Planning a visit to Clare - a vade mecum

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Paddy Casey
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Planning a visit to Clare - a vade mecum

Post by Paddy Casey » Tue Jul 06, 2010 8:26 am

Check-list and Tips for Family Historians Intending to Visit Clare

In Irish family history forums and mailing lists you will often have seen postings from people planning a visit to Clare and asking about this and that. Those of you who follow the Rootsweb lists will remember the person who asked in all seriousness whether they have tea in Ireland or whether one should bring tea and a kettle on the trip.

I've put together a list of ideas and attach it here for your perusal. Suggestions for changes are welcome. Paddy Waldron and Lucille Ellis and Eric Shaw and David Brady-Browne and Robin Burns Hutchins and JPJC and Sharon Carberry have already contributed some additional info and tips.

Parts of this check-list apply to any family history research visit in an Irish county, not just Clare. It is not a primer on genealogical research in Ireland, of which there are many. It is focussed on preparations for a visit to the County.

Clearly, it is difficult to formulate such a list because the spectrum of visitors ranges from those who have done enormous amounts of research to others who are just finding their feet. Some of the travellers in spe will be well up on their family histories. This checklist tries to steer clear of the "teaching granny to suck eggs" mode but some intending pilgrims might be at the bottom end of the learning curve and need help. It covers things like research facilities in Clare, equipment you will need (camera, sound recorder, wellington boots for tramping the cemeteries and fields, etc.), swinging by Dublin to browse the NAI and NLI facilities, planning expectations (e.g. don't expect to achieve a lot if you only have 3 days in Clare and want to combine sightseeing with research).

Update 26-Jun-2015: there is another vade mecum at http://thesearchforanneandmichael.blogs ... eland.html which covers Irish family history research in general rather than just County Clare. It also covers several of the topics dealt with here, e.g. research repositories in Ireland. Superbly written. Meaty and concise. Definitely worth reading for a family historian preparing for a visit to the County.

Update 26-Jul-2016: see Claire Santry's blog at for tips, sources and events related to Irish genealogy research.

Pre-trip Internet research
Before departure search and browse the Clare Library site at for every last drop of information you can find on your family. Fully mining the Clare Library site will allow you to optimally target your searches and excursions in the limited time available to you for plodding the sod (or "time on site", as they say nowadays in corporate suit-speak) and will save you valuable in-country time transcribing info that is already online and accessible back home.
Check out ... rvices.htm and and milk those sources for what they are worth. Use the embedded search engine at .
Go back to the Clare Library site regularly because it is frequently updated with large chunks of genealogical information . Something you couldn't find there last month may be there now. Check the What’s New page .
If you already know where your family came from, note down the name of the townland and the geographical coordinates of the place (GPS and Irish Ordnance Survey map coordinates). This information is invaluable if, for example, you want to buy a map or aerial photo at the OS shop in Dublin. If you are unsure of the spelling of your ancestors' townland name you can check the County Clare townlands list at ... wnland.htm

At you will find a mind-boggingly extensive collection of Irish and Clare maps, recent and old, which one can wallow in for days. Before leaving for the Sod go there and get your Clare bearings. Don't be put off intimidated by its describing itself as a Geospatial Data Hub. It's a map collection, and a superb one, which even I could browse.

Libraries and Archives
The key Irish sites are in Dublin and Clare. If you are entering Ireland via Dublin there are at least 5 places you might like to visit in Dublin (the National Archives, the National Library, the Ordnance Survey office, the Valuation Office and the Dublin City Library and Archive). You can visit them on your own and have the fun of discovery and learning. Alternatively, if you have very little time at your disposal and are at the bottom of the genealogical learning curve and money is no object you can hire a local genealogist to take you around the archives and focus your time.
Before planning your trip and/or before getting in that taxi from your Dublin hotel to one of these repositories do check their website for times of opening and availability of services. A repository or one of its departments or facilities might be about to shut down for a prolonged period for refurbishment and you don't want to arrive at a locked door. When you are driving through Dublin or another city to visit a library or an archive or some other genealogical reference source you may notice that yours is one of the only cars on the road, that there are no traffic jams, and that the people are ambling about in casual clothing rather than hurrying along in business dress. This is because you have chosen one of the public holidays (aka Bank Holidays) for your expedition and when you arrive at the facility it will be closed for the day. What a pity. To avoid this, when planning your trip check out the dates of the public holidays at ... of_Ireland.

The National Archives of Ireland (NAI, ) are in the centre of Dublin and contain vast amount of historical material relating to County Clare. You can spend weeks wallowing in their material. Before using their facilities you will have get a reader's ticket (see ). The formalities take about 30 minutes and you will need photo ID so don't forget to bring the ID with you. If you know exactly what you need and if you already have a reader's ticket (unlikely if this is your first visit from abroad) you can order documents ahead of your visit (see ).
The National Archives cannot carry out genealogical research for readers or correspondents but it does provide a Genealogy Service where members of the public can consult a professional genealogist about sources relating to their family history. This service is provided free of charge (Info July 2016 but see their website for times of availability during your visit).

The National Library of Ireland (NLI, ) also has material to keep you occupied for months. Visit their website for times of opening and availability of each of their services.
Before using their facilities you will have get a reader's ticket (see and ) and the process takes quite a bit of time, a good hour in my case. You can save time if you arrive with two passport photos and a separate photo ID (e.g. a passport) rather than having to wait in a queue of 263 million indecisive people at the souvenir shop to have your photo taken. The National Library is open on some evenings (check their website for current hours). Update 03-Feb-2012: the following important clarification/correction was added by Lucille Ellis (see posting below): "An update / clarification on using the National Library of Ireland (NLI). If you only want to do genealogical research - Griffiths, Tithes, parish registers, newspapers - you no longer need a full Reader's ticket. Instead you get a daily pass or badge from the front desk. Do I need a Reader’s Ticket to consult the parish registers on microfilm? No, you just need a Microfilm/Newspaper pass which can be obtained from our staff at the Information/Ticket Desk. See the Readers' Tickets section for more information on access to the Library's various collections. (Taken from NLI website, Family History, FAQs). Also, if you need a full Reader's Ticket you bring Passport/Driver's Licence as photographic evidence but they take the photos for the card on site (actually the best photo taken of me for years!)". Update 03-Jun-2015: The National Library of Ireland (NLI) has amended the opening hours of its Readers' Ticket Office. See
A Reader’s Ticket is valid for three years and gives researchers access to all NLI collections.Researchers must bring their ticket when using the reading rooms as original material is not issued without it. However, a Reader's Ticket is not required to access newspapers, the Genealogy Advisory Service or the Roman Catholic parish register microfilm collection.

Ordnance Survey Ireland. The Ordnance Survey offices and store are in a classic old house in the middle of Phoenix Park which is near the airport - the car hire people will give you instructions. They have a large map and aerial photography collection. Here you can get your Clare bearings and pick up some basic geolocation material for your subsequent research in Clare ("geolocation material" = maps).
The people at OSI are very helpful, particularly the aerial photography section where they will happily show you through their collection. The OSI page at,528763,689193,3 gives you an idea of some of the recent high-flown (18,000 feet) colour aerial photos they have (the example in this link shows Corofin and its surroundings; click on "Ortho 2005" at the right to see the aerial view). But at Phoenix Park they can show you older photos, some of them low-flown high-quality black-and-white aerial reconnaisance photos shot by the air corps, which allow you to identify buildings, e.g. a family house which was torn down in the "modernisation" of the 1970s. Then, if you are really serious about it they will put you onto the Air Corps people at Baldonnel who have more photos and are also incredibly helpful.
The OSI has digitised much (all ?) of their map material so if you know the exact coordinates of the Clare place(s) you are looking for the people in the store can, for example, print out a 1915 1:25 (i.e. very large scale) map of your area while you wait. One caveat: the prices of the digital products and aerial photos are hair-raising but, heck, you are only there once. A 1915 map is approx. €220, for example, and only justifiable - to my mind - if you are into serious research or need it for a planning application. For example, I bought one to help me with some research on a Clare village which no longer exists.
A visit to the Phoenix Park OS office is very definitely worth it. There you can see all their stuff, unlike the OS shop in central Dublin where - when I was there, at least - the computers cannot get at all the data and they don't have the helpful aerial photography people to talk to one-on-one.
Very important: take two strong people with you to drag you kicking and screaming away from the aerial photos ("lemme go, lemme go, I wann'em all !"). Seriously.

The Valuation Office in the centre of Dublin ( ) has large numbers of maps dating from the Griffiths Valuation (ca. 1855, see footnotes) which you can pore over. These maps show the individual plots of land in the townlands. The plots are numbered and in a set of books (called the Cancellation Books) which you can also peruse the occupiers of each plot since 1855 are listed. Great if you know where your family lived and you want to see how the land was passed on down through the family over the years. Reading and interpreting the Cancellation Books and the associated maps is not trivial but the staff are helpful. Unless you are looking for a very specific piece of information, ink in a full day at least at the Valuation Office for getting the full lowdown on "your" townland.

The Dublin City Library and Archive is the only Dublin repository open on Saturdays - it has a fairly good collection of national material. See ... chive.aspx

The Clare Library Local Studies Centre ( ... studi1.htm ) will be the pivotal place for your Clare family history research once you are in the County. It is a family historian's Aladdin's Cave, with full collections of the backnumbers of the key Clare newspapers, local directories from the 19th century, baptismal records, estate papers, tradesmens' lists, court reports, you name it, presided over by knowledgeable experts who can help you zoom in on the information you are looking for. Ink in a lot of time for your research here, at least a day. Parking in the vicinity is difficult so it's best to leave your car at your hotel/B&B and walk there. To optimise your use of your time at the LSC rather than making notes use your camera to photograph interesting information, e.g. a newspaper report of the conviction of your great-great-great-grand-aunt Bridget for witchcraft or an advertisement for your great-great-grandfather Michael's saddlery business in Ennistymon. Keep a little log of the photos so that when you get home you know which document each photo related to and the date of publication.

The office of the Registrar of Births, Marriages and Deaths is at the Sandfield Centre on the northern outskirts of Ennis. Plenty of parking. Here you can pick up BMD photocopies and certificates. You can request either a simple photocopy of, e.g. your GGF's death register entry, or a certificate. The latter is only needed for legal purposes, e.g. inheritance matters, citizenship applications. For most family history uses the simple photocopy suffices. To obtain a record you will need to be able to tell the RofBMD office the year and place of the birth, marriage or death you are looking for. The ladies who run the office are very helpful. Super, in fact. For example, if you are not familiar with the Clare geography and got the spelling of your great-great-grandfather's place of birth wrong they will tell you where it probably was, or if his death record is not to be found under the place where he lived they might tell you that he could have died in St Joseph's in Ennis and they'll check that registration district for you.

Paper Maps and Documents
The paper maps to have for on-site genealogical research in Ireland are the Discovery maps published by Ordnance Survey Ireland. They are basic equipment. They are in many respects not as good as the 1842 Ordnance Survey maps (see ... dex_OS.htm ) but being paper maps, they are portable. Also, the roads they show are marked with the modern-day road numbers, which makes driving easier. They drill down to the detail and include boreens, small streams and archaeological items. The Discovery maps are sold in the large Irish bookshops and cost around €7.50 apiece. If you can't get a set before leaving for The Sod make sure you stop at the first bookstore when leaving your Irish destination airport for Clare or, when you get to Clare, visit the Ennis Bookshop (13 Abbey Street, Ennis, Co.Clare, tel. +353 65 682 9000, email, where they have the full set of Clare and other Irish county OS Discovery maps in stock. You can also order maps from them and pay by credit card. The Ordnance Survey Discovery maps are also available through which ships free of charge and takes payment via PayPal. The maps which cover Clare are 51, 52, 53, 57, 58, 59, 63, 64, 65. You won't need all these, of course, just the ones which cover the parts of the County you are researching. To find out which ones you need, go to and click on Discovery Series Index ( ... 74adb25efb ) to see a map of Ireland showing the Discovery map segments.
Also a must: the Xploreit map of County Clare ( ) is a locally-produced map with lots of detail for those, including hikers and cyclists, exploring the County. You can get one at the Ennis Book Shop (above) or order via the Xploreit website (above) with free shipment and payment via PayPal. Definitely recommended.

