Book uncovers 'hidden' cemetery's tragic stories

Every graveyard tells a story and the cemetery at Carnmoney Parish Church is no exception.

Its gravestones are a history of the area and the people who once lived there. Inscriptions on centuries-old stones flecked with moss reveal many tragic stories of young lives cut short by disease or tragedy.

One gravestone records the death of a boy on July 5, 1914, who drowned saving his two friends in Belfast Lough.

It says the headstone was “erected by a few subscribers in memory of William Boyle aged 10 years who gave up his life successfully saving two companions from drowning at Twin Island’’.

The News Letter, which reported the story on July 6, 1914, said: “The deceased was amusing himself in sailing a craft improvised from pieces of timber when by some means or other the frail craft capsized and the three lads were thrown into the water some yards from the shore.

“While he was able to swim he assisted first one and then the other of his companions to safety but his exertions apparently exhausted his strength and before he himself reached the shore he sank.”

The tragedy is just one story included in a new book about the graveyard at Carnmoney Parish Church which was launched last night by the Newtownabbey branch of the North of Ireland Family History Society.

The Hidden Graveyard contains inscriptions from the hundreds of headstones in graveyard number one – there are another two at the church.

The book also documents various memorials from inside the church, the Commonwealth War Graves and the Garden of Remembrance, illustrated by both colour and black and white photographs.

It records fascinating snippets of social history bringing to light an earlier age.

Sandra Ardis, Newtownabbey branch secretary, said: “This particular graveyard has memorials of deaths from the middle of the 1860s up until the 1960s.

“It also includes people who, although not buried in the graveyard, are mentioned because a lot of families would have had people who emigrated to South Africa, Canada and Australia.

“Some of the stories are tragic when you look at the children who died very young. Some families even lost three children in one year.’’

Carnmoney Parish Church is on an ancient Christian site and there is a record of vicars of the parish dating back to 1622.

However, there is evidence of Christian settlement in the area from a much earlier date, possibly as early as the seventh century.

The current church building is mid-Victorian, having been consecrated in 1856.

Sandra said that, given their age and state of repair, some of the gravestones were very difficult to decipher.

“When the work on the book started it was before the council took over looking after the graveyard so the place was totally overgrown.

“I think at the time they actually got the fire brigade to lift stones so that they could read them.’’

In the foreword to the book Alderman Nigel Hamilton, Mayor of Newtownabbey 2007-2008, states that it “acknowledges the important historical significance of this church with its varied and rich past”.

According to Tom Buchanan, chairman of the Newtownabbey branch, the book will also provide “a constant source of reference for those researching their family history both in Northern Ireland and abroad – which, of course, is central to the work of the society”.

The Hidden Graveyard will be available at a number of outlets, priced 10. Books can also be purchased by contacting Sandra Ardis on 028 9086 2012 or