Last week we concentrated on Father James Barry and the poetry he could well have inspired. But there’s a lot more to Stouke graveyard and this post will cover some of the other history revealed by a wander round this atmospheric place.
This graveyard is the traditional burial site of many from the islands of Roaringwater Bay. There’s a poignancy to the place names on the headstones – many of these islands are now uninhabited, so these are the last headstones that will bear such inscriptions. As with many West Cork graveyards, much of the ground is scattered with rough, uninscribed, stones, while other graves have modern memorials with full inscriptions. It is customary to visit graves on anniversaries, or at certain times of the year, and always you will find that a few graves still have fresh flowers or other evidence of recent visits.
The old Irish name for this place is Cillín Stuaice, or Little Church of the Height. There is a suggestion that somewhere in the graveyard is the site of an early church, but if it is here, there is no evidence of it. Except for one thing – a bullaun stone. Robert has written before about the folklore and beliefs associated with bullaun stones, but what exactly are they? Bullaun is an Irish word for bowl – these are bowl shaped depressions in rocks, sometimes portable, sometimes carved into rock outcrops. Although some may date to prehistoric times, many are believed to have originated in the medieval period for the purpose of grinding (acorns, for example) or for crushing ore. Whatever their origin, they are often found in association with medieval churches or other sacred sites such as holy wells, and have assumed their own sacred mantle of meaning. The water that collects in them is often believed to be curative.
The bullaun stone in Stouke graveyard is known, according to the Historic Graves account, as the Bishop’s Head. The informative plaque erected by the Fastnet Trails folk tells us that an older name for the townland is Kilaspick Oen, meaning Church of Bishop John. Perhaps this was the Bishop for whom the bullaun stone is named. The story goes that during the time of the penal laws the Bishop was confirming children nearby when the redcoats got wind of his activities and came to arrest him. He was beheaded. The bullaun stone commemorates this act and has been a focus of devotion locally, with people leaving coins and tokens to pay respect and perhaps ask for consideration for special intentions. Additionally, rounds were performed here on St John’s Night – although I am not sure if this tradition has persisted.
But last week I promised you more poetry! Inside the gate is a grave of the McGrath family, including the ashes of Liam McGrath who emigrated to Australia but never forgot growing up in Skeaghanore, near Ballydehob.
Although he was active on a number of fronts, his delight was to remember the old times and to capture his memories in verse. He was a true ‘folk poet’ – recalling the past with nostalgia and trying to capture what he saw as the golden scenes of his young life in rural West Cork. Over the years, several of his poems were published in the Southern Star. Local historian Teresa Hickey generously shared with me those she has collected over the years – a real treasure since they are not available online.
Teresa’s personal favourite is Three Bells. It describes the sound of the bells on Sunday morning from Ballydehob’s three churches – Catholic, Church of Ireland and Methodist. Sounds, of course, trigger deep memories, and this poem captures Liam’s recollections of traditional Sunday mornings in the village. Sadly, the Methodist Church has fallen into ruin, so those bells will never again peal over Ballydehob.
Above: The Catholic Church dominates the skyline of Ballydehob. Middle: St Matthias Church of Ireland. Below: The Ballydehob Methodist Church, gradually falling into dereliction
The one I’ve decided to reproduce here is called One more Score and it’s about the unique West Cork pastime of Road Bowling (rhyme bow with cow). For Liam, it was a precious memory, made all the sweeter by a recitation of the roads and locations where the game was played.
The sport of Road Bowling – the object is to get the bowl down the road to the target in as few throws as possible
No doubt I will drop by Stouke Graveyard many more times in the future. I wonder what further history lessons will be revealed…