The Graveyard Enquiry
The Kilkenny Journal edition of Dec 7th 1907 reported on a sworn inquiry ordered by the Local Government Board and held in the Council Chambers by the Surgeon Colonel Edgar Flinn to inquire into the condition of the City Graveyards within the Borough of Kilkenny. The Inspector stated that all present were aware he had been directed to hold an inquiry into the condition of the following graveyards, St Marys, Patricks, Rioches, Mauls, Canices, Johns (Roman Catholic and Protestant.) What led up to the inquiry was some months ago, Dean Day of Ossory addressed a letter to the Local Government Board stating it would be desirable if some steps were taken for the closure of the burial grounds in St Marys. It had been used for centuries and in consequence was overcrowded and having regard to the fact it was situated in the City centre, he considered that for the protection of public health and maintenance of public decency and prevention of violation of respect due to the remains of people buried there that such a burial ground be closed to future interments.
Dr. C. E. James, Consulting Officer of the Health Board read a report on the condition of the graveyard in which he stated it was overcrowded and a constant menace to the public health and it was impossible to make an interment without disturbing human remains, and for these reasons he considered that it should be wholly discontinued.
Dr. T.K. Buggy, Senior Sanitary Officer, read a report which in the opinion of the Medical Officers all Graveyards in the Borough should be closed. From this the Inspector concluded, graveyards were in a very bad state of overcrowding. He went on to say he would take evidence from any witnesses present and from persons wishing to make claims for reservations rights for burial in these grounds. Mr M. J. Buggy solr to the Corporation asked if claims would be heard that day or on subsequent dates. There were a good many people in Kilkenny who had claims, St Patricks was a disgrace to the City , St Mauls was formerly the burial ground for the workhouse. The Corporation had no power to close a graveyard it was simply the Sanitary Board. The Inspector enquired if there was no public burial ground in Kilkenny, to which Mr Buggy replied, no there was a new burial ground made some years ago about one and half miles from the City in St Patricks parish and is a Catholic burial ground.
The Kilkenny Moderator for Dec 1907, also reported on the inquiry and stated Dr Dean Day was called as a witness, he spoke of St Marys as having been used for centuries as a burial ground, he called for a new cemetery be provided. The surface of the ground was on a level with the roofs of houses in King St.(Kieran St.)and considered it injurious to the health of the people living there. Some time ago the wall fell into these yards and with it some earth which contained human remains, it was a very unpleasant sight. He had officiated at burials in the past year and when the graves were being prepared human remains were disturbed. He was of the opinion it should be closed with reservations. Mr Buggy (solr) stated in 1876 it was recommended St Mauls be closed, St Patricks and Marys were extremely overcrowded. In St Patricks there was hardly covering for a coffin where the poorer classes were buried. He recommended a new cemetery be provided one and half miles from the City centre.
Doctors C E James and J B Hackett were called as witnesses and stated remains were always disturbed and were of the opinion the graveyards should be closed. Mr P O Grady, Sanitary Officer for Kilkenny said he had good knowledge of the graveyards in Kilkenny and recommended that St Mauls, Patricks and St Marys be vested in the Corporation. He heard reports of coffins been removed to make room, complaints of an odour from St Johns and Rioches where a water spring had caused a coffin to rise whilst a grave was been dug.
The inquiry was then postponed for two weeks to give people an opportunity to make claims or reservations.
18th Dec 1907 The Kilkenny Journal reported the Board of Inquiry had sat to hear claims of persons seeking to establish vested rights to Burial. For St Johns 193, St Patricks 170, St Rioches 72, St Mauls 18, St Canices 56, St Marys 19, St Johns 9 (Protestant) Claims were heard in respect of St Marys and Mauls.
The Kilkenny Journal Dec 21st 1907 stated over 700 claims were heard in the two previous weeks, it was reported The Corporation would not oppose any reasonable claims and in 1903 / 1904 control of St Patricks and Mauls was handed to the Corporation. Up to that time no restrictions, people could be buried anytime anywhere.
St Johns had a clerk who supervised, St Canice’s a caretaker as had St Johns (Protestant) and St Marys. Rev Strong officiated at burials in John St. and saw remains disturbed, he also mentioned dwelling houses nearby, people complained of the odour. In his opinion it was densely crowded and no virgin soil left, and near the main street J A McCreery of John St. considered all graveyards were overcrowded, should be closed and a Public Cemetery provided a convenient distance from the City. A water pump near the Town Hall and a graveyard close by was commented on.
Jim Farrell a grave digger gave his address as Kilkenny when asked for more details he said he was a frequenter of lodging houses, claimed to have dug thousands of graves, often threw up bones, skulls and AULD ONES meaning recently deceased. Broke up coffins to make room in St Patricks and St Marys leaving bones over ground, when asked if he considered this dangerous and a cause of sickness, he replied whiskey is the cure.
The Kilkenny Moderator for Dec 21st 1907 also carried a report on the inquiry, the clerk for St Johns said he was present at burials for over twenty years where he saw skulls and bones been thrown up, witnessed in St Patricks two coffins been taken up to make room. Rev. Mervyn Clare said he had seen two graves opened in St Canices and three skulls raised. It was essential for the health of the people to close graveyards. Rev Canon Doyle P.P. St Canices said in spite of the condition of the graveyards all should be given an opportunity to make their claims. B Grace of Walkin St. was claiming for her husband, are you anxious to leave him the Inspector asked She replied I would not leave him for the world M Neill of Jacob St was making an application for his mother, asked if he was not claiming for himself, “the goal yard will do me, many a good man is buried in the Goal Yard”.
P O Brien of Poyntz Lane claimed for himself and his wife, “my children will be under the Stars and Stripes no trouble to this Country, good bye now Sir glad to meet you all so well”.
January 18th 1908 Ald James Nowlan at a Corporation meeting proposed a new Cemetery be provided but later withdrew pending the outcome of the inquiry. Resumption of the Inquiry took place in late February, only a dozen claimants present, remaining heard for St Mary’s Mauls and St Johns(Protestant). Again stated the Corporation would not oppose claims even though all were overcrowded.
Kilkenny Journal Feb. 26th 1908 Over 200 claims heard through the day for St Patricks W K Cleere claimed for his sisters even though the graveyard was overcrowded. An old man by the name of J Corcoran said he was 40 years of age, but asked further are you 70 he replied I am and more, married 15 years and claiming for my wife, when asked for her name I don’t know, I never asked her. The Chairman asked is it possible you are married 15 years and you don’t know her name, I don‘t mind her at all, I’m the right sort of fellow, the Chairman responded – you may go.
The inquiry continued for some further months, but no firm decision was made despite the condition of the grave yards. The need for a new public cemetery was first mooted by the Corporation members as far back as 1875, St Kierans Cemetery was consecrated on June 27th 1931. There may exist differences of opinion about the location of the new Cemetery, the Kilkenny People opined in its report on the proceedings but there can be none about the suitability of the site for the purpose. It is about 13 acres in extent completely surrounded by a concrete wall, the entrance being an attractive feature. The gates and railings were the work of Messrs EJ Delahunty and Sons of High Street.