Heritage Trail: St Luke’s Church of Ireland Graveyard

‘The burial ground surrounding Douglas Church is now deserving of particular notice, as it is one of the most beautiful and well kept in the South of Ireland.’
J.H. Cole, Church and Parish Records (1903)

This graveyard is an important part of the history of Cork city, with many well-known Cork figures buried here. Next to the spire is a monument to John Arnott, (1814-98) who founded Arnotts in Dublin. Businessman, philanthropist and former Lord Mayor of Cork (1859-61), he worked throughout his life to develop the industry and resources of Ireland. In the last 30 years of his life, he gave an average of £1,500 per year to public charity. 1

Obelisk to Sir John Arnott
Obelisk to Sir John Arnott

Another resident of the graveyard is Richard Caulfield, antiquarian and librarian, whose local history publications are still valued. One of the older graves belongs to the Besnards, a prominent Huguenot business family. By 1783, Julius Besnard owned the flax mills in Douglas. Besnard also helped to build the church that stood on this site from 1785 to 1874. 2 The first Rector of the new Douglas parish, Canon Samuel Hayman, (a noted antiquarian) is also buried here.

The great and the good were not the only ones to be buried here. Following the closure by Cork Corporation of graveyards within the city boundaries in 1870, city residents had to bury their dead in the suburbs. By the nineteenth century, urban graveyards were dangerously overcrowded, and ‘garden cemeteries’ began to be built outside many European cities. These burial grounds were not attached to a parish church and the graves were part of a landscaped park, with trees and pathways. In Cork, Fr Mathew had led the way, founding St Joseph’s Cemetery in the former Botanic Gardens in the 1830s. Interestingly, the planting and regular arrangement of St Luke’s graveyard is more like a garden cemetery than a parish burial ground. Its orderly layout dates from the 1870s, when the graveyard was remodeled at the same time as the new church was built.

Drinking fountain, St. Luke's
Drinking fountain, St. Luke’s

The new church building, like the old, was built on an east-west orientation, with the chancel at the eastern end, so that the congregation could face towards the east. This was a typical orientation for a Christian sacred building. Maps from before the before the 1870s show that the graveyard once extended out from the eastern and western ends of the building. However, the bulk of the eastern end of the graveyard was divided from the church by a road, now called Churchyard Lane. In this eastern end was a watch-house, built to house a man who would guard the graves from robbers or, even worse, resurrectionists, who sold corpses to medical schools for dissection. The location of this watch house suggests that the majority of burials were in the eastern end of the cemetery. We can surmise that there were burials along the longitudinal sides also because a contemporary illustration of the eighteenth-century church shows a monument alongside it. But the construction of the new church saw a radical shift in the layout of the graveyard.

18th century tomb of the Heard family, Ballybrack
18th century tomb of the Heard family, Ballybrack

The ordnance survey map from the 1890s shows a new burial arrangement in Douglas. The watch house had disappeared and there were now two graveyards. One surrounded St Luke’s church, on a north-south orientation. A new cemetery, walled off from the church, appeared on the other side of Churchyard Lane where the eastern end of the church burials had been. Vestry minutes indicate that part of the original cemetery belonging to St Luke’s Church was given to the Poor Law authorities. 3 Under the Disestablishment Act 1869, burial grounds separated from a church by a road had to be vested in local government bodies. The burial grounds surrounding Anglican churches, which had once been used by Catholics, became the sole preserve of Protestant denominations, as Catholics increasingly buried their dead in cemeteries owned by local authorities. But some Protestants were also buried in local authority cemetery after the 1870s. People too poor to pay for their own funeral and burial were buried ‘on the parish’ in the pauper plot or poor ground, which St Luke’s maintained in the ‘old yard’ across to road, outside its beautiful new graveyard. Only those who could pay for a private grave were buried in the church burial ground.

St. Luke's from eastern end of old cemetery
St. Luke’s from the east, from¬† inside the local authority graveyard

There are four World War I casualties buried here, and one from World War II. The contribution of women to the war can be seen in the Humby grave, where Private J. Humby is buried alongside Miss F. Humby, who worked for the Voluntary Aid Detachment, a nursing division.

The lodge house by the gate was built for the sexton, who was employed as a caretaker to the church and gravedigger for the graveyard. The house was built for Mr Thomas Morris, who was sexton from 1879 to 1912. His terms of employment were 14 shillings a week, with residence, and 2 tons of coal.

  1. See the Dictionary of Irish Biography http://dib.cambridge.org/
  2. http://kieranmccarthy.ie/?p=8429 accessed 11 October 2015).
  3. Sam McCutcheon, A Church of Ireland Parish in County Cork (1983) p 10.