The sacred stones of Houndswood
THE last time Houndswood, a secluded hamlet only a country mile of road from Cross, featured in this publication the year was turning on the last of October’s auburn days.
John and Kathleen Langan hosted the village stations. Kathleen and John were most generous in granting a request from The Mayo News to do a feature on this fast disappearing rural ritual. After Father Paddy Gilligan celebrated Mass for the neighbours and friends gathered in the Langan home, Kathleen and her meitheal of helpers laid on a flaithiúlach spread for all their guests.
The universe hinges local and those assembled in Langan’s kitchen that harvest evening talked mainly of happenings around Cross, Cong and Glencorrib. They chatted too about a graveyard in Houndswood on the lands of Jimmy and Judy Harte and the plans they had for holding a Mass there in the summer of 2015.
Talk can be idle betimes, but in Houndswood words turn into action.
The ravages of eroding time had taken their toll on this sacred ground. Or ‘Lisheens’ as such burial places where young children are buried are more commonly known.
Seán Sraid is the name of the Houndswood field and access was through a stile in the wall along the road.
Jimmy Harte’s grandfather, Ned Joyce, from the village was the last person to be buried there in 1979. It’s also the final resting place of Ned’s son, John, who died in June 1947 and Ned’s wife Margaret who died on the very next day after John passed away.
Peter Hopkins, a soldier who served with the British army, was also buried there but his body was exhumed in 1964 and interred in a Dublin cemetery. The headstone erected above Peter in Houndswood was also removed and reset where he is now buried.
Stones and little earth mounds mark the resting place of children buried there.
Setting aside special places where gasúrs, or those not yet baptised, were laid to rest was common practice up until the nineteenth century. Mothers weren’t allowed attend the burial and no priest was present either to administer a final blessing. Three or four stones were often placed in different locations around the site so as the mother wouldn’t know the exact spot her child was buried.
In Houndswood on Friday evening last, Michael Shaughnessy told how he’d often heard his parents say that a shovel of Houndswood earth was taken to an old graveyard in Cong. Around Funshona, Glencorrib and Houndswood they still remember tinkers who were camped in times gone by, near the waterfall in Glencorrib, enquiring for directions to the field so as they could bury babies who had died in childbirth. But what was an old derelict ruin is in better repair now. Jimmy and Judy Harte kindly allowed access to the graveyard on their holding and they, along with John and Michael Langan, and others, set about clearing the site.
They built the perimeter stone walls and they hung two steel gates to allow ease of access. “In memory of the men, women and children buried here especially the babies known to God” is the inscription now etched on a monument they’ve erected.
On the south-facing slope there’s a Holy Well known locally as Tobar Naoinin. The main burial ground is situated west of the meandering stream and on the north-facing wall an old hawthorn bush stands sentry over all souls buried there.
And just as they promised they’d do on the night of the village stations the Houndswood neighbours will convene again. On Wednesday evening next, July 22, Father Paddy Gilligan will amble the way again and at 7pm he’ll celebrate Mass in the lisheen.
The villagers are hoping the clerk of the weather might smile favourably and grant them a splay of summer sunshine as they bless the fruits of their labours.
In Houndswood they still pay homage to their historic past.