Sheep are being used in the Republic of Ireland to find historic graves that have been hidden by overgrowth.
Sheep have many uses, but few would consider them an archaeological tool. Nonetheless, sheep in Cork are being used to eat the overgrowth around cemeteries and gravestones and allow historians to uncover insights into the past.
Fianna Fáil Councillor Audrey Buckley was inspired to do this using sheep at St Matthew’s graveyard in Crosshaven, after seeing the effectiveness of ‘goatscaping’ in Wales.
The sheep successfully found the gravestone of a two-year-old girl who died on 7 October 1872. After this, the grand-nephew of the girl was contacted.
Buckley discussed the family’s reaction:
He had been trying to find information on her and had planned to come over from the UK last year but had to cancel due to Covid. He is thrilled and plans to visit as soon as he can. He is so thankful to all involved.
The sheep allow historians to find headstones that have been hidden deep under vegetation. On top of that, many are hard to identify without the sheep because boulders were used as headstones.
On the back of using sheep to eat vegetation, the volunteer group Templebreedy SOS (Save our Steeple) found a grave belonging to a family of four. Buckley told RTE:
The sheep ate around it and we cleaned it off. Cork County Council Heritage department had not seen anything like them before.
There are 12 volunteers in Templebreedy SOS, and at times they have asked for help from passersby as they move the sheep.
Buckley noted that the sheep have enabled the group to find unmarked headstones as well as the graves of the affluent that are more clearly marked. Finding these stones ‘keep us going’, Buckley explained.