Saturday, July 29, 2023

Glasnevin Cemetery

(Day nine recap of my late April Ireland trip.)

I know it's weird, but I love visiting old cemeteries.  There's so much history that can be found from perusing ancient tombstones.  However, during my 9 days in Ireland I'd been seeing lots of graveyards and was getting cemeteried-out.  So on our second day in Dublin, when I saw a visit to Glasnevin Cemetery on the agenda, I initially wasn't very excited.  Of all the interesting places to see in Dublin they're taking us here?

Daniel O'Connell Tower

One of the great things about not having to travel far, our tour group got to sleep in that morning and wasn't required to report until 9 am.  Since our original bus driver George had finished his driving duties and headed home, we had a new bus and driver for our day's trip.  Sadly, George's brand-new bus had us spoiled because the bus we rode to Glasnevin was a well-used and dirty vehicle.  But luckily today's drive was short - only 45 minutes and we were pulling into the cemetery's gate.

Graves of priests

The first thing I noticed about Glasnevin Cemetery was the tall stone tower that soared high above the grounds.  Built to honor the famous Irish Liberator Daniel O'Connell, this tower lies directly over his grave.  At 180 feet (or 55 meters) it is still one of the highest structures in Dublin.

Large Celtic cross next to the chapel

Daniel O'Connell was the key figure in the Catholic Emancipation Movement of 1829.  Because of his perseverance, many of the Catholic restrictions imposed by the Penal Laws were removed.  He became known as the Liberator, and continued to represent the people of Ireland, advocating for a separate Irish Parliament in Dublin.

Thick rows of trees line this lane

Glasnevin Cemetery owes its origins to Daniel O'Connell.  The English Penal Laws didn't allow Catholics to be buried in the Protestant cemeteries.  As part of his work to advance the rights of Catholics, O'Connell established the Dublin Cemeteries Committee to provide dignified burial space "for those of all religions and none."  In 1832 Glasnevin became the second cemetery opened by this committee.  Glasnevin was established to accept burials of all faiths and all people, regardless of income (and it still does to this day).

Cross close-up - so much detail!

After disembarking from our bus, my fellow tour-mates and I wandered around the cemetery's entrance area.  It was a dreary, rainy morning so we all flipped up our hoods or unfurled umbrellas.  The ornate tombstones were fascinating!  Most were adorned with crosses of every design, while some supported full size statues of religious figures.  There were so many graves packed into this place, the headstones were nearly on top of each other.  While waiting for our guide I roamed around with my camera, snapping copious images.

Graves are packed in here

There were Celtic crosses of all shapes and sizes.  And some of them were quite tall - as you see in the photo below:

Some of these crosses are quite tall!

After 10 minutes of self-exploration, our tour guide arrived and introduced himself.  His name was Niall ("like the river" he quipped) and he was a middle-school history teacher who volunteered at the cemetery on weekends.

Our guide Niall was fantastic

We were soon to discover Niall was a wealth of information, not only about the cemetery but all things relating to Irish history.

Niall was a wealth of information

Glasnevin Cemetery covers 124 acres and contains the graves of many of Ireland's most prominent national figures.  As well as famous names, nearly 800,000 people have been buried in unmarked mass graves, victims of the great potato famine of the 1840s and a later cholera epidemic.

Chapel and crosses

While Niall was giving us some introductory information, a friendly crow landed on an adjacent kiosk rooftop.  It was so close, I couldn't resist snapping a couple of pics.

A friendly crow

After a brief overview of Glasnevin Cemetery, Niall led us to the most important grave of them all, the burial crypt of Daniel O'Connell.

Entering Daniel O'Connell's tomb

Located at O'Connell's tower base, the crypt itself was sunk below cemetery level.  Access was down a set of stairs.  O'Connell's crypt was encircled by a moat.  The moat's inner side had doorways set into the rock wall.  Niall said each of these housed coffins from several other important Irish families.

Around this tomb was a moat, with separate rooms for coffins

At the tower's base was a door that led to Daniel O'Connell's tomb itself.  Niall unlocked the door and ushered us inside.  The place was ornately decorated.  The walls and ceiling painted in flowery patterns, the floor a tile mosaic with shamrocks.

