The slate headstones in Yard One are of two main forms—a round top with stepped shoulders, and a flat top. Analysis of a subset of the memorials with associated photographs indicates that the rounded top and stepped shoulder form greatly predominates (87.7%; 93/106 of complete memorials). As discussed above, it is important to remember that these craftworkers were Yankees, who would have followed styles and designs mandated by tradition. Often the upper part of the headstone, which contained the ornamentation, would have been carved in advance and the purchaser would tell the carver the names and dates to be added, while most memorials of this period in New England had a willow and urn design etched into them. The weeping willow was a symbol representing mourning and the urn was reminiscent of the Classical World symbol of cremation ashes. These motifs became common in New England during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century and became universally used within a short time. They were the first signs of a changing attitude toward nature and death that would become fully manifest in the later garden cemeteries. They are also considered as evidence of a growing spirit of romanticism, as well as an appetite for neoclassicism, within the new American Republic (Linden 1980: 149–150).
As mentioned above, some of the earliest memorials in St. Patrick’s are identical to those found in contemporary Yankee cemeteries and follow a similar formula. The oldest memorial, carved by Benjamin Day and dating to 1832, for example, commemorates two-year-old John Bork (Bourke) and its layout is practically identical to Yankee memorials in the Old English Cemetery, also carved by Day (Fig. 2).
The carvers who made the grave memorials may not have thought in great depth about the philosophical aspects of the symbols and messages they placed upon their products but the headstones evidently required community acceptance; the iconography had to resonate with the values, beliefs, and tastes of the host society (Linden 1980: 149). As noted above, within the first years of burial in Yard One an interesting enhancement was added to the slate memorials with the addition of a Latin Cross and the IHS monogram alongside the Classical motifs of the willow and/or urn. Contemporary Yankee slate stones do not have these emblems, in keeping with a more formal Puritan tradition, and they avoided any connection to what might be viewed as explicitly Roman Catholic symbols.
When we examine the nature of the symbols at the top of the St. Patrick’s memorials some 19 variations are apparent. A total of 14.0% (15/107 with complete decoration visible) of the memorials display designs that are represented by only one or two instances and are therefore uncommon variants (Table 1). The proportions of the remaining designs are summarized in Fig. 3. Memorials with a weeping willow and a Latin cross inscribed with the IHS motif greatly predominate (51.4%; 55/107), with the combinations of a weeping willow, IHS-inscribed Latin cross and shamrocks (15.0%; 16/107) or a weeping willow with an urn (6.5%; 7/107) occurring in next greatest proportions. It therefore appears to be the case that most of the early Irish headstones simply replaced the Classical urn from the Yankee package of motifs with the IHS-inscribed Latin cross as a symbol of their Catholicism. This design does not appear to be associated solely with the earliest burials in the cemetery, as one might expect, but rather spans the entire period of this study, with the earliest example dating to 1833 and the latest to 1853. Aside from these enhancements, the headstones otherwise appear identical to their Yankee counterparts in other cemeteries in the region. By having such symbols incorporated into their headstone design, however, the first generation of Irish in Lowell were—intentionally or not—setting themselves apart from their Yankee contemporaries.
The IHS monogram was then a popular Catholic motif and its appearance on the headstones in Yard One should not be too surprising if the Irish in Lowell were keen to demonstrate their connection to Catholicism. Another motif appears on 21 of the known memorials in the yard, however, and was a clear statement of the ethnicity of the dead within the cemetery—the use of the shamrock, the trefoil plant related to clover that is a recognized symbol of Ireland (Fig. 4). No contemporary historical sources make mention of the tale that St. Patrick, Ireland’s patron saint, made use of the shamrock as a means of demonstrating the Holy Trinity to the pagan Irish he preached amongst in the fifth century CE but it is a legend that had become well-known, presumably from Irish folklore. The interconnection between green shamrocks as a symbol of St. Patrick and of Ireland had become established by the early modern period. It is certainly the case that shamrocks were worn in people’s hats on St Patrick’s Day (March 17—the ascribed date of the Saint’s death), a practice in vogue from at least the second half of the seventeenth century (Nelson 1991: 37), as too was the tradition of holding gatherings in honor of the Saint, with much alcohol consumed by the populace. The humble shamrock had become a device to denote Ireland by the eighteenth century, used by Catholics and Protestants alike; it had increasingly appeared on flags, glass goblets, seals, medals, and military belt plates, and was worn by King George IV during his ceremonial entry into Dublin during his visit in August 1821 (Nelson 1991: 71–75). It was evidently also the case that this Irish symbol had made its way across the Atlantic to the United States by the early nineteenth century, as demonstrated by its appearance among the symbols depicted upon the slate headstones in St. Patrick’s Cemetery.
The use of shamrocks on these early memorials is interesting because it suggests that at least some of the early immigrants wanted to display evidence of both their Irish and their Catholic identities (Table 2). As was the case for the predominant package of motifs discussed above, the memorials are not restricted to a narrow time period but rather span the years 1832 to 1851. The shamrock motif does not appear to have been the preserve of any particular age group and was included on memorials erected initially for predominantly adults (71.4%; 15/21) but also children (28.6%; 6/21), with women (n = 8) and men (n = 7), as well as girls (n = 4) and boys (n = 2), aged less than 18 years, all included. The youngest person to have had a memorial with a shamrock was three-month-old John Campbell (died 1833), while the oldest was 64-year-old Bridget Rowney (died 1834). Some thirteen of the memorials with shamrocks contained details of county and some ten counties from across Ireland were represented. It is interesting that three of the memorials were of individuals from County Leitrim—Rosanna Garty (died 1844), Ann Oroarke (died 1846), and Michael Keegan (died 1847)—with the latter two both originating from the Parish of Cloon(e). Similarly, both Charles Shannon (died 1844) and Susan McCort (died 1851) derived from the Parish of Dromore in County Tyrone. It is possible that these groups of individuals were each in some way connected to others from their home parish, through family or friendships. Perhaps personal relationships influenced the inclusion of shamrocks on the memorials of their loved ones.
