Invitations to cemeteries don’t come along all that often, thankfully, but when it’s Glasnevin Cemetery and Museum, you’d do well not to decline. Established in 1828 by Daniel O’Connell, the cemetery is completely non-denominational and has a total of 1.5 million people buried inside its walls. That’s more people below ground than there are currently within Dublin city. Mad.
On arrival our group was welcomed by Mervyn Colville, museum manager and board member of Glasnevin Trust. After tea, biscuits and a Q&A session, Shane MacThomais, the lead historian, guided us through the museum’s many exhibits. Visitors can look up the family’s history in the database (the first Mc Guinness was 1830 and there are 687 others), browse information about famous figures who are buried there and even listen to stories of the many gravediggers who have worked in the cemetery over the generations. Visitors will have particular cause to check out the info panel on Rosie Hackett, with the newest Liffey bridge at Marlborough St being named after her this very week.
Daniel O’Connell, a giant amongst Irish historical figures and the man who set up the cemetery in the first place, has the most impressive grave in the cemetery. His casket lies in a chamber beneath a round tower with many of his deceased family line in an adjacent room in lead lined coffins. Quite the sight to behold.
The high walls and watch towers which surround the cemetery were built to deter bodysnatchers, who were active in Dublin active in Dublin in the 18th and early 19th century. Shane explained the bodysnatchers would sell the cadavers to medical institutions for examination. Watchmen would also patrol the cemetery at night with blood hounds to ensure they were kept at bay.
The entire facility is run by Glasnevin Trust, which is a not-for-profit organisation, and they began a Restoration Programme, part funded by the National Development Plan, through the Office of Public Works, in 2007. It’s a huge undertaking but you can see the improvements being made to gravestones and they intend to bring it back to its pristine glory of the early 20th century. A pedestrian link with the National Botanic Gardens has also recently opened which should aid visits to both attractions.
There are many famous Irish men and women buried at Glasnevin including: Charles Stewart Parnell, Michael Collins, Éamon de Valera, Arthur Griffith, Maude Gonne, Kevin Barry, Roger Casement, Constance Markievicz, Pádraig Ó Domhnaill, Seán MacBride, Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa, Frank Duff, Brendan Behan, Christy Brown and Luke Kelly of the Dubliners. In 2009, the Trust in cooperation with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) began identifying the 208 graves of Irish service personnel who died while serving in the Commonwealth forces during the two world wars. These names are inscribed on two memorials, rededicated and relocated in 2011 to near the main entrance.
It was fascinating to see the work being done at Glasnevin and it’s an absolute must visit for any tourists and any Dubs who haven’t been. You can click through to visit their web site here, follow them on Twitter or like them on Facebook. Thanks to the guys for having us. Here’s Shane with a story about some of the strange bedfellows in Glasnevin: