Kyle Burial Ground, Birdhill
Current efforts (2019) to refurbish Kyle Burial Ground have prompted some research into its origins and use over the past two centuries.
Kyle Burial Ground is listed as a protected structure under the National Monuments Act 1994 (TN031-006) in the Record of Monuments and Places
Kyle stands on the hillside overlooking the Church of Our Lady of the Wayside in Birdhill. It was traditionally accessed by crossing the railway line and the adjoining field, but it is now proposed to lay a permanent path from the Old Road for ease of access to an important historical site in our locality. The name Kyle is derived from the Irish word ‘coill’ meaning a wood. It has often been suggested that another possible derivation of the name is from the Irish ‘Cill’ (church) but there was no church associated with the site.
There are headstones to just two families in the Kyle – Teefeys and Ryan Boolas, with inscriptions as follows:
- In loving memory of Jack Teefey, Coosane, Birdhill, died 29th February 1979, aged 54 years.
His father, Michael died 1945.
His mother Mary died 19th April 1971 aged 77 yrs.
Erected by the Aherne Family, Montpelier, O’Briensbridge
(b) In memory of Thomas Teefey died 18th December 1981, aged 54 yrs.
His daughter Ann Marie fell asleep aged 4 months.
- In loving memory of our dear mother Mrs Mary Ryan, Coosane, Birdhill who died 11th July 1967 aged 65 years.
Also our loving father, John Ryan who died November 1982.
Son, John, died 2002.
There are some small crosses, mounds of stones and single stones marking other graves.
It is worth noting that Kyle is termed a ‘burial ground’ rather than a ‘graveyard.’ Traditionally, burials were associated with the Church and most burials took place in churchyards and later in extensions to the church grounds which became known as graveyards. Kyle was not associated with a church, as it was given to the community by the Ormsbys who lived close by. It has often been said that it was provided as a burial ground during the Great Famine, but Kyle appears on earlier maps and is believed to have been in use from the early 1820’s. It was, however, much used during the Famine and there are accounts of horse-drawn carts, piled high with dead bodies covered with canvas, leaving Limerick with their grim loads on their way for burial in Birdhill. They were forbidden entry to graveyards in the city and surrounding areas for fear of the spread of fever.
The burial ground was originally an orchard attached to the Ormsby mansion known as Courtwood. Margaret Ormsby (nee Atkins) inherited the house and lands in Birdhill, which were part of the Hastings (Forthenry) estate, from her mother Mary Hastings who had married Robert Atkins of Forthenry. The Atkins family came from Firville, near Mallow, Co. Cork. Margaret married Arthur Ormsby in 1811 – she was then aged 22, while he was 46. They moved from Cork to Birdhill shortly afterwards and were recorded as the registered owners of the lands of Birdhill in 1825. Reports in the Freeman’s Journal gave details of the mansion house of Courtwood being maliciously burned in 1815 and of a cottage on the estate occupied by Thomas Franks, agent to Mr. Ormsby, also burned in 1817.
One of the most significant events in the history of the Ormsbys in Birdhill was the opening of a Bible School (in the house which still stands at the top of Twiss’s Hill) in 1824. They demanded that all the children on their estate would attend. The parish priest, Rev James Healy, forbade the children to attend and as a result, the Ormsbys issued an eviction decree to their tenants dated 29th September 1827. More than 20 families were served with notices. The issue was the topic of numerous letters in local and national papers.
Margaret Ormsby survived her husband, but moved to Cork when Courtwood House was burned down again (accidentally, it appears on this occasion), around 1829, although she was still recorded as the ‘Immediate Lessor’ of much of the lands of Birdhill in the early 1850’s. Mrs Ormsby died in 1863 and left her estate to her nephew, George Twiss (born 1807). George was also successor to his father Robert’s estate at Parteen House. Shortly after his aunt’s departure, George moved from Parteen to Birdhill House in which the Atkins family had also lived from about 1824 to 1840.
