Glasnevin Cemetery, located north of Dublin City centre, is the final resting place of over 1.5 million Dubliners. Given that the current population of Dublin is just over 1 million, this means that there are more people interred there than actually live in Dublin today. Many significant historical Irish people are buried here but it also contains the graves of rich and poor and all shades in between. The cemetery has borne witness to the life and times that have shaped Ireland since the mid-1800s. This makes it a must for history buffs and those wishing to trace some family history.
Under British rule in the early 19th century, the state religion in Ireland was Anglican. However, the population of Ireland was overwhelmingly Roman Catholic. The Penal Laws had been introduced by the authorities to restrict Catholic practise and worship. As a result, Catholics in Dublin could either be buried in Protestant graveyards where there was a ban on Catholic prayers or they could be buried in an area to the west of the city known as Bullys Acre, in Kilmainham. This was common ground and had been used as a burial place for many centuries. The practice of body snatching had become a serious problem there and a serious cholera outbreak in 1832 had led to serious congestion.
The Catholic Association, led by Daniel OConnell, campaigned for the rights of Catholics and in 1831 they bought lands in Glasnevin to construct a proper cemetery, not just for Catholics, but for all religions and none. The cemetery opened in 1832 and the first burial to take place was 11-year-old Michael Carey from Dulin city. A feature of the cemetery is the high perimeter wall with integrated lookout towers to guard against body snatching. Daniel OConnell died in 1847 and is interred in the cemetery. A Round Tower marks the spot where his tomb is located. OConnell Street in Dublin is also named in his honour.
The Irish War of Independence
In August 1915 an event occurred in Glasnevin cemetery that would influence the course of Irish history. At the burial the Fenian Jeremiah ODonovan Rossa. A then little known school teacher & poet, Padraig Pearse, gave a rousing speech that was in fact a coded call to arms.
but the fools, the fools, the fools! they have left us our Fenian dead, and while Ireland holds these graves, Ireland unfree shall never be at peace."
Less than a year later an insurgency in an attempt to overthrow British rule would follow. This became known as the Easter 1916 Rising. It was a failure and Padraig Pearse, along with his fellow leaders of the Rising, was executed by firing squad. Initially, the Rising had little public support but with the martyrdom of the rebels, public opinion would change in favour of overthrowing British rule, and a war for independence ensued. The end result was Irish Independence in 1922.
Revolutionary, politician, charmer, orator and diplomat, Michael Collins was a much-loved figure during the fight for independence. In fact, to this day his grave is adorned with flowers and cards.
He played a pivotal part in the Irish War of Independence. Collins pioneered a tactic that became known as guerrilla warfare. The War of Independence lasted from 1918 to 1921 when the British finally agreed to a truce. The head of the Irish Provisional Government, Eamon De Valera, sent a delegation, led by Collins, to London to agree a treaty. While in London he was given the option by the British to sign a treaty agreeing to just 26 counties (instead of the full 32) or face a bloody war. Collins signed the treaty. This would partition the island of Ireland into Northern Ireland and the Irish Free State. Northern Ireland would remain as part of the United Kingdom while the Irish Free State would no longer be part of the United Kingdom. The partition of the island caused a split in the Irish Provisional government and this would result in a civil war within the Irish Free State. After signing the treaty Collins is reported to have said:
"I may have signed my actual death warrant".
This may have been a dark omen. In August 1922 Michael Collins was ambushed in Beal na Blath, Co. Cork and shot dead. Some 500,000 people attended his funeral in Dublin, a fifth of the population of Ireland at the time.
Tracing Your Family History
Glasnevin cemetery possesses over 1.5 million Irish genealogy records from 1832 to present. If you intend tracing your Irish family history you can explore it here. Besides having an archive online, Glasnevin Cemetery offers assistance when you visit. If you end up taking a tour with them, they'll also give you 5 worth of genealogy credits that you can redeem there. Who knows, you may discover some interesting stories from your family's past!
The number 40 bus frequently goes from OConnell Street in the city centre out towards Glasnevin Cemetery. For times and google map location of bus stops check out www.getthere.ie
For more information on Glasnevin Cemetery check out the following links:
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