Shamrock and Celtic Crosses


A typical Celtic Cross Memorial at Karrakatta Cemetery

I recently enjoyed an extended trip to Australia. During my time there, I was struck by the strong connection to Ireland expressed by Irish ex-pats, the great pride they have in their Irishness, and the esteem in which many of these Irish emigrants are held by Australians.I hope to share some of my great and unexpected experiences in the coming weeks. Towards the end of my visit, I had to visit Karrakatta Cemetery, just outside Perth, in Western Australia in search of a particular grave.

This is a vast cemetery, covering some 98 hectares, with a mausoleum, a Crematorium, a Commonwealth Graves Commission Section , and a  Dutch War Graves section, in which the victims of the WW2 Japanese bombings in Broome are buried. (I have written about these latter two in an earlier  post here.) Since it opened in April 1899, Karrakatta Cemetery has been the last resting place for over 201,000 people,  and 189,000 cremations have been carried out here. On this visit I was looking for the  grave of an Irishman.The cemetery is divided into denominational areas  representing 37 different religions and ethnic groups. Prior to my visit I had identified the grave I wished to see online,and made my way to it along the well laid out paths, with the help of a map.

I returned by a different route and was surprised  to see so many Celtic Cross monuments close together, in an older part of the cemetery, I was in the Roman Catholic section, yet I was struck by the sheer number of these very Irish headstones. There are many different styles of  Celtic Cross  here, yet all embellished with Shamrock. There are no more Irish symbols than the iconic Shamrock and the Celtic Cross.

Gaynor Family Grave

Gaynor Family Grave

The majority of the crosses bear the IHS Monogram at the intersection of the arms and the upright sections, yet  it appears to be absent on  this very fine example in Gaynor Family monument, above


Grave of the Cullity Family from County Kerry

My friend Chris Goopy, has a blog entitled Irish Graves – They who sleep in Foreign Lands where she accepts images of Irish graves for publication. She has published a number of images I sent from Karrakatta, on which an Irish origin  – town or County – was clearly stated. The Cullity’s from County Kerry memorial above is included on her website.


A broken Celtic Cross lies abandoned


One of my favourite Celtic Crosses on the McCarty grave ( Update 14/09/2017: Thanks to Ann Young who has pointed out that the name on this tombstone is in fact HEGARTY  and not McCarty

The majority of these  Celtic Cross headstones did not have any mention  and not Mcof Ireland, but they surely are strong testament to the Irishness of the people who lie beneath them. There is  quite a variety of  Celtic Crosses but all have Shamrock entwined on or carved into them, requiring a certain amount of skill by the monumental masons.DSCF5357Even on plain headstones, the family names are resoundingly Irish. The sheer number of them is quite remarkable. In this photo above 7 Celtic Cross headstones can be seen. DSCF5359 As with the O’Dea headstone above, this image has a representation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, a Catholic symbol included in the design , with the image surrounded by Shamrock on the O’Callaghan memorial.DSCF5355 The Hon Timothy Quinlan was born in Borrisokane Co Tipperary in 1861 and emigrated to Australia with his family at the age of 2 years. His very Irish memorial records his rise to the top of Western Australian political life.DSCF5348Three different Celtic Crosses. DSCF5347 This memorial towers above the others, and exceptionally shows a harp, another iconic Irish symbol. (The one depicted here is the reverse of the official Irish symbol).  John Hardy was a native of County Antrim and a veteran of the Crimean War. He emigrated to Australia in 1866, at the age of 42,and ended up as a Pensioner Guard at Fremantle prison. His full (and colourful) military record can be seen here.

DSCF5351 These headstones with their Celtic Crosses date from the very early 20th Century. As such they would either be Irish-born or children of Irish-born emigrants who went here in search of a new life. The Daly monument here shows the link to Cork Ireland, in contrast to the image below of  a tragic pair of young men, possibly brothers and young  emigrants, or sons of Irish  emigrants , who lost their lives in accidents. Their headstone is a simple one yet included the Celtic Cross and Shamrock as testament to their origins.


Emigration was no protection from grief and heartbreak. This Cantwell headstone is as sad as the monument to a 26-year-old wife below.

