Saturday, 30 May 2015

Graveyard Recording at St Comghan's

Members of Ardnamurchan Community Archaeology spent some time this morning continuing their recording of the gravestones in 13th century St Comghan's churchyard.  This view looks towards the church from the northwest and shows how St Comghan, when he came here in the eighth century, chose a slight knoll with fine views all round for his original church.

A first survey of the site has now been completed.  While the older part of the churchyard includes two very good MacIain grave slabs from the 15th century, most of the monuments date from the 19th century.  A map showing the locations of all the grave stones is being created, and this will be accompanied by a database recording information about each.

Some of the inscriptions are very moving.  While most are of local families, this one marks the grave of a John McRoberts.  Because many of the stones are encrusted with lichens which, because this is a national historic monument, we cannot disturb, some of the writing is difficult to decipher.  However, we're getting better at it, and....

....we now know that the full inscription reads, 'In memory of John McRoberts a native of Gatehouse who died at Ardnamurchan lighthouse works January XXVI (26th) MDCCCXLIV (1844)* aged LX years (60)'.

A number of the gravestones are covered with this lichen, which I have not noticed on the local rocks.  I know nothing about lichens but have tentatively identified it as Lecanora chlarotera.

* My thanks to those who pointed out that I mis-translated the date as 1894.
The lighthouse was completed in 1849, but I don't know when the work was started: perhaps 1844?


  1. I believe the date of death should read 1844. 1894 would read MDCCCXCIV. Yes?

    1. Oh dear - but thank you. I've altered the date. Jon

  2. This is a place of final resting and respect. Not a place to be shown on a accessible world blog. How many of the Ardnamurchan community archaeology group have relations and friends who lie at rest here. Very unacceptable.

  3. We show due respect to the dead when we're working there, and work under a set of guidelines agreed with member of the local community. I'm sorry that you feel that information from a graveyard is, somehow, private. A cemetery is a public place - St Comghan's is a national historic monument so belongs to the nation - but not everyone can visit it. Many relatives of the deceased who live overseas are keen to know about their ancestors - see my previous post about the school master who is buried there. I have no problem with people knowing about my ancestors, some of whom are buried in Gorleston graveyard - my father's people are listed at

  4. Oh dear indeed. Your anonymous correspondent seems rather to have missed the point about gravestones. After all, it is not the dead who set them up. People want to have a marked place to go to remember the departed, and for that memory to persist in stone when there is no one left to remember.

    As a dabbler in family history, I for one am very keen on gravestones. They are primary sources and can tell us so much. The people who record them before they lose their inscriptions - to moss, lichen and the weather, fall over, or just fall apart - are doing both the dear-departed and posterity a great service.

    That many of these recorders do not 'have relations and friends who lie at rest' in the churchyards and cemeteries nationwide (worldwide?) in which they do their work (suffering in the process adverse weather, long grass, brambles, nettles, midges and whatever else Mother Nature throws at them) shows a dedication and love of the past that puts indoor historians (like me) to shame.

    Keep up the good work. Churchyard surveys are extremely valuable, greatly appreciated and most definitely NOT 'very unacceptable'.

    Chris M., East Anglia

  5. I was born into this village and grew up here, bramble,nettles, midges & whatever else came along was an everyday occurrence but we were always taught never to walk on graves or cause noise.
    I would refer you to a song that might enlighten those from a different cultural background.
    It is called: Superstition by Gaberlunzie.

  6. I agree graveyards are places which are due respect, but I cannot understand the leap of logic from your anonymous contributor that publishing information on them is unacceptable ... it would be very interesting to know whether anonymous is local or not ... I'm certain there are many descendants of the people buried in your churchyard who dispersed to the four corners of the world who are very grateful for information and images of a place they may well never be able to visit

  7. I think your efforts to record the gravestones is in no way disrespectful and adds to the historical record of the area

  8. I am Warden of a parish church in Devon. There are here grave records including the coordinates and inscriptions of every grave known on the property. I believe this to be common practice and placing the information on the internet is a logical extension of book records. Many people come to our village to research their relatives' grave information and as some stones are badly weathered, the information they seek is sometimes lost. Holding the text on other media before further degradation takes place is no more disrespectful than chiselling it onto the gravestone in the first place and makes complete sense for internet study and research. I hope Anonymous will take heart that there is no thoughtlessness or malicious intent in transcribing such information.

  9. Many thanks to Sandy Coppins who, after wrestling with the Blogger comment system and having the usual trouble with it, was kind enough to email me the following information given to him by Gordon Gray Stephens, Native Woodland Adviser in Kilmartin: "We were sent the link to your blog by a local person, as he guessed that we could supply the name of your lichen: it is Ochrolechia parella, a fairly frequent lichen of old gravestones in the clean air of the west. It does also occur on rocks. However, there is quite a useful website about churchyard lichens:
    Good luck with your studies - Kilchoan and Ardnamurchan are cracking places, especially for lichens."