SJD8 #4: Dublin’s Garden Cemeteries: Comparing Iconography, Design, and Community Social Space

This is the fourth in a series of blogs on 'Spatial Justice in Dublin 8' (SJD8 #4), as a contribution to Maynooth University Social Justice Week 2022. 

This blog post will discuss the historic iconographies of Goldenbridge Cemetery in Inchicore, Dublin 8, and Mount Jerome Cemetery in Harold’s Cross, County Dublin. Iconography is a process of describing and contextualising representations of the landscape as socially constructed to situate them in ‘their cultural, historical, and political contexts and interpret their symbolic meanings’ (Hoelscher, 2020, 132). After an overview of their respective histories, I analyse the iconographies of these two garden cemeteries in Dublin by comparing their spatial layouts, and the architectural and art styles used, including in the construction of chapels. I conclude with a brief discussion of how the Goldenbridge Cemetery in Dublin 8 today has again become a community space through artistic performances organised by the Family Resource Centre and the artistic installations of Kate O’Shea.

Goldenbridge Cemetery is the older, but smaller, of the two cemeteries. It opened in 1829, six months after the passing of the Catholic Emancipation Act (O’Meara, 2018), and was the first non-denominational cemetery in Ireland since the Reformation. Before this Catholics had no formal burial grounds unless they paid extortionate fees to bury their dead in Protestant graveyards (ibid; see also Kearns ‘SJD8 #2 The Historical Geographies of Injustice in Dublin 8). At the time, the three main graveyards used by Catholics were St. James, Bully’s Acre, and St. Kevin’s. Bully’s Acre was an area of open ground typically used to bury Catholics and criminals; the coffins were often left uncovered (O’Meara, 2018). The area was levelled in 1755; this did not deter people from burying their loved ones at the sites. In St. Kevin’s on Camden Row, the funeral of Mr Arthur D’Arcy in 1823 was interrupted and not allowed to continue as the priest was Catholic, even though his family had paid the burial fee (ibid). Following this, the Catholic Association, chaired by Daniel O’Connell began looking for land to accommodate a non-denominational burial site. It is said that the first person buried in Goldenbridge Cemetery was Margaret Lowry and over the next two years 12,000 people would be buried there (ibid).

In the early nineteenth century, the population of Ireland was growing and so too were mortality rates. In the 1830s, the British Parliament established commercial cemetery companies in urban centres called General Cemetery Companies (Mount Jerome, 2020a). The General Cemetery Company of Dublin was established in 1834. Mount Jerome Cemetery was created as a non-denominational cemetery but became quickly associated with Protestants, as they were the largest population in the area (ibid). Mount Jerome started as a twenty-six-acre plot, expanding to forty-eight acres by 1874 (ibid). In 1984 the company went into voluntary liquidation and fell into disrepair throughout the late 1990s. In 1998 it was taken over by new owners who reversed the damage of disregard and opened a crematorium; the cemetery is still operational and open to the public today.

The location of both cemeteries offers insight into the social and political standing of the groups wishing to establish them. The General Cemetery Company of Dublin tried to open a cemetery in a part of Phoenix Park, but the application was turned down (ibid). The company then bought the lands and house of Mount Jerome in Harold’s Cross on the 23rd of January 1836 (Figure 1). The Company put £12,000 into opening the cemetery (Dublin City Culture Company, 2020). Locating Mount Jerome Cemetery near the urban centre of Dublin was a display of the company’s wealth, as the land was more expensive in the city, but also of their foresight. In 1855 a burial act forced older, overcrowded graveyards to close, pushing business out towards cemeteries like Mount Jerome.

Figure 1. Mount Jerome Cemetery Location Map. Source: Google Earth, modified by the author.

The Catholic Association established the Special Cemetery Committee in 1828 and received a substantial loan but could not find a landowner willing to sell to them. During this time, Penal Laws were adapted to allow Catholics to bury their dead in abandoned monasteries, but no formal laws prevented them from making a graveyard outside the city limits (Dublin City Culture Company, 2020; O’Meara, 2018). The association bought a piece of land off Luke Teeling, a Protestant landowner, for £600. Situating the cemetery on the periphery displays the lack of social power Catholics had, despite being led by well-represented members of society (Figure 2). The existing stone walls were raised to between thirteen and fifteen feet in places, a house was built for the sextant near the entrance and a temporary wooden chapel was constructed (O’Meara, 2018).