It is ironic that much of the information available to us about the Kyle and surrounding areas, comes from one of those interred in the Kyle. In 1938, the Irish Folklore Commission, in conjunction with the Department of Education and the Irish National Teachers Organisations engaged the senior pupils in the primary schools to collect and record local history, folklore and oral tradition throughout the country. Birdhill National School, under the guidance of Principal Michael Maher submitted quite a large volume of stories. One of the pupils involved was Thomas Teefey (buried in the Kyle in 1981), who recorded a wide range of stories related to him by his father, Michael. Members of the older generation will remember Tommy, who, due to an ailment of the throat and voice box in his latter years, used a sort of microphone to help him speak. Among the snippets of information relevant to the Kyle and its environs recorded by Tommy were:
- “There is an old graveyard near where I live midway between our house and the Catholic Church in Birdhill. It is situated in the centre of Patrick Coffey’s farm. It is about two hundred yards in circumference. It is surrounded by a round wall. The wall was built in 1861 by a man named Mr O’Farrell who originally lived where Patrick Coffey now resides. The only people interred there are two men who were found drowned in the Shannon about forty years ago and a man named Pat Tuan who died suddenly at Mrs Ryan’s drinking stout. The latest who are buried there are Patrick Guilmartin, his wife and mother-in-law. There are several children buried there. There are no headstones or tomb stones marking their graves, only an ordinary common old stone with no cross or inscription.”
- “Near the Kyle graveyard is a field called the Guilligán. It was originally owned by a Scotsman named Mr Bathcock. It is now owned by Mr Timothy Coffey of Coosane. In the centre of this field there is a large rock. When any member of the Bathcock family was about to die the banshee would come and perch upon this rock and commence a mournful wailing. The wailing would continue for about ten minutes and the next place it would be heard would be at the back of Mr Bathcock’s house. She would then depart and between that and morning, a member of the Bathcock family would die. That continued year after year until the whole family was wiped out.”
- “There is another field near the Guilligán Field and it is called the Guilligán Court Field. In the middle of this field there is a large wood. There is the foundation of an old Court in this wood. The old court was once the residence of one of the Kings of Munster. After the Battle of the Boyne, when the British forces were marching to Limerick, they passed by this Court and one of the generals ordered its destruction. Nothing now remains only a mound which is about one hundred feet in circumference. Within a hundred yards of this mound is a beautiful graveyard called the Coill graveyard. A good many of my neighbours are buried in this graveyard.”
- “One evening when my father was returning from a hurling match he met two men carrying a coffin at Killaloe Cross near Birdhill. They asked him to assist and in his terror he could not refuse. They trudged on through the village of Birdhill, past Birdhill Church and up the lane to the coill graveyard which is situated in Mr. Coffey’s land. When they arrived there, there were two men digging a grave and when it was finished they lowered the coffin and when they had it covered in, my father completed the rest of his journey homewards. That night’s adventure is riveted in his memory and when he is going to Mass every Sunday he says a prayer for the unknown soul.”
- “There is a very old Mass path in this parish. The name of this path is Coill. It leads from Birdhill Church to the Coosane Road and passes by Kyle graveyard. For the last two hundred years a great number of people come to Mass every Sunday along this path. “
The latter account about the Mass Path taken from the Folklore Collection is by Michael Hassett who later became an authority on local history. His stories, along with those of Tommy Teefey and other accounts by Maura Mannion (Cragg) and Ned Gleeson (Lacken) refer to the fact that not many people were buried in the Kyle. It does appear that only a few local families have been buried there. But it is the final resting place of many still-born children and unbaptised babies. Stories have been told also of ‘body-snatching’ from the Kyle during the 19th century, when bodies were removed and sold for research and surgical practise.
Mick Hassett often told of seeing, when he was a young boy, the entrance to a cave near the Kyle. It reputedly led out on to the Coosane Road. The townsland was originally called Cuasán Dubh, meaning the ‘black cave.’ A number of similar caves existed around Birdhill House, used as hiding places and escape routes in times of trouble.
Local knowledge has identified the following, in addition to those named on the headstones, who were buried in the Kyle:
- Patrick Gilmore, a worker at Coffeys of the Farmyard, who died following an accident with a horse and cart on the farm in 1946.
- William and Bridget Enright and their son Bill of Coosane. William died in 1942, aged 86.
