthy of a burial in consecrated ground and there are no markers or headstones. This Cillin had once been split between two farms but is no longer divided. On September 5, 2018, we were able to have the family burial ground consecrated, so now all human remains here are now lying in hallowed ground. The Catholic Church may have placed cruel man-made sanctions upon innocent people, but as a family, we have been able to reverse them. I hope that more of the Cillini may be consecrated, therefore providing peace of mind to descendants across Ireland.

My brother-in-law and a local historian have recently done some investigations regarding the ancient remains of the wall of the graveyard. It appears that from the corner of the graveyard, looking north in a straight line, it connects directly with an ancient fort, then turning south the corner of the wall aligns directly with a standing stone in a field. The mere presence of a standing stone typically indicates that the area had once been inhabited by Neolithic people and it is perfectly feasible that this little graveyard may date from those times. To do more research would mean bringing in 21st century technology and a team of archaeologists. It's a peaceful place. Perhaps it is unnecessary to disturb this resting place for so many people.

Seeing the little graveyard today provides me with a sense of satisfaction that we were able to provide closure to the family. They are ageing and we need to be assured that the next generation knows something of the family history.

I have one day to explore by myself. As much as I love to travel alone, it’s been wonderful to spend a few days with the in-laws. But I also want to visit the Kilkee Cliffs, which are every bit as beautiful as the iconic Cliffs of Moher.

My days in rural Ireland are numbered and tomorrow I must leave early to see another historical site that I have not had the opportunity to visit until now. Perhaps I should look into how I can spend a few months here in the future - just to immerse myself into the past.

Title Quote: WB Yeats

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