Yesterday was one of those days that overwhelmed me. It was overwhelming in a positive sense but I suppose any kind of ‘overwhelm’ takes a bit of processing.

There were all sorts of juxtapositions involved that were to do with time. The whole thing developed out of a visit to the ruins of a church and an old grave site close to Dunhill Castle here in Co. Waterford a while back. I wanted to learn more about the people who were buried there but couldn’t read the inscriptions on the tombstones.

It felt a bit weird to be going to the Internet to find out how I might get the inscriptions to reveal themselves to me. Maybe I should just leave them alone and let the ravages of time take their natural course. But, there on YouTube, I watched a short clip in which a man showed how rubbing plain, ordinary flour on the tombstones worked like magic in enabling one to read the engravings.

It was a bit on the foggy side by the sea in Tramore yesterday so I thought I would head up to the grave yard with my bag of flour and slink into the mists of time.

The Old Church and Grave Yard, Dunhill, Co. Waterford

The only flour that I had was self-raising flour and as I approached the graves I chuckled irreverently about the possible effects of using this as opposed to plain flour. Secretly, I was pleased that I seemed to have risen above the fog on the elevated site.

I only had enough flour to work on one tombstone. It’s the one in the foreground and as you can see I’d already done the deed by the time I took this shot. The flour does work like magic. I was able to read the full inscription apart from one date on the last line:

Erected by Matthias Phelan

in memory of his Father

David Phelan who Departed

this Life August 16 1781

Aged 63 Years.   Also his 

Mother Monica Phelan  who

Departed this Life February 

… 1795  Aged 72

As the words revealed themselves to me, I found myself thinking about all the times I spent as a child with my father in his chemical smelling photographic dark room watching images appear and emerge as clear black and white pictures.

And what of the Phelans?  David was born in 1718 and his wife in 1723. What kind of lives must they have led? The fact of having such an ornate tombstone led me to believe that they probably had more money than most. At a time of large families, was Matthias an only child and how did he cope with with deaths of his parents ~ 14 years apart. Losing parents has been going on forever and will continue as long as the world goes on. Matthias’ parents were elderly by the standards of the 1700s.

Even though I had no intention of climbing up the rocky path to the ruin of Dunhill Castle, I found myself being drawn there by the force of history.

Dunhill Castle, Co. Waterford

For the first time in my life, I climbed up to the top and was peering out through the U that looks towards the church and what I now knew was the Phelan grave. Turning  on the small grassy space up there towards the Anne Valley, I was stunned at the reflection that looked back at me:



The castle appeared whole again, perhaps as it looked way back in the 15th Century. The holes that are so glaringly obvious when one is standing on the ruin were rebuilt for those fleeting moments that I stood watching as the sun went down.

What revealed itself to me more than anything yesterday is the extent to which life is made up of moments. David, Monica and Matthias Phelan had their moments in the sun and the setting sun; I am in the process of having mine. These are moments to savour, to use wisely, to share with love. They are fleeting and fragile but they have layers of colour that we can have a part in defining.

Dunhill Castle and the Bridge over the River Anne





Author: socialbridge

I am a sociologist and writer from Ireland. I have worked as a social researcher for 30 years and have had a lifelong passion for writing. My main research interests relate to health care and sense of place.

48 thoughts on “Revelations”

    1. Hi Clare, I’ve been going there for years and not being able to read the inscriptions nearly drove me crazy. I’m hoping it will lash rain just to clear away the evidence. Remember though how we used to make glue out of flour and water. Let’s hope Mr YouTube was right when he said that the rain does the trick. (If you hear I’ve been arrested for wrecking ancient monuments, please tell them I didn’t mean any harm!)

          1. Hmm…maybe it doesn’t work…we should put our heads together some day….just thinking now using some pliable material…like a big sheet of plasticine!!!…to make an impression? 🙂

        1. We used to use paper and chalk, but I learned later that eventually, that worsens the erosion of the letters. Pouring plain water over the stone is recommended, and that does work in many instances. I was delighted to learn of the flour trick yesterday, and we have a grave in the family plot marked only by a fieldstone in which someone chiseled information; only a few letters are still legible. We are going to dust it with the flour and see if anything more emerges!

    1. Hard to even describe the smells, isn’t it? And the other thing that came back to me was the way Dad would use his hands, a bit like a horizontal conductor, to control the light.

  1. A spell binding post Jean, with a great sense of humour…self raising flour!
    I love looking at old tombstones, they give a hint of the life lived by others, years before when they like us, enjoyed ‘their day in the sun’.

  2. There’s a project for you Jean. Sign up on the website and get recording that graveyard 🙂 I guess they have loads of tips for how best to go about it.

    Most fascinating for me is that you were sharing much the same view as the Phelans did over 200 years previously. And maybe they too would have wondered about the parents and grandparents they only vaguely knew, and who, no doubt, are buried nearby. I think only the well-off and famous had marked burial places going back into the 1700s.

  3. Amen to all of the above comments – and also interesting that your ‘moment’ had a jet-trail in the sky.
    (not sure how i missed this one, I think it was the Thanksgiving holiday here in the US — glad I found it now)

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