Sombre Sunday: Glasnevin Cemetery

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I am a bit late with my New Year post! I was planning to say something profound but couldn’t think of anything so stuck with what I was told when a child – if you can’t think of anything interesting to say, don’t say anything!

I will crack on with the horticultural excitement of the New Year tomorrow but today is a report on yesterday’s trip to Dublin and my second visit to Glasnevin Cemetery. It was just before Christmas when, on a successful expedition to find some Angostura bitters (funny how these things happen) I discovered that you can get to the Cemetery through a gate at the Botanic Gardens. So yesterday I did both in one, slightly damp, trip.

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Glasnevin Cemetery may seem a slightly odd place to visit but not only is the O’Connell tower a dominant local landmark and seen from most parts of the Botanic Garden, it has a popular museum and is not just a place where more than a million Irish are interred but is a major tourist attraction, primarily because of the many statesmen and ‘important’ people buried here.

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I did not have time to search out and photograph particular graves and monuments so these images are rather random but they do give an idea of the place. I also won’t go deeply into Irish history but I have to skim over some of it to explain why people visit this place and I will mention three people in some detail. The soil here really is steeped with the blood of Irish who fought, physically or politically to free the Irish Nation from English rule and although the graveyard was started as relatively recently as 1832 the 124 acres are a concentrated history.

The most notable monument is the O’Connell Tower. Commemorating Kerry-born Daniel O’Connell who lived from 1775 to 1847, the tower was built in 1869 and stands 51m high, making it the tallest in Ireland. It was originally planned to be part of a group of towers resembling the ancient religious towers of Ireland (see my post on Glendalough) but it was decided that this tower was too tall when completed to suit the scale of the original plan.

O’Connell is often called ‘The Liberator’.  He worked for reform by non-violent methods and he created popular movements towards religious and political rights for the common people. He fought for the rights of Catholic tenants when they had little under British rule and campaigned for Catholic Emancipation – the right of Catholics to sit in Westminster. He was a member of the British Parliament and campaigned for the abolition of slavery in the West Indies. He was a social reformer rather than a militant and is famous for his quote

‘It is, no doubt, a very fine thing to die for one’s country, but believe me, one living patriot is worth a whole churchyard full of dead ones’.

O’Connell died on a pilgrimage to Rome and, on his wishes, his heart was buried there and his body here in Glasnevin. In addition to his ‘monumental monument’ he is remembered in the heart of Dublin when Sackville Street, the main thoroughfare north of the Liffy was renamed O’Connell Street when Ireland became a free state in 1922.

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O’Connell Tower behind an unrelated memorial

Not surprisingly the Celtic Cross features heavily in the cemetery and in a bewildering array of forms, sizes and designs.

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I should have taken a photo of ‘The Gravediggers’ pub which is just outside the cemetery on Prospect Square by what was at first, the main cemetery gate. It became a popular watering hole for mourners and as early as 1836 it was decreed that no interments were to take place after 12 noon because of the rowdy behaviour of mourners at the pub! But with more than 50 gravediggers employed in the cemetery all ‘dying’ for a pint at the end of the day the pub, which is officially ‘John Kavanagh’s’, got its unofficial name. Today it is a slightly hidden but celebrated Dublin gem that is worth a visit for its drink, food, ambiance and history.

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A walk round, especially if you go on one of the escorted tours (which is didn’t) is a who’s who of Irish notables. Among these is Eamon de Valera, a former President (1882-1975). Although born in New York, the death of his Spanish-born father when he was two resulted in his return to Ireland with his Limerick-born mother. He studied Mathematics in Dublin and became a professor but became involved in politics and he took part in the gun running of the Asgard in 1914. This Norwegian vessel was bought for £1000 by Robert Erskine Childers (who is also buried here) was designed specially to bring guns from Germany to Howth in 1914 for the Easter rising of 1916. He commanded a garrison in the Easter Rising and was sentenced to death but later given life imprisonment but released in 1917. He was immediately elected Sinn Fein MP for East Clare and in 1919 went to the USA and raised $5 million for the Republic. He rejected the Anglo-Irish Treaty and resigned as president and was rather sidelined by both sides of the process. When Civil war broke out in 1922 he became unpopular and he was arrested in 1923 but his fortunes changed again in 1926 when he formed the Fianna Fail party and he became the first Taoiseach in 1937-1948 and again form 1951-54 and 57-59. He became President of Ireland in 1959 and served for the maximum allowed fourteen years.

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At the centre of the Cemetery is a circular area with crypts beneath – quite creepy!

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I should also mention Michael Collins (1890-1922). Born in Cork, he joined the Irish Republican Brotherhood (Bráithreachas Phoblacht na hÉireann) in London and returned to Ireland to fight in the GPO (General Post Office) in Sackville Street in the 1916 Rising. After his subsequent arrest and release in 1919 he became involved in politics and in the Civil War he supplied weapons. He was one of the Irish delegates that negotiated the Anglo-Irish Treaty in December 1921 but signed it reluctantly and suffered from depression afterwards. In the Civil War of 1922-3 between the pro-treaty and anti-treaty forces led by de Valera, Michael Collins was Commander in Chief of the pro-treaty army. In August 1922, in ill health, he set off for Cork to quell some problems and on his return along the south coast his party was ambushed and he was killed, at the age of 31. His funeral cortege was reportedly three miles long and 300000 people lined the streets of Dublin to mourn the passing of ‘the fallen leader, a great hero and a great legend’.

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At the northern side are less elaborate and less well kept graves. Presumably these are of less illustrious but nonetheless important people among the one million resting here.

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Some plants tomorrow!

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One Comment on “Sombre Sunday: Glasnevin Cemetery”

  1. Maria F.
    January 5, 2015 at 1:47 am #

    Great images Geoff and fascinating history.

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