Kerry Deaths & Burials

Kerry Deaths and Burials
MKA Blog Lislaughtin

Lislaughtin Abbey, Ballylongford

A lot of Kerry descendants are either searching for the burial places of their ancestors or death certificates in order to put a date and hopefully place, on the departure of the long deceased relative. Death Certs I find death certs to be the least reliable sources of an ancestor’s genealogy and in many cases a direct path to the proverbial ‘brick wall’.  ‘How could that be?’ you ask.

Well let’s deal with Irish Death Certs first. Deaths were not recorded by either Church or State until it  became a legal obligation  to register all citizens’ deaths  from 1864 onwards.  For us living in Ireland, we know what ‘legal obligation’ means.   It means that we will carry out the legal obligation’ if it is convenient, if we are well disposed towards our government and if there is no great punishment for ignoring the law in question.  So in the early days, up to the late 1800’s, if the family of the deceased was living in a remote area, if there appeared to be no great urgency in carrying out the letter of the law, then it just got forgotten about.  Respect for the deceased and carrying out the religious rituals associated with death were scrupulously adhered to but going to the nearest Registration District to fill in forms was just seen as a nuisance.  The result is some 'missing' death records before 1900 and indeed I spent a fruitless couple of hours in the Genealogy Registration Office (GRO) in Dublin since Christmas, trying to find two different families from the Killarney and Kenmare Registration districts for the periods 1912-1921 without success.

MKA Blog LA Burials

The information on these Civil Death Certificates is limited enough.  The name and address of the deceased at the time of his/her death, his/her marital status, age, the medical cause of death and the name of the person present at death are the facts recorded   The age more than likely is incorrect. As the deceased didn’t know his/her age while alive, it is hardly likely that his/her next of kin would be accurate.

U.S. & Australian Death Records

While I encourage descendants to search records in their adopted home at the very start of their ancestor search, particularly births and marriages, records of deaths are invariably unhelpful.  Death Certificates are notorious for misinformation as the deceased has no personal input to either his age (even if he knew it), or location of birth.   If the emigrant ancestor didn’t know his age when leaving Ireland and just guessed it during his lifetime in America,/Canada/Australia/New Zealand, well then his next of kin, all born in the new country is only able to make a wild guess in most cases.

While there will be valuable questions on these forms, for example  asking where the deceased was born, the reply can sometimes be the correct place, but more often it  is some mish-mash of phonetic English or even a different county in Ireland to the correct one.  Again one could not expect the surviving relative who is signing the death certificate in Boston, Sydney or Wellington  to be familiar with Irish ‘home’ townlands and parishes. Taking some time in considering a strangely spelled place, pronouncing it out loud often leads to a ‘light bulb’ moment.

Kerry Burial Records

In theory these should be straight forward.  But theory is not practice.  Kerry County Council have an excellent website for each of the local authority graveyards in the county.  The dates at which these records begin, vary  from Derryco (Ballyduff) 1919  to Kilcolman (Milltown) 1977.  I had occasion recently, to enquire from the County Council if it would be possible to look up old records, of St. Michael’s Graveyard, Listowel. The online records for that burial ground start in 1961 and I was hoping to find a date or even maybe a location of a particular grave.  I was informed that while they had the original written records going back to at least the 1930s, it would not be possible to discuss any individual grave with me or to see these records as ‘there is sensitive information in the book of a financial nature’ and this would contravene data protection laws!   I have no idea what the ‘sensitive financial information’ might be, I presume it was payment or otherwise for graves in the first half of the last century. Finally my most recent research into Kerry Deaths and Burials threw up  a  conundrum.  I found the correct index for a Thomas Connor (not his real surname) on Civil Registration. From the Group Registration on the Index, I acquired a copy of the Death  Certificate from the GRO.  Thomas died according to his death certificate on 18th November 1958.   I then tracked down his burial place to Templenoe (Old) and found his burial registered there 30th October 1958. MKA Blog Burial snip Something wrong somewhere obviously but where?

[box] ContJoe Maher’s Photographs of tombstones tombs cemeteries with inscriptions from all over Kerry 1770-2014. Another excellent site, a very visual one, is Joe Maher has included the headstones of 235 cemeteries to-date. He has photographed and logged 250,00+ names inscribed. Excellent quality photos can be freely viewed with minimal cost to purchase. Some of the most evocative burial grounds here are the very oldest and while you won’t see individual inscriptions on crosses or monuments in these graveyards you will get a  great flavour of our older burial grounds.ent goes here[/box]



  1. Nicholas Nicholas
    January 15, 2016    

    Very generous and informative – and a clear warning of what to expect! One could not buy such wisdom- and one would not wish to find out for oneself, the hard way. Professional genealogists would need a tough skin and a high irritation-level! As for the County Council Records, one must presume that representatives of some deceased persons were rather shy in coughing-up the price of their loved-one’s grave? I, for one, would forever haunt anyone that buried me in a grave not my own to rest in! As it happens, our family double-grave has been bought and paid for shortly after marriage. One cannot be too careful in such things, it seems.

