Thursday, August 11, 2016


Click on any image for a larger version

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, police 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 undertakers 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]

Update: since doing the above post I have read the book and left a review on Amazon and done a further post on some thoughts provoked by the book.


John Griffith said...

As the Dad of Lisa Marie I am very honoured to add a comment and I think its the first also!. Lisa's entire family are soo proud of the work she and Ciaran have completed in writing this book. Because of some voluntary work which I do in Thailand I could not be present at Gladnevin for the launch but its clear that it was a great success. However, just as in the case of Brian Farrell, I got an advanced copy of the book and I have it in front of me now as I write this entry. So best wishes to all concerned in this absorbing work and long may the 2 authors continue to write such interesting material. Sawasdee krub from the city of Bangsaen. John Griffith.

Póló said...

Thanks for that comment, John.

I first came across Lisa in that wonderful blog "Pue's Occurrences", and I know she's first class.

Unfortunately, Pue's is no longer active. I fully appreciate why as I am well aware of the huge amount of work that goes into keeping a blog going. Fortunately that blog is still up online and remains a great tribute to the team behind it. Perhaps when they get to my age and retire they will get back together and give Pue's a third whack in the public domain.

Pue's Occurrences