#DatesWithDublin #4 – Glasnevin Cemetery and Museum

As part of my ever more enjoyable Dates With Dublin series, I’d planned to take a trip out to Glasnevin Cemetery last Saturday for a wander through the mausoleums and a mooch around the museum. I’d heard that the Glasnevin Trust have been doing some pretty amazing work developing the museum, as well as repairing and maintaining the vast cemetery in Dublin 11 – Ireland’s largest, by far and was looking forward to an afternoon hanging out with a bunch of the least argumentative people you could possibly encounter.

As chance, coincidence and plain old good luck would have it, I received an email from the lovely Darragh Doyle on Friday afternoon, inviting me along on a blogger’s tour of… you’ve guessed it, Glasnevin Cemetery, courtesy of the folks at Slattery Communications. I didn’t need to be asked twice, and at 12pm on Saturday, I found myself ensconced in the boardroom at Glasnevin Cemetery Museum, chowing down on sambos with the crème de la crème of Dublin’s bloggers, tweeters, and PR people learning the story of Glasnevin. From a personal point of view (and I know this is weird), death and funerals fascinate me. I find the traditions and the rituals around death interesting, particularly in Ireland, and I was looking forward to finding out a bit more about them from the experts.

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I know I won’t do justice to the national treasure that is Glasnevin Cemetery in this short blog post. I couldn’t.  You need to go and see it for yourself.  If you haven’t been, organise a trip, or hop on a bus and just go.  But I will tell you that while it’s not your regular tourist attraction, it’s a fascinating way of passing a half a day. Even if you’re not as big a fan of dead people as I am.

Our day started with a bit of background from Tipperary-born Mervyn Colville, who filled us in on the history of the cemetery, and about the work the Trust does. Mervyn was riveting – the story of Glasnevin is fascinating, and his passion for the job shone through with every word. Mervyn was ably assisted by resident historian and mine of information Shane MacThomáis (who later brought us on a tour of the treasures), and social media guru Luke Portess, who’s responsible for creative marketing and communications. Luke is doing excellent job of engaging with the public via contemporary media (you can follow the cemetery and museum on twitter and Instagram) and is one of the team responsible for the cemetery’s quirky new marketing campaign which, in a theme that consistently emerged throughout the day, is all about the people. Watch out for it

Glasnevin Cemetery

What it says on the tin

Some of the more fascinating facts about Glasnevin, in a nutshell:

  • There are 1.5 million people buried in the cemetery. That, my friends, is more people underground in Glasnevin than are over ground in the whole of Dublin City. Impressive, huh? And it’s still filling up rapidly, necessitating the formulation of contingency plans, before the cemetery runs out of space.
  • The first funeral in Glasnevin was that of eleven year-old Michael Carey, on 22 February, 1832. He wasn’t alone for very long.
  • There are approximately 200,000 gravestones in the cemetery. Many, before restoration began, were in a state of disrepair – cracked, sinking etc. About 60% of them have now been restored.
Repaired gravestones in Glasnevin Cemetery

Repaired gravestones in Glasnevin Cemetery

  • Glasnevin was the first cemetery in Ireland to blaze a trail (sorry) and open a crematorium. There are still only four in Ireland, though the number of people opting for cremations is steadily growing year on year. Pacemakers and artificial hips are not suitable for cremation – the former can explode, and the latter, well, nothing happens to them. Just so you know.
  •  Interestingly, there is no regulation governing cremation in Ireland at present. None.
  • There are, however, regulations in place in Glasnevin now regarding the type and size of headstone you can add to a grave, and the message you can write on it. This is to avoid political and overly personal messages. You can, however, use whatever font you like. No-one’s opted for Comic Sans … yet.
  • The cemetery is non-denominational – basically no matter what your religion, you’re welcome here. A cemetery “for all religions and none”.
  • There are watchtowers located around the cemetery, built to deter bodysnatchers. (Rumour has it that back in the day, Prime Minister Robet Peel, upon the subject of the body-snatchers, was heard to proclaim that it was “indeed, a grave matter”.)
  • There are many, many famous people buried in Glasnevin. Writers, politicians, characters from Ulysses – you name it, Glasnevin is home to them. On our short tour we “met” Michael Collins (and Kitty Kiernan, buried within a respectable distance), Eamon de Valera, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Jim Larkin, Maude Gonne, Brendan Behan and Sir Roger Casement among others. And of course, Daniel O’Connell.
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Shane Mac Thomáis emulating Big Jim Larkin

