Georgina Laragy 2023

Trinity College, Dublin

The burial of suicide in Ireland in the long 19th century [v]

In 1895 Smithsonian ethnographer and second-generation Irish man James Mooney noted that “The bodies of those lately buried turn over in their coffins when a suicide is deposited among them. So strong is the feeling in regard to self-destruction that in the rare instances where suicide has occrd [sic] the neighbouring cemeteries hav [sic] sometimes been guarded for days by parties determined to prevent the burial of the body near their departed kindred”.

The body of the suicide was rejected by both the living and the dead. We have no way of knowing for sure what happened in the ‘cré na cille’ (graveyard clay) when the coffin containing a suicide was lowered into the ground, but it is possible to trace how communities responded to suicide. Mooney was correct: in parts of the country suicides were excluded from burial grounds and cemeteries. But Mooney was writing at the end of a century when burial practices and older rituals around death were changing in general, and at a time of transformation in the legislative and ecclesiastical context in which burial took place This paper is based on a chapter of my forthcoming book looking at histories of suicide in Ireland 1823-1914. The chapter examines deviant burials of suicides and its persistence in folk memory, as well as the role of the state in the transformation of burial in general in 19th century Ireland, public health, and religious belief as evidenced in the Irish Folklore Collection.


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