Füsun A.



Montréal, CANADA
January 12
Freelance Writer - jack of all genres;master of none.
warm and genuine
I divorced my full time career of teaching after 25 years, because meanwhile I fell in love with freelance writing. Ever since, I decided to legitimize my ten-year fling which started in the new millennium. Author of: "WILL OF MY OWN - A Memoir" Available at all major book outlets. For a preview please visit: http://www.dictionmatters.com/


NOVEMBER 7, 2010 9:12PM

They Rest Facing the Sun

Rate: 59 Flag

They Rest Facing the Sun

They rest facing the sun 

Visiting a cemetery to see the grave stones of one’s ancestors, reading their names, dates and relationships inscribed on the head stones can be a humbling experience, especially when one can trace the family back over two centuries. But occasionally time, and particularly neglect can rob people of such contemplative experiences.

Chronologically lined up headstones
Memory takes me back to 2005 when I lived in Newfoundland.  The setting was Harbour Main on a perfect summer day, as sunshine and mellow breezes cleansed my spirit. The only sounds were those of gulls and other sea birds. The hills were covered with yellow and purple wild flowers and grass. The water was clear and calm as a sheet, dotted with white sailboats here and there. And high up on a hill facing an arm of Conception Bay lay a graveyard where stones, marking the burial plots, face the rising sun and the waters of the bay. An ideal, tranquil setting for the remains of the departed to be laid in their final resting place.

Costigan Stone 

This is the story of a cemetery at Harbour Main that dates back to 1776, and the active efforts of one man to restore and reclaim something historic as a legacy to his community. Known as the Irish Cemetery it was the burial ground for people from the communities of Holyrood, Salmon Cove (Avondale), Cat’s Cove (Conception Harbour), Harbour Main and Chapel’s Cove.

Until 1999, when Richard Kennedy took it upon himself to restore the graveyard, stones marking names such as Woodford, Ezekiel, Kennedy, Costigan, Luce, Furey and Doyle were camouflaged by nature’s wild growth. "When I started this, you couldn’t get through here," he told me . "The trees were right over my head, you couldn’t see anything."

Ezekiel Stone 

Ever since he was a child, Kennedy had known about the cemetery which pre-dates any parish in the town by about 25 years. What he couldn’t understand though was why nobody had paid any attention to it in the past century. The site had been so badly neglected that trees and wild brush growing to a height of up to two meters had taken over the area, covering up any signs that the ancestors of many residents in the community were buried there.

Kennedy Stone - 1902 

He was reluctant to point to the Kennedy plot, lest there be a misunderstanding about his motives in restoring the cemetery. "I didn’t do it for this," he emphasized. "I didn’t even know this was the original family until I found Johnny the Blunt’s will. Then I realized this was Johnny the Blunt, my great -grandfather."

In a certain light on a sunny morning, the inscriptions could be seen very clearly.

 "Here lies the body of James Kennedy who departed this life in 1776, aged 60 years"

Although the grave of James (his great-great-great grandfather) is the first one known of his ancestors, Dr Kennedy had no idea where the former was born. Next to the headstone of James were those of his two sons, John and Patrick. Patrick’s son, Johnny the Blunt, was Richard’s great-grandfather. In those days, many people had nicknames based on a quality of character or appearance to distinguish them from one another.

2 piece stone of James Woodford 

Close by was the Woodford family plot where, next to that of William Woodford’s, I saw the unusual two piece headstone of James Woodford who was buried in 1853. The Woodfords, like the Kennedys, were among the earliest residents of the area.

"Everywhere you see a stone is a burial place," pointed Kennedy. " When I put up the large (wooden) cross this year (at the entrance) by the picket fence, we brought up a beautiful tibia and fibula. I was amazed at how well it was preserved- you know, really, almost as good as the ones they gave us to study in the first year of medicine." A retired pediatric surgeon in his late seventies, Dr Kennedy was the right person to come upon such a find.

Deterioration as seen 

The majority of the headstones at the cemetery were not ornate or expensive, because many of the people were so poor at that time that they couldn’t afford anything else. Often the burial spots were simply marked with a rock. Frequently the markers are Newfoundland slate on which the names were chiseled. On some of the Victorian stones, such as the O’Keefe stone, the name of the stone carver is also visible, perpetuating not only the memory of the early inhabitants of the Catholic communities at the head of Conception Bay, but also constituting a source of great interest to scholars studying the history of stone carvers of the nineteenth century.

The late Dr. Cyril Byrne, Chair of Irish Studies programme at St. Mary’s University in Halifax, was one such scholar.   He had ancestors who hail from Holyrood and Conception Harbour. Over a decade ago he photographed the then-visible stones and transcribed the words on them in the context of a larger project in Harbour Main. Unfortunately those names and dates are now lost to erosion.

The first uncovered headstone, judging by its quality and the design carved on it, may have come from Ireland. It is inscribed with the name of Costigan, a native of Kilcash of County Tipperary, Ireland, who was buried in 1844 at age 54. The names of his daughters, Johanna who died at age 25, and Mary Ann who died at 22, appear on the same stone.