  • Daniel O’Connell’s family tomb is located under a huge round tower monument that took 8 years to build, but was bombed by Loyalists in 1972, destroying the staircase and with it a spectacular view of the city. The plan is to rebuild the staircase in time and restore this unique and historic vantage point. O’Connell’s enormous coffin is placed within a tomb, through which you can see it, and reach in and touch it. Wow. In a separate room is the “family stack” where the lead-lined coffins of O’Connell’s family are piled up, almost carelessly, close to the great man himself.

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The great man’s great big coffin

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The O’Connell Family Stack

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Tantalising view of the top

There are at least a million more things to tell you about Glasnevin (probably 1.5 million, given that every body has its own story). You might say death is a great equaliser, but from the mass pauper graves homing the thousands of people who could not afford decent burials or died during epidemics, to the Angels plot, to the extravagant, ornate carvings which adorn the resting places of Dublin’s wealthy, all human life is here. The museum in particular is a poignant, yet powerful monument to the people within Glasnevin (who at all times remain the focus), telling as it does the stories of many who lie within the plots. The glass wall displaying symbols of the lives of a select few serve as a striking reminder of the purpose this place serves.

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Just one of the many stories of Glasnevin Cemetery

What struck me throughout our day with the team was the respect and sensitivity with which they spoke and with which they treat their surroundings – all are evidently keenly aware that the position they hold is one that brings with it great responsibility in terms of  maintaining, repairing, developing and marketing the cemetery, particularly given the need for greater commercialisation in order to generate funds for maintenance. I got the sense that every decision is debated, dissected and considered carefully, which is reassuring given the amount of stakeholders – dead and alive – who are potentially affected. Shane, in particular, you feel, has walked every inch of this ground hundreds of times and knows it intimately, and this very charismatic, warm and witty man’s affection for the place shone through in every word.  In what is becoming one of Ireland’s busiest tourist attractions, there is, oddly, a wonderful sense of calm and beauty, particularly in the older, green areas among the cemetery’s oldest residents.

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Tranquility for Taphophiles

The Glasnevin Trust has many more plans for the future. As well as restoring the O’Connell monument, there are still thousands of graves to be repaired and a memorial wall containing the names of all the dead from 1914-22 is being mooted. The cemetery lies a little bit away from the tourist trail, on the northside but is very easily accessible via public transport or you can drive and park. Hop on a bus or your bike and go! There’s a shop, café, all the information you can possibly consume, a genealogy centre and a myriad of guided tours and events in the pipeline. I really can’t encourage you enough to go see this piece of our history.

And go visit the Gravediggers afterwards. The hype is indeed true, and the pint I had there afterwards with my new blogging buddies was indeed one of the finest I have tasted above ground in Dublin. A fine end to a fine day.

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Thirsty tourists

Thanks to all at Glasnevin Cemetery and Museum, and the good people at Slattery Communications for the invitation – it was a pleasure to partake.

Dates with Dublin – Places to See

When I came up with the idea of Dates with Dublin, my plan to get to really know the treasures of the city I live in, a couple of folk asked me to make a list of the suggestions I received, so they could check them out too.

Your wish is my command *takes deep breath*

I’ve received so many suggestions since I started this blog, thanks to everyone who left a comment or sent me a tweet with a suggestion. I’ve tried to add as many in as I can, with the result that the list is now out of control and needs to be categorised – a job for another day!  If you have any suggestions, remember I’m looking for more places that are a little off the beaten tourist track. Foodie recommendations welcome too! 

