Monday, October 24, 2011

Graveyard Literature

I awoke Friday morning to find that the Dublin weather had turned. While it was still very warm, there was that “needs to rain” feel to the humidity. Still my plans for the day included a walk along the Grand Canal and it had to be accomplished, regardless of the weather. The Grand Canal runs south of the Liffey and through a series of locks connects the Dublin Port with the River Shannon. While the only boats that patrol its banks now are hired by holiday makers, the canal makes a lovely walk or, if you’re so inclined, a fabulous running route.

The barge is a floating restaurant. I was much more interested in the ducks.

My reasons for wandering the Canal were not for the views or a break from the bustle of the city, but because I was looking for this guy:

This is Patrick Kavanagh. Go on, ask me who the heck that is. He’s a poet who originally hails from Co. Monaghan. If you’ve ever listened to Irish folk music, you’ve probably heard his poetry. He wrote a poem called On Raglan Road which was then set to music by Luke Kelly (of the Dubliners). He’s immortalised along the banks of the Grand Canal because he often sat on these very banks and composed his works (including a poem about the Canal in which he asks to be commemorated with a bench).

"O commemorate me with no hero-courageous
Tomb - just a canal-bank seat for the passer-by."
~ Lines Written on a Seat of the Grand Canal, Dublin

But my reason for hunting down this statue is personal. Before he moved to Dublin and my dad’s family moved to Monaghan Town, Patrick Kavanagh was the occasional drinking buddy of my granddad. In fact, when they thought my aunt was going to die while being born and they wanted to make sure that she was baptized asap, it was Patrick Kavanagh that my granddad brought back with him from the pub to be her godfather.

After I took a moment to sit with Patrick and contemplate life, I headed off to find another famous Irish writer.

I encourage you to click on the photo to wilde-inate it.
The smirk on his face is awesome!

Across from the statue (if you can call it that when the sculpture is reclining), are two posts with various Oscar Wilde quotes listed on them. I was happy to see my two favourites were both on there.


Could you please explain this concept to my bank account? Thanks.

With my literary duties done for the day, I was off to Glasnevin Cemetery*, the dead centre of Dublin. (Um, if I need to explain that pun to you, then I don’t think we can be friends.) The Cemetery is a pretty big deal in Dublin. Before it was opened, Catholics either had to be buried in a Protestant cemetery without a Catholic service or be buried in an area that hadn’t been interred. Daniel O’Connell, an early advocate of Irish freedom from England (and noted pacifist), fought for the creation of this cemetery and it is (well, ‘was’. Good luck getting a plot in there now!) open to all faiths.

And as I previously mentioned, I like cemeteries so you know I had to go check it out! And my timing was pretty awesome: I arrived in time for a guided tour which meant I’d get to go into O’Connell’s tomb.

While the intention of the cemetery was ‘open to all’, it quickly became a bit of a Fenian hallowed ground. If you think I exaggerate, the first graves you see are nine men executed by British forces for their roles in fighting against British rule.

Tradition dictated that when you were executed inside a prison yard, you were buried in that same yard. When these bodies were exhumed from the prison yard, the families opted to have them buried together at Glasnevin. The most famous of these names is Kevin Barry, who was only 18 when he was executed, and was later immortalised in song.

In the background of that picture you can see the base of the O’Connell Round Tower.  If I had just been wandering the cemetery on my own, I would have had to content myself with just viewing the tower from the outside.

But tour groups get to go inside! (I swear I’m not a morbid person, I just find tombs kind of awesome.) They say that touching his coffin is good luck, so I stuck my hand through the holes in the side of the tomb and rubbed the well-worn wood. Our guide told us that he’s pretty sure the Dublin women come on the tour just so they can touch the coffin before they buy a lotto ticket. HA!

We were a very small tour group of six people and I was the only non-Irish person in the group. I was really appreciative of the others on this tour as they knew their Irish history and were able to answer the questions that our guide posed to us and add to his stories. They’d spot names on the grave sites and exclaim “isn’t that so-and-so?” Our two hour guided tour was almost three hours long.

We finished our tour with this grave:

Michael Collins. You might have heard of him ;)

Apparently so many people turned out for his funeral that when the procession reached Glasnevin, the end of it still hadn’t left downtown Dublin.

I could have spent another three hours walking around the cemetery but the skies were threatening to open up again (it rained for the first five minutes of our tour, but the cemetery loans out oversized umbrellas for that very possibility--seriously, love Glasnevin!) so I wandered around until I felt a few drops and then I called it a day.

"Romantic Ireland's dead and gone,
It's with O'Leary in the Grave."
~September1913, W.B. Yeats
John O'Leary's grave on the right, James Stephens' on the left.

Given the nature of the cemetery, Celtic crosses figure prominently on the graves.

Looking back at O'Connell's Tower

Glasnevin started as a 9 acre plot in 1832. Today it covers 120 acres.
Roughly 1.5 million people are buried here but there are only 200,000 headstones.

I finished by checking out Parnell’s final resting place.

Parnell was another early advocate of Irish independence. At the time that he passed away, grave robbing was very common. Knowing that his grave would be a likely target due to who he was, the decision was made to bury him in the middle of a mass grave which had been used for cholera victims a few years earlier. The plan worked and Parnell still slumbers there.

By the time I caught the bus, the heavens had opened. The rain would continue into Saturday when it came down so strong that leaving the house seemed like a ridiculous idea. As a result, Saturday was a sit-at-home-drink-tea-and-write-in-my-journal kind of day, followed by a stay-at-home-and-drink-a-few-bottles-of-wine kind of night.

*The proper name for Glasnevin is actually 'Prospect Cemetery' but given that every single person I talked to called it Glasnevin and their own books list it as Glasnevin... Glasnevin it is!

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