Irish Roots: Graveyards Worth Whistling Past

Irish Roots: New technology and the dead

Wed, Jul 31, 2013, 13:51

Genealogy deals with the dead, so it’s not surprising that graveyards loom large in researchers’ minds, and have done for 150 years.

Since the mid-2000s, however, technology has brought about a sea-change in the kind of access we have to graveyards and to headstones. No fewer than three Irish companies are offering graveyard survey services, recording the precise position of each grave using GPS, transcribing inscriptions, taking digital photographs, producing cemetery maps and making the whole lot freely available online.

The oldest is Irish Graveyard Surveyors, at Set up in 2007 by Michael Durkan, the son of a Mayo undertaker, it aims to preserve the kind of detailed knowledge of local graveyards that his father had. So far, almost 200 cemeteries are covered, mainly in the West, with the majority in Mayo, Galway, Sligo, Donegal and Clare. For each location the cemetery owner gets maps, along with transcripts and photographs for every headstone, from the most recent to the oldest. And so do we, on their free website.

Its most direct competitor is, based in Northern Ireland, but also starting to operate in the South, and online only since 2012.

The site doesn’t have a large-scale map showing the locations covered, making it a little awkward to work out precisely what they’ve done, but there appears to be around 100 graveyards included, mostly in Northern Ireland and heavily concentrated in Co Derry. Again, the survey results – photos, transcripts and maps – are all freely searchable online.

The third of the trio,, is not a business in the same way as the other two. It relies on volunteer-led local groups, provides them with technical and archaeological know-how and publishes the results online.

Not all surveyed graveyards include a full set of transcriptions, but the quality of what is there is very good and, again, free. The main focus of work is in the south and south-west, Tipperary, Limerick, Waterford and Cork in particular.

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