Tuesday, August 23, 2016


As soon as I saw the two co-producers, Rachel Lysaght and Lindsay Campbell, doing their own postering I knew we were in for an intimate hands on experience.

Cinema 2 in the Lighthouse complex

I had never been to the Lighthouse cinema in Smithfield before and I was pleasantly surprised at how spacious and modernistic the complex turned out to be. I'm obviously way behind the times and was thinking in terms of some pokey arty place.

The occasion was a pre-screening of the film documentary Strange Occurrences in an Irish Village. This is the story of Knock as it is and as told by those most closely associated with it. These included descendants of those who claimed to have seen the apparition, the Parish Priest, pilgrims and handmaidens.

It started with the descendants reading from the witness statements of their forebears. This gave the story a great sense of intimacy and conviction from the word go.

You could immediately imagine the scene as reported by the witnesses, free of modern interpretation, but still subject to the intermediation of the church authorities of their day.

The only thing that remained the same as it had been when I used to frequent Knock in the 1950s was the blessing of the holy water in its water tank. Then it was a relatively small operation but it is now on an industrial scale feeding many outlets in the grounds.

One of the participants referred to a rumour that Knock water was not blessed and assured us it was. The thought would never have occurred to me. But for the avoidance of doubt we were shown the Parish Priest doing the needful in the attic of the Basilica (above).

The current PP, Father Richard Gibbons, has only been there since 2012, but to listen to him you'd think he'd been there all his life. By all accounts he is a doer and has done loads since his appointment, including a major revamp of the Basilica and attracting two USA pilgrimages complete with their Cardinals, Timothy Dolan from New York and Seán Patrick O'Malley from Boston.

Whatever about O'Malley, who is a Capuchin Friar, Timothy Dolan has all the false bonhomie of a sleazeball. That said, if he brings business to Knock who am I to poop the party.

The film shows him as Grand Marshall of New York's St. Patrick's day parade where he pitches himself somewhere between pope and emperor.

Apart from the massive built complex, which almost reduces the original church to insignificance, the big change from my day is the onset of large scale theatre and pageantry. This struck me very much in the sequence showing the recent unveiling of the huge apparition mosaic in the basilica - a mix of religious ceremony with a flock of bishops in top gear and a very theatrical procession of those representing the lay people who actually saw the apparition.

A High Mass was the pinnacle of clerical theatre in my day.

But it is in the more personal and intimate moments that this film excells. It does not interpose commentary but lets those concerned speak for themselves. Of course that only works with the help of some skilful editing and this is evident throughout the film. Production, direction and editing are unobtrusive and very effective and you come away with the feeling that you have shared moments of intimacy with the participants.

Some of the descendants have a range of shops which compete with one another in selling religious goods. The man in the picture above gave us a bit of the old time religion which reminded me of the more outrageous pamphlets in the Veritas range of old - The Devil at Dances and What is Hell and the like. In the case above it was Purgatory which was being threatened on us but there was also a place for Hell in the learned theological discourse.

Each Hail Mary bead on the rosary around his neck had a mini reproduction embryo inside. This was not only to counter repeal of the eighth amendment but also seemed to have a particular role in promoting fertility. Amazing stuff.

As against that Pio Flatley, above, was a rock of sense and realised that people, and that included Knock, had to move with the times.

I enjoyed this film immensely, for the memories of Knock it brought back, for its revealing of today's Knock in all its complexity and for its excellent production values.

I said all that to Rachel Lysaght, above, after the showing and I think she was pleased at the general audience reaction.

If you get the chance do go and see this well crafted film. It will provoke, entertain and inform you. And, who knows, it might even get you down to Knock at some stage.

Monday, August 22, 2016


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This is a marvelously provocative book.

I have already done a post on its launch in the appropriate surroundings of Glasnevin cemetery and I have left a review on Amazon. These two links should give you an idea of what the book is about. What I am doing here is responding to its personal provocation. I have said that the book had my head spinning and that is due to the flood of personal associations it provoked as I was reading through it.

My purpose here is to share some of these associations. I hope that when you read the book it will provoke as many, although clearly entirely different, associations for you.

The Editors

First let me introduce the editors. The book grew out of a conference on the subject held in the Glasnevin Cemetery Museum a while back. The conference proved so popular and stimulating that a book was clearly the next step.

