While bouncing around the internet looking for genealogy info, I stumbled upon the most amazing map of Ireland. It’s built on the Google engine and has overlays for maps from 1830 and 1900. You can move a slider to fade between the modern and historical maps.
After viewing the maps, I had a mystery on my hands, but first here’s a little history on the maps.
“Between 1829 and 1842 Ordnance Survey Ireland completed the first ever large-scale survey of an entire country. Acclaimed for their accuracy, these maps are regarded by cartographers as amongst the finest ever produced. As the national mapping archive service for Ireland, OSi has captured this and later mapping data in a digitised format. These maps are particularly relevant for genealogy or those with an interest in social history.”
In the image above on the left are the current homes of my two uncles. On the right is a home that once existed in that area around 1835. On a recent trip to Ireland, I mentioned the mystery house to my Uncle Frank who was raised on that land. He didn’t remember a house at the tip of that peninsula and wasn’t sure what the map represented. Out of curiosity, we put on our wellies and took a walk to find the foundation of the home.
I was very disappointed to see nothing more than an old overgrown pile of turf , but then Frank remembered that during the famine in the mid-1800s, the poor starving tenants often built thatched houses with walls make from dried turf bricks. (Turf is peat moss that many Irish dig up, dry out, and burn instead of wood for fuel.)
What we were seeing were the remnants of one of these homes.
Standing there in the brisk afternoon with the strong wind of the Atlantic at our backs, it was eerie to imagine a hungry family living on this point of land in a home built of nothing more than the dirt and grass that surrounded them more than 200 years ago.
In another example, I was exploring the area around Belmullet, the town where my family is from. Just north, in a village named Moyrahan, I spotted a Burial Ground. I was pretty sure there wasn’t a graveyard there, but when I checked the satellite image, there was certainly something in the middle of that field!
Could this plot of land be a Cillin Cemetery? While the Church has recently backed off this policy, until just a few decades ago an unbaptized child was not allowed to be buried in the consecrated ground of a cemetery. So what were the parents of a deceased newborn baby supposed to do? Often in the middle of the night, the parents would leave their cottage with a simple box containing the remains of the child. It would then be buried in the Cillin Cemetery and an unmarked stone placed on top, never to be mentioned again.
In 2011 when Jenna and I traveled back to Belmullet on a vacation, we were determined to see the Cillin Cemetery. Just a few minutes outside of town, my trusty iPhone guided us.
While we had both been to cemeteries before, nothing prepared us for the sadness we felt when we arrived at the raised plot of ground in the middle of a field. Measuring dozens of feet across, the hill was littered with hundreds of stones which had collected over several centuries. Beneath each lay a baby.
Afraid to walk on top in case we exposed something that would later provide fodder for nightmares, we circled the perimeter, took a few photos, paid our respects and left.
Share this story on Facebook.