24 April 2010

A Slab for William Kelly


Erosion ∕ Ornament ∕ Signage


This gravestone is next to Farahy Church near the village of Kildorrery, County Cork, Ireland. It is one of the small number of older graves in the churchyard which seem to have been retouched in the last couple of decades. The groove of the original calligraphic carving has been cleaned and reinscribed with black pigment. The result is this striking combination of a weathered slab with the crisp new lines of recent re-etching. The facelift draws attention to the fact that the slab would itself have originally been a pristine near-white, and so the writing would have been even more impressive in 1799.

Strange to our eyes are the haphazard-seeming abbreviations, particularly on the right margin. Given the quality of the lettering, surely the stonemason could have foreseen the lack of space for the final letters of some words? In fact there is sufficient space for the letters in question, it just has not been used. Two explanations for these abbreviations come to mind: 1. the mason was charging a per-letter rate and the client saved some money and still got the vital information on the slab, or 2. they simply did not see these abbreviations as anomalous in the way that we might now.


Over 120 years later, the Kelly family erected another headstone alongside, this time in the Celtic Romanesque revival style that had taken hold in the 19th century. This type of gravestone is in imitation of the surviving Irish monastic high crosses, which date from as early as the 7th century. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, resurgent Catholicism and nationalism cherished the early monastic tradition as a key source of indigenous (pre-English colonization) Irish iconography. Stonemasonry had clearly undergone some changes in the intervening years, as the newer grave seems to have been mechanically lettered in a standard font and with a modern respect for left and right margins, and for consistent abbreviation. It is also worth noting that only the lower section of the newer grave has been tailored to the Kellys’ needs, the small connecting part and the cross itself being generic. A further change is in the kind of information that is conveyed and emphasized. Whereas the more recent grave simply lists the names and death dates of the dearly departed (the most recent member of the family was buried here in 1994), all of the flash-bang lettering of the older grave is used to record the name of the person who paid for the grave (Dan Kelly), and not for the poor old dead father.