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Another genealogical good news story

The RCB Library holds a complete set of the Journals For The Association for the Preservation of the Memorials of the Dead, Ireland. Published annually between 1888 and 1934, these volumes contain details of gravestone inscriptions throughout Ireland. The inscriptions were submitted by voluntary contributors reporting from various counties sending in transcriptions, rubbings, drawings and sometimes photographs. Entries are arranged alphabetically by county and sub–divided by parish, also in alphabetical order. The journals were the idea of Colonel Philip Doyne Vigors. As a soldier in the 11th Devonshire Regiment and 19th Prince of Wales Own Regiment, Vigors was a keen collector of antiquities wherever he travelled. After retirement, amongst many pursuits he became dedicated to the preservation and recording of gravestones, tombs and monuments in cemeteries throughout Ireland.

Front page of Journal For The Association for the Preservation of the Memorials of the Dead.
Front page of Journal For The Association for the Preservation of the Memorials of the Dead.

Inside page of Journal For The Association for the Preservation of the Memorials of the Dead.
Inside page of Journal For The Association for the Preservation of the Memorials of the Dead.

Apart from their intrinsic interest, the journals can be an invaluable resource for family historians, particularly Church of Ireland families, as many of these records were lost during the Irish Civil War when the Public Record Office was destroyed by fire. The losses included more than 500 Church of Ireland registers of baptism, marriages and burials.

During family history searches concerning the Revd John Kerin (1753–1823), the existence of a memorial plaque in his honour was recorded in the Association’s Journal for 1918 (Vol. x nos 3 and 4) relating to Ardfert Cathedral in the county of Kerry and diocese of Ardfert.  The Revd John Kerin is recorded by Murphy as being appointed Perpetual Curate at Ardfert in 1806 until his death in 1823. In addition, he held benefices in Killury, O’Brennan and Kilmoyley. The record states:

“On a tablet in a vault. Standing under the east window of the choir –
Hic situs est Revderendus Iohannes
Kerin, Rector of Killury, obit septua

gessimo aetatis anno, salutis anno millessimo octingentessemo vigessimo
tertio. Multis ille bonis stabilis

occidit”.

This translates as:

“Here lies the Reverend John
Kerin, Rector of Killury, died seventieth
years of age, farewell in the year of one thousand, eight hundred and twenty–three

Mourned by many good people”.

Ardfert Cathedral is one of Ireland’s most important ecclesiastical monuments containing the surviving fabrics dating from the 11th to the 19th centuries. During the Irish rebellion of 1641, the building was destroyed by fire and abandoned. In 1671, the south transept was rebuilt and served the Church of Ireland (or Protestant as the Journal puts it) community until the 1870s when a new Church of Ireland church was built in the village.  It was in the south transept of the original church that the memorial plaque was said to have been placed.

Frequent visits to the ruins of the cathedral during the 1960s and 1970s failed to find the plaque. However, major conservation and consolidation works were undertaken in a number of phases since 1982 by the Office of Public Works (OPW) under the direction of Senior Conservation Architect Grellan Rourke.

Restoration of the south transept was completed in 1994 when again attempts were made to find if the plaque was still in existence without success. Fionnbarr Moore, Senior Archaeologist with the National Monuments Service, who led the excavation, could find no evidence of the plaque in his research.  It was known that other members of the Kerin family were buried in the grounds of the Cathedral through reports in newspaper archives but many graves and monuments were in a significant state of disrepair and engraving not decipherable. However, during the summer of 2017, on consultation of a written list of graves, a listing for a Kerin was found.

John Kerin's gravestone when found.
John Kerin's gravestone when found.

A large stone had been placed horizontally upon the grave of a Henry Godwin who died in 1787. No connection can be found between the Revd John Kerin and Henry Godwin other than the inscription indicates Henry Godwin was associated with the Earls of Glandore, the title of the Crosbie family. Newspaper articles indicate close connections with the Crosbie and Kerin families. The inscription on the stone was only decipherable by tracing the letters by hand and recording them. It soon became apparent that this was the missing plaque. It was weathering badly due to its horizontal position and covered with lichen. 

Grellan Rourke had the plaque removed for cleaning at the OPW workshop in Killarney. Restoration work on the plaque was carried out by Maurice Fitzgerald and his team there and the plaque was returned to the Cathedral in March 2019. The work follows other excellent work by the OPW led by Grellan Rourke involving the fabric of former Church of Ireland churches. In June 2018, a baptismal font originally located in St Thomas’ parish church in Newcastle West (built in 1777 but deconsecrated in 1958 and demolished in 1962) was re–located in Desmond Castle, close to the original site of the original church. See press release here.

The team at OPW Works, Killarney: Seamus Ashe and Maurice Fitzgerald.
The team at OPW Works, Killarney: Seamus Ashe and Maurice Fitzgerald.

The plaque in the process of being restored at OPW Works, Killarney.
The plaque in the process of being restored at OPW Works, Killarney.

On Monday, 25th March 2019, a short ceremony was held at Ardfert Cathedral to mark the restoration of the memorial plaque to the Revd John Kerin. It was attended by family members and local people. Sylvia Turner, one of Mr Kerin’s great, great grandchildren, explained how it came to be found and Canon Jim Stephens, rector of Tralee, led the prayers.

John Kerin's plaque restored.
John Kerin's plaque restored.

Historians, descendents of John Kerin, and the Revd Jim Stephens at Ardfert Cathedral.
Historians, descendents of John Kerin, and the Revd Jim Stephens at Ardfert Cathedral.

With thanks to Ms Sylvia Turner for sharing her story with us.