  • The Chester Beatty Library – this was suggested numerous times, and hadn’t really been on my radar. Described as “a nice contemplative space” and as a relaxing venue to pass a couple of hours, it sounds right up my street. And it has books. Well, at least I think it has. And a pretty decent café, if the rumours are to be believed.
  • Phoenix Park – it might sound obvious, but I’ve spent relatively little time in the Phoenix Park in my time here, and haven’t visited the Áras since I was 12. There are free tours of the Aras on Saturdays, incidentally, so I might stick my name down and re-aquaint myself with my old college buddy, Sabine. The Phoenix Park Visitor Centre is meant to be worth a nose too. And an afternoon on the bike hunting deer sounds like fun. (What do you mean, you’re not allowed to do that? )
  • The Blessington Basin – I had no idea this ever existed. At first glance, it looks like a reservoir. I can do reservoirs. On the list. And it has ducks. I like ducks. Can you hunt ducks? No…? Oh.
  • The Douglas Hyde Gallery – again, somewhere that hadn’t been on my radar. (I’m beginning to think that I’m vastly uncultured.)  It has paintings. I like paintings.
  • Tour of Leinster House. This had been on my radar. Ohh yes. In fact, I think I may just leave this one until I can be sure there are some TDs knocking around. You can definitely hunt TDs. Right?
  • The Pearse Museum, Rathfarnham – I live near this, but naturally, I didn’t know it existed either. It’s like I walk around all day with a blindfold on. Anyway, it sounds interesting – it’s the school Padraig Pearse used to run,  and it has lovely grounds so I’ll be paying it a visit too.
  • The Cake Café – this is a secret, magical, oasis-like place in the city centre that sells cake. Except it’s not so secret now that I’ve told you lot. Still, nobody reads this blog, so I don’t expect it’ll be overrun with new secret cake-oasis-seekers any time soon.
  • St Michan’s Church. Now this sounds DEADLY. It has over 1,000 years of history, it had stocks (which I am all for bringing back into use, preferably outside Leinster House during tour times) and there are crypts. With dead people. I like dead people. They don’t answer back or make false economic promises.
  • Glasnevin Cemetery. I’m aware that this list has taken a rather macabre turn, but I’m okay with that. Lots of really, really cool dead people hang out in Glasnevin Cemetery. It’s Ireland’s largest non-denominational cemetery with 1.5 million burials, and is officially known as Prospect Cemetery. You can touch Daniel O’Connell’s coffin while you’re there, and if that’s not the coolest thing to do in Dublin on a Thursday afternoon, I don’t know what is. Kavanagh’s Gravediggers pub nearby (if you can find it) apparently serves a top-notch pint. And good food. Anderson’s off Griffith Avenue is also apparently a good spot for nosh, I’m told by someone In The Know.
  • The National Botanic Gardens – a gorgeous free attraction which, incidentally, backs onto Glasnevin Cemetery, and as luck would have it, they’re after many years of debate, installing a path between the two. Immaculately kept all year, the beauty of the Gardens is that you can visit in every season and be assured of a different view. Be sure to check out the huge glasshouses – you’ll feel like you’re in the rainforest. And the cafe is lovely too.
  • Malahide Castle and Gardens – I’ve been here before, but never in the castle itself. The grounds are great though, with lots of woods and walks. Sadly, the Fry model railway museum has closed (if anyone has any update on this, that would be great. I like trains too). On the list to revisit.
  • The Hugh Lane Gallery. It houses works by  Louis le Brocquy, Jack B Yeats, Francis Bacon and Harry Clarke, among others. There’s nothing I love more than losing myself in an art gallery for an afternoon, so this is one I’m really looking forward to.
  • The National Archaeology Museum. The only thing more interesting than hanging out with dead people is hanging out with stuff dead people used to use. And there’s some super old-looking stuff here. A nice way to pass an afternoon. And it’s FREE, as are all the National Museums of Ireland – Collins Barracks in particular being worth a trip.
  • The National Library of Ireland. I want to visit here purely because I follow these guys on twitter and they sound like the nicest people in the universe. And as well as having lots of interesting stuff they have a cafe with food and talks and wine. I love it already.
  • The Science Gallery – “a venue where today’s white-hot scientific issues are thrashed out and you can have your say. A place where ideas meet and opinions collide” – don’t neutrons also collide, and stuff? (Or perhaps I’m in urgent need of a visit to educate myself.) This place sounds very exciting altogether and it’s also FREE to visit. Exhibitions change quite often though, so checking in advance is a must before travelling.
