St Patrick’s Church, Craigagh and the Fuldiew Stone
Just outside the heritage village of Cushendun is St Patrick’s Church, Craigagh.
This church, the oldest in Cushendun, has been serving the Catholic congregation of this rural parish for nearly 175 years. Within its little graveyard lies an old headstone known as the Fuldiew Stone. This old headstone has a tragic tale to tell.
The Fuldiew Couple
The plot, at the western gable side of the current church, is the burying ground of the McAllister (McAlaster) family. The first name on the headstone is that of Charles McAllister.
Charles had a son named John, born around 1785. John, a sailor, was betrothed to a local girl. Unfortunately, the girl’s name has not been recorded by history, although some say she was a daughter of the Hamilton family.
The couple were due to wed in the near future. Perhaps because of financial reasons, the pair decided to wait until John completed one more voyage before getting married.
In March 1803 the couple embraced at the harbour and John and his companions were rowed to the vessel anchored in Cushendun Bay.
John’s bride-to-be also left the village and travelled by donkey to Glenravel. This is an area to the north of the village and the main route from the Antrim hills to the port. The name means ‘Glen of the Berries’.
Here she had a sister who was a seamstress, who would help her make her wedding trousseau in preparation for her new life as Mrs McAllister. Trousseau is from the French word trousse meaning ‘to wrap in a package or bundle’. The custom dates back hundreds of years and to many cultures and countries.
In Ireland, a girl would start collecting her trousseau from an early age, storing items in a wooden chest or drawer. These could include clothing for the wedding day itself, but also household items for starting up a new home. Linens, bedding, and crockery would be carefully collected and treasured over the years in anticipation of the young woman having a home of her own.
The average brides in those days usually did not have a white wedding dress or veil – that was a luxury for the rich. However, a ‘good’ dress and a posy of wildflowers would fit the bill nicely. The gown/dress would then be saved for Sundays and special occasions.
Back in Cushendun, the villagers were surprised to see the recently departed schooner round Tor head and sail back into the Bay. The voyage had been expected to take around 3 weeks yet the ship was returning in only 3 days.
A crowd gathered at the pier. A small boat was lowered over the side, it contained a bundle wrapped in white cloth. Two men took the oars and rowed ashore.
The sad cargo was the dead body of John McAllister. John had been climbing the highest mast on the ship when a sudden strong wave rocked the boat. John fell from the rigging onto the deck many feet below. He died instantly. He was only 18.
The Burial of John McAllister
The young man’s remains were carried to the family home. Here he was waked. John was buried in the McAllister plot at St Patrick’s Church. The horizontal headstone mentions Charles McAllister and is carved with the words:
“Here lies the boddy of John his son died 11th March 1803 aged 18 years”
Meanwhile, his fiancée remained in Glenravel with her sister unaware of the tragedy.
Some accounts blame the poor roads, it would have taken at least a day, even by donkey cart, to travel across Parkmore Hill to Glenravel to communicate the events. However, others claim that no one could face breaking the bad news to the poor girl and decided to wait till she returned to the village. It is likely that there is some truth in both reasons.
The Bride’s Return to Cushendun
Several days later the girl returned to her family in Cushendun laden down with her wedding finery. It is said people bowed their heads and avoided eye contact as she passed.
On hearing of John’s death, the poor girl was heart-broken. We can only imagine her sorrow. No-one, family or friends, could console her in her grief. Later that evening the girl left the cottage. It was thought she was going to the McAllister homestead to commiserate with her fiancé’s family.
However, the stricken girl never reached the McAllister cottage and she never returned home. When darkness fell and it was realised that she was missing, every inhabitant of the village began to search. Holding paraffin lanterns and candles, the villagers combed the town and the neighbouring lanes. Every shed and byre was checked.
As the cold early Spring morning broke, they found her body lying on John’s grave. She had died of a broken heart.
The Fuldiew Stone
When the girl’s corpse was rolled off the grave, a stone was clutched in her stiff white hand. The villagers were stunned to see a rough drawing and some words scratched into the sandstone headstone. It is thought the young woman scraped these carvings on the headstone as she lay dying.
Below the official inscription was a crude etching of a boat and a goat. The words read
‘Your ship love is mored head and starn for a fuldiew’
Fuldiew or ‘full due’ refers to a sailor’s wages which were only paid, or due, at the end of a voyage.
Perhaps she regretted letting her lover set sail for one more payment as that payment cost his life… and ultimately hers. More likely, she was remarking that John’s life journey was complete and he was receiving his final reward in his home port – heaven.
No-one knows for sure, but it is hoped that the unfortunate girl was buried in the same grave with her loving fiancé.
“A beautiful piece of love poetry, and such a touching love story; a bride-to-be dying of a broken heart on the grave of the man she loved and leaving an inscription which would inspire people for centuries”Stephen O’Hara
In recognition of the unfortunate couple a memorial seat was requested by the Heritage Commission. It is the work of artist Jane Turner. The curved back of the bench is made of Donegal split slate and is reminiscent of local dry stone walls dividing fields in Ireland. The seat itself is of green oak. The relief carving, depicting the nameless bereaved girl, is of white Portland limestone.
The Fuldiew Seat was officially unveiled on 11th December 2003 by 100 year old Mary McNeill-Mcauley It is situated on the northern side of the Riverside car-park in Cushendun, facing the sea. It is the spot where John’s body lay when it was removed from the ship.
This poignant story has passed down through the generations and the Fuldiew Stone is still much visited today. In a picturesque cemetery bounded by verdant glens and a sparkling stream, the tale of the young couple’s enduring love still evokes sympathy and regret.
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