Founded as a burial place for Catholics by the nationalist political leader Daniel O’Connell in 1832, Glasnevin Cemetery is now the national cemetery, open to all denominations and groaning with Celtic crosses, harps and other patriotic emblems. It’s well worth timing your visit to coincide with one of the fascinating ninety-minute guided tours, which includes access to the newly renovated crypt of O’Connell.
O’Connell himself is commemorated near the entrance by a fifty-metre-high round tower, which managed to survive a Loyalist bomb in the 1970s. His corpse was interred in the tower’s crypt in 1869, having been brought home from Genoa where he died (in fact, not all of his body is here: his heart was buried in Rome).
To the left of the round tower, O’Connell’s political descendant, Charles Stewart Parnell, who asked to be buried in a mass grave among the people of Ireland, is commemorated by a huge granite boulder from his estate at Avondale, County Wicklow. Other notable figures among the 1.2 million dead at Glasnevin – most of them gathered around O’Connell’s tower – include Countess Markiewicz, Éamon de Valera, prime minister, president and architect of modern Ireland, and his old rival Michael Collins, the most charismatic leader of the successful independence struggle; from the arts, there’s Gerard Manley Hopkins (unmarked, in the Jesuit plot), W.B. Yeats’s muse Maud Gonne MacBride, writer, drinker and Republican Brendan Behan, and Alfred Chester Beatty. To the right of the tower is the Republican plot, with a memorial to hunger strikers, from Thomas Ashe who died in 1917 to Bobby Sands in 1981, while in front of the tower lie the recent graves of 18-year-old Kevin Barry and eight other Volunteers hanged by the British during the War of Independence; originally buried in Mountjoy Prison, their bodies were moved here with the full honours of a state funeral in October 2001. For refreshment after your visit, call in at nearby Kavanagh’s (aka The Gravediggers), a particularly atmospheric old pub.