Dublin – Glasnevin Cemetery Part One: The Republican Plot & Elsewhere

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Glasnevin Cemetery is the largest cemetery in Ireland, covering some 120 acres, more than a million and a half souls having been buried here since it was opened in 1832.

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Huge Victorian headstones in some of the older parts of the cemetery…

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…contrast with the thousands of smaller 20th Century ones that stretch as far as the eye can see.

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Towering above all else, this granite tower rises more than 160 feet above the tomb of  Daniel O’Connell, the first great 19th Century Irish nationalist leader – we shall have a brief look inside later.

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Of course with a cemetery this size, and only a few hours until sundown, there was no chance of looking round the whole place, so I had my list, and managed to tick the majority off before it got too dark.

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Buried within the Republican Plot are many famous names of the republican movement, although, of course, none of the executed leaders of the Easter Rising in April 1916 are to be found here.

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Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa was a prominent Irish Fenian leader and member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, who died in New York in 1915, at the age of 83.  Quick to realise the potential propaganda value of Rossa’s death, Tom Clarke, one of the principal instigators of the Easter Rising, cabled fellow Fenian John Devoy, in exile in America since 1871, with the message, “Send his body home at once.”

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The term Fenian, by the way, was coined in the mid-19th Century, and referred to members of organisations, particularly the Irish Republican Brotherhood, dedicated to the creation of an independent Irish Republic.  John Scanlon, guide extraordinaire, on the left, keeps us informed and entertained despite the cold.

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Rossa’s burial here in Glasnevin Cemetery on 1st August 1915 was one of the most attended ever held in Ireland, hundreds of thousands of people lining the route, and perhaps 20,000 in the cemetery itself, including all seven men who would lend their signatures to the Proclamation of Independence the following year.  Even more famous, however, is the speech made by the then unknown Pádraig Pearse, whose graveside oration remains one of the most famous speeches in Irish history.

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The final words of Pearse’s address would become famous across the land, ” Our foes are strong and wise and wary; but, strong and wise and wary as they are, they cannot undo the miracles of God who ripens in the hearts of young men the seeds sown by the young men of a former generation. And the seeds sown by the young men of ’65 and ’67 are coming to their miraculous ripening today. Rulers and defenders of the Realm had need to be wary if they would guard against such processes. Life springs from death; and from the graves of patriot men and women spring living nations. The defenders of this Realm have worked well in secret and in the open. They think that they have pacified Ireland. They think that they have purchased half of us and intimidated the other half. They think that they have foreseen everything, think that they have provided against everything; but, 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.”

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The headstone behind that of Rossa is inscribed with three names.  Thomas Ashe, the top name (in Gaelic), was commander of the North County Dublin Volunteers, who operated to the north of the city during the Easter Rising, after which Ashe, along with others, was tried by court-martial and sentenced to death, later commuted to penal servitude for life.  Returning to Ireland after his release owing to the general amnesty that Lloyd George granted for the remaining republican prisoners imprisoned after the Rising in June 1917 (others had been released the previous December), Ashe was arrested for a pro-sedition speech he gave at a meeting where another of the speakers was Michael Collins.  Convicted and sentenced to two years hard labour, Ashe began a hunger strike in September 1917 after being refused the prisoner-of-war status he demanded.  Force-fed by the prison authorities, a trainee doctor manged to pierce Ashe’s lung with the feeding tube; transferred to hospital, Ashe died two days later of heart and lung failure.  On the day of his funeral, an estimated 30,000 people lined the route as his coffin was borne to Glasnevin Cemetery.  At his graveside, Volunteers fired a volley, and Michael Collins made one of the shortest, yet most powerful speeches, of his life, “Nothing additional remains to be said. That volley which we have just heard is the only speech which it is proper to make above the grave of a dead Fenian.”  The two other names on the headstone are IRB member, Easter Rising veteran, personal friend of Michael Collins and writer of rebel songs, including ‘The Soldier’s Song’ (now the Irish national anthem), Peadar Kearney, who died in 1942 having left politics after Collins’ death, and Easter Rising veteran turned writer Percy Beazley, who died in 1965.

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Next to Rossa, this is the grave of The O’Rahilly, and you can find more about the circumstances of his death if you click here.

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Thomas MacDonagh, political activist, poet, playwright and one of the seven signatories of the Proclamation of Independence, was executed at Kilmainham Gaol on 3rd May 1916 at the age of 38, and his remains now lie with the other executed leaders of the Rising in Arbour Hill Cemetery.  His wife, who did not survive him long, and his daughter, however, lie here.