Electronic Maps and Documents
Because Internet access is still patchy in rural Clare, and because downloading maps etc. via a 3G phone connection might incur extortionate roaming charges which exceed the sum of all your other trip expenditures, if you have a computer or smartphone or tablet with you it is worthwhile uploading useful research material to your device before your trip, e.g. map segments, censuses, tithe lists, cemetery plans and transcriptions, aerial photos. If you already know where your family came from it's a great idea to save a few screenshots of the 1842 maps of the area from Then, when plodding the sod you might discover old disused pathways, ringforts, monuments, cemeteries, etc.
Don't rely on being able to use Google Maps and similar offerings when out in the County. Because internet access is patchy out in the country you may not be able to access those facilities. Instead download your relevant map segments from or install Osmand+ on your tablet or smartphone and download the maps to that device.
Update 16-Jul-2015: There is a Google Maps app for Android (and, presumably, iOS) which allows the user to download maps to their phone or tablet. It used to be there but Google hid it and then put it back again so I hope it will still be there when you visit the County. I presume that it allows access to the offline maps when there is no internet connection (e.g. to authenticate the user) but I haven't tested it.

Internet Access and Information Sources
WiFi access is patchy in rural Clare. There are Internet cafés in Ennis (see also Rowan Tree Hostel café below).
The Clare County Library has Internet seats available for short periods at the main library in Ennis and at the branch libraries. Sessions last for one hour normally – and up to two hours in the mornings in Ennis. Internet access is also available in the Local Studies Centre in Ennis (restricted to local studies use). Great for a quick check in a library genealogy source when you are out in the field.
Backing up memories (photos, sound recordings, video clips, etc.). It would wise to back up your memories as you travel around the County. You could become quite depressed if, on the last day of your trip, your camera with all its photos drops into the Fergus River in Ennis or off the Cliffs of Moher, never to be seen again. Believers in The Cloud can transfer their memories to their clouds if they can find an Internet connection (often difficult in rural Clare). Alternatively, stores such as Wilsons Cameras in Ennis (27 O'Connell Street) will transfer data to a CD for a small charge. Or in your trip equipment you can include a separate data backup facility (e.g. a portable hard disk drive) which can be connected to your smartphone, camera, etc..
Those with smartphones, pads, tablets etc. who want to find their way around Ennis can (as of November 2012) download an app called the Ennis App (do not confuse it with several other similarly named apps which promote someone called Jessica Ennis). The Ennis App not only lists all the attractions but, for example, if you are dying for a pint it will not only tell you that the next pint is 11 feet away but (if your smartphone compass is switched on) it will point you in the right direction. Amazing !

Come dressed for fields, farmyards and cemeteries in all weathers. Many cemeteries are cared-for but others in rural Clare may be in the middle of fields with muddy paths to them and some are overgrown with tall wet grass. There are brambles and barbed wire everywhere. Bring thornproof clothing, preferably military-style with ample waterproof cargo-pockets for cameras, notebooks, files, etc. (see footnote on ECWCS clothing). Have a pair of bramble-and-barbed-wire-proof gloves. Buy Wellington boots (see footnote) on arrival and discard on departure (they are heavy and will cost you excess baggage). They tend to be sold in hardware shops rather than shoe shops.
Don't worry too much about sartorial appearance. As elsewhere, people dress neatly in Clare but it is a rural county so they are quite used to seeing people in the streets and cafés, e.g. in Ennis, in clodhopper-look.

Before departure make sure you have
- A GPS or GPS logger to geo-mark sites of graves, family homes, etc. GPS loggers (see ) are little keyfob-sized devices which one can hang on one's belt, for example, and which record your track as you travel around. They usually have a little button which you can press when you are somewhere that you want to remember; it then "marks" the track recording with a flag that you can see when you attach the logger to your computer to download the tracks. GPS loggers are remarkably cheap and so portable that you forget you are "wearing" one. Also, unlike some of the GPS devices built into smartphones they don't constantly "phone home" to tell Big Brother where you are so that Big Brother can profile you and possibly inadvertently tell your local burglars that you are out of town. Some of the newer loggers are supplied with software that allows you to record your trip with photos on Google Earth, for example, thus providing a delightful memento of your trip (see for one such product).
- A hi-resolution digital camera (5 megapixel plus) for photographing documents of genealogical relevance at the Library (see footnote). If you will also use the camera for other photos of your trip, and if you are buying the camera specially for the trip (as is surprisingly often the case) you might want to buy one with a built-in GPS and compass which marks each photo with the location where it was taken and the direction in which the photo was taken. Or you might not. You can, of course, take GPS-and-time-stamped photos with a smartphone but once your smartphone is connected to the Internet those photos will be synced with their time and location data to all sorts of murky destinations on the Internet unless you have switched off all the syncing and tracking options on your smartphone. Your choice.
- An Olympus digital micro-voice-recorder (matchbox-sized and very portable) for high-quality recordings of any chats with relatives you locate. Also great for quick notes of impressions.
- Smartphones - a caveat. Beware of relying on a smartphone for recording things on your family history trip (e.g. photos, video clips, notes, sound recordings). Most smartphones, particularly those which do not accept microSD cards for additional storage, have limited storage space. You will be exasperated/infuriated/enraged if in the middle of recording a fascinating conversation with an elderly soon-to-die relative the message "Recording no longer possible. Memory full" pops up. "Ah, but I can push it to The Cloud", you say. Try offloading the memory of your smartphone to your cloud way out in rural Clare where data connections are shaky at best and your ideas about the usefulness of The Cloud will acquire new perspectives. Either use a smartphone which accepts a roomy (e.g. 32GB or 64GB) memory card or use separate devices (e.g. an Olympus voice recorder - see above, a camera with lots of memory) or frequently offload your stuff to your cloud back at your Internet-connected room at your hotel. Of course, the technically-non-challenged among you will be carrying a separate data backup facility (e.g. a portable hard disk drive) which can be connected to your smartphone, camera, etc. Those people can ignore this paragraph.

Clare is full of excellent B&Bs (Bed & Breakfast). They are listed in numerous Internet sites. If you know where your family is from, try to find a B&B in the locality because if the B&B owner is from the locality (and not just someone who recently moved in to start up a B&B) they will brief you about the local families over breakfast, tell you whom to visit, even pick up the phone and tell Mrs O'Grady in the village that some guests who may be distantly related to her are on their way down for a chat, etc. etc.
The former chairman of the Clare Roots Society, Declan Barron runs an excellent hotel in Ennis with his mother (see ). He has a substantial genealogy library in-house. If you stay there you get a free Clare genealogy tutorial from Declan himself with the full traditional Irish breakfast. The period house has to be experienced to be appreciated. Takes you back to Old Ennis (but the service etc. is very much 21st century).
The Rowan Tree Hostel ( next to the bridge over the river Fergus on Harmony Row in Ennis offers budget accomodation for individuals or families with self-cooking facilities. It is two minutes walk from the Clare Library Local Studies Centre and has a café which serves excellent food, coffee and wine. It also has wi-fi Internet access for patrons. For musical visitors, the Rowan Tree café is also a watering hole of the movers and shakers on the County music scene.
There is a new (Feb 2012) and unusual website at which gives you a video tour of B&Bs.