Four arrangements of motifs were evident, and shamrocks were found with a weeping willow and an IHS-inscribed Latin cross (76.2%; 16/21); a weeping willow, IHS-inscribed Latin cross and an urn (19.0%; 3/21); an IHS-inscribed Latin cross and an urn (1/21), and a notably large IHS-inscribed Latin cross (4.8%; 1/21). It is therefore clear that the variant largely involved the addition of shamrocks to the most common pattern of motifs, the weeping willow with an IHS-inscribed Latin cross.
The style of the shamrocks also displayed variation, with most memorials depicting a shamrock plant on either side of the central motif (81.0%; 17/21), and only four memorials having shamrock present on one side only, counterbalanced by an opposing urn. It seems significant that three of the earliest memorials (Barry died 1832, Campbell died 1833 and Rowney died 1834) have a single stalk presentation of the plant and this perhaps suggests that the memorial carvers lacked the confidence to portray the plant in the more realistic manner apparent in later designs. It should be noted, however, that while the Barry and Rowney memorials both depict a single leaf, the shamrock on the Campbell headstone displays three leaves. The first entry on the Campbell headstone dates to 1833 for three-month-old John, with this mother, Mary Ann, added in 1840. While it is possible the memorial was not erected until around 1840, the differing writing styles for the two entries and their chronological order would tend to suggest that it was erected initially for John with the entry for his mother added at a subsequent date.
It is interesting that the earliest manifestation of a shamrock, on the 1832 memorial for 12-year-old Miss Mary Barry, omitted the ubiquitous willow tree, favoring a central cross flanked on either side by an urn and single shamrock. Perhaps her parents, who erected the memorial, did not view the willow tree as an appropriate inclusion on the memorial although it is interesting that an urn was present. A later memorial, dated to 1840 and erected for Thomas Kelly, also displayed a single stalk of shamrock, in this case with five leaves. The arrangement of motifs in this instance is unusual since a central willow and urn dominate, with a small IHS-inscribed cross positioned far to the right side counterbalanced by the shamrock to the left. Perhaps the carver was experimenting with the configuration of motifs or cost may have been a factor and those who purchased the memorial could not afford a bespoke design, having to make do with adding the Irish Catholic symbols to a near-complete, ready-made Yankee memorial. Indeed, Henry Nourse (1894: 450) observed that memorial carvers would have had a collection of ready-made memorials on display to attract prospective customers.
Substantial variation in terms of the number of leaves present is evident in the memorials displaying bilateral shamrock stalks, with examples of five (n = 1), six (n = 3), seven (n = 3), nine (n = 2), 11 (n = 2), 12 (n = 2) and 14 (n = 1) leaves present. In addition, a further three memorials display bilateral shamrock arrangements in which the numbers of leaves are asymmetrical. The memorial for Ellen OConnor [O’Connor] (died 1836) displayed 13 leaves on the right and 11 on the left, that of Charles Shannon (died 1844) had 11 on the right and nine on the left, while the headstone of Mary McDermott (uncertain date) contained 30 shamrock leaves on the right and only 22 on the corresponding left side. It seems probable that the design on the right side of these memorials would have been created initially by a right-handed carver. In the case of the OConnor [O’Connor] memorial the central willow was notably large and the positioning of the IHS-inscribed cross to the left of the tree trunk meant there was genuinely less space on the left side for the shamrock design. For the Shannon and McDermott memorials the asymmetry does not appear to have been due to a lack of space and was executed perhaps unconsciously by the carver. The skill of the carver in all three cases, however, means the asymmetry is only noticeable when effort is taken to count the leaves.
The form of the shamrock depictions also show variation. Most cases with more than one leaf (72.2%; 13/18) have a single stalk from which each leaf emanates directly on a single stem, and only four (22.2%; 4/18) examples display additional stems with further leaves detached from the central stalk. A further, highly unrealistic, example depicted shamrocks with no stems attached directly to a central stalk (Whelan died 1839). The three earliest examples (Barry died 1832, Campbell died 1833, Rowney died 1834) were rigid in form with the stalk set at right angles to the base of the upper decorative area of the memorial. Most later cases (66.7%; 12/18) displayed medial curvature of the stalk that mirrored the curvature of the rounded top of the headstone; these forms were somewhat animated but still highly stylized. More realistic portrayals of the plant (33.3%; 6/18), which capture its somewhat “springy,” lively appearance, were also depicted, however, with the most naturalistic carvings evident in the memorial of Bridget Murtagh (died 1843). It is interesting that the shape of the leaves, with the indentation at its tip, are realistically depicted in all but one of the carvings (Campbell died 1833). The shape of the leaves in the shamrocks on John Whelan’s (died 1839) memorial are the least accurate and, rather than depicting a tripartite leaf, the carving includes a set of three small and practically individual leaves. It would seem to be the case, however, that in the main the carvers had been shown real shamrocks or else, perhaps more probably, drawings of shamrocks.