The book contains not only contributions from the conference, but also some subsequent gap fillers and an overview by the editors. The editors are therefore also contributors not just with the overview but also with a fascinating piece in an appendix looking at the company records of Nichols undertakers who have been in business in Dublin for over 200 years.

Their mini-bio material below is taken from the Four Courts Press website, and while it is convenient for reproduction here, it understates who they are and what they've done.

Lisa Marie Griffith is a graduate of Trinity College Dublin where she completed a PhD on 18th-century Dublin merchants. She is the author of Stones of Dublin: A history of Dublin in Ten Buildings and has published a number of articles on Dublin history. She is co-editor, with Ruth McManus, of Leaders of the City: Dublin’s first citizens, 1500–1950 (2013).

Ciarán Wallace lectures in Irish history and Irish studies at DCU, Mater Dei campus. His latest publication was Thomas Fitzpatrick and ‘The Lepracaun Cartoon Monthly’, 1905–1915 (2015).

See you in due course

Before we get down to the business, the Glasnevin Museum offers this thought as you enter its underground vault. "As you are now so once were we". A clear warning not to lose the run of yourself in this life.

Burying & digging up again

The vault museum has this depiction of a pair of grave diggers. Appropriate enough in a location where many are buried by the day.

However, it's adjoining depiction is, thank the Lord, not so routine. A bodysnatcher at work. These guys did a roaring trade when there was a shortage of bodies for the medical schools. Some graves attempted to deny them access by putting heavy railings around the grave or a heavy slab on top of it. Glasnevin cemetery actually has a series of watchtowers around its perimeter to defend itself against this practise, now happily out of date.

I have been following up my own family history and have a cousin an undertaker in East Limerick. I think I might have upset him, or others in the company, when I insisted on reminding them that he was going around burying people and I was following him around digging them up again.

History of Undertakers

I have undertakers on both sides of my family so I was particularly interested in the appendix tracing the evolution of Nichols undertakers.

On my mother's side, and in Dublin, I had PJ Medlar who married my granny's sister Tess. He had a business for around thirty years (c. 1912 - 1942) mainly located in James's Street but with on/off branches elsewhere in the city.

The book refers to Nichols relocating bodies from some graveyards around town as the sites were put to alternative uses. I'm sure they did a fine job.

Not so Fanagans, for whom Medlar was an agent as you can see in the photo above. They relocated bodies from St. Peter's graveyard in Aungier St. to St. Lukes in the Coombe and the bones were bagged holus bolus. It didn't help that Lukes vault was subsequently vandalised which only aggravated an already confused situation.

Freeman's Journal 31 October 1924

There is a mention in the book of (occupied) coffins being stacked up in undertakers' premises during the 1918-19 Spanish Flu epidemic. People were dying at twice the normal rate and the undertakers and cemeteries couldn't keep up with the increased flow of bodies.

That reminded me of the undertakers' normal pride in their work, which you can imply from the ad above disclaiming any responsibility for the quality of coffins used by the army when the Free State finally released the bodies of 77 executees to their families after the end of the Civil War. Medlar clearly got his share of the ensuing funerals.

It also reminded me of another occasion on which coffins were stacked up. This was during the Artic Winter of 1946-7 when the ground was frozen too hard to dig graves. This, surprisingly, is not mentioned in the book.

The book reminds us that new cemeteries on the outskirts of the city gave rise to the need for transport. This was initially horse drawn until finally overtaken by motorised transport. That the undertakers' carriages could be used outside a strictly funereal environment is shown by the Medlar landau above containing the whole family plus one. This dates from 1925.

And if you're in the transport business why not go the whole hog.

However, before I leave Medlar you might be interested in hearing this account of an out of town funeral which didn't go quite according to plan. The storyteller is PJ Medlar's brother Larry, who sometimes gave a dig out with funerals. The piece was recorded by his son in law Dave on Larry's 90th birthday (12th of March 1978). Larry died on the Feast of the Assumption in 1986 aged 98.

My father's people are from Cappanahanagh townland in Murroe parish in East Limerick on the Tipperary border. John has his undertaking business in nearby Newport, but also in Cappamore and Castleconnell. I accompanied him to the funeral parlour above while he put the final touches to the coffined body of an old lady before her relatives came for the viewing.

