Written by William Stites on June 1st, 2009

“A million a decade! – Of human wrecks corpses lying in fever sheds- corpses huddled on foundering decks, and shroudless dead on their rocky beds; nerve and muscle, and heart and brain, lost to Ireland – lost in vain.”

Inscribed in one of the entrance columns to Skibbereen Cemetery, this quote refers to the more than 9,000 famine victims buried in a plot that is not even half the size of a football field. This dehumanization commands the attention of us visitors, not only in it’s simplicity (a plot of grass), but also in it’s mystique, as we are forced to comprehend such loss. Remote and hidden, the cemetery is located on the side of a highway; not exactly a prime location to recognize one of the most important events in all of Irish history. It is evident that the people of this area do not wish to flaunt and expose what was such a painful part of their lives. In fact, until recently, the town chose to leave the site unmarked. However, upon our arrival this year, we were promptly greeted by a series of commemorative plaques and newly restored, or replaced, tomb stones.

While the cemetery serves as a mass grave for the lives that were lost during the famine, it previously served as, and is still serving as, a working cemetery. Over the years, family of famine victims who were buried in Skibbereen have been lain beside their loved ones as recently as 2009. We actually stumbled upon a hand made tombstone of a thirteen year old boy named PJ. It is made of concrete with beads embedded in the borders, and a decorative cross which was probably a family talisman, on the top. The script is clearly handwritten. Next to to it is a much more elegant and recent tombstone, which was obviously manufactured, and is black with printed white writing. This one recognizes the boy again and his family who died later. Both tombstones are surrounded by a curb that match the new tombstone.

Another tombstone that we noticed was one that covered three generations of a family, including six infant children. We also saw a memorial for Archbishop Dennis E. Hurley, whose parents lived in Skibbereen. The plaque on the memorial commemorated him for his promotion of justice and freedom and the abolition of apartheid in South Africa. Of course Skibbereen also meets the expectations of any normal cemetery; there are great amounts of holy water, flowers, crosses, pictures and cards.

Ultimately, the group is now able to put the famine into a better perspective. Standing before such sublimity made us realize that our friends and family could have been amongst those 9,000 unfortunate souls, and for most of the people in Ireland, they are.

Written by Group B – Shannon, Mike, Danielle, Jenny, Miriam, Chris & Dan


1 Comments so far ↓

  1. Kaan says:

    It is scary to think that such death occured. All of the death and graves are horrific enough as is but then you take into account how they were “disposed” of. It almost doesn’t seem like a graveyard but rather a grave pit.

    One fact that truly surprised me was that the cemetary is still being used to this very day. Thinking about it though, it is clear how someone would want to be buried next to their relative who passed in the famine.

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