Buried in a pauper’s plot, Mary deserves to be remembered

Mary O'Sullivan was not an impoverished person when she died, but she still ended up in a 'pauper's grave', says John Arnold in his weekly column
Buried in a pauper’s plot, Mary deserves to be remembered

The O’Connell tower in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin, where Mary O’Sullivan, of Castlelyons, was buried in a pauper’s grave in 1955

IN February last year, when my aunt-in-law Ailbe Twomey died, I was asked to say a few words at her Funeral Mass.

Because of Covid, just a small gathering attended the Requiem Mass in Aglish, Co. Waterford.

Ailbe, or Alice as she was christened, Fenton married my uncle Jerry Twomey and they lived at Kilcor, Castlelyons, the ancestral acres of the Twomey clan.

Generations of the Twomeys are buried in Templenacarrigga, near Lisgoold in East Cork, and we thought that ‘twas there the couple might finally rest.

My uncle died in 2012, but long before that Ailbe and himself had bought a grave in the cemetery at Aglish, where the Fenton family have been buried for many years.

They were a very private couple, but dedicated to each other and madly in love. In actual fact, after Uncle Jerry died, Auntie Ailbe was never the same, she just pined away -wanting to be with the love of her life.

On the day of her funeral, I quoted a verse of Brendan O Brien’s big hit of 1966, Together Again;

Together again, my tears have stopped falling

The long lonely nights are now at an end

The key to my heart you hold in your hand

And nothing else matters, we’re together again.

In life, and in death, I knew they wanted to be always ‘together again’ and so they are in a picturesque cemetery in west Waterford. It was so different for James O’Sullivan and his wife Mary.

James was born in the early 1860s and after working as an unpaid ‘Monitor’ (apprentice) Teacher, he went on to qualify as a fully fledged National Teacher. He got a teaching post at Britway National School in the parish of Castlelyons - coincidentally, the school attended by the Twomeys of Klcor.

In 1900, James married Mary, a daughter of William Roche, a shopkeeper in the village of Castlelyons. The couple then lived in the teacher’s house adjacent to the school in Britway.

James taught in turbulent and historic times - through the First World War, Irish War of Independence and then the bitter Civil War.

In July, 1924, at the age of 63, James O’Sullivan died after a short illness, he had suffered from asthma with several years. He was buried in Gortroe cemetery, though no headstone or marker indicates his final resting place.

His widow, Mary, then aged 57, had to vacate the teacher’s residence. She moved to Dublin where she managed to obtain accommodation in the Widows’ Home run by the Sisters of Charity in Belvedere Place.

Here, Mary O’Sullivan spent the last 31 years of her life. She died in 1955 at the age of 88.

Through all those years ‘in exile’ in Dublin, she always kept up contact with her old neighbours ‘on the banks of the Bride’ in Castlelyons. 

She was a voracious letter writer and thankfully some of her correspondence survives. It gives a rare insight into her thinking and faith.

In one letter, she mentioned that she had buried ‘poor Jimmy (her husband) with my parents in Gortroe (cemetery)’ whilst another family member was interred in Monanimy cemetery, near Killavullen.

Mary was a deeply religious lady and the saving of her eternal soul was of utmost importance to her. She wrote that by joining a certain solidality, she could get 500 masses said for the repose of her soul. She regularly sent stipends to the clergy in Castlelyons for Masses to be offered for her husband and her parents.

When James had died in 1924, she presumably had him buried with her parents in Gortroe, on the basis and expectation that when she herself died, she would also be interred there. Little did she think that faraway Dublin would be her home for decades. In Gortroe cemetery, there are no headstones to any Roche family but there are several Leahy stones - Mary’s mother was Elizabeth Leahy.

As time went by and Mary settled into her life of retirement in the Widows’ Home, she continually gave money to different charities, religious orders, and other ‘good causes’. In one letter to an old neighbour, she confides that when her time to depart this world comes, she had arranged to be buried in Dublin rather than with her husband. She went on in that same letter to state that she looked forward to being interred ‘with the elite in Glasnevin’- a lofty ambition indeed!

St. Monica’s, the Widows’ Home, was strictly reserved for widows and widows alone. Elderly single women, even in poor circumstances, were not allowed to reside in the fine building in Belvedere Place.

Life was comfortable for Mary in Dublin, with visits now and then to far-flung places like Mounty Melleray in Waterford. The Jesuit Order were based in Gardiner Street, not far from St Monica’s, and they too benefited from Mary’s generosity towards anyone with even a splink of religiosity.

Mary O Sullivan died in May, 1955, at the age of 88. Her mortal remains were brought to the Church dedicated to St Francis Xavier in Gardiner Street. She was indeed buried, as per her expressed wishes, in Glasnevin cemetery.

Not for Mary O’Sullivan, though, a grave ‘with the elite’ in the 124-acre burial ground. No, she was buried in an unmarked plot - often referred to as a Paupers Grave.

By the time of her burial in 1955, four others - all unrelated - had already been interred in the same plot. This section of the cemetery is unkept and looks more like a battle site than an actual cemetery.

In Glasnevin, well over a million people are interred, many with fine headstones and monuments but nothing indicates the final resting place of the teacher’s wife from Britway.

Mary was not an impoverished person when she died. She left over £500 in her Will - a substantial sum for nearly 70 years ago. Presumably, she expected one of her ‘friends’ might erect some little memorial to mark her burial place.

Recent enquiries have established that there is actually no registered owner of the plot where Mary and the other four are buried, so the grave can still be bought. 

A friend of mine, whose mother knew Mary well, has made soundings about purchasing it. We think it would be fitting to mark the grave of this lady.

Sadly, we have no definite idea where James O Sullivan is buried in Gortroe, but hopefully we can remember both of them.

Just as my uncle and aunt are ‘together again’ in death, as in life the same will happen for Mary and James.

Our plan is to get a headstone erected in Glasnevin with the following inscription.

In Loving Memory


Mary O Sullivan (nee Roche)

Castlelyons, Co. Cork

Who died in 1955, aged 88

and her husband

James, NT who died in 1924 aged 63

buried in Gortroe cemetery, Co. Cork

May They Rest In Peace .

Together Again.

More in this section

Sponsored Content

Echo 130Echo 130

Podcast: 1000 Cork songs 
Singer/songwriter Jimmy Crowley talks to John Dolan

Listen Here

Add Echolive.ie to your home screen - easy access to Cork news, views, sport and more