If you look close enough at an ordinance map of the Lecale district in County Down you will note a crossroads where the townlands of Coniamstown – Whigamatown and Bright converge, it is called Annie’s Grave.
A very ordinary-looking crossroads, nothing to mark it out on the spot. Turn off on the way to Quonianstown and there you’ll see a small plot of ground by the side of the crossroads. Inside is a broken pillar – an age-old Christian symbol of a life cut short.
In this poignant case, though, it was two lives – a widow and her only son. They lived here long ago. Now they sleep together in the middle of this crossroads – a traditional burial place for suicides. This woman’s final resting place should be pointed out and given preference on maps to this day. When others who have accomplished much more in their lifetime should be ignored, may puzzle those who visit the area seeking a sign or explanation, when they discover that there is nothing to connect the name or it’s past.
Fortunately for those of us who are interested in the traditional history and customs of our land, there are yet people alive who can recall with clarity the tales and stories they heard around the fires on a winter’s night, and are more than willing to pass on generously all they can. How far we can rely on these accounts of the past and how relative they were to the general picture of rural life, then, depends a good deal on the reader or listener’s sympathy. In this instance, I found that the manner of telling or the outline of the story may have altered here and there are a few minor details, but the hardcore of the statement remains.
It seems that this poor widow by the name of Ainhe [Irish for Annie] with an only son, found it hard to keep body and soul together.
One day Annie set off with some of the vegetables she had raised on her little plot to sell them in the Downpatrick market. Before she left she strictly enjoined the young lad to take good care of the hen and her brood of chickens, they would help to keep the wolf from the door when ready for the pot.
The lad, no doubt willing to obey his mother’s command just sat looking at the chicks as long as he could. He daren’t let them out of his sight. But it was a very hot day and as he looked around there were many predators about. Then he had an inspiration. He thought it would be a good idea if he placed the hen and her brood inside a large iron pot beside the house to keep them out of harm’s way…. and on the pot, he placed the lid.
Coming back later to have a peek at the chicks he was horrified to find them dead – suffocated. Terrified at the thought of what his mother would do, he could think of only one thing. He ran off and hanged himself from a nearby tree. Old Timers can still point out the very tree. When the mother returned from the town to her horror and dismay, she discovered the death inside the pot. It wasn’t long until she came on her dead boy hanging on the tree. Heartbroken she hanged herself on the very same tree. Mother and son met death in the same way on this lonely spot on the Killough Road, where they were subsequently buried at this crossroads marked on the map. Should you be traveling along this road you will notice a tall thorn bush about twenty feet in height, a very respected landmark.
This is inexplicably referred to as the Hangman’s Bush.
P.S. Crossroads have a special place in folklore and believed to be buried places for unbaptised children and animals. In parts of the country wooden crosses were erected where roads met and then of course in a happier key, there were the dances at the cross-roads on a summer evening.
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