With last years 1916 celebrations there was a surge in interest for many of the iconic tours for tourists and many Irish themselves wanting to learn more about that one moment in history that changed a nation.
It’s now 2017 and the interest has not been lost, last year put us on the map again with nations throughout the world celebrating Ireland’s rebellion. I’m sure by now many have visited the likes of Kilmainham Gaol, The GPO and the Garden of Remembrance all as important as one another but what about Glasnevin Cemetery?
Yesterday I was lucky enough to take in one of their 1916 tours which I was astounded by. I would like to think I was fairly well read up on most things Irish history as it’s something I’ve always had a great interest in. That said I was left shocked and utterly amazed at many of the stories behind some of the great leaders of this country.
Upon arrival I met up with Historian Conor Dodd who first showed me around their now famous museum. This is somewhere I can promise will take the interest of both young and old, from 1916 uniforms to information on all of the leaders.
Then I was taken into another room where the Proclamation hangs. Conor explained all about the stories of how it was printed. At that time printers weren’t like they are today so getting something like this produced was a skill in itself. He explained further how the printers struggled with some of the words as many of the letters needed were unavailable. If you look close enough the “C” in Republic was originally an “O”.
From there we travelled downstairs “the underground” and I was told of the stories behind the grave robbers, and how the cemetery tried to prevent this common practice at the time from happening. While here you will also be treated to a rather beautiful wall piece that names people who died in the Rising accompanied by items that depicted the people they were. To me this is iconic in it’s own right. Some see the people involved in the Rising as rebels who just wanted a war. They weren’t, they were normal people like us all that simply wanted their own country free of occupation.
Next up we entered the graveyard itself. For me this was the most exciting part of the entire tour. Everyone knows the names of the people buried here so it was something I was really looking forward to taking in.
Without doubt Conor’s knowledge of the people buried in this cemetery is nothing short of brilliant. Although the stories are quite somber there are some that would bring a smile to anyone’s face including one about a well-known bird that didn’t meet a happy ending while taking a trip over the cemetery.
With 120 acres of grounds there is so much to see, from the likes of Kevin Barry and Arthur Griffith. When I first spotted Arthur’s headstone I was surprised by what I found. Most of the iconic figures all have beautifully crafted headstones his? Well it looked somewhat unfinished. I was then informed that this was what his family had requested when he died. He had died with unfinished work in what some could say an unfinished Ireland.
This fact along with others on the tour will capture any audience. While travelling throughout the cemetery I got to see many other well-known graves including that of Grace Gifford who married Joseph Plunkett the night before his execution at Kilmainham and Éamon de Valera. It isn’t just the well known names that took my interest though it was the stories of those buried in the cemetery that I had never heard of before but that had given their lives for Ireland.
Finally we came to the end of the tour and we finished off with a man that almost everyone will know – Michael Collins. It was no surprise to see the grave covered in flowers. He would be one of the leaders that rarely sparks too much debate on whether he was the good guy or bad guy because he was very much liked, as Connor joked Liam Neeson’s portal of him in the 1996 film named after himself didn’t do his profile any harm either.
There is so much more I could say about the entire day. I left with so much more knowledge on the topic then I ever thought I could. Conor also explained at the end why these tours have become so popular;
“The tours give us a different method of looking at history. Visitors can really connect and empathise with the stories of those who participated in and witnessed the significant events of our history. I think that on leaving here people are truly surprised at how a cemetery can bring the past to life”
It’s a tour of mixed emotions, but all fitted into the one day. It is something I would urge everyone to do if they get the chance, I will certainly be back again!
To check out all the information on the tours and also the museum click on this link.