16 February 2009

Stones of Ulster

The Ulster Historical Foundation’s graveyard database is an interesting find. It is called History from Headstones. Whatever urge has us wandering into old graveyards and reading headstones can now be indulged online. The website is for researchers and the generally interested. You can browse via theme. For example, I selected ‘Geographical’ then narrowed the enquiry to ‘Honduras’ (a former home of mine). Two gravestones in Northern Ireland mention the Central American country. The texts are presented in a graveside manner:

Tombstone in Clifton Street graveyard, in Belfast’s Shankhill, from History from Headstones. This is a highly notable graveyard, a stone-written history of Belfast. Read a BBC article about this graveyard here.

There are maps on the site too. The charted graveyards can be filtered in various ways. With a brief look it seems Catholic, Church of Ireland, and Presbyterian graveyards are fairly evenly spread throughout Northern Ireland, with the exception of Fermanagh’s shortage of Presbyterians.

Coloured dots give the locations of all graveyards in Fermanagh charted by History from Headstones

The four Presbyterian graveyards in Fermanagh

Lately I have been working in the Built Environment Library in the Cathedral Quarter, Belfast. I go there to gather data for The Map of Watchful Architecture. This library is another excellent resource. It has been especially useful for plotting World War II structures. Thank you to all the staff who have helped me. I notice the digital maps I examine there mark famine graves and sites where unbaptised children were buried. In the landscape these sites are usually unmarked, they certainly do not have headstones. So, it is no surprise that History from Headstones does not include these kinds of sites. After death, we may need a stone stood in our stead so not to be forgotten.

But History from Headstones does have the category ‘other.’ This includes Reformed Presbyterian, Non-Subscribing, Moravians, and Quaker. Looking at the maps I wondered if there is any such thing as mixed-denomination graveyards in Northern Ireland. Dr William Roulston, Research Director of the Ulster Historical Foundation, tells me that ‘other’ also includes graveyards of antiquity not associated with any particular denomination now. “For example, graveyards on the site of a former monastery or medieval parish church. Such graveyards can be considered mixed-denomination in the sense that persons of all religious backgrounds lie buried together. There would be around three hundred such graveyards in Northern Ireland.”

It is too bad the database does not extend beyond Northern Ireland into the rest of Ulster. Of course the limitation is understandable, the creators of the database had to stop somewhere. Also, assuming they used some pre-existing information, surveys from both sides of the Border are not always compatible. This is something I am discovering as I continue compiling The Map of Watchful Architecture. Alas, the Built Heritage Library does not have a direct southern equivalent. I bet there were World War II pillboxes built in the southern Border counties too, but this information is not easily accessible.

I will have to keep digging.

Links: The Northern Ireland Environment Agency: Built Environment and the Ulster Historical Foundation's History from Headstones.

9 February 2009

Points of control and observation

Here are the military Border structures built and manned during Operation Banner. I have divided them into watchtowers and checkpoints although, as discussed below (20 January), it is not a clear distinction to me. In addition, I use the term ‘checkpoint’ for a fort built by a roadside whereas, as a Newryman told me lately, 'checkpoint' commonly meant any stretch of road the army chose to occupy for a few hours. To many ‘checkpoints’ were movable points where one was pulled-over and questioned.

Border structures, Operation Banner.

I consider this map part of a work in progress rather than a finished piece. I will not be publishing it beyond this blog. Note that it only marks structures reasonably close to the Border, nor does it include RUC stations that may have also housed soldiers.