Lost Graveyards – the Braco Suicides Graves

Most lost graveyards can be found either from a map or from a (usually unplanned) archaeological investigation. This one started with a reference, in the late Archie McKerracher’s book “Perthshire in History and Legend”, to a suicides’ graveyard between Ardoch and Muthill parishes (NN 851129). Suicides could not be buried in consecrated ground but instead were often interred on a parish boundary. There the spirits of the dead would become disorientated, unable to return to their communities and trouble their former friends and relatives.

I visited the area in 2008 and located a 0.25 acre treeless site in a Forestry Commission plantation. I took endless photos of the terraine but there was no sign of the numerous depressions described in the book as places of burial. I later contacted the now retired member of staff who had designated the clearing as a historically significant area to be kept free of trees. This was based on aerial images and an 1863 6” OS map, where the suicide graves were marked in a hollow at a loop in the stream. Although he never found the graves, he identified a turf dyke along the water shed of the stream as the boundary of the parishes.

A local historian confirmed that a previous search had failed to make a positive identification, concluding that the position shown on the map was incorrect. Scotlands Places contains several references to the burial ground (Volumes 6 and 62) and also to to Dougal’s Cairn, a heap of stones in the Muirhead Plantation marking the grave of a doctor who took his own life there in 1837.

The story leaves a number of questions unanswered. Did the suicide rate in these rural parishes really warrant a dedicated burial ground? Can any of these unfortunates be identified from civil registration records? And, of course, there is the question of where the suicide graves actually lie?

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