Julia Prendiville, a young wife who died at the age of 26

Julia Prendiville, a young wife who died at the age of 26

Julia sadly appears to lie alone in her grave. Inscribed at the  base  is this verse that provides an insight into the choice of a  Celtic Cross emblazoned with Shamrock as a permanent memorial for graves of Irish in this sandy place, 10.000 miles from home. It reads:

”A Celtic Cross raise o’er me,

and the Shamrock round it twine;

‘Twill tell the land that bore me

that the dear old faith was mine”


Further Information:

The IHS symbol

Hon. Timothy Quinlan Biographical Note

John Hardy Military Record 

Irish High Crosses 

Karrakatta Cemetery



Filed under Emigration from Ireland, Ireland, Ireland and the World, Irish Australian, Irish Diaspora, Social History Ireland

16 responses to “Shamrock and Celtic Crosses

  1. Thank you for sharing your wonderful photos. There’s something rather special to me to see these beautiful shamrock and celtic crosses. They seem to say ‘Here may my body rest, but my heart still belongs to Ireland.’

  2. What a poignant reminder of the extent to which Irishness remains embedded in the hearts of so many who emigrated/emigrate from here! Great post, SV.

    • Thank you SB. I was completely taken aback by the sheer number of Irish names and of these iconic monuments. Such love of their home country and values.

      • Even though the numbers surprise me, the obvious love of Ireland doesn’t!

      • It’s kind of heartbreaking to think that they had this huge connection with home, with little or no hope of ever getting back. Not unlike now with new generation emigration who have a number of children, cannot hope to return in the absence of a big Lotto win. I am not sure that the ‘tie’ to Ireland is as strong as it once was?

  3. Ireland holds the hearts of her people, no matter where they land! I love seeing all the monuments in this post.

  4. Excellent post! I love visiting old cemeteries when I travel. These monuments are a testimony to their love still for Ireland and a rather last tribute.

  5. There is indeed something special about Ireland that refuses to let go. No other nation, small or large, retains this level of affection among its emigrants. I love cemeteries and I could spend a month in this one. Great post SV.

  6. I remember reading many years ago in an academic journal that there was a strong argument to designate Australia as a Celtic nation because of the large percentage of settlers from Ireland and Scotland. Thank you so much for this post – graveyards can reveal so much….

  7. Amazing. The story you bring, and invite us to is sacred and stunningly beautiful. I have never seen so many Celtic crosses.

  8. Eliz. Kelly

    ‘Ive visited many NY state cemeteries where my Irish family members lie, and it is striking that there are very few Celtic crosses. Many do contain their county of birth but only one that I have seen mentioned the actual parishes along with the county. Why were the Australian cemeteries during the same time period so different?. Also, the early Celtic crosses I have seen in the U.S. rarely have shamrocks. Traditions seem to develop, even in different towns in the same state in the U.S. In Dover, NH where the Irish singer Tommy Makem is buried, there are only 2 or 3 Celtic crosses, but in Bedford, NH there is a section of many Irish-American burials with the crosses etched or carved on the gravestone.Those Australian stones, with the histories written on them are beautiful memorials—perhaps because they were so far from Ireland, they felt a need to leave something beautiful because they would never return home.

    • Hi Eliz. I suspect that it may have something to do with the resident stonemason, his skills and signature embellishment. We don’t have the shamrocks here in Ireland on our monuments. Many of the early immigrants to Australia were either convicts or assisted immigrants. Australia has magnificent records that includes ships lists etc. Many USA immigrants arrived in tough circumstances, perhaps fleeing famine, many illiterate and native Irish speakers. The place of origin is often nothing more than ‘Ireland’ or sometimes the County, but rarely the actual parish or townland of origin. It’s a great dilemma for family historians! I loved the Western Australian Celtic Crosses, and glad you liked them too! Thank you for dropping by!

  9. I enjoyed your post and have reblogged it to a new blog I am curating for a group who are trying to Save Headstones at Karrakatta. Your favourite Celtic cross is for a Dan Hegarty (not McCarty). Unfortunately the lease has expired. I am not sure whether it is destined for renewal or not.

    The blog is at

    • Thank you fro dropping by Anne and for pointing out the error on the name which has now been rectified. It does look like McCarty at first glance! Thank you too for sharing the post and I wish you every success with your campaign. we do not have this system in Ireland..a grave is for life here in the country although some ‘renewals’ as they are called may take place in large urban cemeteries.

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