Figure 2. Goldenbridge Cemetery Location Map. Source: Google Maps, modified by the author.

Both of the Dublin cemeteries were designed to emulate the Père Lachaise necropolis in Paris, considered the most sophisticated international trend in burial fashion (Dublin City Culture Company, 2020). Landscape architects designed cemeteries as separate from churches, with businesspeople and philanthropic investors developing these landscapes as profitable enterprises. Cemetery landscape designs took on a style that became known as the ‘garden cemetery’, featuring a grid system with numbered graves, ledgers recording burials, vistas for leisurely strolling through, walls and gates for security, and celebrity burials (ibid). Although both cemeteries were inspired by Père Lachaise there are differences in how this inspiration took shape.

Following our first in-person ‘GY607 Field School’ class led by Professor Kearns in September 2020, which included an historical overview of the Goldenbridge Cemetery in person, I was able to do some virtual fieldwork using Google Earth for my class essay, despite the lockdown of 2020 due to Covid. From an aerial view from above, I was able to get a sense of both cemeteries according to their relative locations, size, and layout, and through this interpret their class structure. Mount Jerome was much bigger than Goldenbridge, as the General Cemetery Company of Dublin had access to more funds. It had paved roads with signposts directing you to different sections of the cemetery, such as the crypts, vaults and tearooms. It had a clear grid system with graves organised in rows, making it feel more urban than garden-like. The ‘common graves’, or communal family plots, were mainly located in the middle sections of the cemetery, indicated by the yellow sections in Figure 3. It could be deduced that these graves would have been for those of the working or lower classes. The orange line in Figure 3 shows the Long Walk and the blue line shows the Hawthorn Walk; it is along these two ‘streets’ that most of the vaults can be found.

Figure 3. Map of Mount Jerome Cemetery. Source: Mount Jerome (2020b).

The vaults are highly decorative and were constructed for well-known and well-respected families or individuals for example the Gresham Vault (Figure 4). The pedestal on top of the tapered column once housed a bell as the women buried within it had a fear of being buried alive. She wished for her tomb to have a bell so she could ring it if she awoke in her grave (Mount Jerome, 2020c). The construction of vaults and decorative graves was a result of the rising middle class and upper classes wanting to display their wealth and accomplishments post-mortem. The process could also be described as the ‘Theatrum Mortis’ of the ‘theatre of the dead’; according to Witoszek and Sheeran (1998, p. 36) the culture of ‘post-mortem display and splendour’ was believed to raise the status of the dead in the afterlife.

Figure 4. The Gresham Vault. Source: Mount Jerome (2020c).

Though Goldenbridge Cemetery is smaller (Figure 5); it too was designed in the garden cemetery style. From my virtual fieldwork of Goldenbridge Cemetery using Google Earth, I saw the mortuary chapel was in the centre and that there were not as many paths as in Mount Jerome. As the cemetery was bordered by the canal and Richmond Barracks, there would be no room to expand. At the time, both of the cemeteries were part of the Parks Movement, which sought to create more open spaces with fresh air on the outskirts of the city for people to visit and use as a respite from the polluted city centre (Dublin City Culture Company, 2020). Today, because of the size and time of use of Goldenbridge, the resulting experience feels like wandering through an intimate, hidden garden for the visitor due to the many green space, plants, and trees growing in close proximity (Figure 5).

Figure 5. Goldenbridge Cemetery. Film still: Alec Moore @ 2020, courtesy of Kate O’Shea.

There were also class divisions in the design of the Goldenbridge Cemetery. The green area on the map in Figure 6 was known as the ‘inner circle’ (Dublin City Culture Company, 2020). It was the most expensive area in the cemetery to be buried in and was ringed with a fence to create a physical separation between the upper and lower classes (ibid). The cemetery was closed to the public in 1869, meaning only those with relatives buried within the cemetery walls could be buried there. The closure of the cemetery resulted in many babies who had died being left secretly in the cemetery: ‘where possible the children were also buried within the walls of the cemetery despite its closure’, though most were never identified (O’Meara, 2018, p. 41). These unmarked graves can be read not only as a symbol of religious status but also class status — to have been able to afford a family plot would cost a large sum of money which most working-class people could not afford.

