Glasnevin Cemetery History Tour

Are you looking for a more unusual Dublin expedition?  My suggestion is the history tour at Glasnevin Cemetery.  I was really surprised on arrival to see a magnificent modern Museum building near the entrance.  The museum and tours do not intrude in any way with the daily workings of the graveyard and there was a palpable respect for those who were there for more sombre reasons.

Our guide was Bridget Sheeran and to say she was a guide is complete misnomer.  Bridget is an historian with an immense knowledge of the social and political history of Ireland and the tour lasted longer than advertised as we absorbed every word.  We were given a lot of interesting information on the graveyard, its residents and their place in Irish history.  We began the tour at the grave of Roger Casement and other famous graves included the likes of Eamon De Valera, O’Donovan Rossa, Maud Gonne as well as many of the other 1916 rebels.  The tour finished with the most popular grave, which is that of Michael Collins.

The highlights for me were three particular monuments/graves.  The Tower for Daniel O’Connell, The Emancipator, is very much the standout monument in the graveyard.  It was Daniel O’Connell who opened the Glasnevin graveyard in 1832 for people of all religions and those with none so that they could be buried with dignity and respect.  By now I was wondering if I had slept through many history lessons at school as I realised how little I knew about our Liberator.  I never knew that he had been invited by Belgium to become their King.  His tower and crypt stands near the entrance of the graveyard and one felt that he was presiding over lesser mortals who surrounded him in deadly silence.  We were invited to touch his coffin in the crypt, which we did with great reverence.  Also in the crypt in a small arched section, piled in a rather hap hazard fashion, were seven coffins of his direct descendants.

Another monument that impressed hugely was the simple large granite stone etched with the name Parnell and located in a large circular raised plot; the cholera plot as it is known.  Apparently Parnell had requested that he be buried with the poor people.  The railing had interspersed shamrocks and ivy motifs on it.  O’Connell and Parnell were giants of men who stood for all that is good in this little country  and certainly made me feel very proud.

Several other monuments were hugely poignant including the new France-Ireland Memorial;  the Clinchy Cross.  This evocative monument was a gift from the people of France to Ireland in 2016, in recognition of the thousands of Irishmen who died defending the liberty of France during the Franco-Prussian War; the Great War and World War II.

The Clinchy Cross

Glasnevin is a Victorian garden cemetery and the funerary and sculpture is moving and powerful.  We were told that many people go there for walks and a picnic and why not.  It is also adjacent (with direct access) to the National Botanic Gardens so if you did feel a little spooked eating your sandwich surrounded by graves you can always hightail it to the gardens next door.  I have to admit that it was anything but spooky and I felt extremely comfortable meeting these famous people from our history books.  It really brought them to life, if that doesn’t sound too weird. Some interesting stats included that there are 1.5 million people interred there which is more than the population of Dublin city.

The cemetery covers 124 acres and just in case you are interested they have space for further residents!  For my next visit I intend to do the ‘Dead Interesting’ tour as I didn’t get to meet some of the ‘Who’s Who’ of celebrities that are buried there.  I did catch sight of the famous soprano Margaret Burke Sheridan’s grave as we meandered around.  Glasnevin Cemetery is known as the dead city and I departed with a feeling of tranquility from having passed a few pleasurable hours listening to some of the more unusual historical facts of some of our famous ancestors.

For information visit Glasnevin Trust website