Glasnevin Cemetery is one of the most important historical sites in Ireland. Located in Dublin, this large cemetery is situated in the neighborhood Glasnevin. Glasnevin stands for”stream of the infants”, also known as Glas Naedhe, meaning “stream of O’Naeidhe” after a local stream. This graveyard earned the Glasnevin area the cute nickname of “the dead center of Dublin”.
The cemetery is known for its rich history and incredibly beautiful Celtic cross grave monuments. Let’s enter the gates and explore this historic site!
Glasnevin Cemetery opened its gates to the dead of Ireland in 1832. The burial grounds span 124 acres and hold a stunning number of 1.5 million(!) corpses. Yes, that’s 1.5 m-i-l-l-i-o-n. This includes around 800.000 people who died during the Great Famine of the 1840s and the deaths of the cholera epidemic that followed in later years, who were buried in unmarked graves.
The cemetery is incredibly large and consists of two parts: the main one behind the main entrance and another part across the road, which I didn’t get to visit. There’s also a cemetery museum right next to the main entrance.
But here’s a little timewarp – there are almost 2 years in between my visit, which was in June 2019, and me actually sitting down today and writing up this review in April 2021. Besides being a busy deathfluencer these days, my other excuse for not finishing this review earlier is because I lost half of the footage I shot there due to a hard disk error. There’s still enough to put together a good piece I think, but there was so much more I had wanted to cover of this beautiful cemetery.
Conclusion: the 1,4 million dead of Glasnevin Cemetery must summon me back – after the current pandemic is over.
The most prominent monument at Glasnevin Cemetery is the round tower of Daniel O’Connell – which is the tallest of its kind in the entirety of Ireland.
You can see the tower from every spot in the cemetery, towering out above the headstones and trees. The round tower is 55 meters high and contains a crypt with a burial vault that holds the remains of Daniel O’Connell. According to his final wish, his heart was buried in Rome and his body here at Glasnevin. Daniel, aka “The Liberator”, was the political leader of Ireland’s Roman Catholic majority during the first half of the 19th century.
The repressive Penal Laws of the 18th century placed heavy restrictions on the public performance of Catholic services. Because of this, Catholics had to conduct a restricted version of their own funeral services in Protestant graveyards. The Catholics had no graveyard of their own to bury their dead, and Daniel thought it was time to change this. He launched a campaign proving there was no actual law passed forbidding praying for a dead Catholic in a graveyard.
As a result, Glasnevin Cemetery was consecrated on the 21st of February 1832. It was opened as a burial ground where both Irish Catholics and Protestants could be buried, and today it is still open to burials of all religions. Daniel O’Connell was buried here on August 5, 1847.
On January 17th 1971, loyalist bombers attempted to blow up the tower by placing 10 pounds of explosives at the base. The explosion blew out every window in the tower and the entire staircase, but the structure of the tower itself miraculously survived. It took almost half a century before enough funds and interest were raised to restore the tower, and in 2013 it reopened to the public. I didn’t go inside this time but would love to see inside the crypt during my next visit.
In between the rows of Celtic crosses and elaborate grave monuments are fields with simples headstones, and clear parts overgrown with wildflowers. But even if these more empty spaces give one a sense of peace and quiet, the ground underneath is still filled with the many corpses who found their final resting spot here at Glasnevin Cemetery.
Now, it is almost two years ago since my visit. But I do clearly remember how I felt when I was here, roaming these fields and pathways. Knowing so many dead lay buried here, and so much of Dublin’s history came to an end here, one could assume it might feel eerie. Eerier perhaps than being at a smaller cemetery with only a couple thousand corpses underground. But I felt no such eerie feels at all. I just marveled at the beauty of this place, at the headstones, at the wildflowers.
Glasnevin cemetery is a very well-kept graveyard, which is what helps make your visit feel more light and easy. The energy of the people who take care of this place and put their love into it is mixed with the ones who are at peace here, making it a great historic sight that draws many tourists from near and far.
This must be the most beautifully decorated Celtic cross grave monument I’ve ever seen. The biblical engravings are exquisite.
One of the most epic graves I found here was this one, the mausoleum of Cardinal McCabe. He was the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Dublin from 1879 until his death in 1885. Having come from poor parents, McCabe earned his education at Maynooth and was ordained a priest in 1839. As a parish priest of Kingstown, he later became the Archbishop of Dublin and then a Cardinal in 1882. His mausoleum was made by sculptor Sir Thomas Farrell.
I couldn’t resist posing with the angel wings, like any good graveyardgirl would want to.
Look at this amazing work of art! Is it a church? Nope. It’s a grave! I wouldn’t mind having this gorgeous Gothic chapel as a grave monument either. The detail in this work is incredible.
Above you see the grave monument for Patrick Rocca, a businessman who ended his own life in 2009, at the age of 42. Patrick Rocca was a member of one of Ireland’s most prominent business families and the former owner of Rocca Tiles. A large number of mourners attended the funeral, including celebrities from the sports, broadcasting, and politics industries.
I loved exploring the graves at Glasnevin Cemetery and I hope you enjoyed coming along with me! If you want to go check it out for yourself, the cemetery is opened all year round between 9 am and 5 pm. You can find more information about the cemetery museum and the various guided tours they organize on their website.
Not only does this cemetery tell you a lot about the history of Ireland and Dublin, but it is also the perfect place to contemplate mortality, and exit through the gates with a new perspective on this wonderful life.
Photos of me were shot by the ever-fabulous Nona Limmen, who joined me on my visit to Dublin. Also, I had my first pint of Guinness while exploring Dublin with her, and have been hooked ever since.
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