Kilwarlin Moravian Church Graveyard

By Andrew Vaughan

You never know what you'll find in a graveyard! Kilwarlin Moravian Church, situated 4km south west of Hillsborough, has an interesting landmark in its church grounds. The graveyard is laid out in the shape of the Greek Battle of Thermopylae in 480BC.

Today few people have heard of the Moravian Church. A small protestant denomination (only 714 adherents, according to the 1991 Northern Ireland Census), which dates back to the 14th Century, it originated in Moravia and Bohemia what is now the Czech Republic. The Czech reformer and martyr John Hus was burned at the stake as a heretic on July 6th, 1415 and 42 years later in 1457 a small group of his followers formed their own church, giving themselves the Latin name "Unitas Fratrum" which in English means "Unity of Brethren". This happened about 60 years before Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the church door in Wittenburg in 1517, and 100 years before the formation of the Church of England. At first they were badly persecuted, but in spite of this opposition the Church began to prosper and increased in numbers and influence. It produced the first Protestant Hymn book in Prague in 1501, and the Kralitz Bible in 1579, which was translated into Czech from the original Hebrew and Greek. They also founded many schools and colleges.

During the religious wars of the 17th Century the Unitas Fratrum was again persecuted and its followers killed, their services forbidden and its Churches destroyed. Fleeing this persecution they found refuge on the estate of a German nobleman, Count Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf. In 1727, the Church was re-born and from this the first overseas Missionaries were sent out.


Moravians in Ireland

John Cennick, a Moravian Minister from England, was invited to Ireland on an evangelical mission. He arrived in Dublin in 1746 where thousands of people frequently assembled to hear him preach. He opened the first Moravian church in Dublin in 1747. He was also invited to preach in Ballymena, but was so severely opposed that he nearly lost his life on a number of occasions. Over the next few years Cennick founded religious centres in all of the Ulster counties except for Londonderry. Eventually from these Societies, Churches were formed at Lower Ballinderry, Kilwarlin, Gracefield near Magherafelt, Glenavy, Ballymena, Gloonen, Grogan, Doagh, Gracehill near Ballymena and in Co. Armagh, three chapels were built. N.B. There are also two churches now in Belfast, University Street and Cliftonville, with only the congregations at Belfast, Ballinderry, Kilwarlin and Gracehill still surviving in Northern Ireland today.

Cennick founded the church at Kilwarlin, in 1755 and today you can stand under “Cennick’s Tree” in the graveyard.

John Cennick
Tree with the memorial

Tree with the memorial



Education was an important part of Moravian life and in 1798 a girls’ school was built at Gracehill and then in 1805 a boys’ school followed. The schools quickly became recognised as some of the best in Ireland. “In Ireland the schools at Gracehill were famous. The pupils came from the highest ranks of society. At one time it used to be said that the mere fact that a boy or girl had been educated at Gracehill was a passport to the best society.” Hutton, J.E. (1905).

Four years later a small plot of land was bought adjacent to the Church to serve as a graveyard. During the early years of the Church’s existence it had about 80 members and its own Minister. But by 1813 numbers had declined and by 1834 the church was in ruins, the manse was uninhabitable and the grounds were like a wilderness. The congregation now numbered just six elderly people.

Moravian Chapels reduced1
Moravian Chapels 2reduced

Moravian Chapels

“Kilwarlin Moravian chapel is situated in the townland of Corcreeny, on the side of a by-road. [In 1575 Kilwarlin was a large district and in 1641 it was in the possession of Rory Magennis.] It is a neat, slated and stone building, roughcast and whitewashed. It is 41 feet long and 26 feet broad in the inside. The walls are 2 feet thick. The entrance is at the west end by a passage 3 feet 6 inches wide and 13 feet long, on each side of which is a small vestry over which is a gallery looking into the body of the chapel. The pulpit is very neat. There are no pews but forms for the accommodation of 150 persons, including the gallery. The chapel was rebuilt in 1834 at the expense of the present clergyman. The old chapel was built in 1755 and was in a very ruinous state when he came there, and was seldom used except as a schoolhouse.”

