Kilranelagh Graveyard, Wicklow, Ireland

Kilranelagh Graveyard, situated on a hill looking towards the Blackstairs Mountains, is rumoured to be the second oldest graveyard in Ireland. There is evidence of pre-Christian burial at this site, and there is a ruined prehistoric tomb that became the focus for local custom. The two remaining orthostats of this tomb and a sillstone formed a ‘gate’ known as the ‘Gates of Heaven’. It was local custom to carry the coffin between these two portal stones before being interred in the cemetery, passing the deceased through this gate insured that they would go straight to heaven. It is also thought that Aedh Ainmire, a 6th century High King was buried at Kilranelagh after losing the Battle of Dún Bolg in the Bórama saga.

The antiquity and peaceful nature of Kilranelagh is palpable, the cemetery includes the foundations of a church and it appears other outbuildings. St Brigid’s Holy Well also stands in one corner of the graveyard. Kilranelagh is the final resting place of the Irish Patriot Sam Mac Alastair who gave his life trying to defend Michael Dwyer, a hero of the 1798 rebellion. Dwyer led a guerrilla warfare campaign in the Wicklow Mountains until December 1803, and after Robert Emmet’s rebellion in Dublin failed, Dwyer and his group of thirty men represented the only rebels still fighting in Ireland. Dwyers campaign was so successful that the British built the Military Road from Dublin to the Glen of Imaal, a distance of 35 miles, in order to capture Dwyer.

On the night of the 15th of February 1799 an informer told the English where Dwyer and a party of eleven men were hiding in three houses in Doirenamuc. The houses were quickly surrounded by 100 troops and rebels in two of the houses were captured and later executed. Four rebels remained in what is now known as Dwyer-Mac Alastair Cottage. The thatched roof was set on fire by British troops and two of the rebels were killed by gunfire, this left just Dwyer and Mac Alastair uncaptured. Mac Alastair had already been wounded but bravely drew fire from the enemy and was killed in the process, however this left time for Dwyer to escape while the British reloaded. Dwyer spent the next three years on the run living in caves, safe houses and disused mines. Mac Alastairs grave is surrounded by a metal fence with Pikeheads at each corner, a symbol of the 1798 rebellion. The final picture I have included is of unusual markings on Keadeen Mountain near Kilranelagh graveyard, local folk history from the 18th century said that these figures represented Fionn MacCumhaill and his wife Sadhbh, who every morning came down to bathe in the stream below and cook breakfast at Boleycarrigeen Stone Circle.

Kilranelagh is a beautiful and peaceful place, one word of warning though, the final 200 metres of road that leads up to the Graveyard is fairly difficult to attack in a low-profile car, so I’d recommend perhaps walking the last 200 metres from the main road.

GPS: 52.94517, -6.63208

5 thoughts on “Kilranelagh Graveyard, Wicklow, Ireland

  1. Thank you so much for this post. Kilranelagh is one of my favourite places on earth. The custom in the old days was for those burying a child to leave a cup in the niche round St Brigid’s Well so the newcomer could offer a drink to those already there. This whole area has a palpable sense of spiritual and social importance, from the recently discovered cursus and stone circle on nearby Keadeen Mountain, to the massive Spinans hillfort, (probably Dun Bolg of the stories), beautiful Boleycarrigeen Circle on the other side of Kilranelagh Hill, and St Brigid’s Headstone and Seat at Cloghnagaune, still places of pilgrimage for those who suffer from headaches or back pain.

    • Esther thanks for all that extra info. I assumed you’re a local. Indeed there is a palpable sense of spiritual importance to the whole area surround Keadeen. I must try make it Spinans Hillfort, have been at Boleycarrigeen before, its covered on this site 🙂

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