Graveyards and Gravestone Inscriptions

Many, but by no means, all Presbyterian meeting houses have adjoining burial grounds. Few of the inscriptions in graveyards surrounding Presbyterian churches pre-date 1800 and in fact the practise of burying within the grounds of Presbyterian churches does not seem to have happened until the late eighteenth century. The burial ground attached to Castlereagh Presbyterian church is unusual in having several memorials dating from the late eighteenth century.

If looking for the burial places of Presbyterian ancestors prior to the nineteenth century, the most obvious place to check will be the old parish graveyard, probably dating from the medieval period, and which may or may not have a functioning Church of Ireland church within its bounds. Even after burial grounds began to be laid out around Presbyterian meeting houses, the practise of interment in these older graveyards continued for some families.

It was not until the second half of the nineteenth century that Presbyterians were legally entitled to open a burial ground that did not adjoin one of their own meeting houses. The background to the opening of Balmoral Cemetery in 1855 was an incident in which a Church of Ireland minister obstructed a funeral being conducted by two Presbyterian ministers. One of the ministers involved, Rev. Joseph Mackenzie, secured the ground for the cemetery, and remained its owner, though it was managed by a board of trustees. Though the cemetery was never exclusively Presbyterian, it was predominantly so and was the only burial place of its kind in nineteenth-century Ulster.

The inscriptions from many Presbyterian churchyards have been published in one form or another. The Ulster Historical Foundation has published the inscriptions from more than 50 Presbyterian churchyards in County Down as well as several more in County Antrim. A number of local historical societies have also been involved in transcribing and publishing gravestone inscriptions. Many inscriptions have been made available on the internet.