Deciphering an inscription 

Dr Kennedy in blue and white shirt

More of the remaining inscriptions could be read on a sunny day because the stones all faced the east. Letters or dates which couldn’t be seen before stood out in clear relief when the angle of the light was right. For example, the previously unreadable inscription on one of the stones: 

 Here lieth the body of Matthew Hawco, died 7th of August 1813 age 15 years

was clearly legible in the mid-morning sun. Noticeably a lot of people died very young then, as living was anything but easy in those times.

"I’m sure there are inscriptions on all of them, but you can’t read some of them anymore. See, this is local rock," I remember Dr Kennedy pointing a brittle slate with the tip of his walking cane.

James Kennedy stone 

The stones were flaking or breaking away; and the inscriptions were getting lost as a result. Kennedy wanted to maintain what could be preserved so that local residents who have been searching for information about their ancestors could come to the graveyard and find out more. But keeping old headstones and grave markers in any kind of decent condition seems to be an uphill battle in the often harsh Newfoundland climate.

The major task of restoration had started with cutting down all trees and wild shrubbery which had uprooted and displaced many of the headstones. At first people in the community were slow to help, as nobody was even aware of the existence of a cemetery on the land. Once Dr Kennedy started the work, many residents pitched in by painting fences and doing whatever they could. Following the advice of Wade Greeley of the Newfoundland Museum Dr. Kennedy and his helpers were numbering the stones, using India ink and other approved materials.

I could see the labor of love that went into marking the burial lots with wooden crosses, and placing the overturned headstones back into their proper position in their right places. The greatest challenge ahead lay in protecting the old headstones and the brittle slate grave markers from the ravages of time.

I don't even know if Dr Kennedy is still living. Yet my brief acquaintance with him is etched befittingly in a brief part of my life away from home. His words echo in my ears as if I am hearing them today, "The reason this was chosen as a cemetery site is that this must have been the centre of the community in the 1700's, because Keating’s Stage, where Sunday Mass was held in 1775, is just up from the cemetery. Because saying mass was illegal at the time. The participants in the mass were punished and sent back to Ireland.”

An ironic yet significant event that followed the recovery of this cemetery was the Mass that was held in late July that year for the first time in many decades on the grounds. Father Fred Terry, the celebrant of the Mass also had ancestors buried there. The event brought forth stories about the ancestors of some Harbour Maine residents. One of these was told by Hubert Furey who was in attendance. Hubert’s great-great-grandfather George Furey, who was buried in the cemetery, was shot and killed, and many others were wounded during an election riot in the area in 1861.

What I saw were many stones - eroding very badly; and on the slate stones, the markings were flaking off. There was really no way of conserving them short of removing the stones from the graves and setting them in a stone wall with a protective covering, as was done in one historic cemetery in Nova Scotia. But such a concept defeats the idea of erecting a grave stone in memory of a departed one.

Richard Kennedy had completed his massive plan of restoring a piece of history to the community of Harbour Main. But time is always the enemy. Unless serious and significant steps were taken soon, his efforts of the last six years would have been in vain.

Lecor Stone -1797 

© 2010 Füsun Atalay ~ DictionMatters ~ All Rights Reserved 

in the distance from the bay 

All photographs are from the author's personal collections.

This is an adaptation from the original piece published in the Provincial History section of The Telegram, St John's, Newfoundland, in August 2005. Copyright belongs to the author.


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A long journey from history.
I love old cemeteries! and often haunt them. ;}I will reread this piece several times because it IS that good and I'm eager to share it! Our home butts up against a cemetery and I enjoy long quiet walks there pondering the lives of those whose names appear on the stones....noting the years of children's deaths...young men coming home from war, etc. Terrific and interesting piece ! thanks Fusuna!
A great piece. Maybe Canadian Geographic would be interested.

Gotta write up my visit to ancestral graves in Scotland...trouble is, that was a few years ago and my pictures, wherever they are, are the paper kind...
AND...your title is wonderful.
I love cemeteries. They do tell a lot about our species. Amazing work that has been done by Dr. Kennedy. Sadly, time does its best to erase memories. May we find a way to trump it.
My Gd this is gorgeous writing. Rated.
This is so wonderful Fusun - wonderfully written and fascinating. I love old cemetaries. What a labour of love! R
Cemeteries can be such rich places. You have given us a look at one rich in history. Thanks.
rated with love
Wow. needs to be an ep and cover. powerful stuff. rrr
This is so fascinating.. My mother when she was not in the hospital used to take is to some real old ones. I love them
Rated with hugs
This is terrific!

It is sad to see those old stones of local rock eroding to where they will soon be unreadable. Is it not possible to take rubbings of them now so that the inscriptions can be saved in this fashion?

I can well appreciate how much work went into this blog. Well done Fusun; well done indeed!!

