The Whitefield Graveyard Group are a local group set up to uncover the history and archaeology of this graveyard near the village of Tinahely in south county Wicklow. Read more below about ongoing work and future plans.
Penal Era Church and Fr. Hore Connection
The belief held locally is that this is a penal era church and is cruciform in plan. It was burned down during the 1798 Rebellion and was apparently rebuilt with funds from the landowner Fitzwilliam. It is our aim through historical research to accurately tell the story of the site through a combination of disciplines including an archaeologist and historian.
These sites are important historic landmarks which enable us to understand our history and culture. Not least is the fact that it was in Whitefield in 1850 that the local parish priest, Fr Thomas Hore, spoke to a vast crowd about his intention of bringing a large Irish Catholic colony out to Arkansas in the American mid-west. It is a fascinating story which has reached an international audience in Jim Rees book ‘A farewell to famine’ . In total 1,200 people emigrated with Father Hore.
There is no complete record of the graves at Whitefield and this monument is an important part of our history from the late 1700s. Our research can add to the historical and archaeological records of chapels from this era which is scant. One of the oldest examples of a surviving T-shaped Irish Catholic chapel is that at Kilmurry, County Wicklow which has been documented by Chris Corlett. Whitefield can add to the record of churches from this era. The site is also important from a diaspora perspective given the mass emigration that occurred from this era in the 1850s.
If this graveyard is left for many more years, it will be consumed by vegetation and will be inaccessible. The current project will enable the graveyard to be cleared and the local FAS team have agreed to regularly monitor the graveyard along where by routine small-scale annual maintenance work will prevent minor problems in a graveyard from growing into major problems that are expensive and time consuming to remedy. In 2021 a complete record of all the headstones, stonemasons and historical research was completed and it is planned that in 2023 a booklet and display panel will be erected in the graveyard.
Learning from another Graveyard Project
Whitefield is part of a larger project and follows the template which was adopted at Preban Graveyard under the direction of Yvonne Whitty who is a local archaeologist. The names of 327 people have been transcribed, eight different stone masons were identified with help from Chris Corlett of the NMS and three pieces of Neolithic Rock Art identified. All of this work was completed by a small group who also produced a two-part documentary, exhibition and booklet which has sold just over 200 copies locally. We also produced a podcast series for Heritage Week 2020. The podcast was downloaded over 120k times and was produced by The Irish History Podcast. This public outreach strategy drove people to the site whereby they could engage with our heritage and enjoy and appreciate the open-air art gallery of 18th sculpture on a headstone canvas.
Long term vision
We propose to develop a graveyard trail comprising Preban, Mullinacuff, Whitefield and Ballymaghroe. This trail would feature archaeology from Neolithic times, through the Early Medieval and right up to the late 1700s, illustrated by the archaeological remains in our graveyards. As Corlett has stated these sites are open air art galleries and museums and are vulnerable to climate change and nature. If we do not preserve these sites now, they will not be accessible for future generations and the script on the headstones which is slowly being eroded by weathering will be lost forever.
Whitefield Graveyard is one of the Wicklow projects to receive funding support from the Community Monuments Fund 2021 and 2022. The CMF is co-ordinated by National Monuments Service of Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage and administered at a local level by the Heritage Officer of Wicklow County Council. Read more about CMF HERE