The Gravestone Inscriptions of County Cork

Who do you think you are? There is no question more bizarre that could be asked of any Corkonian. Does not the world know that Cork Folk are descended from kings – well, from nobles at any rate – from the O’Briens of Thomond, the Murphys of Limerick, the O’Sullivans of Beare and Bantry, the McCarthys who were Lords of Muskerry, the O’Callaghans, Chiefs of Kinelea and a host of others, eminent and elite in every sense of those two words.

There is a little problem, though, and it is this that nearly all Cork folk are not quite sure from what division of any sept that they are descended. Their birth certificates tell them who their parents were and their parents’ marriage certificates who their grandparents were, but earlier than that for the great majority, the past is as dark as Erebus.

To illuminate that darkness it becomes necessary to have recourse to the records. Eventually contact is made with the Ten Great Pillars of Pedigreeing. They are;-

  1. The Fiants of the 16th and 17th centuries.
  2. The 1659, 1901 and 1911 Censuses.
  3.  The 1766 Religious Census.
  4. Wills and Administrations, 1700-1900.
  5. Tithe Applotment Records.
  6. Griffith’s Valuation Records.
  7. Baptism & Marriage Church Registers.
  8. Directories and Newspapers.
  9. Registers of Births, Deaths and Marriages.
  10. Gravestone Inscriptions.


THE Church of Ireland Cathedral of Cloyne, 1873‌

Whereas Numbers (1) to (9) are now readily accessible it is with Number (10) that the difficulty arises. Only a small proportion of the 630 or so burial grounds in Co. Cork have had the inscriptions on their headstones recorded in their entirety.

Generally speaking the gravestone was not common before 1720. It only became universal when the stonecutters imported from Cross-Channel to build the ‘Big Houses’ for the English confiscators of Irish property in the 17th century saw that work come to an end. Fortunately they were able to continue in business by turning their hands to the carving of burial-ground monuments.

It was to the great advantage of the ‘stonies’ that the county had a range of quarries containing limestone, one of the easiest stones to carve, inscribe and lapidate. These quarries were at Aherla, Gilabbey, Capwell, Beaumont, Carrigacrump, Copstown, Midleton and elsewhere. On ledgers cut from their beds, scores and scores of monumental practitioners have been working for the past 300 years. Among them were the Hickeys of Aherla, the Myles family of Cloyne, the Coffeys and Barrys of Midleton, the Forrests of Castlelyons, the Joyces of Castlemartyr with O’Connells, Murphys, McCarthys, Maguires and Sharkeys, etc, operating in Cork City.

Today there is approximately 150,000 pre-2000 AD headstones standing in the 630 or so graveyards scattered throughout the county. On each monument is an inscription which identifies a single individual and as often a particular family. In a great many instances the information provided  is to be found nowhere else and it is this exclusivity which makes gravestone inscriptions so important for the pedigree planner.

Since 1967 the Cork Historical & Archaeological Society has made available a unique service for genealogists by publishing in its annual journal the entire collection of inscriptions transcribed from 19 graveyards in the county. The Society’s generosity went even further than that for it also provided notes that elaborated the backgrounds, historical and genetic, of many of the families listed. And being disinclined to rest its laurels at that point the Society also provided maps of the graveyards so that the individual monuments can be located and inspected. The following are the graveyards in question;-


     AGHINAGH (1967). Coachford and Macroom areas.

              Surnames;- Ambrose, Connell, Horgan, Lehane, Murphy, O’Callaghan.

     BALLINACURRA (1990). Midleton and East Cork areas.

              Surnames;- Donovan, Hennessy, Power, Shea.

     BALLYCURRANY (1978). Lisgoold area of East Cork.

              Surnames;- Burke, Gorman, Rochfort, Wilson.

     BLARNEY (2009). Suburban Cork City.

              Surnames;-  Guy, Porteous, Sarsfield and Townsend.

     CARRIGALINE (2012). Suburban Cork City’s southern development.

              Surnames;- Buckley, Cogan, Daunt, Newenham.

     CARRIGROHANEBEG (1968). Ballincollig area.

              Surnames;- Delea, Fitton, Hegarty and Pratt.

     CLONMULT (1976). Midleton and East Cork.

              Surnames;- Colbert, Dineen, Fitzgerald and Kent.

     CULLEN (1989). Ballymartle and Belgooly areas.

             Surnames;- Coveny, Jeffreys, Prior and Scannell.

     DANGANDONOVAN (1974). East Cork.                         

             Surnames;- Beausang, Cashman, Kelleher, Welsh.

     DESERTMORE (1969). Dripsy and Ovens districts.

             Surnames;- Curtis and Madras.

     DUNDERROW (1971). Kinsale and South Coast areas.

              Surnames;- Crowley, Deasy, Kiely, Leary.

     KILCREA (1968). Farran and Crookstown areas.

               Surnames;- Delaney, Downey, Halloran, Kearney, Murphy, McCarthy.

     KILLEAGH (1972/3). East Cork from Midleton to Youghal.

               Surnames;- Ahern, Barry, Carey, Morris.

     KILMONOGE (1987). Belgooly area.

              Surnames;- Charlesson, Knowles, O’Sullivan and Spillane.

     KILNAGLORY (1969). Carrigrohane and Ballincollig areas.

               Surnames;- Burden, Desmond, Fahy, Riordan.

     ST.PETER’S (1988). Centre of Cork City.

               Surnames;- Austin, Burchill, Perrier and Walker.

     TISAXON (1970). Kinsale area.

               Surnames;- Bleazby, Bowen, Finn and Whitley.

     TITESKIN (1970). Rostellan area of East Cork.

               Surnames;- Carew, O’Neill, Raney, White.

     TRACTON (2015). Countryside between Cork City and Kinsale.

               Surnames;- Daunt, Dempsey, Desmond and Drinan.

Contributed by Richard Henchion, Wilton Lawn, Glasheen Road, Cork.  

Cork City Libraries, Grand Parade, Cork, Ireland.
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