Reliving our birth on trail of our dead

AS you walk through the rows of monuments in Glasnevin cemetery the story of Ireland’s political, cultural and sporting past is everywhere.

From the recent — the crematorium where pop star Stephen Gately (1976-2009) made his final journey — to those who began the country’s march to modern statehood, many of whose graves are clustered around the imposing round tower under which Daniel O’Connell and his family lie physically preserved in lead-lined coffins.

Those buried in the cemetery come from a variety of religious and political backgrounds, often mortal enemies in life such as socialist IRA leader Frank Ryan and blueshirt founder Eoin O’Duffy (1892-1944) lie only feet away, while in a large plot both those who died on the Republican and British sides during the 1916 Rising lie together.

The graves of note number in their hundreds. Below are the stories of just a few:

BRENDAN BEHAN (map no. 17)

Playwright and author


Born into a strongly republican family in inner city Dublin, Behan was first imprisoned at 16 in England after being arrested for his part in an IRA bombing mission.

While interned in the Curragh camp during World War II, he penned his first play, The Landlady, and learned Irish. In 1958 he had two of his greatest literary successes with the play The Hostage and the autobiographic novel The Borstal Boy.

Heavy drinking contributed to his death at 41. It is said that on his death bed Behan when being nursed by a nun thanked her by saying “God bless you sister, may you be the mother of a Bishop.”


Founder of the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) 1847-1906

Cusack was born in the Burren area of Co Clare. A teacher, he travelled throughout Ireland before settling in Dublin.

Along with Maurice Davin, he called a meeting in Thurles, Co Tipperary, on November 1, 1884, where the GAA was founded. Cusack was elected the organisation’s first secretary.


Trade Unionist


Born of Irish parents in Liverpool, Larkin worked as a docker in that city before becoming a trade union organiser in Belfast and Dublin.

Founder of the Irish Transport and General workers Union (ITGWU) which later became SIPTU. Larkin’s early agitation culminated in the Great Lock Out of Dublin 1913.

A gifted orator, his mix of socialism, republicanism and trade unionism became known as Larkinism. He later went to America before returning to Dublin where he became involved in Labour politics.

WILLIAM MARTIN MURPHY Press Baron 1844-1919

Jim Larkin’s greatest opponent, Murphy was born in Bantry, Co Cork but educated in Dublin. From a wealthy family, Murphy became a nationalist MP before losing his Dublin seat after opposing party leader Charles Stewart Parnell over his affair with Kitty O’Shea.

In 1900, he relaunched the Irish Daily Independent and in 1906 founded the Sunday Independent newspaper. Murphy led Dublin employers against Larkin’s ITGWU, an opposition that culminated in the Dublin Lockout of 1913. This made him extremely unpopular with many, being depicted as a vulture or a vampire in the workers’ press.

His family maintained control of Independent papers until the 1970s.

Kevin Barry (12) Revolutionary Martyr 1902-1920

Born into a prosperous Dublin business family, Barry went to Belevdere College where he excelled academically and at sports. He went on to study medicine at the University College Dublin.

At 16 he had joined the IRA’s ‘C’ Company Dublin Brigade, he also became a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB).

Involved in a gun battle in Dublin with British forces, which resulted in the death of a young solider, Barry was tried by secret court martial at which he declared “as a solider of the Irish Republic, I refuse to recognise the court”.

Just before 8am on November 1, 1920, he was hanged. Barry’s was the first execution since 1916. His remains were reinterred, to much fanfare, along with nine other volunteers in Glasnevin cemetery in October 2001, after being removed from Mountjoy Jail.

ROGER CASEMENT (11) Revolutionary 1864-1916

Hanged for high treason, Casement, who was born in Sandycove, Co Dublin, had a career that took him from travelling Africa in the British Colonial Service to attempting to recruit German-held Irish prisoners of war for a nationalist uprising during World War I.

Attempting to land arms for the planned uprising, Casement was arrested on Banna Strand, Co Kerry. He was hanged and buried at Pentonville Prison in London.

When imprisoned there Éamon de Valera visited his grave.

Reinterred in a state funeral in Glasnevin in 1965, de Valera, as president of Ireland, delivered the oration.

Controversial in death as well as life, Casement’s so-called ‘Black Diaries’ where he outlined numerous homosexual liaisons have had their authenticity disputed by historians since his death.

JOHN O’MAHONY (15) IRB leader 1816-1877

Born in Kilbeheny, Co Limerick, O’Mahony took part in the abortive Young Irelander rebellion of 1848. He fled to France before moving to New York.

With James Stephens (1825-1901), also buried in Glasnevin, organising in Ireland, O’Mahony led the establishment of the Fenian Brotherhood (IRB) in America.

During the American Civil War, he fought in the mainly Irish 69th regiment for the Union (USA).

Following this he helped organise Fenian raids into British controlled Canada with banners for the first time proclaiming the group as the ‘Irish Republican Army.’

Despite also being an accomplished writer, he died in poverty in New York. His body was then transported to Ireland for one of the first major republican burials.

His grave was also used to commemorate other Young Irelanders, the current monument dates to the 1930s. It includes statues of Erin and the legendary Cúchulainn as the young boy Setanta and later as a warrior.

FRANK RYAN (5) Republican Socialist 1902-1944

A committed socialist who died under the ‘protection’ of the Third Reich, Frank Ryan is one of the key figures in the history of the republican left.

Born near Elton, Co Limerick, he took the anti-Treaty side in the civil war and was one of the main figures in the late 1920s IRA before joining the left-wing Republican Congress breakaway.

Committed to the fight against international fascism he fought the blueshirts at home before leading scores of Irish men into the international brigades to fight in the Spanish Civil War.

Captured by Italian fascist forces, he was sentenced to death but in a deal between Ireland, Spain and Germany, a year later he was set free into the care of the German government.

After an aborted attempt to land in Ireland from a submarine alongside IRA chief of staff Seán Russell, he died in Germany in 1944. His remains were reinterred in Glasnevin in 1979.

JEREMIAH O’DONOVAN ROSSA (8) Revolutionary 1831-1915

Born at Rosscarbery, Co Cork, as a young man he founded the Phoenix Society, one of the first group’s to join James Stephens’ Fenian organisation in 1858.

With other leading Fenians, he was arrested in 1865 and sentenced to 20 years penal servitude. For eight years he suffered cruel treatment in English prisons.

Freed in 1871 on the condition that he left Ireland, he went to America where he edited Irish republican newspapers and wrote his memoirs.

He remained involved in the Fenians and was instrumental in funding and encouraging the so-called ‘dynamite campaign’ of bombings in England.

Following his death in New York, his body was returned to Ireland and given a military burial by the Irish Volunteers at Glasnevin. Over his grave, Patrick Pearse delivered his famous oration;

“The fools, the fools, the fools! They have left us our Fenian dead, and while Ireland holds these graves, Ireland unfree shall never be at peace.”

FR FRANCIS BROWNE (26) Photographer 1880-1960

Born into a family of prosperous Cork merchants, at age 17 he went on a tour of Europe during which he began his life-long passion for photography.

He entered the Jesuits on his return to Ireland in 1912. He sailed on the Titanic from Southampton to Cherbourg before being ordered off by his superiors, his photographs of the ship appeared all over the world when it sank.

He joined the Irish Guards and served on the frontline during World War I, where he was injured on five occasions.

Appointed Superior of St Francis Xavier’s Church on Gardiner Street, he began to take his famous photo- graphs of Dublin. On his death, he left behind 42,000 negatives.

CATHAL BRUGHA (7) Revolutionary 1874-1922

Born Charles Burgess into a Dublin business family, by 1913 he was a lieutenant in the Irish Volunteers.

