Arbour Hill Cemetery was opened in about 1840, as a military burial ground for soldiers based at the adjacent Royal Barracks.
For nearly forty years, men of all ranks, and their families, along with local people who lived in the surrounding streets and worked at the barracks, and their families, were buried here until the cemetery had reached capacity, at which time Grangegorman Military Cemetery was established to the north of Phoenix Park.
Although some of the headstones in the southern part of the cemetery are still in situ, such as that of Sergeant W. Blagdon (I can’t make out the regiment. Can you?), who died in January 1867 aged 27, others are now lined up against the eastern boundary wall, as we shall see later, many presumably moved when the Easter Rising memorial area was created.
There are a number of information boards here, all well worth a look.
The cemetery is most famous, or perhaps notorious, for being the last resting place of fourteen of the fifteen executed rebel leaders (see information board below) of the Easter Rising in 1916.
Along the northern boundary, a memorial wall and a patch of grass.
The fourteen condemned men, sentenced to death by military court-martial at Richmond Barracks, were duly executed by firing squad at Kilmainham Gaol between 3rd & 12th May 1916, their bodies then transported here for burial in what was once the exercise yard of Arbour Hill Prison, which stands nearby and is still in use (go back to the second photo of this post and you’ll see a rather incongruous-looking watchtower looming over the cemetery).
The bodies now lie in a mass grave beneath this patch of grass on a granite terrace under the memorial wall,…
…the names of all fourteen engraved on the surround in English; Thomas Clarke, Thomas MacDonagh, Pádraig Pearse and Edward Daly,…
…Michael O’Hanrahan, William Pearse, Joseph Plunkett, John MacBride and Con Colbert,…
…Éamonn Ceannt, Seán Heuston, Michael Mallin,…
…James Connolly and Sean MacDermott.
On the other side of the mass grave, the names are inscribed in Gaelic. One other rebel leader, Thomas Kent, was also executed after the Rising, in his case in his native Cork on 9th May 1916, where he was buried in the grounds of Cork Prison. At the time, the burials caused widespread anger, quicklime having been added to the graves, I am certain to ensure that there could be no interference with, or even removal of, the bodies (as General Sir John Maxwell, Military Governor of Ireland, observed: “Irish sentimentality will turn these graves into martyrs’ shrines.”), and there was a general belief that the British had deliberately buried the men in unconsecrated ground.
In fact, the executions and burials were precisely planned, as this memo from Brigadier J. Young, officer in charge of the executions, explains: “After each prisoner has been shot, a Medical Officer will certify that he is dead, and his body will be immediately removed to an ambulance, with a label pinned to his breast giving his name. When the ambulance is full, it will be sent to Arbour Hill Detention Barracks, entering by the gate at the Garrison Chapel. A party there will put the bodies close along side (sic) one another in the grave (now being dug), cover them thickly with quicklime (ordered) and commence filling in the grave. One of the officers with this party is to keep a note of the position of each body in the grave taking the name from the label. A Priest will attend for the funeral service.”
The order in which the rebel leaders were buried was, it seems, an unanswered, and vital question for the new administration of the Irish Free State in the 1920s. However, a 1932 letter, written by an ex-civil servant, one Jerome O’Connell, who in 1918 was in charge of Irish Military Lands Records, including Arbour Hill Prison, appears to include the only witness account of the burials. O’Connell asked the prison Sergeant Major, who had been in attendance, to point out to him where the fourteen men were buried; the unnamed Sergeant Major stated that, on his own initiative, he had ensured that a numbered brick was placed at the head of each of the bodies, and had kept a list of each number and burial. The bodies were interred in the order of the names now inscribed on the mass grave’s surround that we saw earlier. O’Connell was also able to confirm that, although the burials had indeed been made in the old prison exercise yard, the whole of Arbour Hill Cemetery had been consecrated, including the exercise area, in 1848.
To the left of the mass grave, a small memorial remembers sixty six other men killed during the Easter Rising. That’s Declan, by the way, without whom etc. etc. (mind you, although a Dublin resident, it was the first time he’d visited some of these places).
This memorial was unveiled in 1966 by Irish President Éamon de Valera, who was, at the time of their deaths, most likely in command of some of the men whose names are inscribed here.
The inscription at the top translates as, ‘Heroes who, with the fourteen leaders buried in this place, gave their lives for Ireland in 1916’.
Another information board, this one explaining the creation of the memorial area in 1955.
The photograph of JFK was taken in 1963 when he became the first world leader to lay a wreath at the base of the memorial wall.
The Garrison Church at Arbour Hill was built in the 1840s and was used by soldiers and prisoners to attend Protestant religious services, although much later, in 1897, a small chapel was built next to the church for the use of Catholics. In 1927 the church was renamed Church of the Sacred Heart, and in 1997, with the closure of Collins Barracks, it became ‘Church of the Defence Forces’, and is now maintained by the Department of Defence.
Many of the 19th Century headstones are now lined up against the boundary wall, as I mentioned earlier. I’ll show you a random few.
The three central headstones are, left to right, those of Sergeant William Ashton, 2nd Battery, 12th Regiment, who died in 1864 aged 33, Corporal James Nutt (the rest of the inscription is virtually indecipherable) in the centre, and on the right one of the family headstones, that of the wife, son and grandson of Sergeant Major Wells, City of Dublin Artillery.
On the left, Samuel Bennett, 10th Royal Hussars, who died on 22nd May 1866, in the centre, three Grenadier Guardsmen who drowned in Dublin Bay on 21st July 1857, and on the right, Shoeing Smith Alfred Stanley, 1st Royal Dragoons, who died on 3rd April 1873, aged 26, ‘Erected by the Captain & men of his troop as a mark of esteem and regard.’ He was clearly good shoeing smith!
Unfortunately I cannot quite make out the name of the Major of the 55th Regiment of Foot, whose infant daughter Elizabeth Amelia and wife, also Amelia, who died at Richmond Barracks in 1848, are remembered on the headstone on the left; the right hand headstone is even more difficult to read – I think the name is Alfred Lammetty, he was certainly a Troop Sergeant Major in the (1st?) Lancers, his date of death appears to be 1848, and the headstone was erected ‘by his brother Non-commissioned officers as a token of their respect.’
On the left, Sergeant Instructor in Musketry Thomas Crawford, 4th Bn. 60th Royal Rifles, who died suddenly at Camp Curragh on 18th March 1876 aged 33, and on the right, Thomas Rogers Vicary, Deputy Purveyor to Her Majesties Forces, who died on 22nd December 1863 aged 37.
I gather that there is even one Victoria Cross holder buried in the cemetery, although his grave is now lost, and I have no idea whether one of these headstones bears his name. Patrick Graham was a Dublin-born private in the 90th Regiment of Foot who was only nineteen, maybe just twenty, when he was awarded his V.C. ‘for bringing in a wounded comrade under a very heavy fire, on 17th November 1857, at Lucknow. Elected by the private soldiers of the Regiment.’ He died on 3rd June 1875.
Across the road from the cemetery, this view actually shows the northern buildings of Collins (once Royal) Barracks, where we paid a visit in an earlier post.
The streets around Arbour Hill…
…all reek of the 19th Century,…
…small terraced houses…
…where the families who worked at the barracks and prison would have lived.
Another part of Dublin where not much would have changed over the intervening years. Although we have now visited the mass grave where the majority of the executed rebel leaders are buried, one other man, already in custody by Easter week 1916, was executed following the Rising, and is now buried at Glasnevin Cemetery, the largest cemetery in Ireland. A BigNote No Prize for anyone who knows who I am talking about.