Monuments and Tombstones

The places of burial used by the settlers in seventeenth-century Ulster encompassed a variety of sites. Generally the settlers showed no aversion to using existing burial grounds attached to parish churches, subsidiary chapels or dissolved monasteries and here the overwhelming majority of people were buried, regardless of background. Laying claim to an identifiable burial space was one of the most important ways of laying down roots in a new country and of signifying status.

Several dozen memorials survive from the first half of the seventeenth century in the six 'officially' planted counties. These range from recumbent slabs to monuments inside churches. The wording and symbolism of the surviving memorials can tell us much about the social and mental worlds of the settlers.

Many of the memorials display mortality symbolism, that is representations of a skull and crossbones, hourglass, coffin, bell and other devices on the memorials. A good example is the tombstone to Bishop William Bedell (d. 1642) at Kilmore, Co. Cavan.

Image: Bedell tombstone, Kilmore, Co. Cavan

William Bedell reduced

Further reading

Several studies have explored monuments and tombstones of the Plantation period. R.J. Hunter has explored the significance of a group of early memorials in ‘Style and form in gravestone and monumental sculpture in County Tyrone in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries’, in H.A. Jefferies and C. Dillon (eds), Tyrone: History and Society (Dublin, 2000). Funeral monuments within churches are considered in William Roulston, ‘Seventeenth-century church monuments in west Ulster’, Ulster Local Studies, vol. 19, no. 1 (1997).

The origins of mortality symbolism is looked at in Finbar McCormick, ‘The symbols of death and the tomb of John Forster in Tydavnet, Co. Monaghan’ Clogher Record, vol. 11, no. 2 (1983). Dr McCormick is also the author of ‘Reformation, privatisation and the rise of the Headstone’, in Audrey Horning et al. (eds), The Post-Medieval Archaeology of Ireland, 1550–1850 (2007).

Relevant essays by Harold Mytum include: ‘Scotland, Ireland and America: the construction of identities through mortuary monuments by Ulster Scots in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries’, in Nick Brannon and Audrey Horning (eds), Ireland and Britain in the Atlantic World (2009); and ‘Archaeological perspectives on external mortuary monuments of plantation Ireland’, in James Lyttleton and Colin Rynne (eds), Plantation Ireland: Settlement and Material Culture, c.1550–c.1700 (2009).