Kilkeedy Graveyard, Limerick, Ireland

Kilkeedy Graveyard near Clarina in county Limerick is home to two churches, one a medieval structure of which some features remain, and the second being a Church of Ireland church built in the 19th century using much of the underlying imprint of the earlier church. The antiquarian T. J. Westropp described how some of the earlier structure dates to the 12th century and a church is mentioned at this site in other historical documents such as visitations or taxes since 1201. The earlier structure appears to have been remodelled in the 15th century and is mentioned as having a thatch roof in 1615. Westropp also mentions the small building the north of the church as being a ‘priests dwelling’. The founder is most likely named Caeide/Caeide as this is mentioned in many documents including the Annals of the Four Masters in 1599. Some sources state the feast date of Caeide was the third of March while other sources state the church was in honour of St Simon and St Jude, feast day 28th of October. The latter day church is a classic Board of First Fruits structure built in 1813.

There is a tradition attached to Kilkeedy graveyard that is echoed in a few others in Ireland this being that on the way to a burial the coffin is laid on the wall outside the church and the mourners get on their knees and pray. There are two different reasons given for this, the latter and least probable was that Catholics had to get on their knees to ask for the right to be buried, the former reason given is it was a necessity of penal times. The following Dúchas entry by a teacher named Dáithí Ó Ceanntabhail from Croom in Limerick who wrote about this tradition in 1937, “There are some graveyards where the custom still obtains, of placing the coffin on the ground, or on specially erected slabs, outside the churchyard stile, and saying a decade of the rosary. The funeral procession kneeling about, before the coffin is taken into and borne around the graveyard to the grave. I have never seen it done, but it is still observed at Kilkeedy graveyard, Clarina parish, near Limerick city. The origin of the custom, according to our Sagart paroise, dates from the penal times and it recalls a method of evading a penal enactment against popish ceremonies within a graveyard on the occasion of a burial. When they could not pray at the burial proper, the people prayed, so to speak, in anticipation of it.
In the same way, says my same informant, the custom of using “blessed clay”, dates from the penal days. There was no priest present at the burial. He was on the run, but the people knew where to find him, and on the morning of the funeral, he blessed clay which was carried in a little linen or calico bag, and thrown into the grave, before the coffin was lowered. Some was also thrown on the coffin after it had been set down in the grave. I saw the “blessed clay” used when I was a boy“

A lighter story contained in the schools collection feels the appropriate way to finish this article, collected by Mrs B.Mulroy from a Mr W.Hartigan from nearby Clarina, “There is a grave-yard not far from my house and it is called Kilkeedy. There is a house beside it and the head of the house went out for sticks. He picked up a bone in a mistake and brought it in among the sticks and put it on the fire. The fire blazed up. After awhile a voice said “take back that bone and place it where you got it.””

Kilkeedy is a nice unusual site, with the mix of the latter day church and earlier structures and grave markings, all set in the shadow of the fantastic but quite ruinous Carrigogunnell Castle.

GPS: 52.63829, -8.73877

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