Car rental
If you are renting a car on arrival in Dublin and are travelling alone or maybe 2 people without much luggage, don't reserve it back home via Hertz, Avis or whatever. Just wait till you arrive in Dublin and then go down the line of car rental booths at the terminal and ask each one for their price for the type of car you want. Then go back down the line with the lowest price and ask each one whether he/she can do better. The price will roughly halve at at least one of the booths. Then go to the others with the new, lower price and ask them whether they can do better. It will drop by another 20%. The bargaining process will lose you very little time - the agents are used to the process and are happy to haggle - and you will be staggered at the difference between the rate you were quoted at home and the rate you get by bargaining. In addition, in the course of the bargaining at least one of them will offer you a larger car instead of a cheaper rate, which might suit you. On my last trip I paid only 40% of what my local multinational car rental company had quoted me for a 2-week rental. Theoretically you run the risk of there being no car, thus delaying the start to your trip, but that has never ever happened to me in the course of many rentals.

Car hire companies may surcharge, or try to surcharge, drivers aged over 75 or over 70 but these attempts have been successfully challenged in the courts as being illegally ageist (see ... e-company/). Irish Car Rentals was challenged over their ageism policies and have dropped their surcharge of €25 per day on drivers between the ages of 70 and 75. They will now rent to drivers over 75 provided they fill out a Driver Safety Assessment: (ifno as of 05-May-2012). It might be prudent to clarify this point in writing when booking a car so as to avoid nasty surprises when picking up the vehicle.

Driving on the Irish roads
I mention this because many visitors, e.g. from North America, intending to rent a car in Ireland worry unnecessarily about it.
In Ireland they drive on the left (=right) side of the road as opposed to other places in the world where they drive on the right (=wrong) side. Unless you are very challenged in this area you will have no difficulty getting used to driving on the correct side of the road. After the first couple of hours you will feel you have been doing it all your life. On leaving Ireland you will wonder what you were worrying about. Just make sure that you revert to driving on the wrong side of the road when you get home.

Travelling rural Ireland alone if you don't drive or don't want to drive a car and are not accompanied by a driver
Getting to County Clare is no problem. There is a major international airport (Shannon) at the southern end of the County. There is an excellent rail and coach system to get you around the country (e.g. from Dublin to Ennis in County Clare). Amazingly, the rail system even offers free travel passes for the over-66s (see and the links on that site). However, once in the County rural buses are few and far between and don't take you to the cemeteries and churches and the ruins of your family's house in the middle of a remote field. Because rural Irish motorists drive as if pursued by the Devil and seem to assume that there will be nothing in the way round the next bend, cycling on the narrow winding roads with their high hedgerows and poor visibility round corners is, in my experience, suicidal. So that leaves travel by car or by foot (the latter being by far the most pleasurable experience in rural Clare with its superb scenery and footpaths).

Car hire may be a problem for elderly drivers (see Car Hire, above). Also, although driving on the Irish (i.e. the correct) side of the road is not difficult, some visitors may not want to put up with the hassle of driving themselves. So if these and other non-driving visitors want to get to the remote parts of the County they will need to hire a chauffeur-driven car or - if suitably fit - walk.

There are package solutions for those with corresponding budgets. For example, there is an excellent B&B on the Clare-Galway border where the husband of the family is a licensed taxi driver with a car and an 8-seater minivan which can be rented by the hour or the day, thus providing accomodation and chauffeur in one package (mail to for more information). The County tourist office will be able to provide information on other, similar, facilities.

Meeting/finding your relations and the descendants of the neighbours of your ancestors
This will possibly be the nicest bit of your trip.In rural areas don't be shy to knock on doors and ask people if they know about your ancestors. People in rural Clare are used to people "coming home". Very few object to such callers and most will willingly help. Just don't be a bungee family historian (see footnote). They are surely rare but make me cringe. Take your time. Drink the tea, accept another cup, and munch the cake. It will be an experience you'll never ever forget.
Getting the research conversation going with an elderly person can be difficult. A direct question like "Do you know anything about the McMahons around here ?" may not be productive. It's possibly because the answer is so obvious to your subject that he/she can't grasp what you are blethering on about. It's like asking "Do you know whether there is a church around here ?". Of course she knows about the McMahons around here. She lived next to them all their lives, for goodness sakes. She went to school with their kids. You might find it better to approach the question more precisely, e.g. "Were the McMahons all buried here in the local cemetery or were some buried elsewhere ?". Etcetera.
When chatting to your informants don't be locked in the genealogical X-married-Y-and-begat-Z mode (e.g. "When did they marry ? What were the names of their children ? When were their children born ?"). Let your subject talk. The local history, the environment in which your family lived, the things your family did, are just as interesting if not more so.
Things to ask about include, e.g.

- Old letters. In old rural houses there is a table in the middle of the kitchen. It is covered with an oilcloth. If you lift the edge of the oilcloth you will see a drawer underneath. This drawer contains six keys, a broken watch, a flyer about the parish tombola, three pencils, a piece of string, some instructions for a long-defunct teamaker, two dead insects, and an old tube of embrocation. More importantly, it often serves as an archive for the most amazing collection of old letters, e.g. from relatives whose ancestors emigrated to Australia or the Americas and wrote home. Ask about it (diplomatically, of course).

- Mortuary cards (also known as memorial cards; the little cards, often bearing a photo of the deceased, sent round to commemorate a death). Many older people have substantial collections. They are kept in a missal (see footnote) and are surrogate death registers of the locality. If you can get your host to get out the mortuary cards and start talking you will have the social history of the locality stitched up within a couple of hours. See also ... _cards.htm for a whole trove of mortuary card transcriptions from the County.