Neat stuff. I have seen a few of the old cemeteries where I have some great grandparents,and it brings a sense of being part of time.
This is a gift, as are you. R
I too love cemeteries though I have no wish to be buried. What I love is the sentiment or whatever last thing was written to mark a persons life. The markers are the final piece of art given to a loved one.
very nice piece, as always.
I absolutely love your history lessons. I bet you were agreat teacher. -R-
very nice piece, as always.
Wonderful wonderful writing and pics!
Beautifully presented, as always. xo
Fusun, your photos and words are, as always, so very outstanding and informative. Thank you.
Wonderful photos, I love old cemeteries - so much to learn.
Beautiful piece, Fusun. Cemeteries hold so many secrets from the curious.

So interesting, Fusun. Also so funny that so many comments were about how much all these writers love cemeteries also. Me too. I find them so peaceful and full of beauty. Thank you for writing this piece.
What a project! I used to do grave stone rubbings in Alaska. I also heard that gravestones in Christian cemeteries all face toward the east because of the second coming when they all will rise up together.
This was wonderful. I can't imagine the time you spent on it. Sure to be on the Cover this morning (or needs to be)
A fine story. I love cemeteries too. Perhaps it is the illusion that something - if just a stone - remains to remind of those gone. Yet time always wins and even takes the stones.
I was in Newfoundland in 1968. What a wild, beautiful place.
This was so interesting! I've seen some old cemeteries, but never one with such beautiful tombstones! I also love the paradox: the cemetery was cleard of all weeds and shrubs, so that the headstones could be revealed and hopefully preserved - yet some of this vegetation that was cleared, could have been fertilized by the bodies buried there. It really makes me think. I loved this post, thanks so much for a truly fascinating read - and really lovely and exceptional photos. R.
A noble work. Thank you for telling us of it and describing it so well.
This was fascinating to read--Newfoundland is so beautiful, and I loved learning something about those who lived there in past centuries.
This is wonderful, Fusun. And I think Myriad has a great idea...~r
This is great... a wonderful way for me to start the day, with a tale of respect and love for those who have gone before us...
Incredible photos and story
Old cemeteries can be fascinating. You found a humdinger, Fusie. Great photos!
A few months back, our family attended an internment at an old cemetery that was the site for the mass burial after the hurricane of 1928. Over 1600 identified people rest side by side in a large plot with but a few markers. Most are African Americans. I never knew the site existed. It was an eye opener on many levels.
Thank you. The rest has been said.tg
What a lovely piece. I love old cemeteries, and visit them whenever I can. You took me to a place I never would have known about if not for your careful and caring description of a place for the dead brought back to life.

Great photos, too. All around exceptional.
Great... this was a wonder of delight to read... I wish I´d had a teacher like you... you are really teaching me so many new things...
Love it
This should be an EP... we will see in a couple of hours
So many interesting journeys you let us share with you. Was thinking of different graves just before I read your piece and yet your title may have guided those thoughts.
Such beautiful stones...a museum of sorts. We have several old cemeteries in Boston like these. I love imagining the stories behind the people, from their stone graphics and location to others. Thanks for the guided tour, Fusun.
What an amazing history and your beautiful description of it.
I'm with Muse...always loved old cemeteries. It takes a lover of history to write on the subject with such exquisite detail and care. I enjoyed this!
What makes people think the dead rest? Didn't most of them leave loved ones & others less loved behind? Hopes & hates never vanish completely.

Nor can being chewed & gnawed by worms be too comfortable.

Morbid, but needs to be said. How many teens & adults kill themselves in the pursuit of "rest"?
Sky's right about the rubbings -- it's done quite frequently in even older cemeteries in the UK.

The Irish had it rough coming to this continent. Only two of my Leahy ancestors survived the effects of starvation in Ireland, the crossing in a coffin ship and the cholera epidemic on Grosse Ile. I suspect they were buried in mass graves.
What a marvelous story, Fusun. I have always been fascinated by cemeteries and old tombstones. Thanks for the beautiful photos and the accompanying history.
I love cemeteries--this is fascinating
I love stories like this FusunA. I have always had an odd fascination to visit cemeteries. Visiting those who had passed on. There ages and year that they died. There is always a closeness with me visiting them whether the deceased is a family member, a famous person, or a stranger. Often wondering about there own lives.
Old cemeteries are so rich...so many stories and they seem to really honor the dead. Newer cemeteries with simple brass plates sunken into the crowd seem so very cold to me. Thank you for this lovely piece. You are am an amazing teacher, Fusun.~R
Sorry...an amazing teacher, that is.
For All Souls' and All Saints' Day, we remember the faithful departed, for the "Souls of the Just Are in the Hands of God"--Wisdom 3:1
This is awesome. I love the quiet of cemeteries.
What a fascinating story! Your writing is simply excellent.
I can't believe the quality of these photos. I can reach out and touch them.
cemeteries and gravestones strike me as overwhelmingly existential so I avoid them and any reference to them.

Still, of course, this is a terrific post - great presentation.
Yes graveyards are full of life in their own way. great post.
Love the first photo.
It would be a shame for those stones to "die" -- they say so much and mean so much to the history of every community.
Very interesting...what a good job you did with this.R
What a fascinating story and your photos are priceless! I love this. It's such a shame when gravestones become so worn and weathered. What a labor of love by Mr. Kennedy. It's nice to know that steps were taken for preservation and hopefully that effort is continuing. R