Tramp the Dirt Down Hard, Ahoghill Church Yard Scandal


UPDATE – Thank you for your recent messages and photos.  As mentioned on the Contact page, I do not do private research (just do not have the time).  But occasionally I do take on some projects that tickle my fancy, and that I can ultimately publish on the website. I am currently working, when time allows, on two very interesting stories that have been sent to me.

There was a message this week from Toronto University, in Canada.  They are adding the Reverend Mark Bloxham research to their Romantic Irish poetry archives.  It’s nice to see that research come to fruition and the long dead preacher’s prose will now reach a wider audience.

If I may say, these are very stressful times in this world.   Please hold your loved ones, friends and neighbours close, regardless of any differences.  Big hugs, kindness, love and empathy are the order of the day. Life is too short. United we stand.  

Ok, on with the latest article.

Last month, after just a little digging, I encountered an interesting story, from a problem funeral in the old church yard at Ahoghill, in late December 1913.

Ahoghill Old Graveyard
Ahoghill Old Church Yard

Ahoghill Old GraveyardThe poor deceased lady’s coffin ended up only ten inches below the soil. 

This caused a scandal in the area, which subsequently went on to involve most of the prominent local folk. 

At a meeting of Ballymena Rural Council, on the 3rd January 1914, the Clerk read out a letter from the rector of Ahoghill, namely the Reverend W. H. A. Lee. The pastor didn’t mince his words, regarding the grave, and was happy to call a spade, a spade. This was a ‘very serious scandal’ (not to be confused with just a regular scandal). Writing from the warmth of the rectory, he says:

A Very Serious Scandal

The Rectory, Ahoghill, County Antrim.

Gentlemen, May I draw your attention to what I consider a very serious scandal in connection with the Old Church yard, in Ahoghill, which I believe is under your control. 

Last Monday afternoon (28th December 1913), it was my misfortune to have to  officiate at the funeral of a parishioner.

On arriving at the churchyard I was informed by the Sexton that he was unable to dig a deep grave, but to my surprise and horror, on arriving at the graveside, I found it was actually under two feet deep, and when the coffin was put in, there was only about ten inches between the top of the coffin and the surface of the ground.

Further, the grave was so close to the boundary wall that the foot of the coffin was less than 24 inches from it.

Now, if the graveyard was in the country, away from human habitation, it would be bad enough, but what are the facts?

The graveyard is surrounded on all sides by dwelling houses. About thirty feet from this grave, there is the National School, which is occupied by children, for about 5 bours a day, to say nothing of the Sunday school.

In front and separated only by a narrow road is the Royal Irish Constabulary barracks, fully occupied, and several small dwelling-houses, also fully occupied.

Ahoghill Old Graveyard

On the third side are several dwelling and business houses, fully occupied, whose yard walls form the graveyard boundary.

At the fourth side, right alongside the wall, at the foot of which this grave lies, is a workshop (occupied).

And here in this churchyard, lies a coffin, so situated and under your control, in which lies a human body, buried 10 inches down from the surface.

I spoke to several prominent residents of Ahoghill about the matter, and they all emphatically condemn the interment as unsanitary and scandalous.  I am informed this is not the first time that this has happened.  I have seen shallow graves in this yard before, but this is the limit, a perfect menace to the health of the community.

There are three Presbyterian and one Catholic and one Church of Ireland graveyards in Ahoghill. Surely these five, all sanitary, and fairly well kept, are enough to suffice for the district, and this old unsanitary place at once closed up.

The sentimental idea of people wanting to be buried near their fathers, ought not to be entertained for a moment in the 20th century.

I may say that the sexton is not to blame, as he cannot go deeper than the soil and previous interments permit.

Mr. Ervine, a respected member of your board, was present at the funeral, and can corroborate these statements.

I am, gentleman, yours faithfully, 

W. H. A. Lee (rector of Ahoghill)

Ahoghill Old Graveyard

No Stone Unturned

Mr Ervine, a member of the Burial Board Committee, after a pull on his pipe, said that he was indeed with the rector at the graveside, for the funeral, and fully endorsed every word of the rector’s letter.  But there was no clear solution. 

When someone argued about the right of the deceased to be buried there, Mr Ervine dug his heels in, claiming:

The deceased lady had a legitimate right of burial in this place, and it was her wish that she should get buried in the same grave with her mother.  The grave-digger went as far as he possibly could.  In fact he went on to the solid rock and it was impossible for him to go any further.

This particular corner of the graveyard had no vegetation, and thus no new earth was being made. Mr Ervine said that the local graveyards needed to be remapped, to see what was what.

Not to be out-dug, Mr Reilly, another heavily agitated local, had to get his spade’s worth in, claiming that he had been at burials in this churchyard where the coffin “was only about one to one and a half feet” below the soil.

Calm resumed somewhat, when it was determined that no-one at the meeting could out-do the original ten inches.

After some considerable discussion, and beard-scratching, the shallow but troubling issue was referred to a committee of councillors in the area, along with Doctor Love, JP, medical officer (and now apparently an unofficial sanitary expert).  They were asked to meet and furnish a report that would finally get to the bottom of the problem. 

In early April, the committee reported back. They had unearthed some potential solutions. 

They said that one-third of the graveyard, which was very shallow, and close to the rock, should either be filled up with fresh earth, or closed.

They also said that some 36 feet of the boundary wall, which was in a bad condition and dangerous, should be repaired.  The committee also recommended that gravestones that had fallen should be set up.

The graveyard was to be remapped within a month.

This article was written based on several articles that appeared in local media between January and April 1914.  I hit hard rock, while digging for the name of the poor, unfortunate, under-buried lady. Maybe just as well.

 

Trudger

"I have spread my dreams beneath your feet. Tread softly because you tread on my dreams."

8 thoughts on “Tramp the Dirt Down Hard, Ahoghill Church Yard Scandal

  1. Thank you for this really interesting article. What a dilemma for the then community. Is the site open for visitors or has it been shut down completely? It is so hard to get any information about who was buried there. I really enjoy your pages. Not coming from Ireland, I sometimes am not sure about the names of some of the places but I am putting it all together! Kind regards, Gwyneth Amphlett

    1. Gwyneth, thanks for the kind message.

      Yes, you can access that graveyard. There is a padlock on the gate. But there is a little sign on the gate saying the key is available from the local funeral director’s house, in the village square (some 200 meters away). You just collect it there, and take it back when done.

      It’s a fantastic area – there are two more churchyards further on up that street, a presbyterian and church of ireland. Around the corner in the village square is another massive presbyterian graveyard (which took ages to photograph)….and a another churchyard (brookside) on the far side of the village square. That’s five in total. No car needed. This area contains so much history in those old burial grounds.

      I might do an article sometime, showing via google maps, the location of all these places.

      All my best,

      Senor Trudger

      1. William, I will forward this to Jim Dempsey in Ahoghill.

        Some time ago he did a major clean up of the graveyard. I had suggested to him that he should subscribe to your site, not sure if he did or not. He is interested in local history. Although now living in Ahoghill, he was brought up in Knockloughrim. His father is originally from Tamlaght O’Crilly and his mother from Drumoolish, so he would relate well to your writings.

        Regards,

        Tommy

        1. Hello Tommy. Thanks for the message. I had a look through the subscribers and cannot see him.

          Yes, he would relate well. Knockloughrim was on our house’s postal address.

          You know, when I think of these local names, my mind is taken back to thoughts and memories of my childhood and growing up. A time when life was much simpler and slower.

          Stay safe Tommy. All my best.

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