History group’s joy at monumental success

Bailieboro Site to benefit from expertise and mentoring

“Unbelievable” was how Bailieborough History Society greeted news their project had been selected as one of just five from across the State for the Adopt a Monument Scheme.

The historic Church of Ireland ruins and graveyard in Bailieborough was amongst 39 projects to have applied for the Heritage Council scheme.

“We really could not believe it,” says History Society committee member Carmel O’Callaghan of their success. “We were told to keep it to ourselves until the press announcement was made so I walked around town with a smile on my face for a couple of days.

“It’s like winning the Lotto in a way - it’s fantastic.”

The cross-community history group brought the adjudicators - including members of the National Monuments Service, the Heritage Council, the Discovery Programme, a community archaeologist and Abarta Heritage to see the picturesque site in early February.

“It was one of these days that the sun shone,” Carmel says with a laugh acknowledging how rare that’s been, “I think that helped.”

In focussing on the COI church and graveyard, Bailieborough History Society is carrying on the voluntary work first undertaken by Margaret McBrien-Mortimer and Lil McCormack. In 2012 the pair cut back the vegetation to reveal and record the headstones and church ruins. They then documented their findings in Cumann Seanchais Bhreifne Journal in 2014. The earliest headstone located dates from 1795 and graveyard is notable for as the resting site of the ancestors of novelist Henry James, a true giant literature.

While that work revealed a rich history, given its prominent setting, it’s likely there’s much more to learn about the Bailieborough church.

“When you are standing at that site, you are looking down over the town which makes you believe there must have been something there before - what? We don’t know.”

The scheme - which benefitted the Rath Church in Killeshandra back in 2016 - will offer expertise, mentoring and support to conserve the historic site and hopefully unlock some of its secrets.

The next step is a Zoom call with Abarta Heritage, which will manage the scheme on behalf of the Heritage Council.

“Their expertise and their advice is absolutely invaluable,” Carmel predicts.

Large stones - possibly taken from the church building to mark graves - are dotted throughout the graveyard. Combined with overgrown vegetation, negotiating the cemetery can be tricky.

“We had a letter from one woman who came to find her ancestors and she couldn’t even get inside the gate, so much vegetation had grown over. All she could do is cry.”

The secluded spot has also attracted some anti-social behaviour with some drinkers frequenting it. Bailieborough History Society hope the new attention will help suppress such behaviour and generate a fuller appreciation from the entire community.