28 May 2013, Tuesday
The great thing about staying in a tour-group hotel is you never know who’s going to be in the dining room. Yesterday it was an Asian group. Today: Germans. People-watching is always something I enjoy.
And I don’t have to stay in the hotel to do it, either. This neighborhood, called Portobello, is very interesting. When we arrived on Sunday, there were a lot of Muslims out and about. (I’m making an assumption here, but there were a lot of women wearing the hijab. And I’ve noticed there are a lot of Middle Eastern restaurants, which are a favorite of mine.) But during the week I’ve come to realize it’s also a college neighborhood (the Dublin Institute of Technology is just a couple blocks up the street and Portobello College—a law school recently incorporated into Dublin Business School—is a couple blocks in the other direction), so there are burger joints, lots of Asian places, and coffee shops. Also hostels. And the normal college-y things like a paper shop (wedding invitations for those college girls), paint store (for painting your dorm room), computer store, clothing, pubs (of course).
After breakfast, then, I got out and walked up Camden Street Lower to St. Kevin’s Church Park on Camden Row.
On this map, by the way, our hotel is just along the smaller “square” formed by the orange streets. That “St. Kevin’s” marked on the map to the right of it is … I’m not sure. If you zoom in, it’s gone.
This ground has had a church dating back to the early thirteenth century, although the building here now, crumbling, dates from around 1750 (and use discontinued in 1912). When the medieval St. Kevin’s church was built, it was outside the Dublin city walls (which were further north) but near a monastic settlement. Nonetheless, it was an important church in the Irish community (remember, Dublin was a Viking city, so the Danes would have been inside the walls, the Irish outside), and there are many important people buried in the churchyard, including Archbishop Dermot Hurley, who had the misfortune of being Catholic during a time when English Protestants ruled Ireland. He is revered as a Catholic martyr (and was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1992). His grave—inside the church—became a place of pilgrimage for hundreds of years.
After the Reformation, of course, the church switched hands, so to speak, to the Church of Ireland. Catholics and Protestants have a long and tangled history in Ireland, as you know; the Penal Laws of the eighteenth century meant Catholics had no cemeteries of their own and were prohibited from the public practice of their faith. So it became normal practice for Catholics to be buried with little public ceremony. (There are many other notables buried at St. Kevin’s, which you can read about here.)
I’ve talked a little about this in my post about Glasnevin Cemetery; in fact, it was an incident at a Catholic funeral at this very church in 1823 that led to the establishment of Glasnevin. Wikipedia tells us “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.” Glasnevin opened in 1832.
In 1962 (“after long negotiations,” the information plaque just inside the park tells us, and I have a little chuckle, because discussions and negotiations in Ireland do tend to be long) the ruins of the church and the graveyard were transferred to the city of Dublin, which developed the land into a park. Most of the headstones were placed along the perimeter; there are a very few still in situ.
I walked leisurely around the park and took loads of photographs. Let me show you …
It’s a lovely little park, though it hasn’t been taken care of. The pigeons were right there at the entrance, as if they were expecting me. I think someone feeds them. 🙂
It is believed this graveyard was a favorite of bodysnatchers in the eighteenth century. With the expansion of medical knowledge in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and the establishment of formal training for doctors—that is, medical schools—cadavers were constantly needed for dissection. And there was good money for those who could supply them. Body snatching was so prevalent that cemeteries built watchtowers along the walls, which were manned at night. (The Anatomy Act of 1832, which allowed unclaimed bodies and those donates by relatives to be used for the study of anatomy, pretty much put an end to the body snatching trade.)
It was very quiet, in spite of my being in the middle of a large city. There was one person on a bench at the back when I came in, then a little old lady arrived, just to sit on a bench and contemplate. Later a woman brought her dog to play. These were all locals—no tourists.
Everything was so lush and green. What the word verdant was made for. 🙂
I’m not done with my parks-and-churches walkabout, and this day is far from over, but I’ll stop here and finish the rest in the next post.