Browsing through Twitter at the weekend I came across the hashtag #gcmbloggers being tweeted from a group of Dublin Bloggers visiting Glasnevin Museum and Cemetery. The tweets reminded me that I’d told the girls that, during the summer holidays, I’d take them to Glasnevin to visit the resting place of their great grandparents. So yesterday (Monday) we push-started the car, which was having one of its (many) moments, and took a spin up to Dublin.
The last time I was at Glasnevin Cemetery was over twenty years ago. There’s a new cemetery, and a new carpark, across the road from the original cemetery, that I don’t remember being there before. I was able to park the car there for €2, safe in the knowledge that there was CCTV keeping track of anyone who might be disillusioned enough to think my little crock might get them anywhere fast.
As you can see from the photo above, the museum is just inside the main entrance gates. The building also houses a café, and a well stocked shop that sells all sorts of souvenirs and books about Dublin history and the famous people that are buried at Glasnevin Cemetery.
If you’re looking for the location of a particular plot you can find this out at the information desk in the shop. You can also buy a ticket for a tour of the cemetery, which is what we did. It cost us €25 for a family ticket and it was worth it. The tour took around 90 minutes and I felt I learnt more history from our fantastic tour guide (Bridget), than I can remember learning in school. Of course, maybe I’ve just more of an interest in the past….now that I’m getting ‘ould’.
O’Connell’s Tower is the impressive structure inside the main entrance gates. The tower stands 170 feet tall and rises from the crypt where the remains of Daniel O’Connell are interred.
Bridget told us that at one time a wooden stairs used to run all the way to the top of the tower, from where you could see the Cooley mountains, the Wicklow mountains, and on a fine day you could see Wales. But in 1971 a bomb explosion destroyed the staircase so there was no more sightseeing from the top.
The cemetery tour took in the crypt, where Daniel O’Connell’s coffin was placed in 1869, some 22 years after he passed away in Genoa on a pilgrimage to Rome.
The crypt was refurbished and officially opened in 2009. During the refurbishment one section of the wall was left in its original state as can be seen from the photo below. It certainly gives a gauge for comparison purposes.
As a child I’m pretty sure I can remember peering through the gates of the crypt from the outside and not being able to see a whole lot. It’s fantastic that it’s open to the public now.
The wall behind the tombstone (which is made from Kilkenny marble) bears the inscription:
My body to Ireland
My heart to Rome
My soul to Heaven
These words represent the wishes of Daniel O’Connell on his death. While his body is interred at Glasnevin, it seems that the location of his heart is unknown. It was supposed to have been embalmed, placed in a silver casket, and subsequently placed in the chapel of San Agata dei Goti, in the grounds of the Irish college in Rome. A monument was erected above it. But, in 1905, when the Irish college was being moved to San Giovanni and the monument was moved, the casket was found to be missing. It has never been found. Some think that it could be lying in a vault of the Bank of Italy which extended into the crypt of San Agata dei Goti. Others wonder whether O’Connell’s heart was ever removed from his body.
If the silver casket exists I don’t think I’d like to be the bank employee that stumbles across it some day and opens it to see what’s in it.
Despite the bad luck that befell his heart, it’s supposed to be very good luck to touch O’Connell’s coffin three times. His coffin can be seen and touched through the openings in the crypt. I touched the coffin three times and I played the Euro millions this evening, so hopefully my luck will come through. Then again, maybe I was lucky enough that the car started later that afternoon and got us home.
Back to the tour!
The tour took us to De Valera’s graveside, and as you can see from the photo, it had been raining while we were in the crypt. It rained when we came out of the crypt too, unfortunately.
Maud Gonne MacBride is also buried at Glasnevin. I find the story of her relationship with Major John MacBride so desperately sad. In fact, there are such sad stories behind so many of the more famous graves in Glasnevin that if I was to post them here I’d cry my eyes out.
I couldn’t possibly post all the stories and anecdotes that Bridget relayed to us yesterday. It was just an amazing tour, and as I’ve said, I felt I learnt more about Irish history on the tour than I did in all the years I did in school. You could spend several hours among the headstones in Glasnevin, and if you’d a handbook or even a mobile internet connection you’d have learnt an awful lot about the history of Dublin and Ireland by the time you’d leave.
After the tour we walked around the museum. From the viewing windows above we could look out on a small section of the cemetery, which will give you some idea, if you haven’t been there, of the sheer size of the cemetery.
After that we set about finding my grandparents grave. I’d been prepared to spend a bit of time searching, but, thankfully, it’s a lot easier to find a grave in Glasnevin these days than it was since I was last there. The really nice staff at the desk in the shop gave me a map with a reference number written on it and directions marked out. Every tenth grave or so is marked on the back with a reference number which meant that we found the grave very quickly.
I looked for my great-grandparents’ grave but couldn’t find it, and I searched for a marker that I knew had recently been put on an unmarked relative’s grave (a baby girl) but I couldn’t find this either. The staff in the museum were fantastic and searched for me on their computer system but, unfortunately, I didn’t have any dates for them, so for my next visit I’ll have to research those. I just hope it’s not another twenty years before I get to go back.