Pyramids have been used as burial tombs for almost 5,000 years, beginning with the ancient Egyptian pharaoh Djoser. A few thousand years later, a 19th century Irish nobleman may have seen the pharaoh’s extraordinary mausoleum, and thought, “I could use one of those myself.”
The result, if the tale be true, is the burial pyramid in the village of Kinnitty, in Ireland’s central Offaly County.
It’s not exactly clear that the Kinnitty pyramid was directly inspired by a visit to the great pyramids of Egypt, but here’s the connection: The Kinnitty version is the burial tomb of six members of the Bernard family, once the wealthy landowners of nearby Kinnitty Castle (sometimes called Castle Bernard). It’s thought that the master of the Castle, Lt. Col. Richard Wesley Bernard, did a tour of duty in Egypt in the early 19th century where he likely would have seen the architecture of the ancients. Being trained in engineering and architecture himself, it may have inspired his embarking on the construction of a 30-foot pyramid in the graveyard of Kinnitty’s village church.
The pyramid is a made-to-scale replica of the Great Pyramid of Giza. Although tiny by comparison, Bernard’s version was built to an impressive height, and is visible from much of the village where it stands on top of a hill behind the churchyard.
The pyramid took four years to complete, finished off in 1834. The first Bernard entombed was young Margaret, who was laid to rest in 1842 at the age of only 24, after being bitten by a rabid dog. Over the next 65 years five more Bernards followed, the final member of the family, Ellen Georgina, sealing up the doors behind her in 1907.
No one really knows for sure if Lt. Col. Bernard’s military tour sparked his interest in Egyptian burial architecture, but he wasn’t alone in his inspiration. Just about 100 miles away, there’s another Irish pyramid in County Wicklow, predating Bernard’s by about 20 years.