The ornate tomb of Daniel O'Connell

A carved stone structure protected O'Connell's coffin.  However, there were several holes in the structure and through the openings one could get a glimpse of the simple wooden coffin in which Daniel O'Connell was buried.

There were holes so one could touch the actual coffin - said to bring good luck

Niall said it was good luck to touch O'Connell's coffin.  Several of us reached inside the holes to stroke his wooden box.  Of course I touched it too - who couldn't use a bit of good luck?

An adjacent room held coffins of the O'Connell family

There was a small room off to the side of Daniel O'Connell's crypt that held four coffins, stacked haphazardly on top of each other.  Niall said these held members of the O'Connell family.  Didn't look like a very dignified way to bury somebody.

One last look at Daniel O'Connell's tomb

At the end of his life Niall said that Daniel O'Connell traveled on a pilgrimage to Rome.  On this journey he became ill and died in Genoa Italy.  His famous deathbed quote was "My body to Ireland, my soul to heaven, and my heart to Rome."  In accordance with his wishes, O'Connell's heart was buried in Rome while the rest of his body was transported back to Ireland and buried here at Glasnevin.

I loved the tile mosaic design on the floor

My tour-mates and I enjoyed being able to see the inside of Daniel O'Connell's crypt.  I don't think the general public is allowed in there, so that made our tour doubly special.

The cemetery was beautifully landscaped

Exiting the crypt, the rain kicked in again, but that didn't deter our tour group.  We followed Niall past a section of the cemetery where priests and bishops were buried.  The priests all had grave markers of simple black stone while the more ornate tombs housed important clergy, like bishops and cardinals.

One of the many columbarium walls at Glasnevin 

Niall led us by a section of Glasnevin reserved for holding cremated remains of loved ones.  This columbarium contained several colorful walls that housed ashes.

Another columbarium site

There were also large family plots at ground level that contained cremated remains.  Many of these areas were covered with colorful flowers.

Lovely statues adorning these graves

Beyond the columbarium Niall led us past a large grassy mound, encircled by an iron fence.  In the middle of the area sat a large stone with the word "Parnell" chiseled on it.

Charles Parnell's grave

This was the grave of Charles Stewart Parnell, a famous Irish politician who served as a member of Parliament in the late 1800's.  Although he achieved many victories for the Irish people, an adulterous affair, which was a huge scandal in those times, sullied his name.  Parnell is buried on top of a mass grave containing cholera victims.

Walking down one of the lanes

There were lots of huge trees in this area, and it was a very beautiful and restful part of the cemetery.  

Stopping at Eamon de Valera's grave

Our next stop was at the grave of Eamon de Valera.  Another important Irish political figure, this man was prominent in the 1916 Easter Rising and later became the first president of Ireland.

de Valera's grave

Niall had so many interesting stories about the history of Glasnevin.  My favorite was when he pointed to the tall stone wall that surrounded the cemetery and asked if we knew why the wall was built.  The answer surprised us - it was due to grave robbers.

O'Connell tower rises high above the graves

In the 18th and early 19th centuries medical schools were in search of cadavers for their students to dissect.  They paid such good money for bodies that it inspired crooks to rob graves.  To deter the bodysnatchers, Glasnevin constructed a tall wall with watchtowers and employed several watchmen to roam the cemetery at night with bloodhounds.

I liked this statue of Mary

The best story from Niall:  In the late 1800s, a man's wife suddenly died.  He tried to remove her wedding ring, but it wouldn't come off her finger.  So she had to be buried with her ring.  The grave robbers got wind of this, and that night unearthed her coffin.  The crooks decided to cut her finger off to get the ring.  As they were trying to do this, the woman awakened.  Apparently she wasn't dead at all - and had only been in a very deep coma.  Her sudden resurrection scared the bodysnatchers and they ran off.  The woman wandered back to her home.  When her husband answered the door and discovered his wife, bloody and very much alive, he had heart attack and died.  The man was then buried in his wife's grave.