  2. Greg Burns Greg Burns
    January 15, 2016    

    Hi Kay,

    Thank you for the excellent summation of Kerry records. I’d like to add (as I’ve experienced it) the difference in the spelling of the surnames. In my case Sheehan vs Sheehy as it relates to my 2x great grandfather,Denis of greater Tralee, Kerry. Although he died in May,1874 at Flemby, Ballymacelligott, I am not sure if he was actually born there and there are no records to be found regarding his baptism…at least not so far. Anyway…well done. Thank you for your time and efforts.
    Greg Burns
    NJ USA

  3. Ed O'Connor Ed O'Connor
    January 15, 2016    

    Kay, kind of in that vein, I’d like your opinion if you’re disposed to provide it…one set of my great great grandparents were Martin Connor(O’Connor) and Mary Flahiff(Flahive)…they were married in Castlegregory in the early 1850’s. Their daughter Catherine emigrated to western Massachusetts and married Patrick O’Connor whose family was from Cloghane and Ballyquin. When they married, Catherine indicated that her mother was “Flehive”; no indication if this was given name or surname and spelling may have been guessed at by the Registrar of records….when Catherine died one of her sons was the informant and on the death cert the maiden name provided for Catherine’s mother was Bynan…this name was provided by Catherine’s son…I’ve actually found a record in Kerry of a marriage between Ellen Flahiff and Patrick Bynane..Ellen is Mary Flahiff’s sister. I’m thinking that Catherine’s son had heard the name Bynan from his mother and assumed that it was the maiden name of Catherine’s mother…I’m also thinking that Ellen Flahiff and Patrick Bynane are related to Mary Flahiff Connor….does that make any sense to you ?

    • Kay Caball Kay Caball
      January 15, 2016    

      Ed, from my searches I would say that you are absolutely correct. I am sending you separately the record of the marriage of Martin Connor and Mary Flahive (which you may already have).While their parents’ names are not listed, we can see from the original register that the address of Cahir is given. Later when their daughter Catherine is baptised in 1865 her address is also Cahir. When Ellen Flahive married Patrick ‘Bynane’ in 1861, their address is given as Cahir. Added to that Martin Connor is one of the witnesses at this marriage.

      What you outlined is exactly what happened. An American son would have heard all these names being bandied around, he would not have met any of these relatives so could not associate faces and names. You don’t say, but I am sure he just listed Catherine’s place of birth as ‘Ireland’. All those townlands and Parishes would have been too much to take in. Kay

  4. Pam Marquardt Pam Marquardt
    January 15, 2016    

    Very interesting comments Kay.
    I live in Australia & have been seeking without success the burial places of my great great grandparents: Conelius Dore (Dower in Australia) & Johanna Stack and Maurice Joy & Catherine/Kate Carroll.
    Possible places are Ballybunion, Ballyeigh, Ballyduff, Carraghweensha ….
    I haven’t looked for a while, so maybe some new sites Etc hay be available now?

    I have traced other lines of my family tree & my husband’s tree back to 10 to 13 generations, but alas the Irish lines have been fraught with difficulty past two generations.
    Any suggestions you may have would be appreciated.
    (Née Dower)

    • Kay Caball Kay Caball
      January 16, 2016    

      Pam, if you have possible dates and locations in Kerry for the deaths of your great grand parents (Dore/Stack), we might be able to have a shot at a possible burial place.

    • Karen Cain Karen Cain
      March 22, 2016    

      Pam, My great grandmother’s name was Johanna Stack. She was married to James Stack. I have a photo of the their burial site in Ballybunion if you would like me to email it to you. I dont know if Johanna is a common name. I know there are a lot of Stacks in Ballybunion. I have relatives in Kerry.

      • Kay Caball Kay Caball
        March 23, 2016    

        Yes Karen, ‘Stack’ is a very ‘common’ name in Kerry, particularly North Kerry. There were 1028 Stacks named in the 1911 Census of Ireland in Kerry.

  5. January 16, 2016    

    Kay, I have had all those information problems you mention…Searching for my Grandparents burial place in Tralee (Annagh)…Ifound my grandad in the census in Derrymore East under Baurtragaun..on his marraige cert. it was Clasheen ALL the same area (John Roche born 1875),my gradmother’s birth cert (1876) Catherine Brennan ,registered by her dad as Behihane…in the census it is under Behaghane in the parish of Caherdanial,however the registry district is Derrynane..Cahersiveen !!.Ger Roche.

    • Kay Caball Kay Caball
      January 16, 2016    

      Ger, yes its a minefield. Imagine if you were a third generation Irish American trying to figure out the various townlands and parishes and when looking at Civil Registrations, there are just six Registration Districts in County Kerry (Cahirciveen, Dingle, Kenmare, Killarney, Listowel and Tralee). For anyone looking for more information on these Registration Districts, please see Chapter 4 (p.25) of my book Finding Your Ancestors in Kerry (Flyleaf Press 2015).

  6. February 23, 2016    

    Kay, Have been enjoying your site most of the day with the exception of an hour or so when I was crafting an email to you. My brick wall in Kerry includes 2 Great Grandparents, Katherine Lynch Miller Shaw (1865-1950) on my mother’s mother ‘s side and Jeremiah J Halpin (1813-1858) on my mother’s father’s side. But I won’t repeat all of my email here, just wanted to tell you that I enjoyed your site, have ordered “A Guide to Finding your Kerry Ancestors”, joined your blog and am looking forward to hearing from you.

    George Bragg

  7. Kathleen Saich Kathleen Saich
    April 11, 2016    

    I am coming to Kerry soon and would like to visit the grave of Pat Murphy died approximately December/January 1979/1980. He lived in Murphys Bar and Grill , New Street College Street. Killarney. How can I find his grave please?

    • Kay Caball Kay Caball
      April 12, 2016    

      Kathleen, I wouldn’t know where Pat might be buried but I would suggest searching on in either Killarney New or Aghadoe. the only other option would be that you would access local or national newspapers for December 1979 and January 1980 to check if there would be a death notice in them including the burial place. You might get access in your local library free in these newspaper archives.

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