Balla Old Cemetary

Just to the east of the round tower is one of the more interesting grave slabs we have seen. Interred beneath, or so we believe, are the remains of one Toby (?) Marran who died in 1749.


Toby Marran Grave

After failing to read the inscription by other means, Suri and Michael attempted to reveal the text by means of a charcoal rubbing, which proved ineffectual due to the uneven nature of the badly eroded sandstone. Using artist’s charcoal it was possible to highlight each letter individually and in this way reveal most of what was written. (The charcoal washes off easily and is fully biodegradable.)

The text reads as follows: GOD Rest (the) Soul OF Toby Marran AMEN WHO DYED THE 22D OF 7th (?) 1749 (?)

The skull and crossbone motif placed bottom right has been thought to indicate that Toby Marran was either a pirate or that he died from the plague, or Black Death. While it is true the grave slabs of some who were employed in such a way or that died from the plague might be thus marked, it is more likely that this carving is a simple Memento mori, a reminder to all who rest their eyes on this spot that they too are mortal. The words ‘Rememb R Death’ suggest this is so.


Toby Marran Inscription

The use of Memento mori (lit. a reminder of death) symbology was relatively common between the 15th and 18th centuries. With a tentative date of 1749 Toby Marran’s interment falls comfortably within that range.

Other symbols on this grave slab include a heart, a token of love or perhaps of immortality, and a coffin, perhaps a further reminder of the fate that awaits the fallen flesh.

A few yards north-east of the round tower stands what little is left of the old church – an ancient altar built from a mixture of rough and dressed limestone. At the western end of the altar is an inscription in the form of an eye, known as the Evil Eye of Balla.

Is this a representation of the “Evil Eye” in that those upon whom the glare may fall receive a curse? Or could it in fact be a means of protection from that very thing?

As to the date of the stone into which the eye is carved, that too remains a mystery. Perhaps somebody can shed some light on it.

The older part of the cemetery holds a huge number of other grave slabs, both marked and unmarked. In some areas these are crammed extremely closely together. As with all older burial grounds throughout Ireland, a great many of these are from famine times. At the peak of the Great Irish Famine it is reported that graves were left open for days on end, in order to receive a succession of corpses.