Remembering the Irish Famine – BillionGraves March 16, 2020 – Tombstone Tuesdays March 24, 2020

I saw this last week on BillionGraves – Remembering the Irish Famine – BillionGraves March 16, 2020: Over 2,000 words in the link above; cut it down to just under 600 words.

Gone but not forgotten. Not forgotten because WE are remembering the Irish Famine.

Each St. Patrick’s Day my heart is turned to the Irish. My own father was born on St. Patrick’s Day and was fittingly given the middle name of Patrick.

We live in America now, because our Irish ancestors made the difficult decision to survive the Great Famine of 1845-1849 by emigrating. There simply wasn’t enough food for all the mouths, so our ancestors scattered – not only to America but to Canada and Australia. This allowed for a few to stay in Ireland.


Wherever you live all over the world, you can help others find their ancestors by documenting a cemetery near you with the BillionGraves app or by transcribing gravestone data on the BillionGraves website.

Life Before the Irish Famine


Rotten Potatoes


The Starving Years


The Irish Famine Workhouse


Surviving the Irish Famine


Irish Funeral Customs


Some say that the tradition of the wake originated with Celtic pagan rituals, where the living watched over the body of the dead for three days.

Others say it is a nod to the ancient Jewish practice of leaving a burial chamber unlocked for three days so family and friends could return to check for any signs of life in case a terrible mistake had been made.


Another myth holds that the Irish who drank stout from pewter cups were sometimes the victims of lead poisoning which put them into a catatonic state that resembled death. Then in the middle of their own wake, they would wake up!

Irish Famine Victims Remembered

But during the Irish famine, the deceased were often piled into mass graves by the thousands, without ceremony, prayers, or good-byes.


There are now more than 100 memorials to the Irish Famine worldwide.


One of the most striking memorials is a set of bronze sculptures in Dublin created by Rowan Gillespie to memorialize the Irish Famine emigrants. It features skeletal-like men, women, and children dressed in rags boarding a “coffin ship”.

Finding Irish Ancestors

Finding Irish ancestors – especially when they were scattered across the world due to the Irish Famine – can be as tricky as a leprechaun!


Here are a few tips:

  • Start by interviewing your living relatives – ask if anyone has old photos, stories, or legends to share
  • Take a DNA test
  • Connect with your DNA matches (these are often descendants of your common ancestor on another line) and interview them as well

Resources for Irish Research


Irish Gravestone Symbols


If you know how to read the symbols on Irish gravestones, you can learn more about the people who put them in the cemeteries – both those who survived the Irish Famine and those who did not.

Click HERE to read BillionGraves blog post titled Irish Gravestone Symbols.


Taking Gravestone Photos


Contact us at to learn more. We especially love helping groups to plan cemetery documentation projects!


Here’s an Irish proverb to you, from us: “May neighbors respect you, trouble neglect you, angels protect you, and Heaven accept you.”

Cathy Wallace and the BillionGraves Team


About ICT Genealogist

Originally from Gulfport, Mississippi. Live in Wichita, Kansas now. I suffer Bipolar I, ultra-ultra rapid cycling, mixed episodes. Blog on a variety of topics - genealogy, DNA, mental health, among others. Let's
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