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The headstone on the left of the MacDonagh family will remain unrevealed for the moment, unless you have very good eyesight…

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…but next to it is the grave of the aforementioned John Devoy, Irish political activist, Fenian, exile, owner of the Gaelic American, a New York weekly newspaper, and referred to by Pádraig Pearse as ‘the greatest Fenian of them all’.  Devoy was 25 at the time of the Irish rebellion in 1867, but as he was already in prison at the time in England, he survived intact.  Released and exiled to America in 1871, his exile ensured that he would also survive both the Rising and the Irish War of Independence, returning to Ireland as an honoured guest of the government in 1924.  He died in New York in 1928 at the age of 87.

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And so to the final headstone in the row, the one we saw a little earlier, that of Irish revolutionary and politician Cathal Rrugha.  Brugha was an active participant in the Easter Rising, second-in-command to Éamonn Ceannt at the South Dublin Union, where, on Thursday 27th April 1916 he was wounded, some say up to 25 times – certainly he sustained many injuries – and was delirious from loss of blood when removed under a Red Cross flag to Dublin Castle, but, although some of his wounds never properly healed and he ever after walked with a limp, after months in hospital he lived to fight another day.  He survived the Irish War of Independence, despite clashing with Michael Collins an a number of issues, and he opposed the Anglo-Irish Treaty, fighting as a private within the ranks of the newly formed IRA against the Free State.  Ironically, his end would come in Sackville Street, scene of the fighting for the GPO during the Rising in 1916.  On 5th July 1922, surrounded by Free State troops in a burning hotel, Brugha was shot and mortally wounded, some say as he walked out of the front door, a revolver in each hand, Butch Cassidy style, into the bullets of the soldiers.  He died in hospital two days later.

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This is the grave of Countess Constance Markievicz (née Constance Gore-Booth), London-born revolutionary nationalist, suffragette and Sinn Féin & Fianna Fáil politician, who married Polish aristocrat Count Casimir Dunin Markievicz in 1901, the couple moving to Dublin two years later.  Becoming involved in Irish politics in 1908, she played an active part in the Easter Rising as part of the Royal College of Surgeon’s garrison (although whether it was her who shot dead the unarmed policeman, Constable Michael Lahiff, remains unproven.  Certainly she thought she did, running triumphantly back to her Citizen Army colleagues in St. Stephen’s Green, shouting, “I got him.”).  Following the Rising she was sentenced to death at a military court-martial, subsequently commuted to life imprisonment on account of her sex.  Released in 1917, she became one of 73 Sinn Féinners elected to the Westminster parliament the following year, although none took up their seats.  Arrested again in 1919 for, like Thomas Ashe, making seditious speeches, she was once more imprisoned; on release she served as Minister for Labour in the new Parliament of the revolutionary Irish Republic from April 1919 to January 1922, when she left the government, along with Éamon de Valera, in protest at the Anglo-Irish Treaty.  She fought for the Republican cause during the Irish Civil War, and later joined Fianna Fáil on its foundation in 1926.  She died on 15th July 1927 of complications related to appendicitis.

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And nearby lies the body of Michael Malone, leader of the rebel forces who caused such carnage among the Sherwood Foresters in Northumberland Road on 26th April 1916.  James Corcoran was one of the first Citizen Army fatalities at St. Stephen’s Green, early in the morning of 25th April 1916, when he was cut down as the British machine gun opened up on the rebels in the park from the Shelbourne Hotel, his body left there (it was too dangerous to recover) for the rest of the week before its removal to Glasnevin.  Neil Kerr Jr, the son of a close colleague of Michael Collins, was accidentally killed handling ammunition in September 1920, and Patrick O’Brien was shot dead trying to blow up the Carlton cinema in the centre of Dublin in July 1922.  Apologies for the rubbish photo – there are one or two others I’m afraid – I have mentioned my malfunctioning camera on this trip once before, and it was also getting very dark as I returned at the end of the afternoon to get the above shot.