Death Notice

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If you're used to gravestones telling a story, check out the death notice above. These can also tell a lot. This one is for my uncle Paddy who drowned in the river Suck in Ballinasloe. The notice tell us he merited a High Mass in Ballyhaunis and that he was the brother of Willie. So far so good. Willie was the local and county secretary of the INTO and his mention would have identified Paddy to a wider audience. You might think from the phrasing and content of the notice that Paddy's parents were dead at that stage.

But they were very much alive. So why were they not mentioned in the death notice. Check out the year. We have just got our independence and the Civil War is about to begin. Violence is once again stalking the land and old grudges are being settled. Paddy's father, my grandfather, was at the time a retired RIC man and such people were being taken out and shot in both Ballyhaunis and Ballinasloe at that very time. So no mention in the death notice. That's my guess anyway.

Infant & Unmarked Graves

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The book refers to a number of things which come together in my great grandfather's and great grandmother's grave above. Most graves in 1861 went unmarked, unless you were somebody. Glasnevin was part of the garden cemetery movement, and infant mortality was high.

The grave above is in The Garden, the earliest part of Glasnevin cemetery. It is unmarked and it contains the remains of three infants: one died at birth in 1861 (Joseph) and the others at just over a year old in 1865 (William) and 1873 (John). William died of infant cholera and John of "inflammation from teething". I gather that teething was a sort of catch-all cause when they really didn't know what was going on.

Their father died in 1875 of septicemia. He was a carpenter and I don't know whether he died from a burst appendix or a rusty nail. The point is that there was no cure around in those days.

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This is another unmarked grave. This time in St. Paul's, Glasnevin. Bridget and Julia were my granny's sisters, successively married to Nicholas P Fleming. He and Bridget had three children. When Bridget died he had her sister, Julia, in to mind the children and subsequently married her. When she died he went on to marry and have more children with another Julia.

And that's how cousin Gerry is probably the only Parish Priest to have had four grannies and appeared on the internet in a skirt (above).

Died abroad and State Funerals

You don't have to die in Dublin to be featured in the book. Burial will do the job. The photo above is of the coffin of Lt. Kevin Gleeson, leader of the Irish soldiers on UN duty in the Congo who were killed in the "Niemba Ambush" in 1961. I was at that funeral and am proud to have this photo of mine in the book.

I was also at the funeral of Roger Casement in 1965 (above) though that photo is not in the book..

I was not at O'Donovan Rossa's funeral (in 1915). This is mentioned in the book but there is no photo included of this either.

The Hereafter - Power of the Church

Clearly all the churches were involved in death in one way or another. After the Reformation and up to Catholic Emancipation Catholics were buried in Protestant graveyards and the priest was not supposed to be allowed say prayers over the grave. That was to do with the body.

However the church's influence over the soul was another matter and the afterlife was liberally invoked in your lifetime to scare the shit out of you and thereby consolidate the power of church and clergy.

The above example is from cousin Peggy's will, made in 1938 as she lay dying of TB. Look at the fortune put aside for masses of every description. These guys have a lot to answer for.

And let me remind you of the Parish Priest's Horse. Relations on the other side of the family had let the PP graze his horse in their field. Came the day when the field had to be sold and the PP told he could no longer graze his horse there. He did not take it well, but what could he do. Well he did. When the old mother was dying he refused to come out to give her the Last Sacraments and an order priest had to be pressed into service. Wouldn't get away with that today, DG.

Mount Jerome

If Glasnevin was the "Catholic" cemetery then Mount Jerome was the "Protestant" one. While this was generally true, both were in fact non-denominational, and are very much so today.

When my godmother died, in 2011, the plan was to bury her with her husband's people as you might expect. I had already sussed out this grave in the course of my family history pursuit and it was FULL. Made for four with four already in it. I had a plan B where she could be buried with her parents as there were only three in that grave. However, no doubt with the agreement of the current occupants, they squeezed her in with hubby (above).

I was at another funeral there recently when I felt a presence behind me, looking over my shoulder, as it were. When I turned round it was revealed as Oscar's daddy (above). Highly appropriate as we were burying my old English teacher. He would have enjoyed that one.

My final Mount Jerome story concerns Eibhlín Bhreathnach. I had been to her funeral there some years ago and thought, while I was there again, I'd pay my respects. Nobody could find the grave, not even the man in the office. Finally he thought to ask "was it a burial or a cremation?" Dammit, it was a cremation and I had been there. Serious disconnect.


