Clare County Library
Clare Genealogy

Donated Material: Graveyard Inscriptions
Drumcliff Old Graveyard, Ennis:
A short history
As a place of burial, Drumcliffe has a long history, dating back to the early monastic settlement established there some time before the tenth century, and whose remains still dominate the elevated part of the graveyard site. Little recognisable trace remains of the early interments, and although some of the irregularly-shaped stone markers that lie near the fifteenth century church ruin may date from that time, it is equally possible that they come from the later medieval period when the principal church for the parish of Drumcliffe was situated here. There are no seventeenth century burials in Drumcliffe, and just one recorded grave inscription dates from the 1700s, a reflection of the fact that some time in the early 1600s, the Church of Ireland authorities, the custodians of the site, had transferred the parish church to the Franciscan Abbey in Ennis. For the next two centuries, the bulk of town burials would take place here, and in the extensive cemetery at Garraunakilla, also in the town (the third local burial place, the little graveyard of Corrovorrin, served a separate community in that area, which was then outside the town).

The function of Drumcliffe as the principal graveyard for Ennis dates from the cholera epidemic of 1832, when the danger of spreading this very virulent contagion in the crowded urban centre made it impossible to bury victims in the town cemeteries. Both cemeteries were in any case overcrowded; Garraunakilla may in fact have already been closed, and would soon be built upon. At any rate, in 1832, a portion of the old glebe of Drumcliffe was acquired from the Church of Ireland, and the first grave excavated there was a mass interment of some 340 townsfolk, men, women and children of all ages, who fell victim to the dreadful plague of that year.

Subsequent extension of the graveyard eventually encompassed the entire glebe, after which strips of land were acquired from local farmers, as necessity dictated over the remaining decades of the century. This process seems to have been complete by the late 1880s, when the roadway had been reached. At that time a burial plot for the paupers from the Ennis workhouse was laid out, and the entire site was surrounded by an iron fence. That this was necessary is clear from longstanding complaints of cattle wandering in the cemetery and disturbing human remains.

The sheer length of Drumcliffe’s history has made the task of the Clare Roots Group which set out to record the burials there an exceptionally difficult one. It is impossible even to guess how many persons are buried at Drumcliffe: so many graves were never marked at all, countless others have no inscriptions, and the multitudes who lie in the cholera grave, the Famine grave pit beside it and the pauper plot closer to the road, will never be identified by the names they bore in life. The Group, of course, could do nothing about unknown, unmarked or unidentifiable burials; for them and the volunteer team who assisted in the task of recording, I suspect that the hardest task of all was the deciphering of inscriptions that were half-effaced or hardly legible at all.

Despite these difficulties, the labours of the Group have resulted in this invaluable catalogue of the graves in Drumcliffe, their location and surviving inscriptions. It will be of enormous interest to genealogical specialists, family historians, and to those members of the public whose curiosity is fired simply by walking along the avenues and among the stones of this fascinating old graveyard.

Ciarán Ó Murchadha
Ennis, 2009

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Drumcliff Old Graveyard , Ennis