There’s a Lot of History in a Cemetery (1/3)

21 May 2013, Tuesday

Jet lag is a new concept to me; I don’t normally have much of a problem other than being a little sluggish. But we’d gone to bed around nine o’clock the previous night, and here I was awake at one in the morning. I tried for 45 minutes to go back to sleep (I love my cheap Timex Indiglo, which allows me to see the time without turning on a light), then got up and checked in with Facebook. Went back to bed at three o’clock and managed to sleep until 5:30.

Gerry was going to be working, of course, while I was on this vacation. So I threw on some clothes and drove him down to the big Tesco to catch the bus into town. Then I came back, showered, and went to breakfast.

Breakfast at Bewley’s is just OK. Nothing to particularly write home about … so I won’t. 🙂

And then I set off on my first day of my “solo vacation”—a huge change from my trip last year when I was traveling with three others. These days were spent pleasing myself. And what pleased me today was a trip to Glasnevin Cemetery. (Pronounce this glass-NEH-vin.) It is the largest nondemoninational cemetery in Ireland.

Glasnevin Cemetery opened its gates in February 1832 (back then it was called Prospect Cemetery), a triumph of a campaign by politician (and Irish hero) Daniel O’Connell. Incredible as it may seem, Irish Catholics had no cemeteries of their own at that time.

You see, Ireland was under the British thumb for some seven hundred years, and once Henry VIII broke with the pope in the mid 1500s and began the dissolution of the monasteries, Irish Catholics became second-class citizens. When that stinker Oliver Cromwell came along a hundred or so years later, the British parliament issued a series of Penal Laws to keep the Irish in their downtrodden place.

The Irish Catholic was forbidden the exercise of his religion.
He was forbidden to receive education.
He was forbidden to enter a profession.
He was forbidden to hold public office.
He was forbidden to engage in trade or commerce.
He was forbidden to live in a corporate town or within five miles thereof.
He was forbidden to own a horse of greater value than five pounds.
He was forbidden to purchase land.
He was forbidden to lease land.
He was forbidden to vote.
He was forbidden to keep any arms for his protection.
He was forbidden to hold a life annuity.
He could not be guardian to a child.
He could not himself educate his child.

I could go on and on, but it raises my blood pressure. What we’re focusing on here is that the Irish lived under these laws (with some exceptions) until 1920, and the law in question was the ban on the public performance of Catholic services. The official guidebook says,

This situation continued until an incident at a funeral held at St. Kevin’s Cemetery [on Camden Row in Dublin] in 1823 provoked public outcry when a Protestant sexton reprimanded a Catholic priest for proceeding to perform a limited version of a funeral mass. The outcry prompted Daniel O’Connell, champion of Catholic rights, to launch a campaign and prepare a legal opinion proving that there was actually no law passed forbidding praying for a dead Catholic in a graveyard. O’Connell pushed for the opening of a burial ground in which both Irish Catholics and Protestants could give their dead dignified burial.

So this cemetery was (and is) really, really special—not least because it’s a veritable Who’s Who of Ireland (in fact, you’ll see Glasnevin referred to as the national necropolis), on a scale of reputation with Père Lachaise in Paris or Arlington National Cemetery in Washington DC.

The first thing you notice is the high wall—erected to discourage bodysnatchers. Eight watchtowers looked down over the grounds, again to prevent grave robberies. (Can you imagine having that job?) You can park across Finglas Road, but it’s very busy, so I took a chance on finding a parking spot inside. (Which was a little bit of an adventure as the signage wasn’t altogether helpful. I found myself driving through the graveyard, which I know they don’t intend for visitors to do. I could see the carpark, just not how to get into it. I did finally find the entrance with the help of a docent. Judging by the look on his face, he thought I was a bit simple to be operating heavy machinery. 🙂 But I got parked; that’s the important thing.)

The Glasnevin Trust has a fine museum and shop on the grounds, and many types of guided tours are offered (historical, Joycean, family, military, literary) … but if you just want to walk around, you may do so at no charge.

Which is what I did.

Walking from the small carpark, the modern building in the distance is the museum and shop. That’s Finglas Road outside the fence on the right. The majority of the graves are to the left, but there are a handful of graves—some with elaborate memorials—to be seen on the right.

Walking from the small carpark, the modern building in the distance is the museum and shop. That’s Finglas Road outside the fence on the right. The majority of the graves are to the left, but there are a handful of them—some with elaborate memorials—to be seen on the right.

Detail of the roof of a memorial with finials and praying angels. (Remember, click on the photo twice to zoom in.)

Detail of the roof of a memorial with finials and praying angels. (Remember, click on the photo twice to zoom in.)

More of the graves along Finglas Road. I believe this is the Jesuit plot.

More of the graves along Finglas Road. I believe this is the Jesuit plot.

Interestingly, there is a crematorium on the grounds, established in 1982.

If there is no need for a burial site, you can still memorialize your loved one.

If there is no need for a burial site, you can still memorialize your loved one. (Click to zoom in.)

There are 120 acres of graves here, 1.5 million souls interred. There are two hundred thousand monuments; I photographed quite a few of them. 🙂 By far the largest is the O’Connell crypt and monument.