  • IMMA, or the Irish Museum of Modern Art. Having worked pretty much beside this for the last three months, the building and the gardens have been tantalisingly tempting me from the window.  I went to see Blur in the garden this week, and figure it’d be rude not the pay the amazing building a visit. This will be one of the first places on my list.
  • Somewhere I never knew existed, but somewhere I now can’t wait to see, is Casino Marino. I’m told it’s an architectural delight, and they’re another crew who seem to know how to work the social media thing, which always endears me, so this is somewhere I’ll be visiting sooner rather than later.
  • Since we’ve been lucky enough to live in relatively peaceful times, I’m not sure I know or appreciate nearly enough about the Irish people who fought in wars down the years, so I figure the Irish National War Memorial Gardens  is a good spot to learn a bit. Edywn Lutyens who designed it considered it a “glorious site”, so I’m sure I shall too.
  • The Gallery of Photography. While I’m pretty useless at taking photos myself, other people’s mesmerise me. I love seeing real life moments captured in one fleeting flash of immortality. Plus there’s an intriguing exhibition on called Uncertain State, which looks at how photographic artists are representing this austere, uncertain time in Ireland’s history. Nearby are the National Photographic Archives, also worth a look.
  • Speaking of Archives, the National Archives on Bishop Street, off Kevin Street sound intriguing – they hold the records of the modern Irish State “which document its historical evolution and the creation of our national identity”. History there on paper in front of your eyes. There’s also a genealogy service.
  • If print is your thing, you might enjoy the National Print Museum. Particularly if you’re a heavy user of digital, like myself. I love the look of the building too. And I like fonts.
  • For a rainy afternoon, there are two great cinema experiences in the city centre. The Irish Film Institute (IFI) provides audiences with access to the finest independent, Irish and international cinema. And – bonus – they serve food, and it’s great. And they serve beer. The Lighthouse Cinema  is a specialist, art house cinema committed to programming the best Irish and international films, and it too is a great space, with its own bar.
  • Living the Lockout – the Dublin Tenement Experience was recommended by a friend. An event to commemorate the centenary of the 1913 Lockout, it  aims to give you “a rare opportunity to see inside an undisturbed tenement property and get a taste of life 100 years ago in Dublin”. It’s not suitable for children, which suggests it could pack a punch or two. It’s also very reasonably priced, and is finishing its run on 31st August.
  • Outdoorsy stuff – I’ve been told I need to head out to Howth for a day and climb to Howth Head, and afterwards stuff my face in one (or more) of the great seafood restaurants out there. Fortunately I’ve already done this numerous times, but if you haven’t, you should. The Bloody Stream is a great spot for pub grub and I believe if you’re on a budget, the Doghouse Café opposite is BYO.
  • More outdoorsy stuff – the Irish Canoe Union do lessons during the summer months, in the Strawberry Beds, Lucan and on the Liffey. If you like to paddle your own canoe and discover you have an aptitude, The Liffey Descent may even lie in your future.
  • One place I do intend to take a trip out to Howth for is the Hurdy Gurdy Museum of Vintage Radio (what a great name!). Based in Howth’s Martello Tower (North #2!), they museum exhibits radios and gramophones from the early 1900’s to present day, They’re also on twitter where they form a great double act with the James Joyce Tower in Sandycove, another place on my list. Tower rivalry FTW!
  • I didn’t include Kilmainham Gaol on my list originally, purely because I’ve been there twice myself, but if you haven’t been it’s a truly memorable experience that won’t leave you in a hurry. Access by guided tour only – get there early; it’s worth it and it will leave its mark.
  •  For over 1,000 years of history, go visit Christ Church Cathedral and environs. Say hello to Strongbow, and learn about the Vikings in nearby Dublinia. Christ Church is really awesome – and if you can get in there for one of the recitals, do.
  • Rathfarnham Castle, the Dublin Mountains, especially the Hellfire Club and Massey’s Forest, and the bottle tower near Nutgrove.
  • St. Anne’s Park over in Raheny has been mentioned to me, by virtue of its award-winning rose garden.
  • The Sunday Market in the People’s Park in Dun Laoghaire is a gem, and having tried the falafel, I can vouch for this.

Tours and guides

  • I’m told that Ingenious Ireland go great guides – I haven’t checked them out but they claim on their website to celebrate Irish inventions & discoveries, with really interesting Dublin guided tours, talks, downloads & e-book.

This is just a short list of things that have been suggested to me to see, but of course there are many more and I’m trying to update this weekly.  Again, if you have suggestions, please pop them in the comments below and I’ll add them in – this is a work in progress!