Figure 6. Goldenbridge Cemetery Map. Source: Ordnance Survey (1883-1913), modified by the author.

The iconography of the two cemeteries differs in terms of the styles in which the chapels were created. The funerary chapel in Mount Jerome was designed by William Atkins, an architect from Cork (Directory of Irish Architects, 2020). Atkins designed the chapel in a classic Victorian or neo-Puginain style (Figure 7). The chapel is ornate with high vaulted ceilings and many plaques on the inner walls, resembling a church in the traditional sense, more so than the chapel in Goldenbridge (Mount Jerome, 2020d).

Figure 7. The Victorian Chapel. Source: Mount Jerome (2020d).

Goldenbridge Cemetery, on the other hand, had a completely different architectural style. The mortuary temple in the centre of the cemetery (Figure 8), was designed by Patrick Byrne in a neo-classical style featuring ionic columns (Craven, 2019). According to Grimes (2005) by building in a neo-classical style the Catholics were trying to emulate and out-do the classical churches built by Protestants in the eighteenth century. The juxtaposition of the architectural styles conveys cultural and religious differences. The styles chosen to represent who they viewed as influential, for Protestants it is the classical Victorian style seen all over England and Wales (Hill, 2017). For Catholics, it was the Greco-Roman influences of the Vatican and a harking back to a pre-Enlightenment era (Grimes, 2005).  

Figure 8. The Goldenbridge Chapel. Source: National Inventory of Architectural Heritage (2013).

To conclude, the location, layout, architectural styles of the chapels, and art styles of the tombs are different between Goldenbridge and Mount Jerome. While both indicate the inspiration of the garden cemetery movement in their layout, the landscape architecture of the cemeteries displays different styles. The process of symbolic accretion of meaning in the landscapes over time (Dwyer, 2006) means that today, in the twenty-first century, we can now enjoy the romantic garden designs and neo-classical architectures not so much to remember the dead or value the social status of their families, but as hidden spatial gems in the city.

Cemeteries in many capital cities have not only become valued as green public spaces, they are used in unanticipated ways by local residents and community groups. After the Richmond Barracks became a heritage centre in 2016, small tour groups began to visit Goldenbridge Cemetery to learn more about the city’s past (which were temporarily on hold during lockdown). As an untouched parcel amidst the waves of urban renewal and gentrification in Dublin 8, the cemetery now also has the potential to become animated as sites of artistic interventions calling attention to spatial injustices in the city. Common Ground, a community arts organisation in Dublin 8, has recently moved to the former cemetery lodge, and now have artist’s studios. As caretakers of this space, their artists in residence, such as Kate O’Shea, and community members are invited to respond to the area through artistic interventions and conversations. The chapel space is now used as a temporary outdoor stage by community groups for artistic performances. For example, in November 2020, as part of the UN ‘16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence’, the Family Resource Centre in Inchicore created a short film in the cemetery’s mortuary chapel, collaborating with musicians and Dublin filmmaker Joe Lee, to raise awareness about women’s experiences of violence (Family Resource Centre, 2020) (Figure 9).

Figure 9. Still from ‘Violence Against Women Film 25th November 2020‘, Inchicore Domestic Violence Outreach Centre. Film makers: Joe Lee / Tom Lee. Performance: Cellist Vyvienne Long and Violinist Miriam Cahill. Funded by the Irish National Teachers Organisation, with special thanks to the local community in Inchicore, Glasnevin Trust, Common Ground Arts Agency, Just City Artist Kate O’Shea.

