Cemetery, Glasnevin  

Dead Interesting: Stories from the Graveyards of Dublin


Stories of famous, infamous, and just plain interesting Irish people interred in Glasnevin and other Dublin cemeteries including Mount Jerome, Bullys Acre, the Huguenot Cemetery and the Jewish Cemetery.


From the simplest slab of weathered stone to the most imposing monument, every marker in Glasnevin Cemetery bears witness to a life that, in ways small or large, helped shape the history and culture of the Irish state. Shane MacThomáis offers a fascinating insight into some of these lives in this book. Within its pages, you'll meet not only the heroes of the Irish fight for freedom, such as Michael Collins and Éamon de Valera, but also lesser-known Irish men and women who made important contributions to the state in the arts, sports, military service, politics and other areas of Irish life.

Glasnevin Cemetery, encompassing Mount Jerome, Bully's Acre, the Huguenot Cemetery and the Jewish Cemetery, has great national significance through the social and historical influence of the people buried there from all walks of life over 178 years. Famous people interred there include the founder of the cemetery, Daniel O'Connell, as well as Charles Stewart Parnell, Anne Devlin, O'Donovan Rossa, Christy Brown, Brendan Behan and Luke Kelly.

To find out more about Glasnevin Cemetery and Shane MacThomais, click here.





Dr Peter Harbison

It is often quipped that Glasnevin Cemetery is the dead centre of Dublin. But the fact is that there is not one but a number of dead centres of the capital city. In the past, books such as Vivien Igoes Dublin Burial Grounds & Graveyards have been successful in encompassing most or all of them within a single volume. This present volume makes no pretensions to complete coverage. Instead, it takes us on a leisurely and above all entertaining stroll through a select number of the citys cemeteries, of which Glasnevin stands pre-eminent as the national necropolis, sacred ground wherein lie the remains of so many famous people who formed and framed the history of Ireland for the last 200 years.
The author is Glasnevin's greatest guide, a man who knows more of the combined history of Glasnevin's dead than anyone alive, and who demonstrates his knowledge with humour and aplomb when he is giving his tours around the cemetery. That same humour, but also appreciation of the human tragedy attached to many of the famous dead who lie there, comes across in the pages of this book. While concentrating on Glasnevin which he loves best it also covers other cemeteries within the city's bounds, regardless of creed or politics: Mount Jerome, the Bully's Acre and the Jewish Cemetery among others.
Shane has the ability and the wit to make all of this come alive, and to bring a smile to what many would regard as a doleful subject and to places which most people wouldnt want to be seen dead in! But Glasnevin itself has had a renaissance recently. The vision of two recent chairmen of the Glasnevin Trust Gavin Caldwell and John Green the cemeterys CEO, George McCullough, and the horticulturist Philip Ryan and his team, have made the place a joy to walk around, with new paths, restored monuments and well-pruned trees. The impression given is of a place well-cared for and showing honour to the dead, though it is a never-ending job requiring effort and money to show people from home and abroad what a national treasure Glasnevin is: a point most recently underlined by the wonderful new award-winning museum building at the cemetery's entrance.
What makes this book fascinating are the stories that Shane tells about those whose remains lie buried within Glasnevins towering walls. These are not just about the famous, of which there are obviously many, but also those ordinary folk who never made it into the nation's history books, who may have died from disease or disturbance, from the tragedy of weapons and wounds of war on various continents of the world, or who gave their lives to achieve the liberty which we enjoy and thank them for today. The stories range from the heroic to the macabre, from the heart-rending to the humorous, and that, and its great variety, is what makes this book such a lively read. Shane is a master of the tale well told, and he has that rare ability to transmit his enthusiasm to his listeners, a gift which I hope will also be appreciated by the readers of this volume which is issued by the Glasnevin Trust with the wish expressed by reviewers of every good book, namely, that it will have a long and interesting shelf-life.


