Introduction Interiors 1 Interiors 2 Churchyards Exteriors
Churchyard

Churchyards

"Old graveyards with a scatter of lichen-encrusted gravestones and trees standing to attention rank among the most evocative features of the Irish landscape" ... Sacred ground to be left in peace.

While few would disagree with this statement the maintenance of graveyards is a difficult issue and one to which there are no easy answers. Over the past decades job creation schemes tackled a number of graveyards and while several provide examples of good practice others destroyed both the history and the ambience. It demonstrates the necessity for advice, guidance and understanding of the site before work commences.

The care and conservation of graveyards require a number of complex issues to be addressed. They range from the maintenance of the graveyard as a tranquil public space for the living and a place of rest for the dead to the preservation of gravestones and memorials. Headstones resting at odd angles are part of the charm of an old graveyard though this can create safety issues. There is a balance to be found between retaining the historic character and imposing an over-regimented layout of straightened stones. Railings provide interesting examples of the local blacksmith's art but can be unsightly if damaged and create a safety hazard. In such circumstances an assessment needs to be made of the extent of the damage and the importance of the railings to the monument before action is taken.

Graveyards are of historic importance for a number of reasons

The clearance of vegetation in a heavily overgrown graveyard will disturb both the archaeology and the wildlife of the site. The undergrowth may conceal ruined buildings and other artefacts of local importance while the ivy covered walls may be the home of bats and owls. The clearing of vegetation should be undertaken with care and the burning of vegetation should take place away from the site. It is important to remember that pulling off ivy can destabilise structures, creating a dangerous structure and perhaps hastening its collapse. It is best to treat ivy by killing it and then, in order to lighten the load on the wall or structure, cut it back. After vegetation is cleared from a graveyard a plan should be put in place for its regular maintenance.

In The Care and Conservation of Graveyards published by The Heritage Service in 1995/7 there are some useful guidelines:

churchyard

DO

DO NOT

This article offers general guidance only; for specific advice contact a conservation architect or other relevant specialist.
© Ulster Historic Churches Trust 2004