Holmpatrick Historic Graveyard – a gateway to the past

Dr Frank Prendergast

On 8 March last, Skerries Historical Society returned to the Bowling Club for the first in-person presentation in two years.  Holmpatrick Historic Graveyard – a gateway to the past was the title of Dr Frank Prendergast’s talk which was warmly received by an appreciative audience.

The background to this particular research, as explained by Dr Prendergast, was a commission from Skerries Tidy Towns to create an information panel at the entrance to the historic graveyard.  The panel is installed on the right beyond the entrance and was formally launched by Dr Eoin Grogan, of Maynooth University, on 4 February 2017.  From the wealth of information shared with us at the talk, the material contained on the panel is but the tip of the iceberg of the research undertaken.

Dr Prendergast drew our attention to the Sites and Monuments Register of the National Monuments Service, which records five monuments/structures in Holmpatrick Graveyard. It is regrettably true that many stones in the historic graveyard are in poor condition.  However, thanks to skilled photography and a digitising process, the stones presented during the talk were perfectly legible.  The oldest stone, dated 1520, is dedicated in the Latin inscription, to Peter Manne, Prior of the Augustinian Priory of Holmpatrick. The Augustinians had established their first base in this area on Church Island, also known as Inis Pádraig or St Patrick’s Island, from 1120 AD and transferred to the mainland, to Holmpatrick about 100 years later. The Order had priories in many parts of Ireland and Dr Prendergast used the example of the large site on the King’s River at Kells, County Kilkenny, to illustrate an Augustinian foundation.     

In all, thirteen gravestones from the historic graveyard, period 16th to 19th centuries, and the Church Bell Tower (c1790) are illustrated on the panel at the entrance to the graveyard and include those commemorating Elizabeth Finglas, d.1577, Richard de la Hoyde, 1587 and his wife, Maria De la Hoyde, James Martin, d.1736; the Wherry stone, dated 1785, Richard Tool who died in 1719 and Tolver Silvers, d.1831.  This last was the result of the shipwreck of the ‘June of Yarnmouth’ in January that year and a theme replicated on many commemorative stones in Holmpatrick Graveyard.

As early as the 6th century, churches were built with their orientation towards the East and graves were aligned in a similar fashion in order that the dead would resurrect facing the rising sun [see Information Panel]. The orientation of the ruins on Church Island as well as the Bell-Tower and gravestones in Holmpatrick Historic Graveyard were examined by Dr Prendergast using state-of-the-art measuring technology.  Of note also are the many examples of fine artwork; lettering used and the depiction of tools to commemorate the craft of the deceased.  The stone over the grave of Bartholomew Ellis, who died October 1735, displays fine artwork; the Richard Tool stone incorporates a hammer, chisel and pincers and could well signify his trade. ‘Arma Christi, or Instruments of the Passion are also displayed on stones in Holmpatrick.  For example, the Ellis Stone, no.10 on the Panel, depicts several symbols, including a whip and nails.

A lively Q&A followed the presentation and ended with an appeal from Dr Prendergast for a care and maintenance project to safeguard this important site.  The Information Panel, located at the entrance to the graveyard, is also available in digital format on: Arrow@TUDublin.ie.