Prior to the opening of Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin, Catholics had nowhere to bury their dead due to the repressive Penal Laws. It was Daniel O’ Connell who campaigned for the establishment of a burial ground in which both Catholics and Protestants could bury their dead with dignity.
So it was then, that on February 22nd, 1832, the small coffin of Michael Carey, a young boy from Francis Street in Dublin, was placed into a little patch of ground on Dublin’s northside. From such humble beginnings arose a national cemetery, which,so far, has become the resting place of over one million people.
Glasnevin now covers over 124 acres and is the last resting place of such famous people as Daniel O’Connell himself, Michael Collins and his fiancée, Kitty Kiernan, Newmarket born, John Philpott Curran, Charles Stewart Parnell, Kevin Barry, Brendan Behan, Harry Boland, Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington to mention just a few.
The cemetery contains over 800,000 unmarked graves. Daniel O’ Connell wanted the poor of Dublin to have a burial place so the funerals of those with no money came from the Magdalene Laundries, the Union and the Workhouses and the poor from the tenements of Dublin.
Life was cheap in the tenements. The buildings themselves were structural death traps. It was said that even driving a nail in a wall could cause the wall to collapse. With all cooking, cleaning and heating done in the same room on an open fire of turf or coal, the risk of fire was huge. Diseases such as TB, diphtheria, smallpox, respiratory problems and typhoid caused thousands of deaths. Children had no shoes and walked in the mud and filth of the streets and often gangrene set in on cut feet. There were no drugs such as penicillin and having a diet of mostly bread and tea, they were unable to withstand such attacks and often these simple cuts proved fatal.
At this time, the poverty, injustice and hardship in Dublin was unparalleled in any other European city.
To be continued:
(From: Glasnevin, Ireland’s Necropolis by Shane MacThomáis).