“Kilwarlin schoolhouse, situated near the Moravian chapel in Corcreeny townland, is a neat, brick building, corniced with freestone. It consists of 1-storey and is slated. It is 26 feet long and 22 feet broad and was built in 1834 and cost 60 pounds, which sum was defrayed by the Marquis of Downshire. Previous to the erection of the building, the school was held in the old Moravian chapel.”

Ordnance Survey Memoir by J. R. Ward, T. C. McIlroy and J. C. Innes, (July 1837).

'Zula' the Greek

Basil Patras Zula was born in Greece, to a clan chieftain, in 1796 during the war of independence against the Turks. He was just five when his father died and at the age of eleven Zula was faced with the choice of either taking over as the clan chieftain or abdicating from his position. Courageously he took over the chieftainship and by doing so the Turks immediately put a price on his head. Zula fled to Italy for refuge. He returned to Greece in 1822 during the siege of Missolonghi and he was one of the few defenders who managed to break through the Turkish lines and escape, although he was wounded in the process. Appalled by the war, Zula left and journeyed to Smyrna in Asia Minor, where he met an English Nobleman, Sir William Eden who became his travelling companion. They journeyed through Europe and England finally ending up in Dublin in early 1828. While staying in Dublin at the Bilton hotel on Sackville Street, Zula met Anne Linfoot, a local schoolteacher and Moravian. Together they attended services in the Bishop Street church in Dublin and as a result he became interested in the history and work of the Moravian church. This interest grew and eventually led him to train as a Minister at the Moravian Settlement at Gracehill. On completion of his training he returned to Dublin, and on Easter Monday, 1829 he married Anne Linfoot.

He preached his first sermon in the old Church on the 14th September 1834. Finding it in a neglected and run-down condition, Zula immediately persuaded the Marquis of Downshire not to take the lease away N.B. A copy of the letter is reproduced below.

A few weeks later Zula started demolishing the old church and erecting the present church building and the manse. The new church building was opened in March 1835 and twenty-six new members were added. He also built a small day school at the entrance to the grounds. It was in January 1837 that Zula was ordained Minister in full charge of Kilwarlin. His energy had increased the congregation from 6 to 129.

Zula the Greek
Kilwarlin Mound

It was in 1841 that Zula created his masterpiece at Kilwarlin, a reconstruction of the Greek battle of Thermopylae. In 480 B.C. 300 Spartan soldiers under the command of King Leonidas held up the full might of 6,000 Persian soldiers, invading from the north to attack Athens. The battle ended when a Greek traitor revealed the secret pass of Thermopolae to the Persians. This allowed the Persians to outflank and attack Leonidas and his men from the rear and annihilate them, but not before the spartans inflicted heavy casualties on the enemy. Even though the Spartans were defeated at Thermopolae, they had held up the invading army long enough for reinforcements to arrive in Athens and ultimately save the city.

The large hill represents Mount Callidromos with the grassy slope intended to be the Callidromon mountain range. The ornamental pond represents the Aegean Sea and the smaller hill is intended to be Mount Oeta. Between these hills is a narrow channel that represents the secret pass of Thermopolae. Also there were twenty-four flowerbeds constructed in the church grounds, each in the shape of a letter of the Greek alphabet. Now only two remain – Alpha and Omega – marking the beginning and ending of the original circle of twenty-four. It has been suggested that Zula created this to remind himself of his homeland, as he never returned to Greece.

Kilwarlin mound 2
Kilwarlin Mound 3

Even when Zula was safely exiled in Ireland he could not forget the atrocities of the Turks on his people or the price that had been placed on his head. When the manse was rebuilt, he fitted every downstairs room with two doorways, he also had two separate staircases, and he even built a small room on “stilts” at the back of the manse with a trap door leading to a hiding place under the floor. Thankfully, he never needed to use any of his escape routes, for he died naturally in Dublin on October 4th 1844. He is buried in the small graveyard at the Kilwarlin church. His widow, Anne, continued to live in the manse and using the money from her husbands estate she built an additional wing onto the manse. In it she ran a “Boarding School for Select Young Ladies” up until she died on January 26th 1858 and is buried next to her husband.

