Peter McCabe takes us on a tour of Roselawn Cemetery

Peter McCabe is delivering several sell-out tours during this year's EastSide Arts Festival. Here, he gives us a taste of what to expect in his tour of Roselawn Cemetery as well as his upcoming book on the same topic. If this whets your appetite there are limited spaces available on the newly added tour date of 16th August.


After mediocre success with books about Belfast City Cemetery and then Dundonald Cemetery, and with books called ‘2020’ (20 graves in each of 20 selected local cemeteries) and ‘A Hundred Houses of East Belfast’ in the pipeline, I decided to spend a fair chunk of lockdown writing another book about a Cemetery! This time I focused on Roselawn.


Until fairly recently, I had only a passing interest in Roselawn (with the exception of the grave of my much-missed maternal grandparents) due to the relative ‘newness’ of the Cemetery, only opening in 1956. However, I have discovered many fascinating stories associated with the headstones here.


So my daily lockdown exercise when Roselawn was open (obviously, although it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve climbed over a fence to get in / out of a cemetery!) consisted of walking round EVERY! headstone in the cemetery, photographing headstones of interest and then looking in to the story behind each for the purposes of a book.


The result is: ‘Roselawn 2021’, consisting of 20 themed trails, each calling at 21 headstones. Below, for the purpose of this blog, I’ve selected one grave from each of the 20 trails. If you'd be interested in sponsoring a trail, or being kept in the loop prior to publication, my contact details and JustGiving page are at the end of this article.


Here goes (everything in quotes is wording from the respective headstones):


Trial 1 is the Quirky trail, and the headstone I've selected for this is William Johnston ‘A musician, an Elvis impressionist (Billy Fonda) Bill grew up on Donegall Rd, The Village, Belfast. Laid to rest 17th December 2004’.

 William Johnston AKA Billy Fonda


Trial 2 is a World Tour. The McConnell grave commemorates Rev Patrick McConnell and his ‘beloved son Patrick who are both buried in Haiti. Olga McConnell nee Trouillot is interred here, it seems she was born in Haiti and moved to Northern Ireland after the death of her aforementioned husband and son.


Trial 3 is entitled Not From This Parish. The featured grave in this trail is Dragana Mahaffy with this headstone erected ‘in loving memory of my devoted wife Dragana 18th August 1972 - 25th December 2018. Почивај у миру љубави моја’ which translates from Serbian as ‘Rest in peace my love’. Dragana was an investigative journalist and author in Serbia, specializing in the Serbian Mafia. Tragically she developed cancer shortly after moving to Belfast, dying unexpectedly from a blood clot on Christmas Day 2018 aged 46.


Trial 4 features folks who I think are of Chinese origin. Ho Yuk Fong Chung is buried at plot W-3082 with her headstone, also featuring Chinese writing, commemorating ‘a dear sister, devoted friend and a loving mother Born on 26th November 1956 Died on Easter Sunday, 5th April 2015. Generous of heart, constant in faith, her deeds pure, her words kind, she gave willingly, never took’


Trail 5 is Women Only. Helen Lewis, MBE. Born in 1916 into a German-speaking Jewish family in Trutnov in the Kingdom of Bohemia, Helen survived two ‘selections’ by Dr Josef Mengele, and was later sent to Stutthof concentration camp in northern Poland. When the war ended, she returned to Prague where she learnt her mother Elsa Katz had been deported in 1942 and had died at Sobibór extermination camp. She is commemorated on this headstone as 10.08.1893 - 1942 (?) A victim of the Holocaust with no known resting place’. After her marriage to Harry Lewis in Prague in 1947, the couple moved to Belfast where Helen began to work as a choreographer, also teaching modern dance. Her book ‘A Time to Speak’ was published in 1992 and was translated into several languages, and then adapted for the theatre by the late, great Sam McCready. In the 2001 Birthday Honours, Helen Lewis was awarded an MBE for her services to contemporary dance.

 Helen Lewis MBE


In the interests of equality, Trail 6 is Men Only! I've chosen to feature Patrick (Paddy) Joseph Devlin in this trail, not a man I expected to find in Roselawn! Along with John Hume,  Devlin was a founding member of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), a former Stormont MP, and a member of the 1974 Power Sharing Executive. Described as a ‘relentless campaigner against sectarianism’, Devlin had once been a member of the IRA but later renounced physical force republicanism to work at transcending sectarian differences.