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Not far from the Republican Plot there are two memorials,…

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…standing side-by-side,…

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…one to Irishmen who died as a result of hunger strikes in British prisons between the death of Thomas Ashe in 1917, and the ten men, led by Bobby Sands, who died in Her Majesty’s Prison Maze in Northern Ireland in 1981,…

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…and one to the five men of C Company, 1st Battalion, Connaught Rangers, who, on 28th June 1920 at Jalandhar in the Punjab, decided to take action against the imposition of martial law in Ireland by refusing to obey orders, and to the colleagues who joined them.  Two men, Private’s Smythe & Sears, were killed attempting to storm the armoury by the loyal British troops defending it.  Daly, only 21, the ringleader, was executed by firing squad on 2nd November 1920, becoming the last British soldier to be shot for mutiny.  Others received life sentences (at least one of the mutineers, John Miranda, was English).

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Next to the memorials, on the left here, is the grave of Elizabeth O’Farrell, a nurse who spent the week of the Rising with the garrison at the GPO, when she wasn’t delivering despatches to rebel outposts throughout Dublin, and looking after the wounded.  On Saturday 29th April 1916 at 12.45 pm, it was Nurse O’Farrell who, under the flag of the Red Cross, was sent to deliver the rebel surrender to Brigadier General William Lowe.  She would subsequently, accompanied by a priest and three soldiers, also deliver the news of the surrender to the rebels elsewhere in the city.  The grave on the right is that of Brian O’Higgins, Irish poet, politician, founding member of Sinn Féin, and the party’s President from 1931 to 1933, who died in 1963.  O’Higgins was one of the GPO garrison during the Easter Rising.

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The grave of Roger Casement, formerly Sir Roger Casement, Irish nationalist, civil servant and diplomat who worked for the British Foreign Office, in 1905 being honoured with a knighthood for his humanitarian work in Peru.  It was following his retirement in 1913 that he became more involved in the Irish republican movement, using his diplomatic contacts in an attempt to gain German support and supplies for an armed uprising in Ireland.  Although the Germans eventually offered, and indeed sent to Ireland by boat a few days before the Rising, 20,000 Mosin-Nagant 1891 rifles and ammunition, it was nowhere near the quantity of arms that months of negotiation had led Casement to believe were available, and he realised that he was not being taken seriously.  The boat carrying the arms and ammunition was intercepted by the Royal Navy, the crew scuttling both it and its contents off Queenstown (now Cobh), County Cork.  Casement, desperate to get back to Ireland, was returned by U-boat three days before the Rising began, but, ill and too weak to travel, he was found and arrested, convicted of treason, and hanged at Pentonville Prison in London on 3rd August 1916, aged 51.  His was the sixteenth, and final, execution to take place after the Rising.

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The graves of nine of the Forgotten Ten.  The Forgotten Ten were all IRA men who were executed by the British, following courts-martial, in Mounjoy Prison in Dublin in 1920 & 1921 (six on the same day – see photo below)); Kevin Barry, Patrick Moran, Thomas Whelan, Patrick Doyle, Bernard Ryan, Thomas Bryan, Frank Flood, Thomas Traynor, Edmond Foley & Patrick Maher.  They were buried, as military law dictated, in unmarked graves in unconsecrated ground within the prison precinct.

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After the War of Independence, Mountjoy Prison was handed over to the Irish Free State and the families of the dead men began lobbying to have their remains returned for proper burial; the exact location of the graves was identified in 1934, and in 1996, a Celtic Cross was erected here at Glasnevin to commemorate them (see below – at least I presume this is it), to the south of the Republican Plot.

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The campaign to rebury the ten men (their names are listed on the ten small brass plaques across the joint headstone) lasted until October 2001, when the bodies were finally exhumed and brought to Glasnevin for reburial with full state honours.  Only Patrick Maher, at the wishes of his descendants, was reinterred elsewhere, although his name is inscribed here with the rest.

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Time, I think, to move on…

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…and take a look at the tomb of Daniel O’Connell…

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…beneath the 168 foot tower, completed in 1869 to commemorate his death in 1847.

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O’Connell, known as the Liberator, or the Emancipator, was a towering figure (forgive the pun) in Irish politics during the first half of the 19th Century, who campaigned for Catholic emancipation and the repeal of the Act of Union binding Ireland with Great Britain.  And he’s not alone down here…

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…as he has the rest of the family (apart from his wife!) down here to keep him company.

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In 1971 the wooden staircase that once wound up the centre of the tower was blown up by three loyalists, the three foot thick granite wall preventing the structure from toppling, instead sending the blast shooting up the inside of the tower.  You still can’t get up the tower to this day, although I gather this may soon change.

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In front of the excellent visitor’s centre…

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…a  polished granite memorial wall..

