Monday, April 04, 2011

Historic graves recording goes space-age


A graves recording project in Kilcullen has just moved on a technological step, with the graves being tagged by space-age GPS satellites, writes Brian Byrne.

The surveying and recording of the graves details in local historic graveyards has been carried out by a group of Transition Year students from Cross & Passion College, under the direction of retired Irish Army General Des Travers.

"That part of it was done in the traditional way, transcribing the details from the headstones," says Des, who has been working with the students since September. "But I thought we should go a step further, and provide the most accurate locations for the plots."

But this is only another stage in a process which it is hoped will end with an interactive facility on the Internet where people who want to find out more about their forebears can check out the graves from a distance.

The project will include photographs of each headstone, which will pop up online when the grave is accessed. It may also be possible to provide further information on the families concerned, where it is available.

Des Travers suggests that it could help to encourage 'roots tourism' to Kilcullen, which he says is a growing niche in the travel business.

"It could also form the basis of a larger heritage Internet site related to the Kilcullen area," he adds. "The advantage of an Internet project is that it can be added to at later stages."


The pupils at CPC were given a presentation last week by Eachtra Archaeological Projects, which specialises in surveying and recording heritage and historic sites for local authorities and community groups. They were told the technology to do such projects locally can be based on everyday items such as smartphones and digital cameras.

Eachtra is a Waterford-based operation which has been involved in many of the surveys which have resulted from archaeological finds during the expansion of the national roads network.

"We have lately been working on a historic graves initiative, with community groups on a pilot project in Co Waterford," Eachtra's John Tierney says. "We're now about to start two more pilots in Offaly and West Cork. The initial survey funding comes from Leader Partnership companies."

Graveyards are 'crammed full' of history and stories about the people and communities who use them, John Tierney says. Part of the work has involved recording people telling some of these stories. "The result is a set of rich multimedia records about a place."

Such projects help community heritage groups to engage with and care for their local heritage, often in cooperation with their local authorities or rural development groups.

"There are many benefits of the correct care of historic graveyards. Communities gain a richer understanding of themselves, and they gain something which can help them develop tourism and genealogical resources in their local areas."

Eachtra are presently working with the local volunteers of the Waterford County Museum in Dungarvan to survey and publish a number of graveyards in West Waterford.

"Stories emerging from the graveyards capture much about the old landlord system of landholding in rural Ireland and about the ethnic differences which were commonplace in past times."

Results of these surveys will be rolled out live on

This article first appeared in the Kildare Nationalist.