       Paddy Devlin, (far right).           


Trail 7 is the Sports trail. This Ards fan living in Glentoran territory has chosen to feature Sammy Pavis. Born in Ballymacarrett, after signing for Glentoran in the early 1960s where he won an Irish League medal, Pavis was snapped up by Linfield, scoring 237 goals in 260 games for the Blues in five seasons. Pavis was also the Northern Ireland snooker champion for a time after he retired from football, with his headstone containing the Linfield FC logo with the word ‘Legend’ below, as well as a snooker table with the words ‘N.I & All Ireland Champion’.


Trail 8 features 21 headstones that feature the logos of Football Clubs. In the absence of any Ards or Norwich logos!, I've chosen to feature Grzegorz Lozynski’s headstone which includes the logos of both Górnik Zabrze and Real Madrid. Górnik Zabrze is one of the most successful Polish football clubs in history, with this headstone stating ‘Zawsze bedziemy cie kochac’, i.e. ‘we will always love you’.


Trail 9 features those who served in the World Wars, and the chosen grave here is Edgar Lean, with a plaque on this simple wooden cross reading ‘Born-Belfast 20.01.1896 Died-Belfast 17.11.1971. WW1-age 19 Rifleman-Royal Irish Rifles The Somme-Ypres 11.11.1915 - 03.03.1919. WW2-age 43 Gunner-Royal Artillery North Africa (Tobruk-El Alamein) 21.09.1939 - 10.9.1945’.


Trail 10 features those who served in the Military, the featured grave is John Holmberg ‘Sergeant Major US Army Korea Vietnam Jun 7 1931 Nov 19 1992 Bronze Star Medal’, showing that people from this neck of the woods have served in all areas of the world.


Trails 11-14 look at the legacy of the Troubles and feature members of the security forces, civilian victims and paramilitary deaths


Numerous headstones in Roselawn commemorate loved ones killed as the result of an accident, so Trail 15 is entitled Accidents, with the featured grave that of Lorraine Gibson who, along with her daughters Angela (9) and Julie (7) died in the Maysfield Leisure Centre fire on 14 January 1984. Three other people died in this horrific fire, with the blaze breaking out in a storeroom.


Trail 16 is entitled Celtic Cousins and features 21 headstones that mention either Ireland or Scotland. The featured grave is James Cook commemorated on his headstone as the ‘Laird of Lochaber’. The titles ‘Laird, Lord or Lady of Glencoe and Lochaber’ are trademarked Highland titles available for purchase online.


Trail 17 looks at Groups, Organisations & Workplaces with the chosen grave belonging to Ernest Harris with the logo for the Maple Leaf Social & Rec Club featuring at the top of this headstone. Many readers will remember the Maple Leaf Club on Park Avenue, originally a meeting spot for emigrants heading to Canada on the first transatlantic flights from Belfast - hence the maple leaf in the name.


Trail 18 features 21 Ministers with the selected grave being Rev Dr Roy Magee, O.B.E., Minister of Dundonald Presbyterian church from 1975, Rev Magee became actively involved with a cross-community alliance of clergymen and community workers and, from 1990, worked in harness with Archbishop Robin Eames, the Church of Ireland primate, during protracted, private discussions with the Combined Loyalist Military Command which, ultimately, culminated in the 1994 cessation of violence.


Trail 19 is entitled Titles and features 21 graves of Sirs & MBEs. William (Billy) McKnight, MBE recorded on his headstone as a ‘Teacher and musician [and] Beloved husband and father’. McKnight was awarded the MBE in 1968 when Principal of Strandtown Primary School, and was living at 227 Kings Road, when he died in 1984.

 The Legendary Tommy Patton is also included in this section.


Trail 20 is entitled And Finally …. and contains nice sentiments written on headstones (not that people are going to write bad sentiments!), with the featured grave being Susan Jayne Wilson. As well as the image of Wilson, who died in August 2007 aged 57, the headstone contains what seems to have been a letter to her family penned by her: ‘Goodbye my family, my life is past. I loved you to the very last. Weep not for me but courage take, Love each other for my sake. For those you love don't go away. They walk beside you every day’. Powerful!


So thanks for reading this blog, and I hope you managed to avoid nodding off! If you'd like to support this Roselawn 2021 book, you can do so via , e-mail me on or call me on 07596603463.

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