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…commemorates all those who died during the Rising, civilian names inscribed alongside the military dead of both sides.

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Following shots: The names in close-up – all are perfectly legible if you enlarge the photos.

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Further along the memorial wall (above & below), portraits of the sixteen rebel leaders who were executed after the Rising.

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The grave of Michael Collins.

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Michael Collins is one of the seminal figures in modern Irish history.  Born in County Cork in October 1890, when he was just fifteen he moved to London where he was introduced to the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), a secret organisation dedicated to achieving Irish independence, returning to Ireland before the Easter Rising in April 1916 where he served under Joseph Plunkett.  Imprisoned after the Rising, Collins was released as part of an amnesty in December 1916 for the approximately 1,800 Irish rebels held in Frongoch Internment Camp in North Wales.

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In December 1918, Collins, by now a leading IRB member as well as playing a major role in the Irish Volunteers (later the IRA), where he was Director of both Intelligence, creating a widespread spy network, and of Organisation and Arms Procurement, and Sinn Féinn, was one of 73 Sinn Féinners who won seats in the general election, out of a total of 105 seats available.  The following month, declaring themselves a sovereign parliament, Éamon de Valera was elected president of the Dáil and Collins was appointed minister of home affairs and, later, minister of finance.

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Collins led the IRA military campaign during the subsequent War of Independence against the British, leading the Irish delegation at the peace conference in London in December 1921 which resulted in the Anglo-Irish Treaty, which created the Irish Free State, partitioning the country and excluding the six mainly Unionist counties in the north.  Many republicans, including de Valera, remained vehemently opposed to the treaty, which was passed by the Irish government by a single vote, causing a split in the ranks of the IRA between pro and anti-Treaty supporters.  The anti-Treaty IRA retained the name, the pro-Treaty men becoming known as the Irish Free State Army.

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Isolated incidents occurred between the two groups until April 1922, when IRA men seized the Four Courts in Dublin; Collins, ironically with support from London, ordered an attack on the building to remove them, and the Irish Civil War had begun, Collins taking charge of the Free State forces.  On 22nd August, on an inspection tour of County Cork, Collins and his party were ambushed by a small group of IRA men who had heard that he was in the area.  A brief gunfight broke out, in which Michael Collins was killed, the master of guerilla warfare ironically killed in an ambush just fifteen miles from his place of birth.  The Civil War would continue until May 1923, when the IRA would declare a cease-fire.

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The tablets on two sides of the surround are inscribed with the names of men killed in 1922 & 1923.

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Each tablet is inscribed with, from the left, a column of names in Irish, a column with dates of death, and column with the same names in English.

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Only two panels on the other side are inscribed…

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…and you will notice that there are dates on these two tablets from every decade from the 1920s to the 1970s (above & below).

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On a patch of grass behind Collins’ cross,  a tablet (below) remembers the dead of the IRA.

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The de Valera family plot.

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Éamon de Valera was one of the rebel leaders during the Easter Rising and one of the few not to be executed afterwards.  Although sentenced to death, he was reprieved, partly because he was American by birth.

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His political career subsequently began to blossom throughout the War of Independence and the Civil War.  He left Sinn Féin in 1926 to form Fianna Fáil, whose election victory in 1932 marked the beginning of sixteen years in power.  Two further shorter terms in the 1950s were followed by de Valera’s election as President of Ireland.  He finally retired in 1973, and died two years later at the ripe old age of 92.  I have read that his grave is the most commonly vandalised in the cemetery.

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Maud Conne McBride, born in Togham in Surrey of Anglo-Irish stock, was a suffragette, revolutionary, and actress who fought for Irish Home Rule.

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Frank Thornton, as it says on his headstone, was an old I.R.A. Colonel on the headquarters staff in 1922, close ally of Michael Collins and Éamon de Valera, and Easter Rising veteran, who died in 1965.  Once badly wounded on a mission for Collins, Thornton carried at least one bullet in him for the rest of his life.  He was a member of the team who planned the assassination of the Cairo gang, a group of British Intelligence officers working in Dublin at the time; twelve men, including British Army & RIC officers, and a civilian informant, were killed on the morning of 21st November 1920 in a series of early morning strikes ordered by Collins.  By the end of the day thirty one people would have died violent deaths on what became known as Bloody Sunday.  Nonetheless Thornton was keen on reconciliation between the opposing sides later in life, even meeting the British officer commanding the troops who opposed him during the Easter Rising.

