CROAGH county councillor Stephen Keary this week lashed out at Limerick County Council for its failure to manage and maintain the county’s historic and protected graveyards.
And he described as an “absolute disgrace” the situation which had arisen at the Clonshire graveyard in Croagh where graves had fallen in or been damaged.
Now, he has called on the council “to relinquish all rights to these old graveyards on the basis that they do not have the will, the resources, or the capacity to maintain them in a condition befitting the memory of our dead”. Instead, he argued, local committees should be given access and the right to maintain them.
Outlining his case at Monday’s council meeting, Cllr Keary cited four graveyards in his area alone where there were issues regarding ongoing management and access. These were the Clonshire graveyard near Adare, Kilcolman graveyard near Knockaderry, Knockpatrick graveyard near Foynes and the Ballinakill graveyard in Kilfinny.
But he drew councillors’ attention to the Clonshire graveyard in particular. In May 2010, a local ad-hoc committee convened to carry out a much-needed clean-up, he told councillors. “The committee employed the use of a mechanically propelled teleporter to gain access to a stone apex in the old ruined church to try and stabilize some loose and dangerous masonry,” he said but during the operation, the stone apex was accidently demolished, falling onto graves and damaging some nearby headstones. He described the resulting scenario as akin to “a war-torn area in the Middle East”.
“No effort has been made since by Limerick Co Council to remove the debris from the affected graves and repair the damaged headstones, “ Cllr Keary charged. “The sad thing about this situation is that there are a number of elderly people with affected graves and it saddens me to think, that in this day and age ,that their final wish of a place of burial would be denied to them due to the lack of concern and regard currently being portrayed by this authority.”
Cllr Keary added that the accident was reported to the Garda for investigation but no prosecution was brought because the incident was accidental. “The parties responsible were carrying out voluntary work that should have been undertaken by Limerick County Council or other prescribed body,” Cllr Keary said.
The council had written to the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and to the Monuments Service to find out about how to remove the debris from the fallen arch, Cllr Keary was told. Three or four letters had been sent but no reply received. It is not simply a matter for the council, diretor of service, Paul Crowe said “These are national monuments and there are regulations surrounding them.”
The council gave grants of €350 to over 60 local grave committees this year and had secured additional funds for projects such as the graveyard in Croagh village, Mr Crowe said. However, the council’s finances did not allow maintenance work on all burial grounds.
“I take no solace from that,” Cllr Keary said.
Cllr Kevin Sheahan, acknowledging the work done by interested local committees, was concerned that their enthusiasm might not be maintained into the next generation. And he suggested a licensing system under which interested local groups would get access for a period of up to ten years.
Cllr John Sheahan said the main objective was to “empower people”. “We deter people from getting involved,” he said.
Cllr Damien Riedy pointed out that one disincentive was the high cost of insurance. While the county council insured for public liability, one local committee was facing a €500 insurance bill to cover clean-up work, he explained.
Cllr Eddie Wade said spaces could be made available in old graveyards by freeing up graves not used for generations.
“We should give volunteers freedom to manage. Common sense is being denied,” Cathaoirleach Jerome Scanlan said.