Goldenbridge, beside Richmond Barracks, was the first of the Glasnevin Trust cemeteries and it has been closed for many years. Plans are now afoot to open it up both as a garden cemetery and a resource for historians and genealogists.

Stories from Stone

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This is great grandfather Christopher Burgess's grave in Glasnevin and it tells an interesting story. His son in law, Andy Duffy, who predeceased his wife Elisabeth, is buried in the family grave. That is unusual in my book. It can only be explained by Chritopher "adopting" his son in law in place of his own two sons, one of whom got a girl pregnant, married her an went to Canada, and the other, the heir apparent, went and joined the British Army just as Christopher was about to retire and was disinherited as a result.

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I've already referred to exhumations and reburials by Nichols and Fanagans, well I've done one of my own in Glasnevin, albeit in cyberspace.

When I went up to check out great uncle John's grave, the nice lady in the office gave me a list of burials in the grave. When I got to the tombstone I noticed that Sarah (Sadie) while on the tombstone was not on the list. On my way out I drew the lady's attention to this and she undertook to effect a cyber transfer for Sadie from wherever she was currently cyber-resting to her rightful cyber-resting-place.

How many Angels

The previous "missing person" recollection reminded me of the Angels' Plots. There are now two of these and the photo shows the older one. When I was up there one day I thought to enquire after an angel who had been miscarried in one of Dublin's maternity hospitals. The mother had been assured that the "baby" would be buried in the Angels' Plot but I could find no record in the appropriate plot ledger. I hope there is an innocent explanation for this and that it is not indicative of a wider problem.

Irish language

There are a number of subjects not dealt with in the book which might be worth following up at a later stage if they have not been dealt with elsewhere. One of these is the Irish language. There are Irish language tombstones in Glasnevin but a systematic study would be interesting.

The picture above is from Knockananna in Co. Wicklow but I thought the impression it gives of a native Irish speaker as a rare bird or endangered species was amusing, if not sad in its own way.

Anyway, that's all, probably enough for now. and maybe too much. But the above are some of the thoughts provoked by my reading of this wonderful book.

May you enjoy yours.

Monday, August 15, 2016


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She's probably more visible by night than by day. She was 22 years in the making and she now stands about 100 feet above the level of the sea below. She faces in towards the port and not out to sea, despite her official title of Réalt na Mara (Star of the Sea). She is there as a tribute to the dockers and those who worked in the port. Her pose is that of Mary on the Miraculous Medal.

Conceived in 1950, and intended for the Marian Year in 1954, it was 1961 before enough funds were raised to ensure the project would go ahead. This was a much scaled down version of what was originally envisaged, at least as far as cost was concerned. There was a lot of toing an froing over suitable sites and it took until 1972 for the project to be completed on its present site at the end of the Bull Wall.

Cardinal Agagianian was the papal legate to Ireland during the Patrician Year in 1961 and he was got to bless the foundation stone during his visit in June of that year. At that stage there was no definitive site for the monument and the ceremony took place in Ringsend.

Older readers, if they're still with us, will remember the excitement of 1958, and more particularly 1963, when the cardinal was not only papabile but seen by most people as being first in line to be the next pope if the Italians' iron grip on the papacy could be broken.

In any event, a site was finally found at the end of the Bull Wall in Dollymount and the monument was inaugurated by Dublin Archbishop Dermot Ryan in 1972.

There is a bespoke website here.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Where is it ? No. 49

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These two shelters are close by one another and have passed their use by date.

Answers in a comment below please.

To see all the quiz items click on the "Where?" tag below.

To see all the unsolved quiz items click on the "unsolved" tag below.

Thursday, August 11, 2016


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My first contact with this book was in January last when one of the editors contacted me about photos of the funeral in 1960 of the victims of the Niemba ambush in the Congo.

I had done a blog post on this and Lisa came across it; she figured one of the photos might be worth including in the book in which a full chapter was being dedicated to this episode.

Thrilled I was and I was promised a copy of the book in return, which I collected at the launch last night but which I have not yet read.

So this post is on the launch rather than the book. However, from reading the articles and listening to the interviews I know I won't be able to put it down once I start into it.

Just to get you in the right humour, this is a view of a tiny portion of Glasnevin cemetery from the location of the book launch. It is looking out over the 1916 wall of names.

