Gravestones – an alternative census record

One of these bears the inscription "This stone erected by Owen Donnelly in memory of Danill Donnelly who died 17 April,1722 aged 100 years. Also of Catherine Donnelly who died 2 July, 1789 aged 17 years".


If the information given on this stone is correct, it would mean that Danill Donnelly was born in 1622 and thus would have witnessed at first hand the changes brought about by the Ulster Plantation.

He would have lived through not only the Irish rebellion in the middle of the 17th century, but also the Jacobite rebellion and the Penal laws that were passed following these uprisings.

Inscribed headstones and tombstones are to be found in many of the old graveyards of southwest Tyrone, such as Drumragh, Dromore, Kilskeery and of course Donacavey.

However, the inscriptions on many of these memorials are fading due to the effect of decades of weathering.

Others are obscured by dense growth of moss or ivy.

In this part of Ulster, there is little in the way of census or estate records earlier than the 19th century, to assist in the compilation of family genealogies. As a consequence, archaeologists and historians have difficulty in establishing who was living in this area in earlier centuries.

Therefore, inscribed gravestones are a valuable source of demographic information on both the Gaelic Irish and the original Planter families who were living in Tyrone in the post-medieval period.

Diarmuid Seaneachain

Funded by the I.R.C.H.S.S.