The Famine Pit in Ardess graveyard is unique in County Fermanagh. In this ancient graveyard by the side of St Mary’s medieval church, dating back to 1387, a famine pit can be seen. Here lie the bodies of over 200 local people who died so tragically during the Great Hunger of the 1840s.
Ardess is in the Parish of Magheraculmoney and during the famine was part of Lowtherstown (Irvinestown) Poor Law Union. Poor people from North Fermanagh made their way to the workhouse in Irvinestown. Others were not so lucky and died in their poor hovels. Later they were buried in St Mary’s Church of Ireland graveyard. Not for them the finely sculpted tombstones of their better off neighbours but instead a pit in the ground without a marker to record their final resting-place.
For generations this famine pit, 120 feet long and 14 feet wide, lay derelict and forgotten until it was restored by the Ardess Community Association and Ardess Historical Society. They wished to remember those who were buried in this mass grave during the Great Famine.
The memorial was officially opened at an ecumenical service on 17th September 2000. It was designed by artist and model maker Gordon Johnston. The inscription stone reads “Within this famine pit lieth the unknown dead 1845-1850.” The vaulted tomb is made of local limestone and symbolises an abandoned homestead with a grass covering to evoke memories of a thatched cottage. The footbridge allows visitors to get an overview of the extent of the famine pit and to contemplate the tragedy of the time, to remember those who are buried here from the Ederney and Kesh area. The funeral bier is another link with the past recalling the tradition of leaving behind of two roughly hewn poles.
A local man Billy Mitchell was responsible for burying the famine victims; he was paid one shilling a day. Memories are still recalled of an enterprising man who wheeled one coffin in a barrow and carried another on his back.