Glasnevin Cemetery and Museum are both the guardians and storytellers for over 1.6 million people. The cemetery contains the graves of many of Ireland’s most prominent national figures – Charles Stewart Parnell and Daniel O’Connell as well as Michael Collins, Éamon de Valera, Arthur Griffith, Maude Gonne McBride, Kevin Barry, Sir Roger Casement, Constance Markiewicz, Brendan Behan, Seán MacBride and Christy Brown. Also known as Prospect Cemetery, it first opened in 1832 and in the last 190 years the cemetery has grown from its original nine to over 120 acres, writes Paula Redmond.
Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin is Ireland’s largest graveyard. Covering an area of 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 Éamon de Valera, Brendan Behan, Luke Kelly and Michael Collins to name but some.
However, the majority of people interred there are ordinary Dubliners such as Margaret Flynn, who died in 1911 aged 112, making her the oldest known person buried in the cemetery.
As a result of the Penal Laws of the eighteenth 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.
In 1824 the Act of Easement of Burial Bill was passed. This led to the establishment of Prospect Cemetery, later known as Glasnevin. A site was initially purchased at Goldenbridge, Dublin but proved too small so a nine-acre site was secured 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 22nd 1832, that of a young boy from Francis Street, Dublin who died of tuberculosis.
One of the biggest funerals to take place in Glasnevin was that of Charles Stewart Parnell on October 10th 1891. Born in Co. Wicklow in 1846, Parnell was elected to parliament in 1875 as a member of the Home Rule League. As president of the National Land League he fought for tenant farmers’ rights.
Public opinion of Parnell was divided in 1890 when he was mentioned in the divorce proceedings of Kitty O’Shea. He was subsequently deposed as leader of his party and spent his final days trying to gain political support. He spoke at an event in Creggs, Co. Galway in September 1891 despite being advised to cancel by his doctor. He then travelled to Brighton, UK with what he described as a ‘chill’. He died suddenly on October 6th.