[Cracked but complete] Basil Patras Zula, 
 Moravian Minister, a native of Greece, 
 departed this life Octr 4th 1844 aged 48 years.

[Cracked but complete] Basil Patras Zula,

Moravian Minister, a native of Greece,

departed this life Octr 4th 1844 aged 48 years.

Anne Zula [nee Linfoot], born in Dublin, August 31st 1794,
departed this life Jany 26th 1858 aged 63 years.

Anne Zula [nee Linfoot], born in Dublin, August 31st 1794,

departed this life Jany 26th 1858 aged 63 years.

Letter to Mr Parry, May 1838

Letter to Mr Parry, May 1838

The Seal of Rev Basil Patras Zula, May 9th 1838, on the above letter to Mr Parry.

The Seal of Rev Basil Patras Zula, May 9th 1838, on the above letter to Mr Parry.

Letter from Rev Zula to the Marquis of Downshire, requesting an extension of the lease, December 26th
1837 (1)

Letter from Rev Zula to the Marquis of Downshire, requesting an extension of the lease, December 26th 1837 (1)

Letter from Rev Zula to the Marquis of Downshire, requesting an extension of the lease, December 26th 1837 (2)

Letter from Rev Zula to the Marquis of Downshire, requesting an extension of the lease, December 26th 1837 (2)

Graveyard study

The graveyard at Kilwarlin is situated to the rear of the Chapel; it is a large flat grassy area with a number of trees growing between the gravestones. There are 8 plots; some do not contain any visible gravestones.

resently there are a total of 75 gravestones visible in the graveyard, 36 are pre-1900 and 39 that are post-1900, though there are probably many more memorials that have been covered by earth. The earliest inscription recorded is that of Jane McLeavy, who died on the 11th August 1839, even though Cennick opened the graveyard in 1759. One stone is just visible at the corner with the majority buried beneath the earth. From the 75 visible gravestones there are 114 individuals names mentioned in the inscriptions. Unfortunately 5 inscriptions have now completely worn away; fortunately they were previously recorded. This highlights the importance of transcribing the gravestone inscriptions and thus preserving them for future generations.


The graveyards most interesting feature is the fact that all the gravestones are laid horizontally rather than the normal upright “headstone”. This is to show uniformity in death, that everyone is equal in death. It is tradition that Moravian gravestones only have: name, date of birth, date of death and/or age at death, no titles are recorded, again to show that everyone is equal.

Graph 1

The Purple line in the graph above shows the dates of death recorded. The first headstones appear in the 1831-1850 period, rising to 8 memorials, which would coincide with the arrival of the Rev Zula in 1834. There is a slight decline during the next 20 years, dropping to 5, but rising again to peak at 12 in the 1891-1900 period. Numbers rise to 8 in 1931-1940 and again 1971-1980. 1941 to 1960 sees numbers drop to 3. After 1991 numbers have declined.

The Blue line shows the years of birth calculated from the inscriptions. The church started in 1755 and the earliest recorded birth from the inscriptions is that of Mary Titterington, who was born in 1767. Numbers from 1921 on are low averaging about 1 every decade mainly because individuals born in the 1930’s or after are likely to still be alive.

Conclusions that can be drawn from this graph are that many of the pre-1821 gravestones are now completely covered, giving the false impression that the first burial is in 1837. There is a visible decline in births which would correspond with the decline mentioned in the Church account in 1813, but there are two larger declines, in 1861 and 1901. The most interesting aspect of the graph is the noticeable peak of births and deaths in the 1891-1900 period, an epidemic could explain the large number of deaths, although no evidence has been found for this, it also would not explain the large number of births.


Key Surnames

From the surname table to the left, you can see the distribution of the primary surnames recorded throughout the graveyard*. There are 28 individual primary surnames recorded in the cemetery, the top 6 most common (those highlighted red) make up for 52% of the names recorded, showing the high concentration of those families in the Kilwarlin area. The remaining 22 surnames recorded only make up 48% of the total.

