A matter of life and death

April in Ireland is rich with history, full of figures now remembered in perpetuity. What most don’t realise is how many of these men and women are now next door neighbours, lying among 1.5 million who’ve gone to the great beyond. A fascinating activity haunt for tourists interested in Ireland’s most famous political and cultural icons is a walking tour of Glasnevin Cemetery, where many are buried.
The two hour historical tour (there are several different themed tours) currently begins with a re-enactment of the cemetery’s most famous oration, that by Pádraig Pearse at O’Donovan Rossa’s grave, then moves on to the memory of the man who brought about its opening, Daniel O’Connell. The Liberator campaigned successfully for the opening of a cemetery for people of all religions. The first burial was in 1832. All the main residents are cited – from the world of arts, politics, militarism and general infamy – and the narrative contains a nice mixture of humour, trivia and sadness about the dead and their burials. The cemetery’s interesting social history is charted, as is its relationship with the city beyond these 124 acres.
Walking amidst the headstones and the swaying but protective trees, observing those visiting deceased loved ones, one cannot but feel a sense of wonder at where we end up and how it all ends, irrespective of achievement.
If there is one theme that runs through the tour it’s the irony of who rests near whom: opposing figures from the 1913 lockout; leaders from both sides of the nationalist divide; 1916 heroes and soldiers from the First World War. They say in Ireland that if you put five people in a room, there will always be two who know someone in common. Perhaps the proximities are perhaps not surprising.
The only shortcoming of this tour is the presumption that all will be familiar with Irish political history. This tour could be even more informative if a little more context were provided, either for the visitor who’s landed without reading up, or the locals who haven’t brushed up on The Liberator or the Civil War. Ninety eight years ago yesterday morning, the Easter Rising began. Get a sense of such events and their impact this weekend at Glasnevin.

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