The sun shone on the Finglas Road in Dublin today when An Taoiseach, Brian Cowen, opened the wonderful new museum at Glasnevin Cemetery, which might be described as Ireland’s equivalent to America’s Arlington.
It’s unusual for a cemetery to have a museum attached to it, and it may all seem a bit gruesome when one is told that the underground crypt of the museum provides an interactive resource on the whole range of human belief about death and dying, known as City of the Dead. Actually, it is a most fascinating and engaging presentation. As well as telling the story of the history of the graves, it also describes the work of the body snatchers who dug up remains to sell to medical students.
Famous political figures buried in the cemetery include its founder, Daniel O’Connell, as well as Michael Collins, Eamon De Valera, Charles Stewart Parnell, O’Donovan Rossa, Arthur Griffiths and Countess Markiewicz. One of the first exhibitions at the centre will be on Daniel O’Connell, who set up the cemetery in 1832 for the purpose of burying “people of all religions and none”. A significant number of Irish people who lost their lives in the two World Wars of the twentieth century, as well as the Crimean War, are buried in Glasnevin.
The dominant monument in the cemetery apart from the museum is the recently restored round tower, the final resting place of Daniel O’Connell, who having given his heart to Rome and his soul to heaven, wished his body to go to Glasnevin. Completed in 1869, the tower is the tallest in Ireland, standing 168 feet.
The cemetery now encloses an area of 120 acres, where roughly a million and a quarter people have been buried. With burial land becoming scarcer, Glasnevin was the first place in the Republic of Ireland to offer an alternative and cheaper way of disposing of human remains by introducing cremation in 1982. The museum contains a section in which beliefs about cremation, and some of the details of the process, are explained.
The museum also has a roll of honour of great inhabitants, genealogical research facilities, a 70-seater restaurant and a panoramic viewing gallery. Rather than being a ghoulish and gloomy place, Glasnevin Museum provides a stroll through Irish history as it provides an opportunity to walk among the remains of those who have significantly affected the life of this island in the last 175 years. It is certainly worth a visit, particularly if the standard of fare on offer in the restaurant continues at the same high level as we enjoyed today.