Prior to the establishment of Prospect, later Glasnevin Cemetery, Irish Catholics had no cemetery of their own in which to bury their dead, as the repressive Penal Laws of the eighteenth century placed heavy restrictions on the public performance of Catholic services. This situation continued until an incident at a funeral held in Dublin provoked a public outcry when a Protestant sexton reprimanded a Catholic priest for proceeding to perform a limited version of a funeral mass.
The outcry prompted Daniel O'Connell, champion of Catholic rights, to launch a campaign and prepare a legal opinion proving that there was actually no law passed forbidding praying for a dead Catholic in a graveyard. O Connell pushed for the opening of a burial ground in which both Irish Catholics and Protestants could give their dead dignified burial.
With the passing of the Act of Easement of Burial Bill in 1824, a committee was formed to administer the proposed cemetery. A small plot of land had been acquired for this purpose at Goldenbridge, Dublin, but soon proved insufficient in size. After some investigation a second site, amounting to nine acres, was bought at Glasnevin, to be named Prospect Cemetery. Monsignor Yore consecrated the land in September 1831 and five months later young Michael Carey was the first person to be buried there. The original entrance to the cemetery was located at Prospect Square, but was moved to the Finglas Road in 1879.
On 14 June 1998, at 2.30 p.m., I was wandering around the pathways of Glasnevin Cemetery reading the headstones of countless men and women from Irish history. I had been invited to interview for the position of tour guide by George McCullough. Tired of answering the endless requests from visitors about the graves of the famous, the Dublin Cemeteries Committee had decided to run walking tours. The interview went well and I was offered the position. George had a great sense of how important Glasnevin Cemetery was historically, but this emphasis had been somewhat lost with the day-to-day running of a 170-year-old graveyard.
Over the following years free tours were run and I read every book, journal and newspaper I could get my hands on about death, burial and the people buried within Glasnevin. Often the funerals were recorded as momentous events that captured the zeitgeist, like those of O'Donovan Rossa or Parnell. Yet in the case of the latter, the reports focused on the huge crowds but forgot to mention that Kitty, the woman he had given up his political career for, didn't attend his funeral as she was too distraught to travel. In other cases ordinary Dubliners with equally fascinating tales to tell were buried in anonymity and often unrecorded.
My father Eamonn was a great help to me in my new job as tour guide. He shared every nugget of information he had and pointed me in the right direction, time and time again. He opened his library to me and always had time for my endless questions. Da used to say that for a tour, book or lecture to be of interest, you needed to do four things. One, you needed to tell people something they already know; two, tell them something they dont; three, make them laugh; and four, make them cry.
Da died in 2002 and while standing, heartbroken, amongst the crowd at his funeral, he gave me one last insight. For at his funeral I caught a glimpse of his life that I had never seen while he lived. The gathering of people could be described as nothing short of eclectic. Every shade of politics was present, from the communist reds to the green ultra nationalists. But the divergences were not just in politics. Lollypop women stood beside Trinity professors, while balladeers and newsreaders looked at each other's shoes. It was at that point that I realised that a funeral was, in a way, a short biography of a persons life and that so much could be learned from one. Who was there and why and, often more importantly, who wasn't and why not? From that point on I never lifted a biography without skipping to the last chapter to see what was written about the funeral.
This book is a collection of forty-eight tales that I hope give you an added insight into the lives of the amazing men, women and children who once walked around Dublin, as Mr Joyce calls them, the faithful departed.
Shane MacThomais

Father Browne:

Sometimes it pays to listen to your gaffer, as was the case when Fr Francis Browne was ordered off a ship, en route to New York, by his Jesuit boss.
Fr Browne was born in Cork in 1880. He was educated at the Christian Brothers College, Cork, Belvedere College, Dublin, and the Royal University Dublin (now University College Dublin), where one of his fellow students was James Joyce. Joyce went on to immortalise his classmate as Mr Browne, the Jesuit in the pages of Finnegans Wake. At the age of seventeen, along with his brother Willie, Browne set out on a tour of Europe. Armed with a Kodak box camera, he embarked on what was to be his other vocation in life, photography.
When Browne arrived back in Ireland, he entered the Jesuit order and began his noviceship. He spent three years in Italy and returned to Belvedere College where he taught Latin, Greek and English. On 3 April 1912, his Uncle Robert sent him a letter containing a first-class ticket for the first two legs of the maiden voyage of the Titanic. The first leg of the voyage took the Titanic to Cherbourg in France and the second leg was to Queenstown (Cobh), County Cork. Once aboard Fr Browne photographed the liner, passengers and members of crew, including Captain Edward Smith cutting a lonely figure on the promenade deck. He also took the only photograph of the ship's Marconi room. It was from this room that the fatal word I-C-E-B-E-R-G would be tapped out.
When the Titanic reached Cobh, an American millionaire offered to pay for him to stay on the ship for the final leg to New York. Fr Browne eagerly contacted his boss, the Provincial Superior of the Jesuits, to ask if he could stay on board. His reply was a curt, 'Get off that ship'. The young novice duly complied. When news broke that the Titanic had sunk, his photographs were published in newspapers across the world, and Fr Browne, the Jesuit snapper, became a household name.
Fr Browne was ordained on 31 July 1915. With the First World War raging, he joined the 1st Battalion of the Irish Guards and served on the front line at the Somme, Ypres and Passchendaele. He was injured on five separate occasions, as well as being gassed, and was awarded the Military Cross and Bar and the Croix de Guerre. His commanding officer, Colonel (later Field-Marshal) Alexander described him as 'the bravest man I have ever met'.
Fr Browne returned to Belvedere College to teach in 1920. In October that same year, when former Belvedere student Kevin Barry was facing execution, Fr Browne cycled to the Vice-Regal Lodge in Dublins Phoenix Park to make a personal appeal on his behalf. This was during the Irish War of Independence and Barry had been arrested as a member of the IRA taking part in an attack on a British patrol. But alas Browne's appeal was to no avail and the eighteen-year-old student was executed the following morning.
In 1922 Fr Browne was appointed superior of St Francis Xavier's church on Gardiner Street, Dublin. It was at this stage that he began to take his famous photographs of Dublin. By the time he shot his final roll of film in 1957 he had accumulated over 42,000 negatives.
Fr Francis Browne died on 7 July 1960 and his funeral took place on 9 July at the Jesuit plot in Glasnevin Cemetery. With some poignancy, a photograph was taken as they laid this celluloid chronicler of Irish life to rest.

'[MacThomais] has a great knowledge of graveyards and a great knack for storytelling'

- The Irish Times


'...a treasure trove of the fascinating, the tragic and the unexplainable'

- The Independent


'...a fascinating insight'

- Ireland's Own