PAULA REDMOND recalls the history of the country’s larget graveyard and some of the well-known personalities buried there.
Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin is Ireland’s largest graveyard. Covering an area of over one hundred and twenty four acres, one and a half million people are laid to rest within its confines. Many of Ireland’s revered leaders, politicians, musicians, writers and other public figures are buried in Glasnevin – including Michael Collins, Charles Stewart Parnell and Éamon de Valera to name but some.
As a result of the Penal Laws of the 18th century, Catholics had no cemetery of their own in which to bury their dead. The issue came to a head when a Catholic priest in Dublin was reprimanded by a Protestant sexton for attempting to perform a shortened version of a Catholic funeral Mass.
Public outcry followed, which lead to Catholic emancipation campaigner, Daniel O’Connell, preparing a legal case to show that there was no specific law to prohibit prayers being said at a Catholic’s grave. As a result, O’Connell sought the opening of a cemetery, not just for Catholics, but for people of all religions and those of no faith.
The Act of Easement of Burial Bill was passed in 1824 and this led to the establishment of Prospect Cemetery, later known as Glasnevin. Initially a site was purchased at Goldenbridge, Dublin, but was too small. Following this, a nine-acre site was purchased at Glasnevin.
The entrance was originally located at Prospect Square but later moved to Finglas Road in 1879. The cemetery was consecrated by Monsignor Yore in September, 1831. The first burial in the graveyard occurred on February 22, 1832, that of a young boy from Francis Street, Dublin, who died of tuberculosis.
Many Irish patriots are buried within the walls of Glasnevin. On August 1, 1915 Pádraig Pearse gave the oration at Fenian leader Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa’s graveside. O’Donovan Rossa’s body had been repatriated from the US following his death in New York. Pearse was somewhat of an unknown at the time but IRB (Irish Republican Brotherhood) member Tom Clarke insisted that he give the speech.
The now famous address included the lines “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.”