Happy Halloween! This pagan festival in Ireland marked the end of summer and beginning of winter (the dark season) and was celebrated the night of October 31 through November 1. It was believed that at midnight the path between this world and the next was opened and the spirits were free to roam the earth. Hearth fires were left burning to warm the dead ancestors who would congregate there. Don't we wish it were that easy and we could get them to tell us all their secrets! As Christianity took over November 1st was celebrated as All Saint's Day and Oiche Samhain became All Hallows Eve or Halloween.
Since my dead ancestors haven't been warming themselves at my hearth lately or telling me their secrets, I guess I'll just have to keep looking for them. Sources of graveyard inscriptions might be one way to find out their death dates and perhaps other family members interred with them. Many years ago I found a book titled Graveyard Inscriptions - County Down published by the Ulster Historical Foundation. There in volume 18 was the information about my great, great grandfather.
(White limestone in a low-railed enclosure). Erected by James Moag in
memory of his father William S. Moag who departed this life 19th Sept.
1879 aged 55 years. Also their three children: - Richard J. aged 14
months; John D. (aged) 7 (months); Minnie (aged) 7 years.
Not dead but sleeping
A quiet peaceful rest;
Jesus, the spirit keeping,
In the mansions of the blest.
Not only had I found the final resting place of William Moag, but I also learned about 3 additional children. According to the book he was interred in the Loughaghery Presbyterian Graveyard in County Down. A few years later while visiting Ireland I hunted down the church and found the grave. The "low-railed enclosure" was gone and there appeared to be a new grave. Thinking that there might be someone still living in the family I checked with the church only to find that since no one was left from the family, the grave had been reregistered...at least they left the original stone for me to find.
I have also found other graves in Counties Monaghan and Westmeath, but through family members.
So where do you look for graveyard information? The Ulster Historical Foundation has a database of over 50,000 inscriptions (membership required) and there are over 176,000 graveyard inscriptions in the Irish Family History Foundation databases (pay per view). Eneclann has published Brian J. Cantwell's Memorials of the Dead on CD and they are also available at IrishOrigins (subscription) and FindMyPast.ie (subscription or pay per view). These cover primarily Wicklow and Wexford. There is a free index to the CD's at the Cantwell's website.
Finally, if you know the location of your ancestor in Ireland, I'd suggest you check the Ireland GenWeb Project for the county. Many of these sites have cemetery listings that have been done by local volunteers and are free. You can also search for "graveyard inscriptions" with the county or parish name.
Happy Halloween and Happy Hunting!