The research skills and tenacity of IGRS vice-chairman Mary Casteleyn has helped secure the future of a small, overgrown and long-abandoned graveyard in County Kilkenny.
One of Mary’s deep-rooted interests is the history of the Wild Geese – the Irish exiles who fled to Europe in the 18th century either in search of a better life or to fight in foreign wars. Her pursuit of one of these families, the Ryans, led her to Danganmore, Co Kilkenny and, eventually, to an old tomb in a graveyard near Dunnamaggin.
Archaeologist John Tierney of HistoricGraves.ie and fellow enthusiast Bernie Kirwan of Danesfort were called upon to decipher the almost illegible letters and marks on the stone. They found they recorded the death of John Ryan who, along with his brothers James and Edmund, saw service in the French Army.
John fought against the English at the Battle of Dettingen in 1743 and Fontenoy in 1745 before, remarkably (given this was at the height of the Penal Laws in Ireland) returning to the family’s Kilkenny home where he lived out his days.
His brothers and extended family remained in Europe, leading colourful lives in aristocratic circles and prospered. Even as recently as 1999, there was a House of Ryan, wine and brandy merchants, operating in Cadiz.
Local knowledge of these significant historical connections had been lost in Danganmore but they have been warmly embraced by the community. The graveyard now has a committee of neighbours and friends to care for it in the future and a plaque, funded by the Heritage Office of Kilkenny County Council, was unveiled, appropriately enough by Mary, in July.