Belfast Telegraph

Friday 18 April 2014

Meet the tomb raiders plaguing Claudy cemetery

Crows' feat: one of the birds on a gravestone in Claudy

There can be few things more distressing than the idea that someone has been tampering with a loved-one's grave, so when stones started disappearing from graves in a Co Londonderry parish, all the stops were pulled out to find the culprit.

After a spot of nifty detective work, it transpired the thieves were not of the two-legged variety suspected, but a whole flock of crafty crows who stripped bare the five graves.

A lot of head scratching preceded the discovery, as not all the graves were being targeted but only the ones which had been covered with smooth, shiny stones.

Kevin O'Kane, caretaker of the graveyard in Claudy, was determined to solve the mystery, suspecting there was more behind it.

He explained: “People were saying to me that they had noticed stones disappearing off their family graves.”

And it wasn't just a few stones, it was all of the them and they were upset about it. No one likes to think that somebody would be messing about with a grave.

“We just couldn't figure it out so one day I was determined I was going to get to the bottom of it so I hid behind the bushes and stone me but you could have knocked me down with a feather after I saw what was happening.

“It was like an airport the way the crows were descending on the graveyard.

“A couple would sit on the top of the headstone watching all around them while another few were on the actual grave and lifting all the stones. Then they would fly off and the ones who had been sitting on the headstone would swoop down and take their fill.

“I met one of the women whose family grave was stripped bare and I told her I had found the thief. She asked if it was someone local and I said, ‘well it is and it isn't but you'll hardly believe me’.

“I could hardly believe it myself and I got another couple of men who were about the place to watch with me, but I was glad to be able to tell the families what it was because at least it gave them peace of mind.

“One family had put plastic covering down and held it in place with ornaments but the crows actually got the edge of the plastic and lifted it up like it was the cover of a book.”

Mick Conway, DoE's Environmental Educator at the Roe Valley Country Park, believes he has shed some light on the matter.

He explained: “Crows are extremely intelligent, more than even chimpanzees, but in spite of this they have only three concerns and these are avoiding danger, breeding and finding food — which is what I think these crows were about.

“They would normally eat the larvae of daddy longlegs and the shape and texture of these stone are similar and I believe one rook may have mistaken the stones for a larvae and the rest have copied the first one.”

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