A cemetery may be the last place anyone would think of as being a tourist attraction but the concept may not be so strange after all. Paris has Pere Lachaise, Rome has its catacombs, Vienna its ZentraIfriedhof, Washington has Arlington and London presents spooky Highgate Cemetery. Dublin’s necropolis, Glasnevin Cemetery is a ‘must see’ for anyone visiting the city with a little time to spare. But always remember, while such visits are primarily to see the final resting places of the famous or indeed the infamous, cemeteries demand respect, especially towards those visiting who are still raw with recent loss.
Cemeteries have only been around in Ireland for a couple of centuries. Previous to that the deceased were buried in small churchyards attached to local churches. After the 18th century, with the massive growth in urbanisation and the population increase due to improved medical advances, traditional burial grounds proved to be inadequate. From the 1800s larger burial grounds, unattached to churches, were established but, like the church graveyards, these were initially Protestant-run. Catholics had a right to be buried but prayers and ceremonies of that religion were severely curtailed.
Following the 1824 ‘Act of Easement of Burial’, multi and non-denominational cemeteries were allowed. Daniel O’Connell, famed in Ireland as the Liberator on account of achieving Roman Catholic Emancipation in 1829 from the dreaded anti-Catholic Penal Laws, determined to open a cemetery where all religions and none could carry out burials in their own traditions. His Catholic Association opened Goldenbridge Cemetery in Inchicore in 1828. A larger cemetery at Prospect, in Glasnevin on Dublin’s northside, was opened in February 1832. Never one to be thwarted by the establishment, O’Connell bypassed the then tolls applicable on the roads approaching the cemetery by simply cutting a new road between them. His outwitting of the toll gatherers led to his reputation of being able to “drive a coach and six (horses) through Acts of Parliament.”
Sadly, and perhaps reflecting the high infant and child mortality of the time, the first internment was that of eleven-year old Michael Carey from Francis Street in the inner city. He was, of course, quickly followed by many more until today, over one and a half million people lie in repose in Glasnevin thus equalling the total living population!