The most common surname in the graveyard is Scandrett, which is recorded on 11 separate headstones; this does not include the variation, Scandrett-Blythe. Scandrett is normally an extremely uncommon name and it is interesting to see a large concentration in the cemetery and that area of County Down. This surname is found in the West of England.

English Surnames are prevalent in the cemetery, with the names, Bell, Benson, Black, Blandford [var. Blanford], Blythe, Eadham, Green, Law, Moxon, Titterington, Walker and Walsh. Out of the 28 Surnames recorded in the Graveyard, 15 could be classed as predominantly English names. There are 2 extremely unusual surnames to be found, Pasche possibly German or French, and one from Greek origin, Zula. You can also see the high number of English surnames of the Ministers of the Church 1834-1921, in the relevant table below.

There are also at least 5 accounts of inter-marriage between the members of the congregation, which would be common in a small close-knit community. Bell – Law, Walsh – Green, McLeavy – Scandrett, Titterington – Bell and Walker – Titterington marriages. There is evidence in some marriage registers of inter-marriage between the other Moravian churches, mainly, University Street, Belfast; Gracehill and Newry Churches.

* Distribution for Primary Surnames recorded in the Graveyard, other names that are recorded on the gravestones are not included in the figures.


In the pie chart to the right you will see the high proportion of women that are buried in Kilwarlin graveyard. Almost two thirds of the graves, 62% are for women. This is an unusually high imbalance as the gender split would normally be between 50% and 53% in favour of women. This is probably due to the men of the congregation having to move away from the area in search of work.

The graph below represents the age at death. The highest death rate is recorded within the age ranges 0-2 and 81+. This peak in the number of deaths between 0-2 shows the high infant mortality, which affected the Kilwarlin congregation. The 12 references to infant deaths are marked with a † symbol. There are a number of graves that have 2 infants buried in them; Anne Georgina & Samuel John Bell; Alice Jane Scandrett McLeavy & Thomas James McLeavy; 2 unnamed infants in the grave of Alexander Titterington and Thomas & Lilian Jemima Walker. The numbers of death remains quite low between the ages of 3-15, but with a sudden rise in the number of deaths in the 16-20 age range. Incidences of death drop in the early twenties when people would be considered to be stronger and fitter. Numbers remains steady, until it again rises in the late 50’s age range. The number of deaths peaks once more in the 81+ age range undoubtedly due to old age. The oldest person buried in the graveyard is Edward James Law who died aged 89.

Age at death

Notable Names and Families in Graveyard


  • Hutton, J.E. (1909) A History of the Moravian Church (Second Edition, Revised and Enlarged) Moravian Publication Office: London.
  • Eds. Day, Angelique; McWilliams, Patrick. (1992) Ordnance Survey Memoirs of Ireland, Parishes of County Down III, 1833-8, Volume 12. P.95, P.102. Institute for Irish Studies: Belfast.
  • Ulster History Circle (2002) Joseph William Carey,
  • Foy, J. H. (circa. 1987) Kilwarlin Moravian Church – A Visitor’s Guide, Kilwarlin Moravian Church: Hillsborough.
  • Kilwarlin Moravian Baptisms, Burials, Marriages, & Diaries, PRONI Ref. MIC/1F/2
  • Letter to Mr Parry, PRONI Ref. D/671/C/133/3
  • Letter to the Marquis of Downshire, PRONI Ref. D/671/C/133/1


With thanks to Rev Kathryn Woolford, Minister of Kilwarlin Moravian Church and Lorraine Parsons, Archivist at the Moravian Church Headquarters in London.

  • Picture of John Cennick from Kilwarlin Moravian Church - A Visitor’s Guide, Bishop J. H. Foy.
  • Picture of Rev Basil Zula from Kilwarlin Moravian Church – A Visitor’s Guide, Bishop J. H. Foy.

All other images by Andrew Vaughan.