In October 2020, Kate O’Shea’s print installation as part of the ‘How Much is Enough?’ project, depicted in Figure 9, was created as part of her Common Ground ‘Just City’ residency (O’Shea, 2020). ‘How Much is Enough?’, which includes the film Halfway To Falling, are collaborative artistic and activist projects between O’Shea, international artists, academics, and urban planners to challenge the spatial injustices in and across Dublin 8 (O’Shea, 2021a). In the short film, The World That is Dreamt, O’Shea (2021b, 3min:46sec-3min:53sec) states that ‘Dublin 8 is an area in Dublin that for [her] has been crucial in understanding what a revolutionary intersection of art and activism for over 30 years can really look like’. The 2020 installation (Figure 9) displayed in the mortuary chapel consisted of large-scale screen prints in progress that incorporate housing struggle posters from over thirty countries complied by Josh MacPhee. The work formed the beginning of The Just City Spatial Justice Archive, a collaboration of O’Shea and MacPhee (O’Shea, 2020). Thus the cemetery installation called attention to ongoing community calls for housing rights in Inchicore, as well as how these local calls for spatial justice are connected to broader systemic problems inherent in capitalism globally, as manifested differently in specific places and moments in time.

Figure 10. Print Installation at Golden Bridge Cemetery, with screen prints in progress by artist Kate O’ Shea, in collaboration with Josh MacPhee and Emma O’ Hara. Film still: Alec Moore © 2020, courtesy of Kate O’Shea.

— Sophie Thiesen

Sophie Thiesen is a PhD student in the Department of Geography at Maynooth University. This blogpost was developed from an essay for GY607 Field School, a module for the MA Spatial Justice module. An earlier version of this blog was previously published in Milieu (2021). 

Acknoweldgements

I want to thank Professor Gerry Kearns for his helpful and detailed feedback on my original essay, and Professor Karen Till for her time and help in editing, both for the Milieu version of my essay and for this revised blog iteration.

References

Common Ground (2021) Half Way To Falling. [Webpage entry, 30 March] Available at: https://www.commonground.ie/half-way-to-falling/.

Craven, J. (2019) All About the Ionic Column. Thoughtco. (14 November). Available at: https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-an-ionic-column-177515 (accessed 15 February 2022).

Directory of Irish Architects (2022) Atkins, William. Directory of Irish Architects. Available at: https://www.dia.ie/architects/view/84/ATKINS-WILLIAM#tab_works (accessed 15 February 2022).

Dublin City Culture Company (n.d.) Landscapes of Death: Goldenbridge and the Garden Cemetery Movement in Ireland. [Soundcloud Audio Online] Mondays at the Mess (History Talks at Richmond Barracks) 18. Available at: https://soundcloud.com/dccculturecompany/mondays-at-the-mess-landscapes-of-death-goldenbridge-and-the-garden-cemetery-movement-in-ireland (accessed 15 February 2022).

Dwyer, O. (2006) Symbolic Accretion and Commemoration. Social & Cultural Geography 5 (3): 419–35.

Family Resource Centre – Violence Against Women Film 25th November 2020 (2020). Lee, Joe and Lee, Tom, Director. [Video]. Dublin 8: Inchicore Domestic Violence Outreach Centre. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LHKJZApsZH8 (accessed 16 March 2022).

Geragharty-Gorman, J. (2010) The Cusack Vault. [Photograph]. Available at: http://stiffsandstones.blogspot.com/2010/11/cusack-family-vault-mount-jerome.html (accessed 15 February 2022).

Glasnevin Trust (2017) Concert to Mark the Rededication of Goldenbridge Cemetery and Annual Daniel O’Connell Commemoration. Ireland: Glasnevin Trust.

Grimes, B. (2005) The Architecture of Dublin’s Neo-Classical Roman Catholic Temples 1803-62. Doctoral Thesis, Dublin. Ireland: National College of Art and Design. https://doi.org/10.21427/D72J70.

Hill, J. (2017) Architecture in the Aftermath of Union: Building the Vicergal Chapel in Dublin Castle, 1801-15. Architectural History 60: 183–217.

Hoelscher, S. (2020) Landscape Iconography In: Kobayashi, A. ed. International Encyclopedia of Human Geography (2nd ed.). Oxford: Elsevier, 113–19.

Moore, A. (2020) Print Installation at Golden Bridge Cemetery of Screenprints in Progress by Artist, Kate O’ Shea, Working in Collaboration with Josh MacPhee and Emma O’ Hara. [Film Still]. Available from artist Kate O’Shea.

