Stories from the Grave
There is something macabre in stories of graves and graveyards.
Death customs such as stopping the clocks and covering up the mirrors when someone dies in the house; also the placing of a dish of salt in the proximity of the dead. All these things and the carrying out of the corpse feet first and the taking of the most circuitous route to the graveyard are still in existence in Ulster, but the tendency is towards the obliteration of these old customs.
MARGARET’S GRAVE lies on a roadside a mile from Moneymore on the road to Magherafelt. One morning around 1850 Margaret Osborne of Coolshinny was found hanged in her barn on her farm. Suicide was the verdict.
The usual gossip fluttered around but the burial of suicide was a matter of immediate practical concern and set for friends and relations a problem. In those days Margaret’s body couldn’t be buried in the sacred ground so at a crossroads near her home, she was first buried but there was such an objection that her coffin had to be disinterred. The body was then buried quietly in the darkness of night in Desertlyn Graveyard, but once the local parishioners heard about, Margaret’s friend was forced to exhume her body again and for days it lay unburied by the roadside.
The tragic problem seemed as far from a solution as ever. It was then that the local landlord intervened. In the townlands of Coolshinny at a spot now known as Margaret’s Grave, he had the hapless suicide buried. A pile of stones was placed on top of her coffin and tragic Margaret Osborne, at last, found rest for her bones.
In the old graveyard of St.Lurach’s, Maghera, County Derry – there is a weather-worn tombstone that reads ‘The Burying place of William Cuddy.’ It’s entirely misleading; William Cuddy is not buried there. The inscription deliberately deceives the stranger, but not South Derry men. The know that Maghers insurgent sailed over the seas and that in a hallowed grave far away from his home his mortal remains lie at rest.
A United Irishman of 1798, he was one of the most prized prisoners after the glorious defeat. No time was lost in pronouncing his doom and the gallows were quickly erected. But the life of William Cuddy was not to be thus ended. Before he was half-hanged the people crowded around the gallows and cut him down and under the eyes of the soldiers, they carried his body to a safe house. There they revived him and hid him until a ship could be found to take him out of the country.
Meanwhile, to quell the suspicions of the military, a coffin was procured and the ‘sorrowful mourners’ escorted it to burial. At St.Lurach’s’ church all rites were performed and the grave was filled in. The ‘mourners’ returned to their homes and the English garrison rejoiced that another rebel had been laid low.
So indeed it had seemed, but before many days had elapsed the Maghera hero was on his way to America having ‘robbed his own grave’ as he used to tell for many a year afterward.
In St.Joseph’s cemetery in Cork, not far from the entrance gate, is a headstone that commemorates a tragic love story. In the early years of the 19th century, this was a public bar known as the Botanic Gardens.
Every Sunday, Thomas Hart, a Captain in the 94th Regiment stationed at Victoria [now Collins] Barracks. , went there with Laura. They always sat in their favourite spot and it was there that he proposed marriage to her.
They got married shortly afterward but she died of consumption at the early age of 21, Before she died Fr.Theobald Matthew, the famous apostle of Temperance, raised the necessary funds to buy the Botanical Gardens for use as a cemetery.
On her deathbed, Laura asked her devoted husband for a special favour. She asked to be interred in the exact spot where they had enjoyed so many happy hours and she was buried there on the 18th December 1834.
It is still possible to read the faded inscription;
‘In memory of Laura Francis, beloved wife of Thomas Frederick Hart, died age 21’.
It is on record that three clergymen have been buried not once but three times on the grounds of Carnmoney Presbyterian Church. They lay undisturbed in railed graves. Side by side until the kirk decided to build a new hall and had to move them to fresh graves. About 10 years on they had to be reburied elsewhere in the churchyard when another place of worship was being built.
In Craig’s Parish Churchyard, two miles from the village of Cullybackey, there’s a reminder of a time when people did not have it so good. An inscription on a bronze plate on a cross tells the story: This is the ‘STRANGER’S PLOT’, the resting place of more than 239 poor persons buried by the Parish between 1840 and 1940. Some were victims of the Irish famine of 1840, some were unknown.
A story concerns the impious and brazen opening of the interred coffin of Father John Cassidy in 1810 at Aughnahoy, near Ahoghill in County Antrim. If one of the most gruesome and criminal, it is surely one of the most revealing records in Monsignor O’Laverty’s monumental work ‘Diocese of Down and Connor’.
On the second night after Fr.Cassidy’s burial, a number of Orangemen disinterred his remains. While they were at their devilish work, they were disturbed, and made a run for it, leaving the exposed corpse at the side of the grave.
Upon examination of the corpse by the faithful the only thing that seemed to be missing was one of the dead priest’s black stockings. The explanation for this, seemingly back then it was believed that every priest was possessed of a ‘Black Art’ by reason of his ordination and the stockings he wore on that day were to be part of the clothing for the grave. If however, anyone could secure them and wear them, the powers that they gave would be transferred.
The perpetrators of this ghastly act escaped punishment from the law, but every one of then [they were locally known] came to a miserable end.
There is a story told in Lurgan, about an 18th-century surgeon’s wife who it’s claimed lived once, but amazingly was buried twice. Her name was Marjorie McColl, whose epitaph in Shankill Graveyard there tells of this claim.
Seemingly after Marjorie’s passing, during the night after the burial grave robbers dug the body up because the corpse was buried wearing a valuable ring. No matter how they tried, they couldn’t remove it, so they decided to cut the finger off, but once they pierced her finger, she suddenly screamed, roused by the pain. The robbers fled, as Marjorie had been merely in a coma. She got up and with a great effort, she made her way back to her old family home.
She knocked at her husband’s door and when he saw his ‘late wife ‘ standing there, the poor man fainted and was never the same again and he died soon after ‘the resurrection’. Our story has a final twist for Marjorie went on to have several children with her new husband.
A similar story is told about an unnamed woman who also was buried twice in Urney graveyard in Southern Armagh.
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