Do they Ever Really Die? For their Stories Live on…

28 Mar

When I was speaking on the phone with my mom the other day, updating her on some of the recent happenings of my time here in Ireland, I mentioned how the next day we would be going on a class trip to Glassnevin Cemetery. She laughed and asked why we would be going there and commented that that would not be her ideal way to spend a Friday afternoon, and at first I was of the same opinion. I think it is great to learn about history, but I was not too esctatic to go and see some graves, even though I had heard some great reviews about Glassnevin.

I tried to keep an open mind, and after pondering the meaning of life and death on the bus ride to Glassnevin, we finally arrived and were met by a surprisngly chipper tour guide, given her job working in what would normally be a pretty depressing place to most people. She lead us first to the crypt of Daniel O’Connell, going over his work towards Catholic emancipation and his role as the first Catholic MP in Britain, but also adding some information that I was not aware of. She mentioned how O’Connell was also a big anti-slavery campaigner, working closely with Frederick Douglass in America, and that he also would speak about the unjust treatment of the Jewish population, almost a century before his time. I had no idea that he had been such a civil rights activist not only in Ireland, but beyond, and what a large and encompassing vision  he had of civil rights at a relatively early time in history. I was also a little saddened to hear our tour guide say that kids were not taught as much about Daniel O’Connell in school as they once were, and that the memory of him is slowly fading away in the minds of the Irish people. IMG_9975

We then entered the crypt and saw his giant lead coffin resting in the center of the room, told that the design ensured that his coffin would never be robbed and also that the lead did not let any air out or in, effectively preserving the body in the exact state that it was in when he died more than 150 years ago. I touched the coffin and felt a weird connection with Ireland’s past. Touching the coffin is supposedly good luck, and I’d like to believe that the strange moment I had was not necessarily receiving good luck but maybe rather some of the drive and foresight of Daniel O’Connell himself. One can dream, right?

We then saw the humble grave plot of the De Valera family, and were told that Eamon wanted to have a simple and humble burial, that what had been good enough to bury his 20 year old son in when he died would be good enough for him and the rest of his family as well. We saw the resting place of activist and once-over of W.B. Yeats, Maud Gonne, and her son Sean MacBride, who went on to do much social justice work worldwide, creating Amnesty International. The small fragments of history that are remembered in these names, in these people, are truly astonishing!IMG_9960

Last, we saw the gravestone of Michael Collins, covered entirely in fresh flowers. People apparently worship him to this day, thinking that he was truly the one who created an independent Republic of Ireland. A “mysterious French woman” apparently comes over several times, a year all the way from France, just to put flowers and a sweet card on his grave, a gesture showing the scope of Collins’ reach and the feelings he can still bring out in people to this day.

At Glassnevin, I did not feel the somber mood that I had expected, but rather one of reverence combined with a lighthearted understanding that just because someone has died, their story has not, nor has their influence. I was able to laugh at the the tour guide’s witty jokes and to see that maybe there is a life after death in the sense that one’s story never really dies.

-Raiven Greenberg

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