Among the petrified plots, we found a few softer, rocky mounds in the grass, some marked and some not very well, and wondered if this was evidence of (relatively) recent burial. That was a haunting possibility, and I’m not ashamed to admit I gave a wider berth to those plots, walked more tenderly on the grass near them. Others, perfect rectangles bordered in stone, bore one headstone for entire families with names and dates listed one by one in chronological order. The names themselves charmed me, intoxicated as I am by all things Irish, and I once again felt like I was in one of my favorite literary works, this time maybe McCourt or James Joyce rather than Maeve Binchy’s kitchens and buses, but I was sobered by the knowledge that these names represented actual people. Characters who had walked this very ground, perhaps. Folks who had stood on the beach I had just left hours before. I don’t know you, but I acknowledge you, I thought. You may have been ornery, artistic, teenaged, or elderly, so I will spend this one moment witnessing that you were a person, completely unknown to me but now connected to me in the fragile, fleeting way in which we are all part of this same family of mankind. On a more intimate level, I take this moment to imagine you alive, because there is a reason God brought me here to this place in particular, to stand over your grave and look upon your name, silently hoping your rest is not simply peaceful, but blissful. Catherine O’Sullivan McKenna, who was preceded in death by her son Mike but not by her daughter Mary. Mary Briget Ferriter, three months old. As if each were alive briefly, standing next to me, I felt an impulse to reach out and bear witness to her life, appreciating the opportunity to have shared in it so many years later, from another dimension.
Surrounding the graves were the crumbling ruins of stone archways, walls, and tiny outbuildings. These were cold, foreboding, but softened by slick moss and ivy growing wildly. Day in and day out they stood sentry, usually with only the departed souls to see the wild yellow spring flowers cropping up in the clefts between weathered stone and any ancient mortar. What pure grace, “generous, free and totally unexpected and undeserved” that I was allowed to share this moment with them.
‘Grace’, Komonchak et al (eds), Joseph A (1990). The New Dictionary of Theology. Dublin: Gill and Macmillan. p. 437.