Headstones, Crests and Symbols


Headstones, Crests and Symbols in Magheross Cemetery


The most ancient community building in Carrickmacross today is the old St. Finbarr's Church in Magheross. The existing ruin dates from the 1500's and is thought to be the third or fourth building erected on this site. This historical site also includes St. Finbarr's cemetery which is interesting in that it is home to both Catholic and Church of Ireland burials. The cemetery contains a variety of headstones, markers, ledger slabs, table slabs and burial vaults. Many of the headstones are highly decorated and have burial symbols on them. A large number of the headstones and slabs also have family crests/coat of arms of the families that are interred there. Below are some examples that can still be seen today: 


Wheeled Cross Headstone

Wheeled Crossed Headstone BigThis wheeled cross headstone shows the five mortality symbols: the skull, crossed long bones, the bell, the hour-glass and the coffin.  (Monaghan Heritage, 2007)









Dobbs Coat of Arms

Dobbs Coat of Arms BigThe Dobbs coat of arms is carved at the top of a ledger slab. (It is a chevron between three unicorns' heads erased). (Shirley, 1879)  This slab lies within the church. 

The common belief at the time was that the nearer you were to the church the more chance you had of going to heaven so a lot of people who were considered important at the time are buried within the church and just outside the church.  The further away you were the less chance you had.  (O'Brien, 2013)



Moore Coat of Arms

Moore Coat of Arms BigMoore Coat of Arms (Arms, on chief indented, three mullets pierced, a crescent for difference). (Shirley, 1879)






Jones Coat of Arms

Jones Coat of Arms BigJones Coat of Arms (Arms, G. on a cross between four mullets pierced or, a pheon of the field.  Crest, a wing erect argent, semée  of estoiles)  This is the coat of Jones of Benada Abbey, Co. Sligo, descended from  Sir Roger Jones, Knt. (Shirley, 1879)   








Sacred Heart With Thorns & Flames And The Cross Rising From The Heart

heart Symbol BigSacred Heart or the Heart of Christ with thorns encircling heart, flames surrounding Cross rising from top of heart – symbol of God’s love – thorns on the heart represents the crown of thorns and therefore the crucifixion – the flames engulfing the cross are a symbol of his suffering on the cross – the cross stands in the centre which represents the church that was established after his crucifixion or suffering - popular feast day known as the ‘Feast of the Sacred Heart’ first celebrated in church in 1856.  (O'Brien, 2013)






Decorative Headstone

Decorative Headstone BigLarge Ornate Headstone with lamb lying on cross at top and decorative sides. Lamb of God also known in Latin as the Agnus Dei – the lamb represents Jesus who is the Lamb of God and the lamb lying on the cross represents Jesus on the Cross – the Crucifixion – also represents Christ's victory over death – bible story "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29) (O'Brien, 2013)







Highly Decorated Wrought Iron Cross & Wrought Iron Railed Surround

 Iron Cross Big  

In Magheross graveyard there is a fine example of a wrought iron cross and many examples of mixed cast and wrought iron railings surrounds, which were probably made by local blacksmiths such as Thomas and William Gordon or bought from a foundry. It is possible that the blacksmith may have left his initials somewhere on these structures. The iron railings in the graveyard date from the 18th century.  A lot of the iron work in the cemetery is in a poor state and in need of conservation. There is a danger of losing this iron work as we no longer have the appropriate craftsmen in modern Ireland who have the traditional skills to carry out repairs.

 Railed Grave Big



Sandstone Headstone with Sun Symbol & Plain Headstone with IHS at top


This sandstone headstone featuring the sun symbol at the top with IHS at the centre is quite common throughout the graveyard. IHS usually found on Catholic gravestones is Greek words iota, eta, and sigma that stands for Holy Name of Jesus. It is sometimes translated in Latin as Iesus Hominum Salvator i.e. 'Jesus, Savior of men'. I H S standing in the centre of a sunburst – I H S stands for the first three letters of the name of Jesus in Greek – sunburst is a symbol of resurrection – therefore the I H S inside a sunburst is a symbol of the Resurrection of Christ. (O'Brien, 2013) 


 IHS  Sun Symbol Big



Slate Headstone

slate headstone bigThere are a few slate headstones scattered throughout Magheross and from our research it was noted that they survived well regardless of the weather.  The above stone dates back to 1855.











Small Carved Broken Cross (showing earliest inscription)

earliest inscription bigThis small cross is the oldest stone that the inscription can be read from and dates back to 1664.













Headstone of Bishop Edward Kernan

Bishop Edward Kernan bigThis impressive headstone enclosed in a wrought iron railed surround depicts the importance with which the bishop was held. You can see at the summit of the headstone the bishop's mitre adorned with the cross and staff symbols. The decorative shoulders and top of the headstone display the Lamb lying on a cross which represents Christ's victory over death. (O'Brien, 2013) This symbol seems to have been used on gravestones of the clergy.






Original Holy Water Stoop

stoop bigThis is the original holy water stoop that was free standing in Magheross Church when it was used.  A holy water stoop or font is a vessel containing holy water generally placed near the entrance of the church.  It now lies along the path in the cemetery.










Table Slab

Ledger Table BigThis large table slab which is a horizontal slab on plinths with the inscription on top again depicted the importance of the person buried here and also was an indication that they came from a wealthy background.






Entrance Of A Burial Vault

entrance to crypt bigThe picture shows the entrance to a burial vault which is closed off for safety reasons.  A burial vault is an underground chamber that is used to accommodate the coffins of people buried in. With their use diminishing in the 21st century, these chambers were used in earlier years to give people a proper send off and to display wealth. In those times, the larger and more flamboyant a chamber was, the more dignified the send off was considered.