- Denis and Johanna Crowe, Coosane and their daughter Bridget who died aged 3. Johanna died in 1941 aged 60.
- Two members of the Hogan family, Coosane, a boy and a girl (Bridget) who died as infants during the 1950’s.
- Two members of the Tully family, Chapel Hill, one a boy named Thomas, who died as young children.
- Paddy and Ellen Guilmartin who both worked at Coffeys in Carrigeen and lived in a house at Madden’s Turn between Birdhill Village and the Church. They both died in 1937, Ellen in May and Paddy (aged 65) in December.
- William Coffey who died at the residence of his sister, Mrs Enright in Castleconnell in 1951.
- A Connemara man working on the Shannon Scheme, who was killed in an accident at Ballyhane. The story is told that the person who found him on the roadside ran to the nearby pub to get help and by the time he returned, the dead man’s boots had been taken.
- Kathleen Talbot, a nurse from Clonmel, who was working in the Birdhill area.
1. The Guilligán referred to in the Folklore Collection is likely the Legaun, a six feet high standing stone, also known as a Gallán, still standing in Hogan’s field, adjacent to the Kyle. The word ‘Guilligán’ probably originated from the Irish words ‘goil’ (meaning crying or weeping) and ‘liagán’ (meaning standing stone), giving credence to the story of the banshee. Galláns were Bronze Age structures common throughout Ireland and may have been used for ceremonies and funerals, or possibly as markers. Another theory outlines that there was a series of legauns dotted along the hillsides to guide pilgrims on their journeys to sacred sites such as Croagh Patrick, Lough Derg or the many Holy Wells around the country.
A similar standing stone to the one in Coosane was visible across the valley in the townsland of Legane overhead Ballina, so they acted like modern-day signposts. Pilgrims also used cooking places known as a Fulacht Fia. There was one such cooking place at Ballyhane (Mulcahys), not too far from the Legaun in Coosane. Numerous Fulachtaí Fia were also uncovered in Annaholty and Gortybrigane during the M7 excavations.
Standing Stone at Coosane known as a Legaun
2. It is interesting to note the story of the old court in the wood near the Kyle, possibly being the derivation of the name given to Courtwood House.
3. The Badcocks (Bathcocks?) were of Scottish origin and lived in the house which was later the home of Coffeys of the Farmyard, now refurbished as the O’Brien residence. Henry Badcock was in residence in 1861 when there was an issue of compensation against the Limerick & Castleconnell Railway Company which had brought the new railway line through his land. His marriage to Lavina Bourchier of Summerhill, Nenagh is recorded as having taken place in Lisdoonvarna in October 1861. Press reports give details of an unsuccessful case of assault against him by James Carey and Edward Murnane in 1864, but Badcock won a counter claim against them for trespassing. His name appears in the list of cess-payers, along with George Twiss and Edward O’Farrell of Birdhill, for the District Assizes of Owney & Arra up to 1867. It is interesting to note that O’Farrell was mentioned as the builder of the wall around the Kyle in Tommy Teefey’s accounts.
4. Tim Coffey’s land is now farmed by his grandson, John Hogan.
5. Mrs Ryan’s public house stood opposite the Church of Our Lady of the Wayside in Birdhill. The proprietor, Mrs Catherine Ryan died in a fire at her home in 1962 and is buried in the new graveyard, Birdhill. The pub had previously been under the name of her husband, Con, since the licence was transferred from the Murnanes in 1910. Con died in 1939 and is buried in Castleconnell. The bar was later managed by their son, Louis, who was also the Church sacristan. Louis died in 1985 and is buried in Birdhill.
6. The pub at Ballyhane was owned by Murnanes up to 1927 when it was bought by Denis Gleeson from Shallee., Denis also served as manager of Birdhill and Bridgetown creameries. Following his death in 1952, his daughters Lily and Rita carried on the business. Sean Boland acquired the premises in 1989.
7. Michael Teefey died in 1945 at the age of 75. Teefeys lived in the house which was later owned by Bill Carlton and is now the residence of the Starr-Hannon family.
8. The Ryan (Boola) family still reside in Coosane.