1916 Easter Rising Series
And I thought it was going to be an easy-breezy stroll in the park. It is an unusually warm day, not a single cloud over Dublin; the perfect weather for a tour in Glasnevin Cemetery. But beautiful weather is a tempting distraction and I am soon running from one tomb to another, trying to keep up with my guide hoping I am not missing anything she says, and apologising to any dead people whose gravestones I might have stepped on inadvertently.
Finglas Road, Dublin
A Cemetery For All
Our guide starts her tour on the first floor of the cemetery museum, a beautiful, modern building on the edge of the cemetery that curiously doesn’t feel at odds with the century-old chapel and tower standing just a few meters away.
Opened in 1832 at the initiative of Daniel O’Connell, a leading figure in the Irish fight for Catholic emancipation, this non-denominational cemetery was to allow Catholics, and anyone else, to bury their dead with dignity.
The cemetery has spread from its initial nine acres to more than 124 acres today, a place where you will find more people buried than actually living in Dublin. A scene from a zombie movie flashes for one second before my eyes...
A Top-Notch Guide
For those not very familiar with the 1916 events, Bridget the Guide draws the main lines of Irish contemporary history and introduces the visitors to the circumstances leading to the 1916 Rising. She commands her audience and we listen attentively while the facts are clearly laid in front of us, our curiosity stirred. It is now time to meet those who played a part in the story. Before we go, she makes us look at our shoes as if we were going to climb the Wicklow Mountains…
Without any more delay, Bridget leads the group to the first tomb. Symbolically it is also the tomb of the first rebel to die during the Easter Rising, Sean Connolly. We’ll see many more following Bridget’s energetic pace. But none of the leaders executed in 1916 in Kilmainham Jail. They were buried in Harbour Hill prison.
Bridget is a bible of knowledge and seems unable to refrain herself from sharing details and anecdotes. Far from getting bored, I’m hoping I am not missing out on any information while slightly distracted by the beauty of the place; I pause momentarily to take pictures of the light piercing through the trees.
History Is All Around Us
Reaching the Republican plot, we get to listen to the re-enactment of Patrick Pearse’s oration at the graveside of Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa, a leading nationalist who died in 1915. Prominent figures are all around us: Éamon DeValera, Harry Boland, Countess Markievicz and many more. James Larkins, a famous trade union leader whose statue you might have seen on O’Connell Street, is also buried here.
Bridget is in full swing pointing at famous graves everywhere around her and sharing all the facts and anecdotes she can in the limited time she has. There is so much so say and so much to learn.
Inside The Round Tower
We are now heading to the O’Connell Tower. Designed from the traditional round towers that you can still see in Glendalough or in Kilkenny, the Tower got an upgrade from the architect’s original plan. It was built taller and wider than expected, looming over the cemetery like a 51 meter high lighthouse.
Bridget opens the crypt at the bottom which contains Daniel O’Connell’s coffin and the remains of family members. We all enter ceremoniously conscious to be in one of the most sacred places in Ireland. Touching Daniel O’Connell’s coffin supposedly brings good luck. I imagine him grabbing my hand while I plunge my arm into one of the holes in the stone sarcophagus covering the coffin. Time to leave I think.
Michael and Kitty
Keeping the best for the end, we are back to where we started. Just beside the museum rests Michael Collins. A national hero, he was buried in a very distinctive plot away from any other gravestones and covered with flowers, some official, some from secret admirers. Like a final dash of romanticism, his fiancée Kitty Kiernan was buried not far from where Collins lies.
Two hours of a highly interesting tour in the company of a highly knowledgeable guide. I would recommend this tour to anyone with an interest in Irish History. Due its very specificity, I would suggest however to brush up your history before joining the 1916 Rising Tour or you will be left with only the beautiful setting of the cemetery to contemplate.
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