Wide-angle view

As we wandered through the many gravesites on our tour, the rain slowly let up.  After visiting Eamon de Valera's grave, the sun started peeking through the clouds, flooding the cemetery with nice light.

There were all sorts of decorations on the headstones

We passed by the tomb of James Larkin, Ireland's famous labor leader (and whose statue on O'Connell Street had been my favorite.)  For such a famous man his tombstone was very plain, simply a large block of unadorned concrete.

James Larkin grave

There were so many crosses in Glasnevin!  Most were quite ornate and nearly all of Celtic design.

Twin Celtic crosses

The final stop on our guided tour was the grave of Michael Collins.  A famous Irish revolutionary, soldier and politician, he was a central figure in the early 20th century struggle for Irish independence.

Michael Collins grave

Michael Collins led one of two national paramilitary groups that launched the 1916 Easter Rising.  After being captured during this uprising and spending time in jail, Michael was released.  He then organized another military group to fight for Irish independence.  Collins was in charge of intelligence, and trained many soldiers in guerilla warfare tactics.  After the 1921 ceasefire Michael was sent to London to negotiate a peace treaty.  Not everyone was happy with the terms he came back with, and a group in opposition (led coincidentally by Eamon de Valera) splintered off and fanned the flames of civil war.  In 1922, Michael was shot and killed in an ambush by anti-treaty forces.  He was only 31 years old.  A recent movie that does an excellent job of portraying this man's life and heroism is Michael Collins, starring Liam Neeson.

People from all over the world leave flowers on Michael Collins' grave

Michael Collins is still respected worldwide, and Niall remarked that people from all over visit his grave and leave flowers and other items.  There is one anonymous person that sends flowers weekly, and has done this for several years.   

Very interesting gravesite (I thought)

After paying our respects to Michael Collins, our guided tour was over.  We all sadly bid Niall a fond farewell.  He had been such a fantastic guide!  A wealth of historical knowledge and interesting tales, Niall was an excellent storyteller who had kept us engaged the entire time.  His enthusiasm for Irish history was contagious.  My tour-mates and I all agreed Niall's students were lucky to have such a wonderful teacher. 

Rows upon rows of tombstones

After parting with Niall, our group had another half hour to roam the premises and check out anything a second time.


And more headstones....

Lucky for me, blue sky started chasing the clouds away.  Time to get more photographs with all this good light!

The sun finally came out at our tour's end

I couldn't get over how tightly packed all the gravesites and headstones were placed.  But this chaos made for some interesting images.  I never imagined cemeteries could be so photogenic!

Lines of Celtic crosses

Enjoy a few more random photos.....

Interesting statue

The tiniest angel

I'd glimpsed this tiny angel statue on a tombstone near de Valera's grave, but neglected to photograph it at the time.  Upon completion of the tour, I wandered back through the rows of headstones to find the sculpture again.  There weren't any inscriptions on the adjacent tomb, so I can only assume it was to commemorate someone's young child taken way too early.

Flowers for a loved one

There were several small, but touching memorials left beside many graves.

One last look...

Although initially skeptical about visiting yet another Irish cemetery I thoroughly enjoyed my tour of Glasnevin.  So much history in this place!  And we'd had such a phenomenal guide, he had really enhanced everything with his insights and stories.  It was definitely a worthwhile activity.

Our tour group photo

Our Rick Steves tour guide Pascal had been trying all week to get a group photo, but during every tour someone had been missing.  On this last day everyone was finally present, so Pascal lined us up in front of the O'Connell Tower and recruited our bus driver for photographic duty.  

Departing from Glasnevin, Kim and I now had the afternoon free to explore more of Dublin.  When planning our Ireland trip, one place had been first and foremost on our minds to visit - the Guinness Storehouse!  That's where we were headed after lunch.  Come back for my next post and read all about our Guinness experience.

Saturday, July 22, 2023

Afternoon Fun in Dublin

 (Day eight part two recap of my late April Ireland trip.)

In the previous post, my group had just wrapped up its morning walking tour of Dublin (if you missed that post, catch it here), and were about to be set free to explore all afternoon and evening.  Debbie, one of the ladies in our tour, invited Kim and I to join her for lunch at the Brazen Head, Ireland's oldest pub.  Kim and I hadn't made any concrete plans that afternoon, so we gratefully took Debbie up on her invitation.

