17 July 2019

Inishmore’s unique
collection of roadside
stone cenotaphs

Dozens of stone memorials or cenotaphs line the roads in Inishmore on the Aran Islands (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

All along the main road through Inishmore ( Inis Mór), from east to west on the largest of the Aran Islands, dozens of large cenotaph-like memorials line the roadside.

These Leachtaí Cuimhneacháin or Leachtai Cuimhne or roadside memorials can be seen right across the island. They are often found in groups of three or four, but sometimes they stand on their own, even in the front or side garden of a family home.

In all, there are 28 of these monuments on Inishmore, and the majority date from 1811 to 1892, although the oldest three date from the early 1700s. The largest collection is found along the road from Kilronan, the main island village, east to Killeany (Cill Einne).

The roadside stone pillars are topped by simple crosses, with inscriptions in English, commemorating local families. Each cenotaph has an inscription detailing the family or person commemorated. The family names include O’Flaherty, Dirrane, Hernon, Fitzpatrick, McDonagh, Dirrane, Wiggan, Mullen, Gill, O’Donnell, Naughton, Conneely and Folen.

The roadside stone pillars are topped by simple crosses and have inscriptions in English (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

A local tradition says they commemorate islanders who died in exile or were drowned at sea and so could not be buried at home. Another explanation says they mark the places where funeral processions would pause for prayer on their way to the grave.

But local people enjoy telling naïve visitors and gullible tourists that these are the graves of people who were buried standing upright.

East of Killeany, between the pier and the airstrip, Leacht na nIascaire, the Memorial to the Fishermen, overlooks the bay and commemorates all islanders who were lost at sea.

It was erected in 1998 and initially conceived as memorial to 14 men and boys who were drowned when they were swept from the Glassan Rocks on 15 August 1852 while they were fishing. But since then carved plaques have been added recording the names of all drowned islanders since the early 19th century.

A memorial service is held each year on 15 August at the monument.

The Memorial to the Fishermen overlooking the airstrip at the east end of Inishmore (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

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