On a cool damp October morning I started my search for the grave of Andrew Kennedy in Deansgrange Cemetery, armed with his date and place of death. My great grand uncle, he was always known by the family as ‘poor Andrew.’ In the cemetery office I was handed a map, with a location marked on it, which had been found in the burial registry. I spent a difficult half hour climbing over very old graves, some of them caved in, with headstones leaning or fallen This was in an area where there were no paths. I returned unsuccessful to the office.
‘Is Andrew’s one of the unmarked graves, or one where the headstone has fallen and is now illegible?’ I asked.
There was a grave digger at the office.
‘The place marked on your map is wrong,’ he said. ‘I’ll show you where to go.’ He marked the correct spot on the map.
‘But,’ he added, ‘the grave contains a more recent burial. The name is Joyce.’
I wondered who this could be. I knew of no Joyce relatives. I set off down the long grey paths again, and under an old yew tree in a hidden area of the cemetery I found the grave. There was a shiny black marble headstone, a clump of geraniums and a photograph of a little boy.
Jesus called a little child, I read.
Ciarán Joyce, aged 10 years.
I’m just having a little rest.
Almost tearful by this stage, but whether for Andrew or Ciarán I wasn’t sure, I returned to the office and someone else looked up the register again.
‘The grave was sold,’ he said,’ in the 1990s.’
‘Sold?’ I repeated.
‘Yes, graves that were never purchased could be sold.’
‘So where’s Andrew?’ I asked. ‘Did he not have a headstone? What happened to his headstone?’
‘Sometimes the new owners were requested to commemorate the original grave on the new headstone. In the event of there being no head stone; there would be no such commemoration.’
Poor Andrew, I thought, why was his grave never purchased? And did he really have no headstone? There are other family graves in Deansgrange; they have plinths and inscriptions. So what happened to Andrew?
I thought of the time when he had died, in 1920. After 1916. After the First World War. After the sudden and unexpected death of my grandfather in 1917. In the heart break and turmoil that ensued my widowed grandmother, his niece, had gone to England to rear her two children there. She was accompanied by her parents, her sister and her niece and nephew. Andrew, then in his seventies, had remained in Dublin alone. Was it any wonder his grave had been abandoned?
I was cold by now, chilled by the damp and the experience. There were tearooms opposite the office. They were welcoming, the cakes were homemade.
Poor Andrew, I thought for the second time, as I sat there over a pot of hot coffee, he was 76 when he died and he’s been totally forgotten until today, and poor Ciarán, who while still clearly loved and remembered thirty years later, never grew up.