The graveyard at Cill an Ailean

There are many tombstones surviving within this graveyard.  One of the oldest is a two metre long stone slab laid flat within the old walls of the chapel. Designs carved into the stone include a cross and a sword.  These date back to the 14th/15th century.

There are many upstanding headstones with different designs and inscriptions. Most date to the 18th and 19th centuries.  The last burial recorded on a tombstone is Catherine MacLean in 1925.

Gravestone inscriptions

The gravestone can provide information about individuals buried in the graveyard. Between 1990 and 2003 The Cemetarii, a group of locals on Mull, recorded the gravestone inscriptions at Cill an Ailean.

These inscriptions name individuals, for example Alex McPhail, who died on 29 November 1885.  The surnames on the gravestones represent some of the oldest family names on the island, including MacLean, McPherson and Campbell.

During the 18th century, it was fashionable to have symbols carved into the stone, often uniquely designed for the person buried there.  This included symbols representing death, like a skull, and symbols representing the afterlife, including angels.

Symbols could also represent a person's job or trade.  On the back of Donald McAlam's gravestone is an elegant high-heeled shoe and hammer.  He was a shoemaker who died in 1742.

Protecting historic graveyards

Graveyards provide important evidence about people and their community. Many graveyards are under threat from natural erosion. It is important that we keep a record and protect these places for future generations.

The recording of a graveyard can provide an important historical record, particularly if it is under threat of destruction.  Each graveyard will have its own story to tell. Recording and Analysing Graveyards by Harold Mytum (2000) and Understanding Scottish Graveyards by Betty Wilsher (2005) are excellent guidebooks to undertaking a churchyard project.