Mount Jerome Cemetery & Crematorium (2022a) Chapels. [Webpage] Available at: https://www.mountjerome.ie/crematorium/chapels/ (accessed 15 February 2022).

——— (2022b) History. [Webpage] Available at: https://www.mountjerome.ie/cemetery/history/ (accessed 15 February 2022).

——— (2022c) Map of Mount Jerome. [Photograph] Available at: https://www.mountjerome.ie/cemetery/map-of-mount-jerome-cemetery/ (accessed 15 February 2022).

——— (2022d) The Gresham Vault. [Photograph] Available at: https://www.mountjerome.ie/wp-content/themes/mountjerome/assets/resources/Architectural%20Graves/gresham_vault.jpg (accessed 15 February 2022).

National Inventory of Architectural Heritage (2013) The Goldenbridge Chapel. [Online Photograph] Available at: https://www.buildingsofireland.ie/building-images-iiif/niah/images/survey_specific/preview/50080099_2.jpg (accessed 15 February 2022).

O’Meara, L. (2018) Goldenbridge Cemetery. Ireland: Glasnevin Trust.

Ordnance Survey (1888) Goldenbridge Cemetery. [Historic Map]. Ireland: Ordnance Survey.

O’Shea, K. (2020). Personal Communication.

O’Shea, K.(2021a). Halfway to Falling. [Video]. Available at: https://youtu.be/8KjDm-Z-7ik (accessed 16 March 2022).

O’Shea, K. (2021b). The World That Is Dreamt- Half Way to Falling. [Video]. Cork: Sample-Studios Visual Arts Programme. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VuQxh7ULGWM (accessed 16 March 2022).

Witoszek, N. & Sheeran, P. (1998) Talking to the Dead: A Study of Irish Funerary Traditions. Amsterdam: Rodopi.

5 comments

  1. […] SJD8 #4: Dublin’s Garden Cemeteries: Comparing Iconography, Design, and Community Social Space, Sophie Thiesen, PhD student in Geography […]

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  2. […] The Goldenbridge cemetery is a place to recall the place-based elements of the unjust treatment of Catholics in Ireland. Although the issue of Catholic burial rights was of long standing this initiative was immediately provoked by a particularly egregious example of disrespectful treatment. O’Meara’s summary is precise and efficient: ‘[Goldenbridge Cemetery] opened in 1829 as the first non-denominational cemetery since the Reformation. Prior to this, Roman Catholics had no proper burial grounds. Burials took place in Protestant churchyards and legally Protestant clergy of the established church were the only ones permitted to recite funeral prayers.’[34]  In 1823 the sexton of St Kevin’s acting, he said, on the instruction of the Protestant Archbishop of Dublin, Dr William Magee, forbade the saying of prayers by Rev. Doctor Michael Blake. In fact, the instructions of the bishop went further than that and advised clergy to attempt to ‘officiate, according to the rites of the Established Church, and that if not permitted, to […] protest formally and solemnly against the unlawfulness of the act, with a view to ulterior proceedings before the proper tribunal [an ecclesiastical court].’[35] This denial of a dignified place of rest is a form of place-based injustice in a society where such is universally valued and indeed exercised by others. The opening of the Goldenbridge Cemetery was an attempt to circumvent these humiliations by going outside the city to establish a multi-denominational space for burial (see also Thiesen on the iconography of garden cemeteries, SJD8 #4). […]

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  3. […] and empirically in some of the student blogs – e.g. Thiesen on the iconography of graveyards (SJD8 #4), Whelan (SJD8 #5) and Gifford (SJD8 #8) on class conflict, Keogh on housing and employment on the […]

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  4. […] power (Hoelscher, 2009; for a historic application of landscape iconography, see Thiesen, SJD8 #4 ‘Dublin’s Garden Cemeteries’). This essay will also address places of memory and place naming in relation to the stadium to […]

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  5. […] sixteen days globally. In 2020, a special event was held in the Goldenbridge Cemetery (see Thiesen SJD8 #4 ‘Dublin’s Urban Cemeteries’) and in 2021, the Outreach Centre collaborated with The Irish Museum of Modern Art, to launch their […]

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