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Another veteran of the Rising, under the command of de Valera, Joe Clarke was shot in the head, captured, but survived to be imprisoned in England.  Released as part of the general amnesty, he returned to Ireland, but was interned between 1921 & 1923, acting as caretaker of the Sinn Féin headquarters on his release.  In 1929 Clarke was a founder member of Comhairle na Poblachta, a republican organisation supported by the IRA, and despite their earlier comradeship, he and de Valera became implacable opponents over the years.  Clarke became a vice-president of Sinn Féin in 1966, supporting the Provisionals during the IRA split of 1970, and died in 1976, well into his 90s.

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IRA and National Graves Association headstones; the N.G.A. was formed in 1926 ‘to restore, where necessary, and maintain fittingly, the graves and memorials of our patriot dead of every generation; to commemorate those who died in the cause of Irish Freedom; to compile a record of such graves and memorials.’  Consequently the organisation does not tend the graves of men of the British Army, or Irish soldiers who were on the pro-treaty side during the Irish Civil War.

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There are a few of these small tablets, scattered among the graves, to men of the British Army buried in the cemetery.  Lieutenant Colonel William Moyle O’Connor, Royal Army Medical Corps, commander of the 6th London Field Ambulance from March 1913 and the Duke of York’s headquarters school of instruction, died in London on 21st January 1916, and was buried in Glasnevin Cemetery three days later.

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As darkness falls, the headstone in the foreground of this shot of the O’Connell tower is that of James ‘Jim’ Larkin, Irish trade union leader best known for his role in the 1913 Dublin Lockout, which saw the creation of the Citizen’s Army to defend the strikers against police brutality.

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Before we leave,…

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… this very recently unveiled memorial (above & below) remembers the victims of the Great Famine of the mid-19th Century.

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And finally, as darkness finally falls, the reverse of the grave of Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa, where we started this tour around Glasnevin.  Which just leaves us with the Commonwealth Plot to take a look at next time.

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6 Responses to Dublin – Glasnevin Cemetery Part One: The Republican Plot & Elsewhere

  1. Morag says:

    Unbelievable as it might seem a grand nephew of Thomas Ashe lives here in Brora. He had told my husband about the hunger strike death. ..Once I get my computer sorted-i am reading this on my phone! I will let Shaun see this really interesting post

    • Magicfingers says:

      You are the Queen of the Coincidence, Morag. Which is rather good, really, as it gives us stuff like this to chat about. I know a bit more about the hunger strikes, and particularly Thomas Ashe, than I was able, or thought necessary, to put in this post – he was straightjacketted, if that’s a word (not being an expert, but how else would you do it, I suppose), whilst being force fed, which makes the image in my head much worse, for some reason. I try to be as apolitical as I can on this site, but morally I think his death was an appalling way to die, and horribly unnecessary (memo to self – stop ranting). Anyway, if you manage to uncover anything that only a grand nephew would know, I’d be very interested to hear about it. Please! And btw, I’m glad you found this of interest – the Dublin posts have raised few comments, and we already know that one of our regulars was none too happy about their inclusion – a view he is perfectly entitled to, and one reason I have rattled them off fairly quickly (they are now here for posterity, which is part of the point of the whole thing) – if you read this Steven, we’ll be heading back across the channel pretty soon, don’t worry – so as I appreciate your comments, Morag. As always.

      • Morag says:

        Good morning. I just sent you a lengthy reply to the do not reply address
        to add to the coincidence. ..the chief of police in Dublin at the time also has a relative living in Brora. Bernard grew up in Liverpool. He has told me about the connection in the past. I will try to talk to both of these men and get back to you. Myhhusband was at a chaps’ curry night a couple of years ago when they found out about the mutual connection

        • Magicfingers says:

          Ah, well, you see, the thing about a do not reply address……….

          Extraordinary. We love coincidences.

          Thank you ever so, Morag – although if you seriously expect me to believe that he remembers ANYTHING at a chaps’ curry night, you must think I was born yesterday! Lol!

          • Morag L Sutherland says:

            can you please email me through what you remember about your relative and Shaun Ashe’s relative in Dublin?
            I think it is a really interesting tale but  I don’t have it written down and feel I should have note of it
            I plan asking Shaun also……….such a coincidence that both of you have the easter uprising in your background

  2. Magicfingers says:

    That should do it – provided you mailed them as well as me!!

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