- Families abroad. Are there families abroad who write back to people in the village ? If the Neylons get letters from cousins in Australia then Mrs Fahy three doors down is sure to know about it. One of those families might be related to you.

- Local cemeteries. Ask where people in the locality are buried. There may be a cemetery next to the local church but you may discover that there is another long-disused or seldom-used cemetery way off in a field a couple of miles from the village with no direct access via a path, i.e. as good as hidden. Then, if you check the 1842 map of the area (see ... dex_OS.htm ) you may find it marked, possibly together with an old church which is now in ruins.This cemetery will be overgrown and you will be fascinated as you explore it. You may even find some of your ancestors' gravestones.
When visiting old cemeteries in remote parts of the County you may deduce from the length of the grass and the luxuriousness of the undergrowth that you are the first person to visit the place in many months. In these cemeteries you may experience some hairs-standing-up-on-the-back-of-your-neck things. Once in such an old cemetery at dusk I was perusing a gravestone and suddenly noted a black cat sitting behind me and watching me intently. I moved on to the next gravestone and to my surprise it was sitting behind me again and watching me. And so at the next gravestone and the next and the next. Despite my whipping around to see where it was as I went through the graveyard I never saw it walking or otherwise moving but each time I looked around from my crouch position in front of a gravestone it was there again behind me. I concluded that it was translocating by some kind of teleporting. There is stuff going on in these places that is difficult to explain.

- The Famine. The Great Famine was 160-170 years ago but the accounts of it have remained ingrained in local rural culture. Many years back I was chatting with a cousin about the Famine and he said "The dead were collected from the sides of the roads around here and taken to a mass grave over there" (arm stretched out towards a hill on the horizon). I walked in the direction he was pointing and a couple of hours searching later I was standing on the site of the mass Famine grave in the middle of a field, no pathway to it, no markers or signposts on the nearby road. After knocking on a few nearby doors I met an 89-year old man who, with 4 other County employees in 1942, had reburied the Famine dead and cleared the gravesite of brush and tall grass. He told me the whole fascinating (and grisly) story (listen to it at ... eyard.html ). So ask your sources what they had heard about the Famine in the area where your family came from. The accounts may tell you something about the environment in which your ancestors lived.

- "Who lived in that house over there ?" (you are pointing to a ruin, called a "cabhal", of which there are plenty in rural Clare). This is an excellent way of triggering memories. The answer is always "Oh, they're long gone......" as if that were the end of it. Persist. Ask who "they" were. You'll be on a roll. Even if it isn't "your" family just listen and take notes. You'll pick up all sorts of nuggets of local history and, if you type up your notes and post them on the Clare Past forum you might be able to help someone else looking for that family.

Other Tips

Baptism and marriage records
Unless it's for something very specific try not to go bothering parish priests with requests for access to parish records. They're up to their ears in caring for the living and the dying and the just-died. The long-dead can't be given the same priority.
Most of the Clare RC parish records that are still in existence are available on microfilm at the Local Studies Centre at the Clare Library in Ennis. In fact, this is a kind of bonus of your trip to Clare. Instead of having to order in films one parish after the other at an LDS family history centre back home you can browse all the Clare parishes in one place in the Local Studies Centre in Ennis.
Remember that many RC parish records no longer exist. The parish priests were under no obligation to keep them so many were thrown out or used for lighting fires etc. So don't be surprised if many years are missing for "your" parish.

Gravestone cleaning.
On arrival in Clare pick up the following at Brohans' hardware shop (Parnell St., Ennis).
- A gravestone-cleaning brush. Required for removing moss, lichen, etc. so that you can read inscriptions. They are on the floor on the right as you go in. (* see also below).
- One very large bottle or canister with a handle for carrying tap water for rinsing gravestones when you have brushed them with your gravestone brush to read the inscriptions.
- A large sponge for wiping down stones with water
- A plastic trowel for removing sod and dirt from half-buried gravestones
- A sharp but soft plastic stick or rod for locating buried gravestones
- A bottle of Hygeia Mosgo Algae Killer Red and Green (contains the biocide didecyl dimethylammonium chloride, the key to cleaning gravestones; manufactured by the Hygeia company in Galway)
Also when in Ennis, for highlighting gravestone inscriptions pick up a supply of
- plain white flour and
- shaving foam
If you are seriously into gravestone cleaning, for rinsing off your work with tapwater you can use one of those 5-gallon backpack spray devices that horticulturally-right-wing garden disciplinarians use for zapping weeds, insects, caterpillars, grubs and anything else that moves or grows. Again, Brohans will sell you one. I really must get Brohans to make up a Gravestone Renovation Set ("This Month's Deal – All Your Gravestone Needs for €25") so that you can buy all the stuff in one go.
You will not be able to thoroughly clean "your" gravestone(s) in the limited time available during your visit to Clare. You will be able to smarten it up quite a bit by brushing with Brohans' Gravestone Brush and lots of water with a few drops of dishwashing detergent and may be able to render the inscription legible that way. You can also increase the legibility of the inscription as suggested under "Photographing gravestones" below. However, to get the gravestone really clean you have to remove all the moss, lichen and algae. Those organisms, while they are alive, are very difficult to remove. To remove them you have to kill them so that they release their hold in the stone and you do that with the Mosgo Algae Killer (see above) and that is not an instant process. You dilute the Mosgo Algae Killer according to the instructions and spray it on the gravestone and leave it. Over the course of the next 3-6 months the dead moss, algae and lichen will be washed off by the rain and wind and when you return to Clare the following year you will find an amazingly pristine gravestone. Your ancestors will be grateful to you and you will collect karma points.
Remember that most Clare gravestones are soft limestone (rather than granite) so don't go cleaning them with bleach (e.g. hypochlorite) or caustic soda or try to remove algal lime deposits with acid. That will simply dissolve up the gravestone and leave you with the inscription without a gravestone (a rather Zen concept like the sound of one hand clapping). Also, don't use scratchy brushes, wire wool, sandpaper, etc. on the soft limestone. Stick to Brohans' Gravestone Brush which has soft plastic bristles (you could safely use it for cleaning your teeth if it were not so large).
Finally, if you want "your" gravestone to look squeaky-clean and lose its weathered look you can get it sandblasted by professionals (see footnote) who also fill in the engraved text (or what's left of it) with black acrylic or bitumen or whatever it is to render it more visible. However, this highly abrasive process necessarily removes part of the surface of the gravestone so I, personally, would stick to the non-destructive tapwater-and-soft-brush method with a dose of algicide if needs be.

