Tuesday, May 20, 2014

'Beneath Mary's Tree': The interred of unmarked grave #G 87.5

In 2010 I wrote about my experience of finding the unmarked graves of my maternal grandparents in the Prospect Cemetery at Glasnevin. Although I never met my grandparents, it was difficult for me to accept that my grandmother and my grandfather are interred in separate and unmarked graves. So too, I had always wondered why my mother had never taken us to pay our respects at the graves of her mother and father.

As I stood at each one of the graves, I felt an overwhelming sadness, and that feeling gave me some insight into my mother's reticence to visit the grave of the mother lost to her when she was only five years old and the grave of the father she adored. I realized that perhaps it was simply too sorrowful a visit for her to contemplate.

In Glasnevin cemetery, a gravestone cannot be erected unless the plot is owned by the person who wishes to erect a stone. Also, an unowned, and thus unmarked, plot can be reopened for additional interments. If the grave is not yet occupied to capacity, persons completely unconnected to those already interred can be buried in the plot.

When I learned these facts, I began to think about those individuals who are interred with my grandmother Mary Fitzpatrick Ball. To erect a stone which only acknowledges the passing of her life would be to forget the others who had gone before her, and with whom she is now interred in the same grave.

To that end, I sought out the entire record of the interments of plot #G 87.5 in the Garden section of the Prospect Cemetery at Glasnevin, so that I could learn at least a little about those individuals. Here is what I discovered.

In addition to my grandmother Mary Fitzpatrick Ball, there are six people buried in the grave, for a total of seven. The first interment took place in 1835. All six people, with the exception of the first person buried here, died in the Autumn of the year in which they were interred. It seems fitting that the tree which stands at the foot of the plot, the tree which I have taken to calling Mary's tree, was replete with the reds and golds of Autumn when I first visited and photographed the grave. For the family members connected to each one of those interred here, I imagine the Autumn and Winter of their loved one's passing was a difficult time indeed.

The first person interred in the grave was a man named James Doyle. The record of his 1835 interment offers little information, apart from his name and his last known address of Rainsford Street, Dublin. The record notes his date of death as 27 February 1835. There is neither a statement of his age, nor of his next of kin.

In 1838, the grave was opened for the interment of Mark McGrath. The record bears a little more information in his case. Mr. McGrath of Garden Lane, Dublin, died 30 October 1838 at the age of 70 years. Just as in the case of Mr. Doyle, there is no reference to next of kin.

The grave remained undisturbed for eleven years until the interment of Monica Hendricken of Crampton Court, Dublin. At the age of three weeks, Monica died on 12 December 1849. There is no reference to the names of her parents or to her cause of death. Her date of death is right in the middle of the years of the Great Hunger, leaving me to wonder about the possible cause of her death. Monica was the first of four children who would be interred in this grave.

A full twenty-four years after Monica Hendricken's burial, the grave was once again opened for the burial of another young baby. On 5 October 1873, Eliza Anne Murphy was interred. Like Monica before her, Eliza was also aged three weeks at the time of her death. The record notes Eliza was a 'Labourer's child', the daughter of Fralise and Eliza Murphy. Eliza died 4 October; the cause of her death is recorded as 'Bronchitis'. Eliza's father Fralise is noted as the informant of her death. The family lived at 7 Mark's Lane in Dublin.

In 1886, another child was interred in grave #G 87.5. Daniel McKillop, a 'Sailor's child', was the son of Michael and Mary McKillop. Daniel died 19 September 1886 at the age of one year and nine months, and was interred three days later. The cause of death is noted as "Diarrhoea", and the informant to the registrar is noted as his mother Mary McKillop. I find myself wondering if her husband was away at sea when Mary had to bury their little son.

Twelve years after Daniel McKillop's interment, the last child to be interred in this grave was eight month old Christopher Byrne. Christopher, noted as a 'Labourer's child', was the son of James and Isabella Byrne. Christopher lived and died in a house on 10 Bath Avenue Place, Dublin City. He died 18 September 1898 of "convulsions", and was buried two days later.

Thirty eight years later, my grandmother Mary Angela Fitzpatrick Ball was the last person interred in plot #G 87.5 in the Garden section of Prospect Cemetery at Glasnevin. Mary died 18 December 1936 and was interred on the first day of winter, 21 December 1936, four days before Christmas. Thankfully, Glasnevin Trust has assured me that the grave will never again be opened.

James, Mark, Monica, Eliza, Daniel, Christopher, and my grandmother Mary Angela, all together for eternity. Across a period of just over 101 years, when tragedy brought them to this place, the families of each one of these individuals stood over this grave in the autumn or winter of the year, while their loved one was interred. I find myself wondering about who planted the tree at the foot of their grave. It does not seem like a very old tree, but I like to imagine it was planted in 1835, grew a little taller each year, and cheered the members of those families with the colour of its leaves, and the soft whisper of the wind moving through its branches.


Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Mother's Rings

They were still there, upon her finger, when her life's days came to an end. They were destined to come to me via the terms of her will, but I find I cannot bear to put either one on my finger. Doing so only reminds of the fact that these precious rings — my mother's rings which were given to her by the love of her life — will never again be worn upon her finger, the only place for which they were ever intended.

Each ring now seems so very delicate, as though it might dissolve within my fingers, but perhaps it is only the passages of life that make them seem that way. Her wedding band was crafted in a hexagon shape when she first wore it upon her finger, and although the years have softened the corners of the band, the shape is still there. 

There were only a few occasions in the year when both rings were not together on her finger. In the springtime my mother would give the house a thorough cleaning, so her engagement ring would be taken off and put away to ensure the stones would not be damaged. Just before Christmas each year she would do the same. On her very last day when my mother was in the hospital, in the early morning, a nurse instructed me to remove both rings from my mom's finger, and take them home for safe keeping, but I refused, saying the rings were where they were meant to be.

At the funeral home, after our last goodbyes and just before he closed the casket, the funeral director removed the rings from my mam's finger. He put them into a small red velvet pouch and handed them to me. In a reassuring voice he told me that the rings had very easily slipped from her finger. In exactly that moment finally I understood that my mother was truly gone, and I knew with certainty that Mam was with Dad in that heavenly place where such markers of earthly life are of no consequence.

In loving memory of our mother Mary on this day, the second anniversary of her death.

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