The Brazen Head Pub

Although we were told the Brazen Head wasn't far from our tour's ending point, it was a bit more of a walk than we thought.  After several blocks of travel (and passing two beautiful churches, that I made a mental note to check out on our return) we finally arrived the pub's humble, brick building.  It sure didn't look large enough to hold many patrons!

A pic to prove we were there!

However, surprise, surprise, entering the archway to the left of the facade, we traveled down an entryway behind the building to a much larger area - with plenty of seating for all.  

Ireland's oldest pub

My friends and I were seated in one of the many rooms.  The place was nearly deserted when we first arrived, but soon filled with patrons.  Some of our tour-mates, twin sisters with their husbands, had also decided to check out this pub and they happened to occupy the next table.  We snapped photos of each other's respective group, and after getting our drinks raised the glasses for a toast.

There was a huge building beyond the front facade

I enjoyed checking out all the interesting decor that lined the walls of this place.  Lots of old advertising posters for whiskey were displayed the wall behind us.  Flags hung from the ceiling.  The bar itself was a handsome wood-paneled specimen, with shelves of colorful liquor bottles directly behind.

Really cool old pub!

Kim ordered her standby Guinness half-pint, while Debbie and I decided to try one of the other local brews.  I can't remember the name of the beer we ordered but it came served in tall glasses with a big head of foam.  It didn't taste bad either.

Waiting for our beer

Debbie and I wanted to try the seafood chowder, so we each ordered a bowl.  However, when the chowder arrived, we were both disappointed.  It contained more celery and onion than actual seafood (and I dislike onions!)  But as Debbie put it, you don't come here for the food.  It's all about the braggin' rights that you visited the oldest pub in Ireland.

Brazen Head bar taps

At least the beer was good.....and they had quite a large variety judging by the taps at the bar.

The walls were decorated with old whiskey advertisements

Debbie, Kim, and I toasted our good fortune at being in Ireland and meeting each other.


And - surprise!  I finished my beer only to discover the glass had a harp etched on the bottom.  In Ireland I guess they put harps on everything.

In Ireland they put harps on everything!

Hunger and thirst now satisfied, my friends and I emerged from the Brazen Head.  Time to walk off our lunch by checking out the surrounding neighborhoods.

Lovely garden adjacent to a church

To my delight, we returned to the first church that we passed by on our walk to the Brazen Head.  Called St. Audoen's, it had the most lovely flower garden and stone steps on one corner.

Arch framing the church

Climbing the stone steps, I came upon a picturesque stone archway that perfectly framed the church if you stood in the right position.  Hefting camera to my eye, I composed the perfect view in my frame.  Then just as I was getting ready to click the shutter, a man on a scooter came hurtling by.  Luckily one of my images was captured seconds before the photobomb.  Can you see the scooter on the arch's left side?

St. Audoen's Church

Beyond the arch, we explored more of St. Audoen's immaculately landscaped grounds.
This beautiful stone building had the honor of being the oldest and only remaining medieval church in Dublin.  It is still used for worship today.  Erected in 1190 and expanded in 1430, St. Audoen's fell into ruin during Protestant rule, but was fully restored in the mid-1800's.

Interesting building we walked by

Next door to St. Audoen's my friends and I wandered by another interesting building.  With its tall columns, the building looked very Romanesque.  It appeared to be part of St. Audoen's but I wasn't sure in what capacity.

Christ Church Cathedral

Beyond the first church, we continued on to the next grand cathedral.  This one, Christ Church Cathedral was impressive.  The seat of the Diocese of Dublin, it looked every bit as important as its title denoted.  

Arched walkway between the Cathedral and Dublina

Tall stone towers, ornate stained glass windows, and cool wooden doors, this cathedral lived up to its grandeur.  It even had a skybridge over an adjacent street, connecting it to the building housing "Dublina," a museum dedicated to Viking and medieval history

Wide angle view of both buildings

The cathedral's door was open, so my friends and I ventured inside.  However, we discovered the place charged ten euros to tour the interior.  Not willing to shell out the dough, we opted to explore the building's exterior instead. 

