A Visit to Clar Cemetery

By Don Cassidy, 2007

Because of its location, St. Agatha’s Church is known as Clar Chapel. It is the church of the Cassidys. The church was built in the 1830s. Three of my grandparents and both of my parents were baptized htere. The church is surrounded by Clar Cemetery. The predominant name on the headstones is Cassidy. On the roadside of the cemetery, the graves closest to the altar belong to the priests who served the parish. Next to them are the headmasters of the old national schools. On a walkway from the side of the church to the parking lot, wee Peggy Cassidy (one of my grandmother’s Cassidys) is buried. In the next spot is Dessi McLaughlin, the beloved boy she raised who died tragically at age 44. On the walkway there is a little sign that says, “Pray for the Cassidys.”

My father’s parents are buried on the opposite side of the church in the row closest to the altar. My aunts and uncles who died in Leghowney are buried with them — those that I knew: Paddy, Maggie Alice, Anthony, May (the last to die) and John James, who died of the big flu in 1918. There are many other Cassidy headstones in that vicinity, and I believe many of them belong to my grandfather’s brothers (Hugh, John, Patrick, Edward, Francie, Mickey and Andy) and sisters (Kitty Hone, Ann Gallagher and Mary Murphy) and their families (Leghowney Cassidys).

Directly behind the church are the headstones of my mother’s ancestors and relatives (Clogher Cassidys), including my great-great-grandparents, John and Kitty (McGinty) Cassidy. There is a big Celtic cross for Hugh Cassidy and family. In a far corner of this section, there is a tiny, well-worn flat piece of stone settled into the ground that says “Agnes Julia Cassidy — Born 16th of October 1907, Died 1913. Agnes was my mother’s older sister.

I visited Clar Cemetery on a sunny morning in September 2007. As I slowly wandered through each section, I stopped to remember those I knew and said a little prayer here and there. When I came across the stone for John and Sarah Callahan, I had to stop and pause and remember how well they had treated me when I visited Donegal alone in 1970. John took me out to Leghowney to visit Anthony, Mary and John Alexander, and Sarah had me over for a big dinner.

Some people don’t visit cemeteries because it makes them sad. Others go to cemeteries to relieve their grief. I visited Clar out of a sense of obligation and was not expecting to feel strong emotion. And while I did get a little misty here and there, I was in full control of my emotions — until I came to the little stone for Agnes Julia. This was too much for me.

The grave of five-year-old Agnes Julia Cassidy at the cemetery of St. Agatha’s Church (Clar Chapel) in Donegal, Ireland.

Update: In the years since this article was written, little Agnes Cassidy’s grave marker became overgrown with grass and moss to the point of being nearly unrecognizable. In fact, her grave might have been lost entirely from view had it not been for the actions of Donal McMullin and John Cassidy one afternoon in the fall of 2021. Donal was able to describe the exact location in the far corner of Clar Cemetery where Agnes had been buried. After a brief search, John found the small grave with no headstone and pulled away the layer of moss and grass, revealing the inscription carved into the concrete slab. Plans are now underway to restore the grave marker. “She will not be forgotten,” says John.

Also in 2021, volunteers with the community group Clogher Le Cheile digitally mapped the headstones at Clar Chapel, St. Agatha’s Church, Donegal. Their work, which included transcribing and photographing grave markers and recording their locations, can be seen at Historic Graves.