Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Tombstone Tuesday: The Admiral and the Death Coach

In Mount Jerome Cemetery, Dublin City, this extraordinary and intricately carved tombstone stands over the grave of Admiral Burton MacNamara and his wife Jane, Lady MacNamara. The heavily shrouded and perfectly crafted mooring post is replete with rope and an anchor.

The stone reads:

In Memory Of
Of Tromoro Co. Clare
Who Died 12th Decr. 1876
In his 83rd year

Also of
His Wife
Who Died 16th APRIL 1875

A rather curious story surrounds the death of Admiral Burton MacNamara. In Westropp’s Folklore Survey of County Clare, 1913, the following is recorded:

"On the night of December 11th, 1876, a servant of the MacNamaras was going his rounds at Ennistymon [the family home], a beautiful spot in a wooded glen, with a broad stream falling in a series of cascades. In the dark he heard the rumbling of wheels on the back avenue, and, knowing from the hour and place that no ‘mortal vehicle’ could be coming, concluded that it was the death coach and ran on, opening the gates before it. He had just time to open the third gate and throw himself on his face beside it, at the bank, before he ‘heard a coach go clanking past.’ It did not stop at the house, but passed on, and the sound died away. On the following day Admiral Sir Burton MacNamara suddenly died in London."

In Irish folklore of the 19th century, the appearance of the cóiste bodhar — The Death Coach — is a harbinger of sudden death. Manifestations of these death coaches have been described as black as night, and either highly stylized or very plain. They are said to be drawn by a team of ebony stallions without a driver on board to command their pace, or else driven by a headless coachman brandishing a huge whip to coax a gallop of breakneck speed. This ghostly vehicle, which appears only as a nighttime phenomenon, has been typically observed speeding toward, and then passing by, the residence of a person who is about to die.

Did a death coach serve as a harbinger of Admiral MacNamara's demise? Was it simply a coincidence that a speeding coach passed the MacNamara residence in the dead of night on the eve of the Master's death? One also has to wonder if the appearance of this omen of death was perhaps the result of the overactive imagination of a devoted servant.

Click on images to view larger versions.


  1. Great story though I'm not sure I can believe it but hey hwho knows

    1. Hi Bill,

      Thanks for your comments. It is a great story, but as you say, perhaps it is just that, a story.



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