Cemetery Sunday


Cemetery Sunday

***** Location: Ireland (Roman Catholic parishes)
***** Season: Summer
***** Category: Observance


Cemetery Sunday in Ireland is a Roman Catholic tradition, observed in summer. The whole parish gets together to celebrate an outdoor Mass in the parish cemetery, with the many visitors who come especially for the day. A tent may be erected for the priest, the servers and the altar, also perhaps a music group -- everyone else brings umbrellas and prays for the rain to keep off.

Every parish celebrates Cemetery Sunday at its own convenience, only making sure that the date does not clash with those of neighbouring parishes. This enables families to attend several Cemetery Sundays, if they have graves to visit in several parishes.

Families take great care, for weeks ahead of their Cemetery Sunday, to tidy up the graves, polish the gravestones, plant new flowers and bring extra vases for the day itself. The cemeteries are beautiful to look at by the time the big day arrives. Everyone turns up for the occasion -- even those who rarely darken the doors of a church. After the Mass, they stay and chat among the flowers and tombs, visit the graves of those who died during the past year, and admire the flowers -- until the heavens open and an almighty shower sends everyone running to their cars!

Taughmon parish

Text and photo © Isabelle Prondzynski

In certain parts of Ireland this ritual is called
'Graveyard Mass'.


Much work goes into cutting the grass and preparing the graveyard for the big day :



Announcement from the parish of Kells, Co. Meath :

Cemetery Sunday 2006
Sunday August 20 2006

Girley Cemetery 6pm, St. John's 6.30 and St. Colmcille's 7pm.

The Parish Community welcomes to the Parish all those who will visit for Cemetery Devotions and join with us in remembering and celebrating the memory of our dear departed.

Kells, Co. Meath


And here is a beautiful web site from Lavey Parish, Co. Derry, with photos from several years :


Worldwide use

North America too knows Cemetery Sundays (also called “cemetery strolls”). These are Sundays when the population is invited to visit the local cemetery and enjoy guided tours, particularly visiting the graves of any famous people buried there.

Thus in Huntsville, Alabama :

The Huntsville Pilgrimage Association sponsors an annual stroll through Maple Hill Cemetery. This event has become a wonderful community activity that helps the citizens of Huntsville learn more about the people who lived in Huntsville in the early days and gave it some of its rich heritage. Donations made during the stroll go to preserve the cemetery, one of the most beautiful and elegant cemeteries in the nation.


Barbara Lauster, director of the Weeden House Museum, portrays the niece of Gov. David P. Lewis (1820-1884). Lewis was a lawyer and the 23rd Governor of Alabama.


Things found on the way

Annual Open Air Service in Clonmacnoise

For the Anglican Church of Ireland, the Annual Open Air Service in the historical site of Clonmacnoise (normally on the last Sunday in July) represents a similar occasion of worship among tombstones :

It says something about the place which religion still holds in the Ireland of the Celtic Tiger that many of the country’s most iconic sites, preserved seemingly for ever on postcards with clear blue skies, are religious places – Skellig Micheal, Glendalough, the Rock of Cashel and, of course, Clonmacnoise. These are evocative places, introducing visitors to an important aspect of our past and reminding natives of the astonishingly rich culture which the life of the church encouraged in Ireland. The very survival of such places, given the periodic disorder to which Ireland was subject and the absence, until modern times, of any significant cultural apparatus to care for national monuments, is remarkable. But their continued existence is not simply a tangible link with the early church in Ireland but is a constant reminder that the church of today does not exist in a vacuum but is part of an on-going historical process which has shaped and continues to shape what we are.

A reminder of that continuity of religious experience and expression is the use by the Church of Ireland of Templeconnor Church at Clonmacnoise. Each Sunday evening during the summer months there is a celebration of the Eucharist in this historic place and each year there is an open air service in the grounds of the monastery. This year the Open Air Service will be held tomorrow (23 July 2006) at 4 pm. The service will be led by the Rector of Athlone, the Revd Graham Doyle, and the preacher will be the Rt Revd Stuart Burns, Abbott of the Anglican Benedictine Priory of Burford in Oxfordshire. The music will be provided by the Trim and Kildare Cathedral Choirs under the direction of Derek Verso.

Clonmacnoise, following the Reformation, became the responsibility of the established church and the Church of Ireland continued to be responsible for the site until 1882 when, after disestablishment, the monastic ruins were vested in the Commissioners of Public Works to be preserved as a national monument. However, the Church of Ireland retained Templeconnor church for use as a place of worship.



Annual Pilgrimage to Croagh Patrick

Croagh Patrick (Cruach Phádraig in Irish), known locally as the Reek, is a 2,510 ft mountain is 5 miles from Westport, County Mayo in the west of Ireland. In the Annals of Ulster entry for the year 1113, the mountain is named Cruachán Aigle, 'Eagle Mountain' (Latin : aquila).

The mountain forms the south part of a U-shaped valley created by a glacier flowing into Clew Bay in the last Ice Age. Coagh Patrick is part of a longer east-west ridge; to the west is the mountain Ben Goram. Croagh Patrick has been site of pilgrimage, especially at the summer solstice, since before the arrival of Celtic Christianity in the first century; possibly since before the arrival of the Celts.

At present it is named for Saint Patrick, who reputedly fasted on the summit of Croagh Patrick for forty days in the fifth century and built a church there. It is said that at the end of Saint Patrick's 40-day fast, he threw a bell down the side of the mountain, banishing all the snakes and serpents of Ireland. (This is untrue; snakes are not native to Ireland.)

In modern times, a small chapel was built on the summit, and dedicated on the July 20, 1905. On July 31, 2005, during the annual pilgrimage to Croagh Patrick, or 'Reek Sunday' as it is known locally, a plaque commemorating the centenary of the building and dedication of the chapel was unveiled by Most Rev. Michael Neary, Archbishop of Tuam.

On "Reek Sunday", the last Sunday in July every year, over 25,000 pilgrims climb the mountain, many of whom climb barefoot.


The Pilgrim Ireland Project

Pilgrimages bring together the greatest gatherings of human beings on the planet and are common to all great religious and spiriitual traditions.

Here in Ireland people have kept faith with their own local pilgrim places despite the distractions and pressures of an ever changing world . In a climate of declining practice of organised and institutional religion, pilgrimage seems to offer a gentle invitation which meets us where we are at in our own daily lives.

The Pilgrim Ireland Project


Cemetery Sunday --
families reunite
around their graves

family grave --
since this Sunday last year
Dad has joined Mum

Isabelle Prondzynski

Photo from Lavey Parish



the old dog
leads the way…
visiting graves

from the grave
and from the flowerpot…

Kobayashi Issa
translated by David G. Lanoue


the groom’s family poses
at the bride’s
family plot

dagosan [Aug. 26, 2004]




fifty years later
still the same
poison ivy vine
on the faucet
near my brother's grave

susan delphine delaney

Related words

***** All Souls' Day

***** Grave (haka) Japan, worldwide

***** Grave marker (sotoba) Japan


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