Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Churchtown Graveyard (Ballylast) - Joe Mc Cormick

Where do I begin? Let's go back to the 1940s when the graveyard was reopened for the internment of one named Gertrude Canning. Gertrude was born in the village of Ballindrait. After working in a hotel in Scotland for a while, she joined the WRENS, and while on her way to post a letter home to Ballindrait, she was brutally murdered, they say, by a member of the armed forces for whom she worked. Four bullets were pumped into her body and the forensic evidence proved that the bullets were fired from a gun owned by the army. Her killer was never caught.

The remains were brought home for burial. The funeral mass was held in Murlough and from hence to Churchtown for burial. The date on the tombstone states internment took place in 1942.

The graveyard itself shows signs of going back some time, probably to the 1700s. Some of the old headstones are just upright stones with a simple cross engraved into them, no writing whatsoever. The actual graveyard is in a very bad state with briars and nettles everywhere. The graveyard belonged to a church which was adjacent to it. And there was a monastery on the other side of the river in the parish of Urney, (the word Urney means place of prayer) both were connected by stepping stones in the river. People say monks traveling from Lough Derg to Ards Monastery stopped overnight at Churchtown. The area the graveyard is situated in Ballylast, is a translation of Baile Lóiste, which means 'place of the landing'.

The area also contained a school and, as far as I know, it existed until the beginning of the last century. It is a pity so much information about the past has been lost. I have inquired from quite a few people, but have not yet found out the name of the church.

N.B. A report from the Irish Excavations states that an Archbishop Cotton visited the area in 1397. It is reported that two men from the local village of Clady were chased out of the graveyard when they started to clean it up, by the Donegal County Council. The church can be found on the map here.

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