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Skull and Crossbones - Knights Templar graves?

Unique carvings on old Irish headstones - what do they mean?

A skull and crossbones

A rather benevolent looking skull and crossbones on a stone at Castlelough, Co. Tipperary.

Derek Ryan from Maynooth, Co. Kildare, who says he is a big fan of Mythical Ireland, contacted us in relation to some interesting carvings which he found on grave stones while on a holiday in County Tipperary.

Derek e-mailed us with the following: "I have taken these pictures of what could be a mystery in Tipperary where I am from. I know it isnt exactly your preferred field, but I remember reading once that the skull and cross bones was a symbol used by the Knights Templar. I was pretty amazed to find these in a graveyard in the little backward village I'm from in Tipperary. Going to keep checking the internet for other experts that might know more about this but I thought that maybe you might be able to point me in the direction of someone that ye know."

He had taken photos of the stones in Tipperary and e-mailed them to us. Derek's photos were were taken in a place called Castlelough, near Lough Derg, about nine miles from Nenagh in Co. Tipperary.

After checking on the Internet, Derek found that Leixlip church in Co. Kildare also has a skull and crossbones on it. "Many military members are buried there from the time of the crusades. A stone at the southeast corner of the church bears a connection to the Knights Templar Crusaders with a worn symbol of the skull and crossbones".

Around a week after Derek had discovered the skull and crossbones, Anthony Murphy of Mythical Ireland also saw a skull and crossbones, the familiar pirate symbol, on a headstone in a cemetery at Dunmoe Castle, outside the town of Navan in County Meath. It's a very picturesque location, on a high embankment overlooking the river Boyne.

More carvings

Some of the carvings on grave slabs in Castlelough, Co. Tipperary.

The skull and crossbones at Dunmoe Castle, which is much "spookier" looking than those in Tipperary.

The Dunmoe grave reads as follows: "Here Lyeth y body of Thomas Casserly who departed this life the 5 day of Aprel in the yeare 1722". The person who carved the inscription appears to have made a mistake on the word "who", where it seems he or she carved the letters "WO" before realising their mistake. In fact, there are two Os and two Hs.

Needless to say, Derek and Anthony are no experts on grave inscriptions and carvings, and would like some information about these designs and carvings and what they mean. One meaning suggests the skull and crossbones represents the mortality of man. It can also mean death and resurrection, apparently.

According to Habenstein and Lamers “The History of Funeral Directing”, 1962:201), the imminent millennialism sensed by the Puritans and their contempt for moral existence led to the skull and crossbones being the most persistent tombstone symbol of early New England days.

Anyone with information about these carvings, and in particular if they have special relevance in Ireland, should e-mail us at (remove the .spam extension – it’s an anti-spam device!)

The grave slabs in Castlelough, Co. Tipperary.

The following web link has some information on the meaning of these symbols, which can be found on gravestones in Britain as well:

Click here for link

Some researchers have pointed out these carvings are unlikely to mark Templar graves because of the sheer number of them. There are apparently thousands of them scattered throughout Ireland and Britain.


Do you have any information about the skull and crossbones? Got something to contribute? Visit the Forum and have your say.


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