During the 1916 Rising he was seriously wounded, following this he organised the amalgamation of the Citizen Army and Volunteers into the IRA.

From October 1917 to March 1919 he was IRA chief of staff and elected MP for West Waterford.

He sat as Ceann Comhairle for the meeting of the First Dáil that adopted the Declaration of Independence.

Taking the anti-Treaty side in the Civil War, Brugha was killed during street fighting in Dublin.


Revolutionary 1780-1851

Anne Devlin’s family moved from Rathdrum, Co Wicklow, to Dublin in 1800.

There she met Robert Emmet and became his housekeeper and played an active part in the planning of his ill-fated 1803 uprising.

Imprisoned in solitary confinement for three years, she refused to cooperate with the authorities. Widowed in 1845 she lived much of the rest of her live in poverty in Dublin.

MICHEAL COLLINS (8) Revolutionary 1890 — 1922

The most visited grave in Glasnevin, Micheal Collins is credited by many as being the most important IRA leader during the War of Independence.

Born in Clonakilty, Co Cork, Collins joined the IRB in London and returned to Dublin to take part in the 1916 Rising.

He was detained until December 1916 and on release became prominent in the volunteers and was elected on to the IRB Supreme Council.

In the 1918 General Election Collins was elected for South Cork. Serving for much of the First Dáil as minister for finance he also reorganised the IRA’s intelligence and arms networks.

During that time, Collins and his close friend Harry Boland vied for the affection of Kitty Kiernan (1892-1945), who is also buried in Glasnevin, less than 20 meters away from Collins.

A member of the Irish delegation at the Anglo-Irish Treaty negotiations with the British, Collins reluctantly signed the document believing it the only way to prevent the IRA’s defeat and establish a platform to attain full independence.

As commander in chief of the pro-Treaty Army, Collins took an active role in the civil war against many of his former comrades.

While inspecting troops in west Cork on August 22, 1922, Collins’s convoy was ambushed at Béal na mBláth. Collins was killed by a shot to the head.

An estimated 300,000 people lined the streets to see his funeral cortege travel to Glasnevin.

The round tower monument, under which Daniel O’Connell’s tomb lies, dominates Glasnevin cemetery.

Born in Kerry, O’Connell was called to the bar in the bloody year of 1798. Although sympathetic to some of the United Irishmen’s aims, he opposed the use of violence.

An orator of great power and charisma he was the driving force behind a popular movement to establish religious and political rights for Catholics.

His main success was achieving Catholic Emancipation in 1829 — the repeal of acts which prevented full Catholic participation in British political life. He also campaigned for the repeal of the Act of Union between Britain and Ireland.

A social reformer rather than arevolutionary, O’Connell in later life was at loggerheads with more militant Young Irelanders.

He said: “It is, no doubt, a very fine thing to die for one’s country, but believe me, one living patriot is worth a whole churchyard full of dead ones.”

He died in 1847 in Genoa while on pilgrimage to Rome. His heart was taken for burial in the Italian capital, with the remainder of his body brought to an impressive crypt in Glasnevin.

CHARLES STEWART PARNELL (25) Nationalist political leader 1846-1891

From a Protestant land-owning background, the ‘the uncrowned king of Ireland’ put nationalist politics centre stage only to be brought down by conservative Catholics for his extramarital affair with Kitty O’Shea.

While campaigning in Co Galway, he caught a ‘chill’ and died shortly after in Brighton, England. Parnell was buried in one of the largest funerals ever seen at Glasnevin.


This part of the cemetery is located across the road from the main burial area. Among the famous Dubliners buried here is singer Luke Kelly (1940-1984), writer Christy Brown (1932-1981) and Manchester United footballer Liam Kelly (1935-1958) who died in the Munich air disaster.

Buried in a newer section of the main graveyard is novelist Kate O’Brien (1948-1998), daughter of writer Conor Cruise O’Brien.


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