I visited Glasnevin Cemetery in Spring 2012, originally hoping it would be one of the case studies for my thesis. I was enthralled by the place, especially O’Connell tower. I loved the new museum and how well maintained the cemetery is. Unfortunately, I have been advised by some very wise academics that I should not include Glasnevin in my thesis because the comparison of the Irish context to the British and French ones was overambitious for the 80,000 word limit. Hopefully I will be able to do some research about Glasnevin at a later date – perhaps in comparison to Mount Jerome cemetery.
Glasnevin Cemetery is a fascinating place for a variety of reasons, not least because it was the first non-denominational cemetery in Ireland. This was a direct result of Daniel O’Connell’s campaign for Catholic Emancipation in Ireland. The Penal Laws, placed heavy restriction on the public performance of Catholic rites, including the funeral mass, from the 18th century. O’Connell campaigned to prove that there was no law which prevented prayer for Catholic dead in a graveyard. He also pushed for the opening of a burial ground which would allow dignified burial for both Catholics and Protestants. This lead to the 1824 ‘Act of Easement of Burial Bill’ and a committee being formed to administer the proposed cemetery, 9 acres of land in Glasnevin was purchased and originally named Prospect cemetery, opening in 1836.
Glasnevin contains over 1 million graves, most of them belonging to ordinary Dubliners but as it is the national necropolis, Glasnevin also the final resting place of many great Irish men and women, including O’Connell himself. After his death in 1847 Daniel O’Connell was initially interred in ‘The O’Connell Circle’ – a tomb beneath a circular mound, but this was not his final resting place. Once construction of the O’Connell tower was completed in 1869 his remains were relocated to the crypt beneath the tower. The tower is surrounded by a circle of vaults and stands 168ft (51m) high, making it the tallest round tower in Ireland. The tower was inspired by early Irish Christian architecture and designed by antiquarian George Petrie.
Similar, although smaller round towers can be seen at the monastery of Glendalough (County Wicklow) and also on the Rock of Cashel. Another feature of the cemetery, the chapel, is also said to be inspired by the Rock of Cashel, with it’s similarity to Cormac’s Chapel (12th century, Romaneque). The mortuary chapel at Glasnevin was designed in the 1870’s.
The sheer size of Glasnevin cemetery, which was eventually expanded to 124 acres, makes it awe inspiring, and the rows of carefully tended memorials are a magnificent sight. Many of the memorials take the form of Celtic Crosses, a style which became popular with the Celtic revival in the mid 19th century. These crosses make Glasnevin very distinctive in appearance.
The museum at Glasnevin is wonderful – well worth a visit for all, but especially for researchers, as it’s also home to the burial records!
If you’d like to learn more about Glasnevin Cemetery, please visit the trust’s website, which includes a link to a wonderful interactive tour using google streetview. Also see bibliography below, some of the books on this list are available from the Glasnevin online shop.
Connell, C, 2004, Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin, 1832-1900, Four Courts Press Ltd
MacThomais, S, 2012, Dead Interesting: Stories from the Graveyards of Dublin, The Mercier Press Ltd (Glasnevin Trust)
MacThomais, S, 2010, Glasnevin: Ireland’s Necropolis, Glasnevin Trust.
O’Shea, S, 2000, Death and Design in Victorian Glasnevin, Dublin Cemeteries Committee
N.B. I’ve just found out that the 1915 guide to the cemetery by O’Duffy has been reprinted. I might have to treat myself to a copy!