P.S David Brady-Browne kindly supplied "Before and After" photos of the effect of the algicide cleaner. He applied it over a period of months when passing "his" graveyard in Tulla and the result is shown below.
Gravestone cleaning thomas_browne_browne BEFORE.jpg
Gravestone BEFORE cleaning with Hygeia algicide.
Gravestone cleaning thomas_browne_browne BEFORE.jpg (204.84 KiB) Viewed 230152 times
Gravestone cleaning thomas_browne_browne AFTERWARDS.jpg
Gravestone AFTER cleaning with Hygeia algicide.
Gravestone cleaning thomas_browne_browne AFTERWARDS.jpg (226.18 KiB) Viewed 230152 times

Photographing gravestones.
If "your" gravestones are facing to the east, as most do and all should, photograph them at 9am on a sunny morning to make the inscriptions more legible. It's a scientific thing. It has to do with the spectrum and angle of the light. If you are really well-equipped (see " with cargo pockets..." above) you will have a long extension lead for your flash which allows you to photograph gravestones from the front whilst directing the flash onto the gravestone at an angle of 30° to bring the inscriptions into relief.
When you have washed "your" gravestone, allow the wind and sun to dry the surface water more quickly than the water which lodges in the engravings and take several pictures during the drying process. The water which stays in the engravings will contrast with the surface of the stone and "highlight" the text.
If the inscriptions are difficult to read, rub a handful of wet grass vigorously over the gravestone or highlight the inscriptions with plain white flour or shaving foam. Caution: don't use flour unless you intend to clean it off the gravestone afterwards and have the wherewithal (time, a brush and copious amounts of water) to do so (thanks to Robin Burns Hutchins for calling this point to mind - see her posting below). Don't apply flour on top of lichen or moss as it will be almost impossible to remove. Remove the lichen and moss first and then apply the flour. Ignore this and the previous paragraph if you are exploring the cemetery in pouring rain (except, of course, if you need to clean off flour; the pouring rain helps greatly there).
Use the zoom on your camera to enlarge details to facilitate transcription when you get home.
If your camera can store its photos in RAW format in addition to the usual JPEG then adjust the settings to allow it to do so and you will have the advantages of both formats. RAW format can be "developed" in various ways when you get home to extract the maximum information from your gravestone photos. For example, it allows you to change the exposure after having taken the photo, so a photo which is too dark can be lightened (don't confuse this with lightening or darkening a JPEG image, a process which cannot add information to the photo).

If visiting Clare in the Spring take a fitness course beforehand. When visiting cemeteries, for example, you will be tramping across fields containing herds of cows which conceal bulls. They are everywhere. When the bull sees you you will have to sprint for your life (see ... parish.htm). Whatever your age you will be amazed how fast you can run when the chips are down. There is a positive side to this. If the bull gets you you will probably end up in the adjacent cemetery with your ancestors. Rather appropriate, poetic, etc.
Clare Roots Society.
If you are lucky the Clare Roots Society ( ) may be holding a lecture while you are in the County. Attend it without fail. Apart from learning something about the subject of the lecture you will meet the Clare family history cognoscenti and get all sorts of tips and contacts for your future research. In fact, it would be difficult to imagine a more informative group of Clare horses' mouths assembled in one place and at one time than the CRS in session so cancel everything else to be there.

Whilst the Clare Roots Society cannot answer general genealogical queries or do genealogical research into Clare families for third parties, members of the Society can occasionally assist family historians who have already done some research on their roots in County Clare and intend to visit the County to plod their ancestors' sod. These intending visitors may contact the secretary of the Clare Roots Society at, giving the names of their families, the locality in the County and a synopsis of the information they have about those families. The secretary will then see whether there is a member of the Society who is familiar with their locality in the County and its families and who would be in a position to help.

Mapping and geo-logging (see footnote)
While visiting the County and doing your research do record the geographical positions of important places and finds with your GPS or GPS logger (see above). Examples might be the old family house (or its ruins); cemeteries, graves and headstones; houses of interesting people you met; anything worth remembering. When you get back home you can upload the data to your own Google Earth map of where you were and what you did. Makes a special kind of diary.

A pre-trip virtual tour of County Clare
Those who have never been to Clare and want to have their appetites whetted might like to take the 60-minute virtual bicycle tour of the County which can be downloaded from ... land2.html (or you can order the DVD from that site). Definitely recommended (except that it's so good that after you've watched it you might decide - wrongly - that you've seen all that's to be seen and cancel your trip :wink: ).
Forum member JPJC added the following excellent suggestion: "Wander around the places you are going to using Google Earth (street view mode). It may feel odd to do parts of your future trip on-line and see the sights before you get there. But it is great help in planning (eg) with working out driving distances and, in our case, finding a fantastic B & B". The Google Earth Street Views now (March 2015) seem to cover most of the Clare roads. Google Earth also allows you to "check out" the cemeteries you are going to visit (particularly helpful reconnaissance if they are off the beaten track, e.g. in the middle of a field or separated by a river from what appears to be an adjacent road).

Cultural insights
A key part of your genealogical visit to Clare is absorbing the cultural and social background in which your ancestors lived. So when planning the trip pencil in some time for visiting evocative events such as a harvest festival, a horse fair, an evening or day of traditional music, horse racing, set dancing or a hurling or camogie fixture (hurling has been played in Clare for centuries and Michael Cusack, founder of the GAA, was from the county). See ... nt/cal.htm for a calendar of events during your stay and also check out the County Clare Events page at


Griffiths Valuation – see ... iffith.htm and make sure you have read and fully understood before leaving for Ireland.

ECWCS clothing ECWCS stands for Extended Cold Weather Clothing System (see ... ing_System). The system, which is sold widely, includes a parka and trousers with an amazing selection of cargo pockets which are ideal for the serious graveyard and rural-genealogy hound. They are totally water- and windproof and will keep you warm and dry all day in the absolute worst of weathers. They will take tools, maps, notebooks, cleaning equipment, cameras, voice recorders, connecting leads, sandwiches, bottles of water and whichever kitchen sink you decided to bring with you. The hood is made to fit over a military helmet so fits over a bike helmet. Available in military camo colours only, unfortunately, so not for the fashion-conscious.

