Donegal woman Betty Holmes is known for her passionate views and amazing work on trying to improve services for cancer patients locally.
But she has taken on a new after a simple stroll through the ground of St Conal’s Hospital in Letterkenny led her to discover the burial place of an unknown number of people.
These are her words.
“Do you know where this picture is from?
“Do you know that it is the graveyard at the back of St. Conal’s Hospital dated from 1866-1900? Did you know there was a graveyard there? Have you ever been up at it?
“To stand in this important space- a graveyard you get a very tranquil and peaceful feeling. It’s special. So why are we talking about this now?
“Back in April this year I walked up the back of St. Conal’s Hospital one evening and by chance walked in a narrow pathway to discover a large stone with the words “In commemoration of those who were buried in this cemetery 1866-1900. May they rest in peace”
“I have to say it upset me no end, to think these poor souls who had probably in effect worked hard and built the St. Conal’s that we have all heard of, I never knew about it. I felt that they had been forgotten about and deserved more. When I went home I started to try and find out who in the HSE knew about this graveyard and what could be done about it.
“No matter who I talked to at that time among friends etc. no one knew what I was talking about, I became very passionate about this graveyard and vowed I would find out, who, how, why a million questions in my head.
“Anyway good news with a bit of work contact was made with the Estates Management at St. Conal’s who were and are very helpful. I had also contacted the Letterkenny Men’s Shed and Letterkenny Tidy Towns and arranged a meeting to see what could be done to make this graveyard a fitting respectful place for the poor souls who are buried there. All 3 groups were more than willing and helpful and prepared to help with this special project. It is very close to my heart. The project is to make St. Conal’s graveyard a fitting place for the people/patients of St. Conal’s buried there from that period and that they be remembered not forgotten.
“A lot of work is ongoing tidying up the area and through the Tidy Towns we had over 30 Pramerica volunteers who came along on Saturday 22nd October and worked hard to help clean the graveyard of rubbish, sticks etc. They also helped planting 1000 daffodils. Crocuses will be planted around the trees as well as bluebells and snowdrops to be planted. Approx. 20 trees need treating as the ivy is killing them. So much work is ongoing with the Men’s Shed helping how they can and also going to make a wooden plaque that can be put up on the entrance so that people will know it is a graveyard. We are working on suitable wording for this.
The Tidy Towns have helped with so much work also and continue to do so. We all do. Lots of work is still needed and this is ongoing. We are trying hard through the Archivist at Donegal County Council to estimate how many people are buried there. It is not about using the names as we at every stage of this project must be respectful and mindful of the patients. Respect must be central at all times.
“A lot of effort is being made to find out the exact history of this time as there are many versions. With the HSE Estates and Mental Health Service staff, The Men’s Shed Michael and John, Tidy Towns Charlie and myself all now passionate about this project we are turning every stone that we can to find out all that we can about the graveyard.
“While the HSE have committed to providing some of the funds but not all that is needed for gates, pillars, pathway, stones, signage etc. so we will be asking for some help along the way.
“We are a small group passionate and committed to making this graveyard a fitting respectful resting place for the patients buried there. We hope to have a service there in April next year when the 1,000 daffodils are in bloom. This will be well advertised. If you are interested and / or would like to help in any way you are very welcome, especially if you can provide information about the graveyard or the people buried here.
“Our next meeting will in January and anyone with an interest is welcome. While the HSE are involved and supporting us, this for me is a community project and should remain so.”
You can contact Betty at 087 2905 946.”