This Sunday I had the pleasure to visit the biggest one I've been to yet. It is called Glasnevin Cemetery or Prospect Cemetery in Dublin. Odd or not, but as I guess, most of things/places/events in Ireland, this cemetery too was established as a result of the oppression of the Irish Catholics, therefore the Irish in general. They had no cemeteries of their own to bury their dead, there were many restrictions on the public performance of Catholic services so their funerals were done with a limited version of a Catholic funeral mass in a Protestant cemetery. So unnecessary if anyone would ask me but then again, who am to say, being not the most religious person in the world?
So, to protect the rights of all, it was Mr. Daniel O’Connell who’s efforts led to establishing Glasnevin Cemetery in 1832 for the purpose of burying “people of all religions and non”. There are graves and monuments of many great and famous Irish, including the founder of the Cemetery. His family crypt and the 51 meter O’Connell tower standing on it are the most famous architectural features of the Cemetery. These few facts are what one can read about the Cemetery. It is another thing to go there and “breath it all in”.
It was my first time in this famous Cemetery. I had read about it a little but never really cared about making sure I’ll see all the famous monuments or graves. What was more important to me was to go and admire people’s grief, if I can say so. It is remarkable how people in different religions and cultures grief or honor their dead. What I have learned through visiting different cemeteries, is - you may be poor, so poor you have no idea if you’ll have dinner today, but if a family member dies, there will be a good dear burial stone and site! People sometimes go a little extreme to make sure, their loved ones are being remembered and honored just as well as when they are alive or when they've departed from this life. Thoughts of human capability to feel love, hurt, joy or grief and the ability to move on in life after tragedy has struck, came to me. I wondered, is this, sometimes obsessive way of grooming graves, just a way to say goodbye or is it more of an inability to recognise what has happened and also not being able to let go and move on? I saw a grave of a five month old baby whose dying year was more than 50 years ago, yet there was a recently placed glass cubicle with flowers and a small statue of an angel sitting in it. So, I wondered, is it a mother who still visits this grave, is it a cousin or a brother/sister? Is it someone taking care of the grave for someone else? Why is it so well groomed after all this time? It was a small grave stone, sitting quite alone surrounded by old stones on which I could not even read the names of the dead anymore. It seemed weird, sad and noble at the same time.
In this forest of statues, monuments, Celtic crosses and tombs it was so easy to forget yourself and the others around you. I just kept walking along, reading the grave stones, and admiring the love that was engraved into every single one of them. In this country I have never seen a grave stone with a simple name of the dead and his date of birth and death. No. The nature or the etiquette or tradition goes that an almost short story is written: This is a final resting place of John Kelly of Rathmines, a beloved father and husband, a brother and a cousin who sadly passed away on 3rd of December 1845 being 39 years old. I even saw a monument for a family who died of an accidental poisoning! The story of their cause of death with a name of the place it happened was all nicely engraved into a big white stone. The shape of the stone was of a mother wearing large pair of spread wings and inside the wings were the four (!!!) children who had died, two on each side. I must say, it was sad, beautiful, scary and a little comical, all at the same time! Some grave stones would have photos of the dead, some would have small angels, crucifixes, beads... I recognised engravings on crosses I had no idea of their meaning. Besides the Celtic patterns there were also sheep standing on what seemed a cross that has fallen on its side, a heart with barbed wire tied around it. On tombs one can see scenes from the Bible. I imagine it would be ever so interesting to take a tour with someone who knows if not every single of the 1,5 million stories, then at least half of them! It was a good visit for a first one, for it is clear it will have to be a first of many!
So a tip for a visitor in Dublin: if you've been to all the pubs, done all the Irish dancing, experienced the craic, seen the museums, galleries and the coast- go enjoy a walk in the silence of Glasnevin Cemetery. As it may seem a grim choice, it is also an architectural walk back in time through the past 180 years and gives a good example of how to honor your ancestors! And – after a walk in the Cemetery you can simply walk in the gate next door to the National Botanic Gardens and admire the more lively part of our existence – the growth and bloom of plants, flowers, trees, squirrels... :)