Speaking of 1916, I should say that this was my first opportunity to see the wall. In fact I hadn't seen (or noticed?) the administrative building for years despite having dead family sprinkled all over the cemetery. These start in 1861 in "The Garden" and have a foot (or two or six) in almost every section.

The building is really impressive as is the wall. I didn't have time for a coffee in the café as I spent much of the time before the launch exploring outside. I did, however, get a few minutes downstairs in the museum where it is quite spooky and I actually walked straight into a marble wall. Fortunately I later emerged unharmed into the light of day.

People will probably be more familiar with this end of the wall where the 1916 Rising deaths are inscribed in chronological order, mixing rebels, civilians and British army.

The notice on the grass reminds us not to walk on it. You never know who's underneath. I haven't re-watched the inauguration of the wall but I figure some very important people were ignoring the same notice on that day.

No matter.

We're here for a book launch so let's get on with it.

Oh dear. Surely there will be more than a handful turning up for such an auspicious occasion.

Fear not. The ante-room is already full to overflowing and soon there will be only standing room at the launch.

So off we go. Our MC for the night, no less a person than, John Gibney, Glasnevin Trust Assistant Professor of Public History and Cultural Heritage at TCD. And he proved no ordinary MC. He had read the book and spent some time extolling its virtues before introducing the first speaker.

George McCullough is Chief Executive of the Glasnevin Trust which owns and manages a number of Dublin cemeteries. Of these Goldenbridge is the oldest but it is currently closed which leaves Glasnevin as the Trust's oldest operational cemetery.

He welcomed us all to our salubrious surroundings and reminded us of the cemeteries for which the Trust is responsible. He told us that there is a lot of work being undertaken at present to open up the cemeteries to the general public beyond the mere funeral day and subsequent graveside visits.

Glasnevin, and Goldenbridge, apart from their connections with Catholic Emancipation, were part of a movement of "garden cemeteries" where not only the dead, but the living could benefit from a structured leafy environment.

I was interested to hear that the Trust is working on opening up the closed Goldenbridge cemetery, beside Richmond Barracks, not just as a park but as a resource for historians and genealogists.

Next up to the plate was (recently retired) Dublin City Coroner, Dr. Brian Farrell, who had one job - to launch the book. He entertained us with stories and secrets to the point that I don't remember if he actually pronounced the book launched. John Gibney didn't either, so he added his own nihil obstat and imprimatur at the end of the session, just for the avoidance of doubt!

Some people may have thought it odd that the coroner would be called on to launch the book, but remembering the State pathologist, Marie Cassidy, launching Tim Carey's book on those hanged by the Irish State, I didn't feel it in the least bit odd.

I think Tim just wrote to Marie Cassidy and she said yes. I gather Brian Farrell, when approached, asked for an advance copy and agreed to do the launch subject to his liking the book.

Well, there wasn't much doubt about that bit of it. He couldn't praise it enough and had obviously enjoyed his advance read tremendously.

He commented seriatim on individual chapters and underlined their relevance to today's world. For example, commenting on the 1918-19 flu epidemic when the undrtakers couldn't keep up with the required rate of burials, he revealed that, in the face of the recent threatened pandemic, some very advanced contingency planning had been undertaken to cater for possible extreme effects, including a breakdown in the whole health delivery system. Good to know we are in such safe hands.

Finally it was the turn of the editors.

Ciarán Wallace, currently from TCD, reassured us of the academic standard of the writing but also of its universal readability. This was a book which was a resource for academics and historians but it was also written in a style to enthrall the general reader.

It had grown out of a conference held in this very room and when his co-editor Lisa suggested a book, work had begun on filling in the remaining gaps and refining the material for this publication.

It fell to his co-editor, Lisa Marie Griffith, to thank all those who had contributed to the book in a wide variety of ways.

She told us that Four Courts Press had pushed very strongly for copious and quality illustrations. Rightly, as it turned out, as they not only add enormously to the quality and attractiveness of the book but they also serve to tempt those who might be flicking through it to stay with it and delve deeper into the text (and buy the book!).

I'm really looking forward to getting stuck into this book which promises to to be full of family resonances. For starters I have undertakers on both sides of my family and following my pursuit of my family history I am now aware of all manner of deaths, the deeper background to which I hope to find in the book.

Buy it, steal it, read it.
(with apologies to Julius Caesar)

[For a taster, check out Valerie's excellent interview with Lisa & Ciarán]