Glasnevin Cemetery

29 Nov

One of my favorite study excursions during my Irish studies was to the largest non-denominational cemetery in the country, the Glasnevin Cemetary. This trip interested me initially because I always liked the bond between religion and society; what better place to go to than to a place where every religion comes together as one? This reason, along with my inclination toward anything historically significant, made me very excited to have a tour at the Glasnevin.

To say the least, I was not disappointed; the place was overwhelmingly huge, with over 1.5 people resting within its nine-acre property. My group was greeted very nicely by an informative tour guide, leading us first around one of the only museums held within a cemetery. I loved looking through the many interactive sights within the museum, learning about how each major religion treats its perished followers. I also loved walking around the preserved artifacts of Daniel O’Connell’s famous belongings. He founded the Glasnevin Cemetery in 1832 as a place where people of all denominations and races can go to rest peacefully; this was an act that was characteristic to him, as he also led the cause toward Catholic Emancipation in 1829. His personality could be expressed through his cemetery; people of all religions and nationalities rested next to each other, such as the Italian Catholic tombstone that I saw erected next to an Irish Protestant one.

Because Daniel O’Connell was the founder of the Glasnevin Cemetery, his tomb was obviously the most highly-esteemed and decorated. Erected right on top of his tomb was a rather large Irish round tower; this amazed me, as the only Irish round tower in the United States was a relatively small one back in my hometown of Milford, Massachusetts.

Other than O’Connell, there were many other significant Irish figures buried at the Glasnevin. Such figures include the socialist leader of the 1913 lockout, James Larkin, and famous nationalist leader Charles Parnell. Both had rather quaint tombstones; Larkin rests under a simple rectangular shaped piece of granite, while Parnell rests under a literal stone. The difference between their two burials is that Parnell was buried within a large circle of land. The tour guide informed me that this large, circular area was once a mass grave for victims of a cholera epidemic; for this reason, the mass grave was called the Cholera Pit.

Another interesting pair of tombstones I’ve seen were of two significant Irish figures that could not be farther apart from the ideological spectrum, anti-Treaty leader Eamon de Valera and pro-Treaty leader Michael Collins. These two arch-nemeses polarized the two sides of the Irish Civil War in 1922; the Civil War resulted in a split in ideology toward the Anglo-Irish Treaty, which essentially gave Ireland its status as a sovereign state. The two tombstones are still viewed with two different lenses, depending on what the viewer’s stance is toward the Irish Civil War. An interesting quirk that our tour guide told us is that there is a mysterious Parisian woman who leaves flowers and a note annually to Michael Collins on his grave. No one knows why this woman does this ritualistically, but I didn’t complain as I saw beautiful flowers mounted on Collins’ grave.

Overall, this excursion to the Glasnevin cemetery was engaging as well as entertaining; the tour guide fed my curiosity while the cemetery delighted me with its sheer size and implicit history.

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