Thursday, September 4, 2014

Arbour Hill Cemetery

Thanks to the good people at Heritage Ireland (OPW), we have so many wonderful historic public spaces preserved and well-presented right here in Dublin. Some of the OPW sites are big blockbusters like Kilmainham Gaol, but many are free, small, out-of-the-way spots of incredible, if understated, historical significance.

I took a free Wednesday tour of Arbour Hill Cemetery, famous as the final resting place of the 1916 freedom fighters, most of whom were executed just across the river at Kilmainham Gaol.

Like so many things in Ireland, the British history here is impossible to ignore. This cemetery was originally for British military personnel, and the different markers for officers and enlisted men are obvious in the burial sites nearest Arbour Hill Church.

British Graves

The church itself used to be a prison chapel, the burial yard used to be the prison yard before it was built into the expanded cemetery thanks to World War I.

Today, the best-known occupants of this cemetery are the 14 men executed by the British after the 1916 Easter Rising. Many of these names are familiar to me- not because I read them in the history books, but because almost all of these men have streets, train stations, and buildings named in their honor. Many also have monuments other places in the city.

The memorial site is tasteful and somber. At the back wall, the Proclamation of the Republic of Ireland (like the American Declaration of Independence) is inscribed in English and Irish on either side of a cross.

1916 Memorial Site Dublin, Ireland
1916 Memorial Site

The fourteen men were buried in a pit right here and covered with quicklime to quickly break down the bodies. The British didn't want the bodies to be stolen and used as rallying points for the rebels. The bodies weren't stolen, but the people were disgusted enough by the executions that the tide turned against the British anyway.

1916 Burials Arbour Hill Cemetery Dublin, Ireland
1916 Burials

Of course, JFK spent a moment here during his 1963 Ireland visit. According to our tour guide, the memorial wasn't quite finished coming up to his stop in Dublin, but public sentiment (and donations) helped put on the finishing touches before the second coming President landed in Ireland.

As I've said before, they love them some JFK here in Ireland. Just love him. I still can't figure out why. They tell me it's because he was president of the most powerful country in the world... and Irish and Catholic. I call foul on both of those. The first one is easy- he wasn't born in Ireland. Had he been born in Ireland, it would be constitutionally impossible for him to become President. He was straight-up New England East Coast Old Money- decidedly American. End of discussion.

Catholic? Well, he did some infamously un-Catholic things with Marilyn Monroe and at least a dozen other actresses, socialites, and prostitutes around the world- possibly while he was here in Ireland! No judgement, but I wouldn't put that guy on a church mosaic as a celebrated example of good old fashioned Irish Catholic values, would you? Well, someone thought it would be a good idea.


The last corner of Arbour Hill is a dedication to the men and women of the Irish military who have served in various UN missions since the Republic of Ireland joined up. Ireland is a small country that is usually neutral in international conflicts, but its small military has seen action in a number of peacekeeping operations through the years. As an American who grew up with my home country almost always involved in some conflict, it was interesting to see the different meanings and reasons for armed operations held by the people here.

Next time I'm in that part of town (maybe on a trip to Phoenix Park or Collins Barracks), I'll stop by again to read the Proclamation and the names of the men who died for the freedom, peace, and prosperity of Ireland. Hopefully we can all be inspired by the courage of these people to keep the peace process moving, in Ireland and the rest of the world. 

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