Close up of the church

Another medieval place of worship, the stone walls of Christ Church were erected in the late 12th century.

Loved the old doors

This church also had colorful flower gardens, and impressive old wooden doors.

Cheerful tulips

I especially liked this round stained glass window hidden between two of the towers.

Loved the windows

Finishing our tour of Christ Church Cathedral, my friends and I stepped onto the sidewalk of an adjacent street.  Where to go next?

My friends, consulting the map

Knowing we eventually wanted to end up back at our hotel, Debbie consulted both a paper map and her Google maps phone app.  Having journeyed extensively throughout Europe, she was a seasoned traveler and had no trouble locating where we needed to be.  After getting lost the previous evening, Kim and I were most appreciative of Debbie's navigation skills.

Another interesting building

So we began walking down a street that Debbie identified as the correct route to our hotel.  There were more interesting buildings on the way, especially a large, columned stone building that looked to be of some importance.

Street name signs are on sides of buildings

I still think it is unusual that in Dublin all the street name signs are located on the side of buildings.  Not so easy to see in the dark.

Guinness break!

After walking a short distance we ladies all needed a potty break.  Since there weren't any public restrooms to be found, someone suggested we pop into a pub for another beer.  Being paying customers would entitle use of their facilities.  So Debbie found a pub (not very difficult in downtown Dublin) and that's what we did.  So what if I drank another beer?  I was on vacation!  (It's a hard job, but someone had to do it!)

My kinda pub!

As my friends and I bellied up to the bar to order our beers, a bunch of male patrons guessed right away that we were from "the states."  (I'm sure our accents gave us away)  It's interesting, but I found a lot of the Irish like Americans and enjoy hearing them talk.  

Entrance to the Irish Whiskey Museum

Beer and restroom break accomplished, my friends and I headed back onto the sidewalk and traveled until finally intersecting with Grafton Street.  I knew where we were now!  Still having a bit of time to kill, as we passed by the Irish Whiskey Museum, I suggested to my friends that we have a look inside.

Cool stairway into the Whiskey Museum

Stepping in the building, an entire wall was covered with metal advertising signs for all different brands of whiskey.  Many of them were quite old.  The colorful signs were fun to read.

Loved their coasters!

Climbing up an ornate glass and wood staircase took us up to the second floor where the tours began.  After learning the place charged 30 euros apiece for a tour, we decided to instead pop into the adjacent bar and try some whiskey tasting.

Our samples placed next to the bottles they came from

Whiskey tasting wasn't cheap either, so my friends and I decided to pool our money and share a flight.  We reasoned the alcohol would kill any germs on the glasses.

Ready to try some whiskey

There were so many different brands of whiskey to choose from, in the end we asked the bartender to recommend a flight for us.  He chose four of the most popular varieties of Irish whiskey and poured small sampler glasses of each.  He then set the bottles adjacent to the corresponding glass, enabling us to determine which whiskey we were trying.


My friends and I all tasted each whiskey sample in order.  After the first sips, we each identified one as our favorite (interestingly not the same one).  Going back for a second and third time, my palette began to get confused.  The four samples began to taste the same - and then I wasn't sure which one I liked best.

After awhile, all the whiskey began to taste the same

Despite not agreeing on the best whiskey, my friends and I had a great time tasting our samples.  The whiskey bar had a fun atmosphere and we enjoyed watching the other patrons trying their own flights.

Crowded streets of Dublin

Once our glasses were empty, we paid the bill and bid the whiskey museum a fond farewell.  By now it was late in the afternoon.  Kim and I had tickets for a "Musical Pub Crawl" that evening, so we decided to return to our hotel for a little break before heading out again.

Fusilier's Arch, St. Stephen's Green

After walking down Grafton and Harcourt Street (our hotel's address) several times now, on this return trip some of the landmarks finally began to look familiar.  Fusilier's Arch at St. Stephen's Green was one of those now-recognizable features.