Wellington boots are also known as rubber-boots, wellies, topboots, gumboots, barnboots, muckboots or rainboots – see

Photographing old documents, prohibitions of: at the NLI and the NAI they may still prohibit the taking of photographs and tell you that photographing old documents with flash damages them (this is rubbish; an old canard that has long been refuted by testing) or that there are copyright issues (again rubbish; there are no copyright rules to prevent you taking photos of very old originals).

Bungee family historians usually come from a large metropolis where they are used to instant satisfaction and a go-go-go lifestyle. They arrive suddenly at a country cottage door out of the blue, are obviously in a hurry ("We've two other houses and three graveyards and two archives to visit today and our plane leaves tomorrow so we don't have much time...."), ask for a potted history of the locality and its residents in 15 minutes, constantly interrupt their victim with impatient questions ("Excuse me interrupting but we don't have much time....."), fiddle with their Blackberries and iPhonys while their victim is trying to get his/her wits, complain that they are not getting a wi-fi signal, refuse the offer of a cup of tea and a piece of cake ("we don't have enough time.....") and then jump into their car and zoom off in a cloud of dust and exhaust smoke never to be seen again, leaving their victim shaking his/her head bemusedly.

Storage of mortuary cards in missals. See the phrase "....missal fat as a tick..." in the poem entitled "Spring Cleaning" by Catherine Phil MacCarthy ( ).
On the top shelf
a wire of household bills
keeled like a spinning top,
your missal fat as a tick
with mortuary cards and prayers,
a Cadbury’s box of letters........

Sandblasting gravestones: check out Boston Stone Products in Tubber – see - and a number of other companies which you can find with Google. Also, funeral directors in the locality of "your" grave (again, Google to find them) will know of reliable headstone renovators.

Geo-logging is just an important-sounding word meaning recording where you are/were in the world.

* By the way, there is a new type of soft plastic brush with pointed bristles which first appeared in the pet shops for grooming horses and is now available in the "Everything for €1/£1/$1" stores in packs of 3. I tried one on a lacquered surface and it left no scratches and my wife tells me they are great for brushing her long hair. I haven't yet tried one out on a gravestone but they get into the crevices in concrete and slate slabs here at home so would presumably be excellent for gravestones. If anyone is interested I'll upload a photo (of the brush, not my wife). Update 05-Apr-2020: I've discovered that these brushes are marketed by the Magic Brush Company (see and are available in a range of colours and styles.
Last edited by Paddy Casey on Wed Apr 19, 2023 4:56 pm, edited 80 times in total.

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Re: Planning a visit to Clare - a vade mecum

Post by murf » Wed Jul 07, 2010 3:47 am

Thanks Paddy for the interesting (and entertaining ) reading. Just one query tho, does the RofBMD office in Ennis cater for all of County Clare or only the Ennis Registration district?
Re Ennis accomodation I would recommend the new Rowan Tree Hostel which is only a moderate drop kick from the Clare Library. They target the backpacker brigade primarily but you can get your own room at a special rate if your stay is a week or more, and they have free internet access for patrons.
I would like also to mention an information source which won't be for everybody but may be valuable for some. During my researches I discovered quite by accident that no less than four members of my Murphy family had served on the Killadysert Board of Guardians. Because the proceedings of the fortnightly (and even weekly) meetings of the board were regularly reported in the Clare Journal, this opened up a goldmine of information for me which included such things as a long letter which my gg grandfather wrote to the editor of the Journal re a bunfight over BOG matters. My ggg also leased the Ballycorick Dispensary to the Guardians of the Poor.
The board reports make interesting reading. The Killadysert guardians were at times an unruly bunch, leading to some firey exchanges around the boardroom table. Then along the way you pick up little pearls, such as the pregnant woman when applying for admission to the workhouse was asked her age. She was unable to be precise about this, except to remark that she was "...launched into this miserable world the night of the wind."
Of course you don't have to visit Clare to access Clare Journal records. Here in Queensland I have been viewing the Journal on microfilm at my local library, obtained via interlibrary loan from the National Library of Australia.


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Planning a visit to Clare - a vade mecum

Post by Paddy Casey » Wed Jul 07, 2010 7:51 am

murf wrote:Just one query tho, does the RofBMD office in Ennis cater for all of County Clare or only the Ennis Registration district?

The RofBMD office at the Sandfield Centre in Ennis caters for all of County Clare.


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Re: Planning a visit to Clare - a vade mecum

Post by Clare Admin » Thu Jul 08, 2010 2:14 pm

Paddy. Thank you for posting this very useful guide on the forum. We've put a link to this topic on the main genealogy page at ... nealog.htm under Research Support.
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Conservation of Historic Graveyards

Post by pwaldron » Mon Jan 30, 2012 7:07 pm

Those who read Paddy Casey's advice above might also like to look at two items from the Heritage Council:

1. Guidance for the Care, Conservation and Recording of Historic Graveyards (64pp., 7.3MB PDF) ... eyards.pdf

2. Ireland’s Historic Churches and Graveyards (Poster: 2 A3 pages and 1 A2 page, 1.8MB PDF) ... Poster.pdf

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Re: Planning a visit to Clare - a vade mecum

Post by Lucille » Fri Feb 03, 2012 11:20 am

An update / clarification on using the National Library of Ireland (NLI). If you only want to do genealogical research - Griffiths, Tithes, parish registers, newspapers - you no longer need a full Reader's ticket. Instead you get a daily pass or badge from the front desk

Do I need a Reader’s Ticket to consult the parish registers on microfilm?
No, you just need a Microfilm/Newspaper pass which can be obtained from our staff at the Information/Ticket Desk. See the Readers' Tickets section for more information on access to the Library's various collections.
(Taken from NLI website, Family History, FAQs)

Also, if you need a full Reader's Ticket you bring Passport/Driver's Licence as photographic evidence but they take the photos for the card on site (actually the best photo taken of me for years!)

Lucille Ellis

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Re: Planning a visit to Clare - a vade mecum

Post by Paddy Casey » Fri Feb 03, 2012 12:26 pm

Thanks for this, Lucille. I've added it to the body of the text above.


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Re: Planning a visit to Clare - a vade mecum

Post by Skyrish2us » Sat Feb 18, 2012 3:51 am

This was absolutely BRILLIANT! I only wish I had read it BEFORE I visited Clare......................ggggrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr :x

Have tucked it away for "next time"... thank you so much. Great advice.