The round tower above Daniel O’Connell’s gravesite is 168 feet tall. I did not go down into the crypt.

The round tower above Daniel O’Connell’s gravesite is 168 feet tall. I did not go down into the crypt.

McConnell’s tower seen from another angle.

McConnell’s tower seen from another angle.

Glasnevin is very much a Victorian-era cemetery, and this is reflected in the Celtic motifs—particularly crosses—you’ll see there. (The Victorians are credited—some might say blamed—with reviving Celtic history, literature, and art across Ireland.) But you can see Classical and Gothic stonework, too, from master masons of each generation.

Many Celtic crosses, some only decorated on the front. (Be sure to click twice to zoom in.)

Many Celtic crosses, some only decorated on the front. (Be sure to click twice to zoom in.)

The graves here really are cheek by jowl. I love reading the names …

The graves here really are cheek by jowl. I love reading the names …

There are many, many famous names (and many, many not-famous names). But no visit would be complete without seeing the grave of Michael Collins, one that is familiar to most Americans. During the War of Independence, Collins was commander-in-chief of the National Army and president of the Irish Republican Brotherhood. When the truce between Ireland and England was agreed (July 1921), Collins was one of the Irish representatives who negotiated the Anglo-Irish Treaty. As you know, this treaty gave the six counties in the north to England; Collins signed it with “great reluctance” because he saw no other way for peace. Unfortunately, the treaty led to a vicious Civil War and ended Collins’s life in ambush and assassination. He was only thirty-one years old. The Irish Independent reported the funeral was the “greatest pageant of sorrow ever seen in Dublin: a cortège three miles long.” Three hundred thousand people lined the streets as the funeral procession wound its way to Glasnevin. (In the last year of his life, Collins exchanged more than three hundred love letters with his fiancée, Kitty Kiernan; she is also buried in Glasnevin.)

I started with Michael Collins.

Approaching the grave of Michael Collins, Corkman, Irish republican.

Approaching the grave of Michael Collins, Corkman, Irish republican.

At Michael Collins’s gravesite, Glasnevin Cemetery.

At Michael Collins’s gravesite, Glasnevin Cemetery.

There are many Irish patriots (my term; some might call them rebels, while the official guidebook refers to them as revolutionaries—it’s all perspective, I guess) in Glasnevin. In addition to Michael Collins and Daniel O’Connell, there are Cathal Brugha, Roger Casement, Annie Devlin, Countess Constance Markievicz, Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa, Charles Stewart Parnell, Kevin Barry (when I read this name to Gerry, he immediately began singing what is arguably the most famous rebel song in Ireland—and if you don’t know what a rebel song is, we have more work to do), Harry Boland, and many, many more.

Including, of course, Éamon de Valera, about whom I have mixed feelings.

Including, of course, Éamon de Valera, about whom I have mixed feelings.

Glasnevin’s not all politicians and rebels, though. These are all interesting people with fascinating stories: Alfred Chester Beatty (book collector), Brendan Behan (playwright), Christy Brown (of My Left Foot fame), Father Fancis Browne (photographer), Gerard Manley Hopins (poet), John Stanisalaus Joyce (father of James), Luke Kelly (folk singer, the Dubliners), James Clarence Mangan (poet), Kate Cruise O’Brien (novelist and publisher), Margaret Burke Sheridan (operatic soprano), and Maud Gonne MacBride, revolutionary and muse to William Butler Yeats.

The grave of Maud Gonne. I wouldn’t have minded if W. B. Yeats wrote poetry about me. :)

The grave of Maud Gonne. I wouldn’t have minded if W. B. Yeats wrote poetry about me. 🙂

It’s a beautiful place. People walk their dogs there.

Wide avenues with lovely vistas make it a nice walk. Glasnevin Cemetery, May 2013.

Wide avenues with lovely vistas make it a nice walk. Glasnevin Cemetery, May 2013.

I was fascinated by the trees. Glasnevin Cemetery, May 2013.

I was fascinated by the trees. Glasnevin Cemetery, May 2013.

I took lots of photos at Glasnevin; these are just a few. Please remember they belong to me.

I took lots of photos at Glasnevin; these are just a few. Please remember they belong to me.

Glasnevin Cemetery, May 2013.

Glasnevin Cemetery, May 2013.

Glasnevin Cemetery, May 2013.

Glasnevin Cemetery, May 2013.

I wandered from one section to another, looking for particular graves (I had a not-very-detailed map), though I did not see the whole thing—it’s very large. I had another stop I wanted to make, too—the National Botanic Garden is adjacent to the cemetery, so it was a logical next stop. And I had a dinner date with Gerry to look forward to. So I went back to the museum shop, bought a book, and got directions to the gardens.

You’ll see that story and more in part 2!

3 thoughts on “There’s a Lot of History in a Cemetery (1/3)

  1. Pingback: There Is Always the Garden (2/3) | Wanderlustful

  2. Pingback: An Afternoon Adventure. Sort Of. (3/3) | Wanderlustful

  3. Pingback: A Churchyard Turned Into a City Park | Wanderlustful

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