Cemeteries and Graveyards

All cultures have placed high regard on disposal of the dead - the pre-Christian Celtic tradition appeared to favour cremation and there are many examples on the Island of discoveries of inverted urns containing ashes and calcined bone fragments.

The Romans required burials to be outside the city walls and thus graveyards became established along the major highways - the early Christians in Rome suffering persecution buried their dead in the underground catacombs and erected altars and churches near the burial sites of martyrs.

This appeared to lead to the view that burial both in or near a church was most desirable - the higher the social status the nearer the altar one could be buried.

Many of the treen keeills would appear to have associated burials - however no memorials or records of such internment have survived apart from the incised crosses (not all of which are inscribed nor necessarily associated with the actual grave).

The Monastic establishments of Rushen Abbey, the Nunnery at Douglas and the Friary in Arbory had associated burial plots, but apart from fragments of some memorial slabs few records survive though recent excavations at Rushen Abbey have found more burials than would have been expected from its size.

Burial records exist for the 17 parish churches from the late 16th to early 17th centuries. It would seem that places in these yards were allocated on a geographic basis with so much allocated per quarterland. As pews were rented, many quarterland families assumed the right to bury under the family pew. Bishop Wilson was vehemently opposed to such intramural burial and required that the practice be forbidden in any new churches he built. However it continued elsewhere until outlawed by the 1881 Burial Act.

All parish churches had an associated graveyard - some which rebuilt their churches in the Ward era used the old church as a mortuary chapel (as in Old Lonan and Old Ballaugh) - others used the ground of the old church to extend the graveyard (e.g. Kirk Michael, Kirk Patrick and Lezayre). Many of the others extended their yards several times from the mid 19th century. In some case (Ballaugh, Lonan & Marown) a yard was created adjacent to the new church a considerable distance from the old - thus giving an old and a new yard.

Waldron left a description from the 1720s:

Having mentioned that there is no church-yard without a cross, I cannot forbear taking notice, that there is none which serves not also for a common to the parson's cattle; all his horses, his cows, and sheep, grazing there perpetually: so strangely is religion and rusticity mingled together in this Island !

The following non-parochial churches also have a yard

The memorials erected in these yards are discussed elsewhere (and for those with the CD_ROM a photographic tour is available)


Castletown buried its dead in Malew - St. Mary's chapel-of-ease in the town had a few intramural burials but no burial place. The ruined chapel on St. Michael's Island was reputedly used by Roman Catholics.

Douglas mostly used Kirk Braddan, the yard at Old Kirk Braddan was full by the 1840s and a new graveyard was established a short distance away. St. George's in the town had a graveyard - for some time this was actually unconsecrated ground as a debt was still owing on it. North Douglas fell within Onchan parish and used that yard. A Borough Cemetery was established in 1899. A new cemetery was opened in 2003.

Ramsey mostly buried its dead at Kirk Maughold but as part of the town was in Lezayre that yard was also used - there was a small graveyard surrounding Ballure Chapel but that was mostly for non-Manx.

Peel used the small yard in St. Peter's in the centre of the city but by the 1840s this was grossly overcrowded and in 1853 a new cemetery both for the town and for German parish was established a short distance out of the town. Some burials (mostly shipwrecked mariners and Roman Catholics) took place within the old Cathedral on St. Patrick's isle. A small Methodist burial plot was established in the grounds of Atholl Street Chapel. The old St. Peter's yard was tidied up in the 1950s the more 'attractive' memorials used to line the walls of the garden.

Other burial places

These include:

Ruillick-ny-Quakeryn - Quaker's burial ground

Corrin's Folly has a small attached burial ground for the family

There are records of some burials within the grounds of Castle Rushen

1869 Tynwald committee of enquiry

In May 1869 a small committee of Tynwald toured all the Island graveyards, the advertisement requested any interested parties to meet them at specific times at the various yards. Possibly as an outcome, three Acts of Tynwald that year were concerned with extensions to yards

1881 Burial Act

 By the Burials Act of 1881 burials might take place in churchyards without the rites of the Church of England ; and, in 1899, any burial service, provided it be "Christian", was permitted in the mortuary chapels of German (Peel) and Braddan New yard.

A further requirement was that a Sexton be employed - prior to this the family had been responsible for digging the grave in many yards.




Betty Willsher Understanding Scottish Graveyards Edinburgh: Cannongate Books 1985 republished 1995(ISBN 0-86241-560-8)

James Stevens Curl The Victorian Celebration of Death Newton Abbot: David and Charles, 1972 (ISBN 0-7153-5446-9)

Peter J. Jupp & Clare Gittings (ed) Death in England, an illustrated History Manchester: University Press 1999 (ISBN 0-7190-5811-2)


J. Gelling A History of the Manx Church Douglas:Manx National Heritage 1998(ISBN 0-952-4019-4-0)



Church Records + Burial Customs

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