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Re: Planning a visit to Clare - a vade mecum

Post by tomodea » Mon Feb 20, 2012 11:21 pm


We would like to include a link to your very useful article from the web site of the O'Dea Clan for the benefit of our Clan members. I'm submitting this post to ask your permission for us to do so. Thanks.

Regards, Tom O'Dea
Webmaster, Dysert O'Dea Clan Association
Please visit our Web site at:

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Re: Planning a visit to Clare - a vade mecum

Post by Paddy Casey » Tue Feb 21, 2012 9:56 am

Most certainly, Tom. Glad you thought it might be of use. I wish you continued success with the clan endeavour.


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Re: Planning a visit to Clare - a vade mecum

Post by tomodea » Tue Feb 21, 2012 10:40 am

Paddy Casey wrote:Most certainly, Tom. Glad you thought it might be of use. I wish you continued success with the clan endeavour.


Thanks very much. Here is the item on our web site: ... storyid=32

Tom O'Dea

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Re: Planning a visit to Clare - a vade mecum

Post by Dawnie » Thu Oct 25, 2012 11:32 pm

Oh Paddy you are a gem!!!! Read your post this morning two years after you posted it! Lol Thank you for your very informative tips for those of us in far away places trying to get back to the roots of it all. I am one of those who has just found the base of the tree so to speak, and the climb seems daunting, with not a clue where to search for info. My dream is to one day stand on the ground of my ancestors and appreciate all who they were.

Thanks again Paddy for brightening my morning, I enjoyed my cup of tea that little bit more today!

P.S Thanks also to everyone who has since contributed to Paddy's original post, this information is invaluable to us searching from across the sea's!

Dawnie - Melbourne, Australia

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Re: Planning a visit to Clare - a vade mecum

Post by Paddy Casey » Sun Oct 28, 2012 8:22 pm

Dawnie wrote:Thank you for your very informative tips for those of us in far away places trying to get back to the roots of it all. I am one of those who has just found the base of the tree so to speak, and the climb seems daunting, with not a clue where to search for info.
Glad it was of use to you, Dawnie. Thanks for the feedback.
Dawnie wrote:My dream is to one day stand on the ground of my ancestors and appreciate all who they were.
If you are planning to stand on the ground of your ancestors, Dawnie, you might think of synchronising your visit with the Clare Roots Society Conference (Ennis, 6-Apr-2013; see the posting at the top of the list in this forum). There could hardly be a better way to kill several dozen genealogical flies in one go and have a whale of a time doing so. At the conference, apart from the interesting lectures, you can network with the Clare genealogy cognoscenti, get all sorts of tips, and generally put your genealogy project on steroids. Heck, since it's in Clare, ghosts of your ancestors might even be attending to nudge you in the right direction(s).


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Correction to Paddy Casey's "Planning a Visit to Clare"

Post by Robin Burns Hutchins » Fri Jan 10, 2014 7:32 pm

My brothers and I visited Killilagh Church (Doolin, Clare) in August during "The Gathering" festivities. We found the grave of a man the with our last name, Burns (Byrns), and were told that he was probably an ancestor as our paternal forebears hailed from this area. In preparation to our visit I read this post "Planning a visit to Clare" and remembered one of the tips to making a photograph of a gravestone - to lightly sprinkle flour on the stone so that it would be more legible and be able to be photographed. Voila! We read the entire inscription and were thrilled to learn our ancestor's death date and age at death so we could calculate his birth date. We also learned the previously unknown name of our ggg grandmother. All good - until I uploaded a photo to the "Killilagh Church Restoration" page on Facebook. Instead of being applauded for my ingenuity, I was excoriated! It seems that flour on a gravestone is a very bad thing to do. I immediately apologized to all and promised to help clean, restore etc. tombstones when I am next in Ireland.

Stung, I emailed an expert on gravestones, John Tierney, to ask the proper way to photograph a gravestone. This is his reply:

"It is done but we have found it not acceptable - the flour needs to be
cleaned off immediately but it never is; in fact we think it is not possible
to get it all off.

We train people to use flashlamps (the P7 lenser (approx 70euro is best) and
mirrors. This is zero impact and, with a bit of training, highly effective"

I am sending this post so that Paddy's excellent guide to visiting Clare may be updated. Thanks

Robin Hutchins

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Re: Planning a visit to Clare - a vade mecum

Post by Paddy Casey » Sat Jan 11, 2014 7:19 pm

Thank you very much for this input, Robin. I'll edit my posting accordingly.

Flour is harmless to the limestone and granite gravestones commonly found in County Clare. I have little experience with other gravestones, e.g. marble, slate or porphyr, but assume that that flour doesn't affect those either. If the gravestone is clean the flour can be easily removed with a soft brush and plenty of water. Gluten-free flour is even easier to rinse off. If the gravestone is covered with lichen and/or moss then, of course, it will be difficult to remove any flour which is slapped on top.

Notwithstanding all this, I am grateful for your posting because when I read through it it dawned on me that there might be thoughtless or ignorant gravestone cleaners (they would protest if I were to call them vandals) who simply slap the flour on a moss-covered gravestone, read their inscription, and then leave without cleaning the gravestone, either because they are too lazy or in a hurry or because they didn't come to the graveyard with the necessary supply of water and only realised the need for water after applying the flour. It might not have occurred to others that flour applied on top of moss or lichen might be difficult to remove. So I'll edit my posting to include corresponding caveats. Thank you again.

Do you have reference to that use of mirrors for photographing gravestones ? If so, could you post it here ? Are they the sort of inexpensive mirrors that the average visitor to Clare might come with or pick up locally to snap their family gravestone or are they in the category of professional equipment for the gravehound with staff who is doing the whole cemetery ?

By the way, there is a new type of soft plastic brush with pointed bristles which first appeared in the pet shops for grooming horses and is now available in the "Everything for €1/£1/$1" stores in packs of 3. I tried one on a lacquered surface and it left no scratches and my wife tells me they are great for brushing her long hair. I haven't yet tried one out on a gravestone but they get into the crevices in concrete and slate slabs here at home so would presumably be excellent for gravestones. If anyone is interested I'll upload a photo (of the brush, not my wife). Update 05-Apr-2020: I've discovered that these brushes are marketed by the Magic Brush Company (see and are availablein a range of colours and styles.
Last edited by Paddy Casey on Mon Apr 06, 2020 12:03 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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