Beckett’s Mills, Ballynew, Castlebar, where the floating coffin was found in April 1950.

From the archives: Grave matters made headlines in Mayo

By Tom Gillespie

SEARCHING through the back files of The Connaught Telegraph is time-consuming but addictive. You set out to trace a particular story but get side-tracked as headline after headline catches your attention, which you are compelled to read.

There was one such headline I could not pass without reading. It proclaimed ‘Coffin in Castlebar river’.

The story appeared in the paper on April 22, 1950, and went as follows:

A coffin observed floating down the Castlebar river created something of a sensation in the town, and conjectures were many and varied as to whence it came, what remains, if any, it contained.

The casket was observed by residents in Ballynew, who reported the matter to the guards, and there was much local speculation until the matter was investigated.

On Tuesday morning, equipped with grappling tools and dressed in semi-diving outfits, Sergeant Egan and Garda Walsh, Castlebar, carried out a search along the banks of the river and eventually discovered the coffin lodged in the centre of the river adjoining the old mill at Ballynew, and beside the local cemetery.

After considerable difficulty the coffins was retrieved from the water, and it was found to be empty and minus a lid.

Faced with the problem of trying to establish if the casket had been tenanted and, if so, what had become of the occupant, the gardaí commenced intense investigations and enquiries.

Up to the time of going to press the ownership of the coffin had not been established, nor is it known if, at any time, it contained remains.

It is believed, however, that the coffin was left in a vacated undertaker’s yard, and that it was taken to the river by children who used it as a punt.

The gardaí discovered the lid of the coffin in the river at the rear of premises at Bridge Street.

It is understood that the coffin has since been removed from Ballynew to Castlebar Garda Station, and that the guards are pursuing inquiries.

It was not disclosed if the coffin would be disposed of or held as a souvenir by the finders.

Another grave story dominated the headlines in March 1, 1963, with the heading ‘Ballyheane man buried in wrong grave’.

It read:

'During the past few weeks the people of Ballyheane, Castlebar, have been faced with the difficult problem of trying to identify the grave plots in the local cemetery where their relatives are buried following the discovery that a local man was buried in the wrong plot. The body had to be exhumed and reinterred.

'It appears that in the well-laid out and neatly kept cemetery beside the local church, that the grave numbers and record numbers recorded by Mayo County Council got mixed up - presenting the difficult task of identifying graves.'

Following the death, the usual arrangements were made and burial took place in what was believed to be the plot where another family member was buried.

Some time after the funeral, a different family visited the cemetery and found their plot had been recently opened.

Investigations started immediately and it was eventually found that the deceased was interred in the other family's plot.

Application was made to the Department of Justice for an exhumation order, which was eventually granted, and a reinterment ceremony took place in the correct plot.

The general mix-up and confusion over the error meant research work had to be undertaken into the records of the 30-year-old cemetery, with its 154 graves, to try to determine the identity of the plots.

Many of the graves had no tombstones and consequently the numbers of the iron discs got mixed up.

A new record book was compiled which meant checking and recording all the deaths in the area and grave numbers since the cemetery opened in 1933.

Another bizarre article appeared in The Connaught Telegraph on May 14, 1914, headed ‘Dangerous practical joke’.

It read: 'A practical joke with serious consequences was played at Larga, Pontoon, on Sunday.

'A young fellow named Kenny charged a tobacco pipe with gun powder and gave it to another youth named McHale to kindle, the result being that the charge was blown into the boy’s face and did serious damage to his eyes.

'The injured boy was at once conveyed to the County Hospital in Castlebar, where he was treated by Dr. MacBride.

'He is progressing favourably and it is hoped that his sight will not be impaired. Kenny was arrested on Monday and conveyed to Castlebar, where he appeared at a special court.'