Walking to our hotel

Kim and I's final event for the day was a "Musical Pub Crawl."  After resting a bit in our hotel room, we set out solo to find the pub where the event was taking place.  Having walked around Dublin quite a bit now over these past two days, locating the pub proved to be an easy task.

Our musical pub crawl started at a pub near the Ha'penny Bridge

We started out in a place called the "Ha'penny Bridge Inn" located - surprise - at the foot of the Ha'penny Bridge.  Kim and I were ushered upstairs, where we purchased more half pints of Guinness before the musicians started their show.

The musicians were great!

The entertainment consisted of a man and a woman.  They were very talented, both as performers and singers, as well as humorous.  After singing a couple of songs, the hosts showed us their traditional Irish instruments, and explained the origin of each one.  They played a flute, large round drum, and a squeezebox-like instrument called a concertina.  The man also strummed a mean guitar.

Music part two - now at a restaurant across the river

As in Kilkenny, our performers loved audience participation, and asked us all to sing along on the chorus of several songs.  They would go over the lyrics quickly and then launch into the verses.  Luckily our parts were repeated enough that I got the hang of most of the responses.  It actually was quite fun.  One of my favorite songs they performed was "The Rocky Road to Dublin," and I liked it so much I ended up downloading a copy when I got home.

Young Irish dancer answering questions

After performing about 45 minutes at the first pub, our hosts packed up their instruments and instructed us to follow them to the second pub, located on the opposite side of the River Liffey.  Not wanting to get lost again, I stuck close to the man, having a delightful chat with him along the way.

Our group ended up at a restaurant named Flannagan's.  We were ushered down the stairs into a private room specifically for the pub crawl participants.  Since our ticket included dinner, it was here that we ordered food and drink from several menu choices.  While we awaited our food, the performers resumed their music.  We even had an Irish dancer perform for us - a young lady of seventeen, who said she'd been dancing since she was five years old.  She was quite good, and after her performance stuck around to answer questions from the audience.

I had the Guinness pie which was delicious

Our food arrived, and it was terrific!  I ordered a beef Guinness pie and it was delicious.  Kim said her pasta dish was tasty also.  To remember all the different dishes I'd eaten, I got into the habit of photographing each meal.  It came in handy writing this blog post!

After everyone finished dinner our hosts performed a few more songs.  The lady, who had a fabulous voice, asked if she could sing a song that was a "bit racy."  After everyone clapped their approval, she launched into a ditty about a man who caught a crabfish and put it in his wife's "piss pot" for safekeeping - to dreadful results!  It was quite funny and the lady did a great job in her performance.

Aside from the crabfish song, the only other funny joke I remembered from that night is when the man talked about the Scottish and Irish being nearly the same, except that the Scots couldn't swim!  I guess you had to be there, but the way he delivered the punchline was hilarious.

Bread pudding for dessert, also good

Too soon, the musicians sang their final song, and dismissed us for the evening.  I liked the pub crawl music so much, I ended up buying a CD of their songs (that was conveniently for sale after the show.)

Excellent restaurant!

Another humorous incident happened after the performance.  Of course, everyone had to use the restroom before departing, and Kim and I were in the ladies room waiting our turn.  Instead of "occupied" we noticed the bathrooms locks used the word "engaged" when the stall was in use.  When my turn came, I'd just sat down when I heard someone accidentally walk in on a lady a few stalls away.  She exclaimed that she'd apparently forgotten to "engage."  She then joked with the other woman that now they were "engaged."  Again, it was probably funnier in person, but it sure gave me a chuckle.

Sunset over the River Liffey

Leaving the restaurant, we discovered the sky had cleared and it was now a beautiful evening.  Sunset was just beginning as Kim and I strolled across the O'Connell Bridge.  It lit up the clouds in the sky a bright shade of pink and the color reflected in the River Liffey's waters.  Such a lovely view, I couldn't resist snapping a few cell phone pics of the scene.  Boy was I kicking myself for leaving my big camera back at the hotel!

A lovely end to another fun day in Dublin.  But time was flying by.  Tomorrow would be the last day of our Rick Steves tour.  The final day recap will be in my next post - you won't want to miss it!