Milltown Cemetery announces the Digitalisation of Burial Records

Milltown Cemetery announces the Digitalisation of Burial Records

11th March 2024

Opened in 1869 by Bishop Patrick Dorrian, Milltown Cemetery is the largest and most historic Catholic burial site located in the City of Belfast, Northern Ireland, which continues to serve the pastoral needs of the people of Belfast and beyond.

Since 2007, this remarkable heritage site, visited annually by thousands of people drawn to the memorials of those buried within its grounds or to offer prayers at the graveside of loved ones, has undergone extensive work and development.

As part of its ongoing strategic forward planning and development, the Trustees of Milltown Cemetery are therefore pleased to announce the following initiatives that have been undertaken to progress this ongoing programme of maintenance and modernisation.

Digitalisation of Records

Over the past 18 months, significant work has been undertaken to digitalise its handwritten burial records dating back to 1866. This new digital database will offer electronic access to details of over 200,000 burial records and over 36,000 graves located within this 55-acre landmark graveyard.

Welcoming this digitalisation of burial records, Fr Martin Graham, Administrator of Milltown Cemetery, said “I pay tribute to all of those who have assisted with this painstaking project of transcribing the handwritten burial records onto an electronic database that will provide a welcome and accessible resource for those seeking to locate details of those buried within these sacred grounds.”

Development of a Columbarium

In recent times, increasing numbers of families and relatives have approached the cemetery seeking to have the mortal remains of their loved ones interred in a Columbarium following cremation. In response to increasing numbers of cremations, Milltown Cemetery can now announce that it is now planning to establish a Columbarium within the grounds of the Cemetery for the interment of ashes.

Cultural Heritage and the Protection of Monuments

In addition to the many families attending funerals and visiting the graves of relatives each year, Milltown Cemetery also attracts significant numbers of visitors who seek to view those graves, monuments and memorials with significant Belfast history.

The Trustees of Milltown Cemetery are therefore acutely aware of their responsibility to protect and secure this cultural and religious heritage and have been engaging in an ongoing project of maintenance and protection of these historic memorials and burial sites.

In particular, over the past year, in partnership with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, the Cemetery Office has engaged in identifying war graves throughout the graveyard.

Drainage and Pathways

This ongoing programme of maintenance and modernisation also requires the Trustees to attend to essential works throughout the cemetery including the upgrading of drainage and pathways. The lower boundary of the Cemetery extends into the ‘Bog Meadows’ and therefore presents with issues of drainage and access.

However, before commencing this essential upgrading of drainage and pathways, it was necessary for the Trustees to establish if this area of the cemetery had previously been used for burials including baby burials. In November 2023, the Trustees therefore secured the professional services of Northern Archaeological Consultancy Ltd. to investigate this section of the cemetery along the line of paths requiring extension and to investigate potential existing drains or paths long overgrown.

Having obtained a licence from the Department for Communities (DfC) a number of test excavations were undertaken to provide clarity on the location and extent of unmarked and unlocated burials within this greenfield area of the cemetery.

This archaeological investigation was carried out between November 2023 and February 2024 and the results of the archaeological survey were compiled in a report.

Having provided the Trustees with a clear and defined boundary of the location of all burial sites, including baby burials, within this section of the cemetery, this extensive archaeological survey assists the Cemetery Trustees to determine where drains and pathways can now be placed, with the complete confidence that they will not be located in proximity to known burial sites.

Having completed this archaeological survey, attention will now turn to upgrading the drainage and pathways in this section of the cemetery.

 Cemetery and Community Partnership

The Trustees are also happy to announce that they have been working closely with West Belfast partnership on a cycle path for community use that will link Lisburn with Belfast City Centre.

Fr Martin Graham, Administrator of Milltown Cemetery, said “The announcement of these projects are an indication that the Trustees of Milltown Cemetery are committed to the ongoing maintenance and modernisation of the cemetery to protect and secure its heritage, to serve the pastoral needs of parishes across Belfast and to engage the local community who visit this historic sacred location.”