Friday, 14 November 2014

Purfield Stone at Ardcath, Co Meath


The Purfield stone in the graveyard on the north facing side of the ruined church in Ardcath is now broken and undecipherable but is worthy of record. In 2006 the tabletop gravestone (figure 1) was broken into about six parts, part of the first line of the inscription was still legible bearing the words ‘erected in memory of’. The beginning of the word ‘Dioc ...’ apparently for diocese was also identified in the inscription (figure 2). This is sufficient to allow the stone to be identified from the inscriptions given in Cogan’s 1862 history of the diocese. The stone is now further broken and the remaining inscription is also less decipherable. The inscription in question is given by Cogan (Vol. 1, page 338) as:

‘This stone was erected in memory of


Vicar-general of the diocese of Meath,

and parish priest of Ardcath,

who departed this life the 16th day of October,

in the year of our Lord 1795,

and in the 65th year of his age.

Requiescat in pace.’
Figure 1: The Purfield gravestone at Ardcath in 2006.

Figure 2: The Purfield gravestone at Ardcath bearing the arms and crest of Purfield.The inscriptions on the gravestones of those other priests buried at Ardcath mentioned by Cogan do not have the same starting line as that of Purfield and they have all been accounted for except that of Pentony. As is often the case for priests, the inscription on this tabletop was written in the opposite direction to that on the remaining tabletops for the laity in the graveyard. The additional heraldic features of interest on this gravestone are still visible. The shield on the stone contains the Purfield coat of arms (figure 3), that depicts a cross. Above the shield the crest appears to be a heraldic tiger or wolf. The motto beneath the arms is no longer legible. While one would often expect the gravestone of a priest to carry a cross, the Purfield gravestone at Duleek provides further context for the heraldry at Ardcath. The Duleek stone bears the inscription ‘This stone and burial place belongeth to Richard Purfield and his posterity who depd this life the 16 of Febry in the year of Lord 1753 aged 53 years’. This gravestone also bears a cross for the arms of Purfield along with a cat for the family crest (figure 4). The motto ‘Spes meum cruce’ lies beneath the arms. As an aside the arms and crest at Duleek appear to resemble that of the Burke family though it may differ in tincture or colour. The Duleek stone also bears a four-leaved flower in two of the ‘quarters’ as shown in figure 4.

Figure 3: The shield at Ardcath bearing the Purfield arms with the family crest above.While the arms of an English branch of the Purfield family carry a chevron shape and three garbs it is obvious that this Irish branch of the Purfield family identified the cross as their arms as carved on stone at both Ardcath and Duleek. The Purfields were an important ecclesiastical family in Co Meath and Co Dublin and as recent as the 1901 census the Purfields are only listed in these two counties in Balbriggan and Gormanston (Stamullen) and in the city of Dublin. Rev Richard Purfield was parish priest in Saggart from 1714 to 1730 (Ball, volume 3, chapter 8). Fr Nicholas Purfield mentioned above was parish priest of Ardcath and died in 1795 from apoplexy. Cogan notes that he was vicar-forane of Meath and not vicar-general, as his tombstone states. He was master of conference for the deanery of Duleek. He was born in the neighbourhood and was cousin to Fr John Purfield of Duleek. Fr John Purfield was parish priest of Duleek for 71 years and died on 28 January 1797 aged 102 (Catholics and Catholicism in the Eighteenth Century Press, p. 301). Fr John Purfield who was born c. 1695 may have been a brother of Richard Purfield (born c. 1700) who was buried at Duleek in 1753 during his time as parish priest there. Cogan (Vol 2, page 235) states that Fr John Purfield was born of a respectable family which sent many zealous members into sacred ministry. Cogan contradicts the date of death given above and says that Fr Purfield died in July 1791 and was buried in the east end of the south aisle in the old church of Duleek concluding that he was nearly 100 years. Catherine Cavanagh (alias Purfield) who died 21 August 1812 aged 55 is also buried at Duleek, her son Richard erected the headstone (O’Boyle 2001, 140). Fr Nicholas Purfield was also cousin of another Rev Nicholas Purfield, a Franciscan friar at Courtown, Co Meath.

Figure 4: The Purfield arms, crest and motto at Duleek.

Revd Anthony Cogan, The Diocese of Meath, Ancient and Modern (Dublin 1862), Vol. 1.
Available on Googlebooks: search ‘Ardcath Fr Purfield’.

Revd Anthony Cogan, The Diocese of Meath, Ancient and Modern (Dublin 1867), Vol. 2.
Available on Googlebooks; search ‘Fr Purfield died in July 1791’.

‘Catholics and Catholicism in the Eighteenth Century Press’ in Archivium Hibernicum, (published by The Catholic Historical Society of Ireland), Vol. 20 (1957), pp. 273-304. Available on JSTOR

Enda O’Boyle, Gravestone inscriptions from Duleek Churchyard, Ríocht na Midhe, 2001, Vol. XII, pp 129-55.

Francis Elrington Ball, A History of the County Dublin: The people, parishes and antiquities from the earliest times to the close of the 19th century. Published in six volumes (1902-1920). 

All the websites were accessed on 13 July 2011 and both volumes of Cogan’s History were available in full.

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